Tayrona National Park

Went scuba diving with a dive shop in Taganga. It was a two tank morning dive. Boat departed Taganga harbor about 8AM and our first dive began around 9:30. Dive spot was Aguja  island that is part of Tayrona park.P1070750This young lady led the second dive

Water visibility was between 50 to 70 feet. Seas were calm. Water temperature nearing 80 F.  The bedrock of the coastline of Tayrona park, including the islands is granite rock.  No actual ‘coral reefs’ only sporadic corals and sponges growing on the (sand) sea floor, or atop rocks near the rocky coast.

Do not have underwater photos. I did see large healthy brain corals and sponges. Very small staghorn corals. No fan corals.

Before the dive I was informed to not expect to see any large fish. They were right.  I saw no fish over ten inches in length. Here is a list of the animals I actually saw:  yellow  and queen angelfish, parrotfish, trumpetfish, pufferfish, blue tangs, clownfish, small groupers, squirrelfish, a spotted moray eel, a very small green eel. Turtles are often seen, I am told, but saw neither turtles nor barracuda that day.  Also saw small anemones of various colors.

Met a young Brit at the hostel who is taking lessons to qualify as ‘dive master’.  He has been on many dives in the area during his six week stay. He reports seeing one turtle and only one barracuda during that time.  He has sighted no sharks of any size or variety.  Last week he was treated to an unexpected delight as his dive boat was enroute to a dive site. Dolphins were seen playing far out in the bay. He donned mask, snorkel and fins and jumped in.

(Have more photos to upload but internet is too slow)


It is always a treat if and when you get a chance to swim in the water where real live oceanic dolphins are. They will come within 10 feet of a snorkeler or diver and hang in the water checking you out. Then, if you begin to swim towards them hoping to touch, with a few powerful flips of their tail they are gone. They are majestic, creatures who are obviously at home in the sea. It is their element. Humans are mere weaklings in their environment. They know it. We know it.

Dolphins worldwide have the ancient reputation of saving human lives. They are without doubt, sentient beings.  Sad, to think that the closest relationships between man and dolphin are conducted by the military. Dolphins have been trained to install mines or listening devices on the hulls of ‘enemy’ vessels.  Of course, the dolphins don’t know anything about human politics. They just do it for the reward of easy food and possibly for the ‘friendship’ of their adopted humans.

Day after the dive I hopped a collectivo  from Taganga to Santa Marta. After exiting the first ride, I asked about and found the correct station for a different bus to El Zaino.  El Zaino sits at the extreme  Eastern end of Tayrona park. Took nearly two hours total from Taganga to El Zaino.

Was pleasantly surprised to learn that for anyone 65 or older… including ‘extranjeros’ (visitor from another country) the entrance fee is waived. Normally, the entrance fee is around 20 dollars per entrance. Students, and Colombian citizens pay a reduced rate on a sliding scale.  If you go, be certain to bring your passport or ‘cedula’ (ID). You will not be allowed to enter the park without them.

That day, I hiked the Naranjilla ‘A’ trail (the longest one). It winds through a variety of terrains. The biggest surprise to me was how similar it was to New Hampshire (the granite state). Huge granite boulders sit together in strange formations through the tangle of vines and tall trees.  Imagine transporting Pawtuckaway to a Caribbean tropical coastline and you get the idea. Tropical plants are seen growing atop and between the groupings of granite boulders. Sunlight filters down through the canopy. You can distinctly hear the sound of the surf crashing on the sand several hundreds of feet on the other side of the jungle trail.

Near the crest of a long incline on the path, you are graced with your first glimpse of the Caribbean. Further on, you come to a small thatched gazebo overlooking  a view of the coastal rock formations and Canaveral beach.

What I  learned that day is that there are two terrestrial and one marine official entrances to the park.

The following day, after having studied the map and having familiarized myself with Taganga, I got a ride aboard the only boat departing Taganga harbor to Cabo San Juan, the only official marine entrance to the park. The boat was supposed to depart at 10:30AM. But, we were delayed by 3 chicas who called in late. The boat motored over the other end of the harbor to wait for them. The captain and one other crewman exited the boat to go hunt the girls down and to encourage them to get a move on.  They returned a half hour later. We were underway by 11:10AM. Business as usual around here.

The boat was built to hold 38 passengers. Aboard were 8 passengers, 2 crew, and the captain. Boat was powered by twin 115hp Yamaha outboards. The sea was rough that day and the sky was overcast. The passengers were instructed to sit astern. (near the rear of the boat). The helm was in the center at the very stern. The captain stood the whole journey managing the wheel and the engine controls. Standing, he could see beyond the bow and so judge the best orientation of the craft to the waves. We were heading into the wind and the seas were slightly off our port (left) side.

