By Stephen Bugno
Tayrona National Park, Colombia. The guidebooks hype this place as what we should expect from a tropical paradise: “Thick jungle teeming with wildlife spilling over onto golden sand beaches with pounding surf.” And for once, their description is not far off. The Footprint guide asks us to squint our eyes, add a little imagination, and the flocks of pelicans that glide overhead become pterodactyls.
Surprisingly, it isn´t that hard to imagine. This place is so pre-historic. I´m tramping through mud on a primitive trail through the jungle. I hear several species of birds, orange and black butterflies flutter in front of me, and small metallic green lizards run from my pounding footprints.
After 20 minutes we bust through the heavy greenery to the beach. This is Playa Brava– a 200-meter stretch of sand that is vacant except for two naked people working hard to open a coconut with a rock. If they tried to spear a fish it wouldn´t seem so odd. And if a triceratops broke out of the jungle behind them, it wouldn´t appear too strange either.
We walk past them and make our place on the beach. The waves crash close to shore, the water is warm and the backdrop is serene– steep mountains that rise up just beyond the sand.
I am staying back at Cabo San Juan with Geoff and Elizabeth, two friends I met at the hostel in Taganga. At Cabo San Juan our accommodation is the 15 or so hammocks that are positioned around in a circle underneath a small pavilion on top of a rock out on a small peninsula. The 360-degree view is incredible. We watch the lightning storms out at sea before we fall asleep each night as we hear the waves crashing. In the morning we wake up to a spectacular sea view to the north and the rocky coastline of huge smooth boulders and crescent white sand beaches to the east and west. Palm trees bend over the beaches to give us shade when we sit on the course sand.
From Taganga we caught a ride with Jose who organizes trips two and from the park each day. He charges 15,000 COP one-way or 25,000 COP return. He took us to the park entrance to pay the 34,000 entrance fee and then the remaining few miles to the parking area. In all the trip took about an hour. You can ask him to stop at the supermarket because the food inside the park in overpriced and not good. There is also public transportation to the park, which is slightly more complicated but a little bit cheaper.
Once Jose let us out at the car park, we hiked for about two hours through lots of mud in the thick jungle and out to the shore past Arrecifes and La Piscina Beaches. We stayed in the hammocks at El Cabo for 25,000 COP per night. After two nights sleeping out in the open air, we packed up and hiked out to meet Jose at 5pm. There are lockers to store your valuables at El Cabo, but you need to bring your own lock.