The Tayrona National Park is a beautiful area less than 40 kilometres from Santa Marta, Colombia. It is a simple matter to get a group car or a local bus to the entrance of the park, where you purchase the entry ticket. When I arrived there were only 12 people ahead of me in line, but it took half an hour to get my ticket. Then it is a five kilometre walk along the road to the walking tracks, or you can get a bus. I chose to walk, hoping to see some wildlife along the way. I saw a goat (not what I had in mind) and lots of birds and small lizards.
The road goes to Cañaveral, where there is a short walk to see ancient stones that had holes drilled into them by the Tayronians. They foretold the future by facing the holes toward certain stars. There is a lookout with a gap through which a particular star can be seen.
The beauty can be deceptive - beaches here are dangerous because of strong rips, and there are signs warning people not to swim, as hundreds of people have drowned there. There are also signs warning not to go into the nearby lagoons, because of caiman.
The track then leads to Arrecifes (reef), both along the beach and through the forest. It is a lovely walk and not demanding. The park is home to many species of animals, some of which are endangered. I was walking slowly and as quietly as I could, trying to increase my chances of seeing some animals. I was thrilled when I spotted a small mammal in the forest, foraging for food. I had seen one in the zoo at Vilcabamba, but I don’t know what they are called. They look like a tapir, but they are only small, about the size of small dog. After it went on its way, I did too. Not much later I saw more - a mother and her two babies in the undergrowth. They didn’t stay around for long either, but it was lovely to see them. There were lots of birds, small lizards and butterflies. I knew that monkeys live in the park, but I didn’t come across any.
The beach is quite dramatic, with large rocks along the coastline. The cliffs, according to the sign, were formed by the wash of the waves on an enormous piece of magna that hardened in the earth and then raised the crust.
In the afternoon I arrived at Arrecifes and had lunch at a restaurant. There were several camps close together, all offering accommodation in the way of cabins, hammocks or tents, and food and drinks. Not having a map (I had thought I would be able to get one at the park entrance) I was relying on the signs in the park, which were not altogether useful. I had planned to continue on to Pueblito, but as I headed off I met some people and when checking if I was on the right track (literally) they told me that it was too far to get there before dark, so I decided to stay at Arrecifes for the night.
I hired a tent for $15 a night at the El Paraiso (Paradise) resort, right on the beach. Although I had been walking all afternoon, there wasn’t much else to do, so I went for a walk along the beach, and saw a beautifully coloured large lizard. I found another walking track in the forest and walked along there until it started to get dark. It was very pleasant in the forest, but I didn’t see the monkeys that I was hoping to.
When I returned to the camp I did see a monkey. It was sitting on the roof of the restaurant/reception area. I watched as he swung by his tail, and he lowered himself to pull at the plastic flowers in hanging baskets on the veranda. The staff growled at him as though he was regularly a bit of a pest.
The facilities at the camp were more civilised that I had expected. There were flushing toilets and cold showers. The amenities block has no roof, the women’s showers are a row of stalls, without doors, and the shower nozzles are overhead taps, as is the norm in this region.
I had stripped off ready for my shower when I looked up and saw I was not alone. The same monkey from earlier was sitting on the top of the wall next to me. Not accustomed to being naked in front of monkeys, or other wildlife for that matter, I was a bit surprised. I knew that monkeys sometimes like to take things and I was hoping that he wasn’t going to take my towel or clothes and run off with them. Instead, he was more interested in a drink; he grabbed the nozzle of the next shower and licked at it. I turned on my shower and he came over and cupped the water in his hands to have a drink. When he was finished he loped away and I got on with my much needed shower. With thoughts about animal borne diseases, I did change cubicles though.
My encounters with the local inhabitants continued when I went to the restaurant for dinner. I sat down at a table only to hear “hola, hola” (“hi, hi”) and I looked up to see a green parrot perched on top of the chair opposite me. He said a few more phrases and seemed to listen when I answered. I had come to Tayrona to see wildlife, but I hadn’t expected it to actually talk to me. Being used to eating alone, I was quite happy to think I had a dinner companion, but the parrot moved on before my meal arrived.
After a fairly sleepless night due to the proximity of other guests and my embarrassing snoring habit, I got up relatively early for me and headed off towards Pueblo. On the way I was pleased to first hear and then see a red headed woodpecker. That is a description, not its actual name.
A guide had told me that there were many ways to reach Pueblito, but I headed off on the track that I had seen the day before. It was a lovely walk, passing beaches where swimming was safe, and some other camps. I headed along a trail that was signed as a route that was traditionally used by indigenous people, connecting different places in the area. The boulders were a regular feature, with the path sometimes passing through gaps under rocks or over the top of them.
It was a really pleasant walk through the forest and beaches. I passed lots of horses carrying packs or people, which I didn’t enjoy.
The path that I found myself on included climbing a steep path with many rocks or boulders as stepping stones. Much to my disappointment, I came across a boulder that I physically could not climb. I tried alternative routes such as climbing around or under it, but the fact was, I needed to go over it. The other fact was, I couldn’t cross the boulder without a leg or hand up. I didn’t like to admit defeat, but in this case I had to. I could not scale that rock without help.
If time had not been an issue, I could have chosen an easier path and gone through to Pueblito, but I really needed to get back to Santa Marta that night, as I had a flight booked to Costa Rica the next morning. In the end, I retraced my steps and returned to the park entrance and took a local bus back to Santa Marta.
It was a shame I couldn’t stay longer, but for now – off to Costa Rica!