The boat would rise up out of the crest of the oncoming waves as the captain did his best to make way and to ease the length of the boat into the next valley. Not easy that day. Many times the bow crashed with a bang and shudder as it fell from the crest it had just exited. We pounded our way forward. Wind was 20knots or so.  Small white caps of waves were seen the whole trip. My hat nearly blew off even though I had it tethered with the attached cord under my chin.

As we passed each of the beaches along the rocky coastline the Captain would point them out. Playa Granate, Bahia Concha, Playa Chengue, Neguage, Playa Cristal, Cinto, and Palmarito.  By the time we arrived at Cabo San Juan, an hour or so later,  our butts were bruised and I’m pretty sure most were happy to be off the boat.  It was an exciting ride. The kind you are glad you did but are glad is over.

Cabo San Juan is spectacular. Two beaches are separated by a tiny natural isthmus and a small lagoon. There is a gazebo atop a rock promontory that affords a beautiful view of the entire area. Beautiful.

The park rules are that no walking along the trails is allowed after 5PM. There are three official camping areas. El Zaino has small ‘ecohabs’ for rent. El Cabo is the hot spot. There is a restaurant and small concession and restrooms and shower facilities that you would expect in any national park. You can rent a tent for 14 bucks a night per person or a hammock under a roof for 10.

The main ‘trek’ in Tayrona runs from Cabo San Juan to El Zaino (or vice verso). I was told to expect it to take about 3 hours.  Since we had arrived a bit late, having started late, I thought it best to not tarry too long in one spot. Needed to be in El Zaino by 5PM.

Had some water and a snack in El Cabo and proceeded on the trail.  First area encountered from El Cabo to El Zaino is ‘La Piscina’.  This seems to be the safes place to swim. The reason being, is that it is protected from the ocean by a natural rock reef forming a relatively calm harbor. Although there may be some current there, it would be minimal. There are no ‘life guards’ who monitor swimmer in the park. If you get into trouble, you are on your own or may hope for help from fellow bathers.  Your safety is your responsibility.  La Piscina is a calm and peaceful place to spend the day swimming and lazing if you camp at Cabo.

Next spot beyond La Piscina is called Arenillo. This place has a tiny restaurant. There was a local artisan making wooden sculptures that he offered for sale.  I liked the looks of Arenillo because it seemed to have the least amount of tourists. It had the look and feel of a coastal fishing village, without the fishermen.  Looked like it would be relatively safe to venture into the water there as long as you did not venture far out.

After Arenillo, you hike through the coastal rainforest again, passing tall trees and granite rocks of immense size. Up and down rock steps that wind in gentle curves. Still, you hear the low thunder of the surf and the wind through the trees.  Saw only a few birds and lizards. Some fruiting sea grapes.

Then, once again you come to an incredible vista of the very long wide beach of Arrecifes.  This is an area that is marked ‘no swimming’, and for good reason. It is a wide expanse of sand that is directly exposed t the wild breeze and waves of the sea.  At the far end of Arrecifes, maybe  200 feet from the coast toward the jungle is a long lagoon. I sampled the water. It was barely tainted with salt. I saw a horse on the other side of the lagoon near a building that looked like someone’s house.  Horses need fresh water. The lagoon must be mostly runoff from the mountain slopes a half mile in the distance.

Then, you re-enter the coastal, granite lined, tropical forest pathway again. This is the longest of the relays of the route. Many visitors where exiting at this hour… 3PM. They wanted to be at El Zaino by 5PM.  Was passed by many younger folks along the route. I carry a walking stick to assist me  mostly in the rocky downhill parts. I call it my ‘third leg’.  It really does help.

Near the end of the trek there is a place that is very near a steep slope further inland. From those hills I heard the distinct sound of howler monkeys. A low grunt/growl that continues for many seconds and then there is a response from another monkey. They were too far away to see but they made their presence known.

I had trekked on this route the previous day coming from the other direction, less than a quarter of the distance toward Arrecifes.  It was about 3:45PM when I began recognizing familiar sights. I was close to the end of the trail.

Came upon the Ecohabs of El  Zaino and past the museum. Still had a few minutes left and I knew where I was so I took one farewell look at Playa Canaveral.

Three buses/ collectivos later I was back in Taganga.  I had been soaked in sweat from the days journey.  Stripped off my duds and enjoyed the luxury of a cool shower.  Had a bite to eat. Danced with a few of the hostel chicas and lay my head on the pillow in my lower bunk in the air conditioned dorm. Life is good. I’m not done yet.