Keith's Panamanian Travel Ramble

The wanderings of Andrea and Keith around Panama

Tayrona National Park– Nature’s Best

After a great breakfast and packing down to a small overnight necessity bag, we checked out of our little boutique hotel called la Casa del Piano in Santa Marta and headed to the local bus stop. The short three dollar cab ride landed us on the corner where the bus leaves from and we boarded for the one hour journey to the Park. We are here for one night, so the early start will maximize our time there. Alicia had chosen this place to visit after many recommendations from co-workers.

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Colombia’s Tayrona National Park is a protected area, 34 kilometers from the city of Santa Marta. The park covers about 30 square kilometers of maritime area along the Caribbean and about 150 square kilometers of land. It has some of South America’s loveliest coastline.

Created in 1864, it has not only an immense natural importance in the region, but it is also a cultural treasure. Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s, small groups of hunters and gatherers, called the Tayrona tribe, inhabited both the coast and the mountain areas of the park.

The park has limited services, which is one of its greatest assets. Do not come here if you are looking for numerous hotels, fancy restaurants and paved roads. You will be disappointed. Accommodation ranges from nothing, to hammock rental, to tent rental, to a very expensive hotel. Food will run you about double of what it would be outside the park.

This place is for people who appreciate nature and the rustic beauty it imparts. On arrival, we went through the mandatory orientation session, provided only in Spanish, and purchased our ticket to the park. Next, we loaded onto a small bus for a short ride to a central location where we proceeded ten minutes or so by foot to our accommodation for the night.

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Ecohabs or the Hotel Tayrona Park is a pricy small bit of accommodation in a spectacular place. On a treed hillside next to a small beach overlooking the ocean, there is a small group of personal round two storey wooden structures with palapa roofs.

Each structure has a generous sized single room finished in local hardwoods, a king sized bed, TV, and a large set of folding wood doors that, when opened, allow a panoramic show stopping view of the beach and ocean below. Down the exterior stairway on the first level, a fully equipped private bath with giant towels and abundant hot water shares space with a conversation area with hammocks and a small table and chairs. It is perfect!

Our next task was a small hike to one of the beaches. This park has a number of beaches and a couple of ways to get there. You can rent a horse or you can walk. Our instructions were to hike to the third beach, called Al Cabo. The trail was in nice shape and in a number of places contained wooden walkways and stairs to aid in transit.

Part way to the first beach, an entrepreneurial genius, was selling ice cream, as fast as he could to the never-ending line of hikers heading down the trail. This was the perfect product at the perfect place and sales would be close to 100%.

The trail was not too difficult. There was some up and down but there was lots of level as well.

The first beach we passed was unoccupied. The rugged landscape fringed a palm lined white sand beach, that was being pounded by large, white-capped waves rolling in from the Caribbean after travelling unobstructed for miles. This beach was not good for swimming as the red warning flags suggested.

The second beach contained a small community of park workers. A reef protected swimming, some 100 meters off the shore. This beach had a collection of sun worshipers but really no food services.

We continued on to the third beach, arriving around two hours after our departure from the hotel. We could see immediately why the advice we had received was to go to this beach. There was a city of tents for rent and a large palapa roofed restaurant on the beach full of plastic tables and chairs on the sand. The curved Caribbean blue cove protected by a small peninsula and covered with people enjoying the day attested to this being the “best” beach to come to. This place is so scenic!

There are no roads here, only trails. While we were there, a pack train of around a dozen or so horses loaded with foodstuffs for the restaurant arrived to resupply the business.

After a couple of hours of beach and sun, we started the two-hour return walk so we would be back to the hotel before dark.

After a nice cleanup, we were ready to head to dinner. There are nine cabins on this hillside and we are in number eight. The restaurant was at the bottom of the hill. From unit eight, this equated to 144 stairs. This was not too bad going down but after a four-hour hike and a nice big dinner, going back up the stairs after dinner was a bit challenging.

We settled into the palapa-roofed restaurant with its white tablecloths and ordered a bottle of wine from the ample wine list. Off in the distance you could hear the drone of the generator occasionally interrupted by the crash of a large wave. The dinner service and food was exceptional. This was one of our best three meals in Colombia. Maybe it was the over exposure to oxygen or the four-hour hike or the ambience of fine dining in the jungle. Whatever the reason, this place is magical and not to be missed.

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