Parque Tayrona, one of Colombia’s more than 50 national parks, spans a large portion of Colombia’s northeastern coast and spreads inland for 58 square miles of mountains and jungle. Its mountains are of the Sierra Nevada range, and they run through the park right at the waters’ edge. According to a local, nowhere else in the world are there mountains as high as close to the ocean; they grow out of the sea to 3000 ft quite rapidly and dramatically.
We entered via a small highway that cuts through the park and were dropped at the main entrance on the eastern side. The western portion of the park is more desert, but there are fewer accesses and therefore fewer visitors. Despite its relative accessibility and a smattering of accommodations, it seems that Tayrona, thankfully, has escaped the type of tourism and development that plague Playa Blanca. Even though folks can now drive fairly far into the park, it’s still a lengthy and at times tough hike up to the beaches (no beach-side boat service here). This, coupled with the not-negligible park entrance fee, has helped Tayrona to maintain its rough, somewhat deserted paradise ambiance. Thank goodness.
The park is named for the primary indigenous group that calls it home, the Tayrona. Had we more time, we could have embarked on the multi-day hike from the coast inland to the ruins of one of their ancient settlements—La Cuidad Perdida—characterized by a local as “un lugar estilo Indiana Jones,” or an Indiana Jones-esq place. We opted instead for the half-day hike to and from “El Pueblito,” a much smaller set of ruins that is also part of the vast network of Tayrona settlements that made up the area before good ol’ Colombus & Co. arrived on the scene. The uphill trek—beach diminishing and sea spreading ever wider behind you—is invigorating, and the silent, deserted (save a handful of other adventurers) scene that awaits you at El Pueblito is a fulfilling, if understated, climax. Walking among the stone pathways and ancient homesites puts the nascent nature of our culture—and the antiquity of civilization as a whole—into perspective.
Also humbling, especially coming on the exhausted heels of our hike, was the description by a local of how the Tayrona women gave birth. Apparently these women, 9-months pregnant, came down the mountains to give birth in “La Piscina,” a small bay whose waters—made tranquil by the rim of large rocks that act as breakers—are some of the only swimmable on this part of the coast
Beyond hiking, Shepard and I passed our precious few days in Tayrona reading, swimming, drinking tropical smoothies (ah, heaven!), beating our new Argentine friend Damien at Rummy, and simply relaxing.
All around, the area has a rather wild feel to it, with enormous boulders jutting out into the tumbling waters along much of the shore and since the jungle and mountains that line water remain largely untouched. This, coupled with a dearth of young foreigners whose primary interests lie in sunning and partying, makes Tayrona my favorite of the places we visited in Colombia.