Calabazo entrance instead of Zaino main entrance
Although most people start at Zaino main entrance, we strongly advise against this. If you fancy a cool trail that really goes through nature instead of landscaped hiking trails, you better start at Calabazo entrance. You start with a three-hour hike to “nudist beach”. The first hour consists of a steep climb, but just when you think it will not end, the road turns into a nice mountain path in which climbing and descending alternate. Because this route is more challenging than the “standard route”, we recommend starting immediately at 8 a.m. Then you are still in the sand at Cabo or La Piscina before the hottest moment of the day. During this hike we only met two people during the first three hours. Another advantage of starting at Calabazo entrance is that you do not have to walk the same way back and forth but make a nice round.
If you choose to start at the Calabazo entrance, you also have the option to see the ‘El Pueblito’ ruin. This old ruin of the Tayrona Indians is a nice stopover that you will pass when you start at the Calabazo entrance. El Pueblito is clearly indicated with signs but was unfortunately closed during our trip.
Cabo de San Juan
From Calabazo entrance it takes more than three hours before you arrive at one of the most popular places in Tayrona park: Cabo de San Juan. This cool place is also the most crowded part of Tayrona. It is a popular sleeping place for tourists, because it is possible here to book a hammock or a tent. You will also find here the famous viewpoint ‘El Mirador’ with sixteen hammocks where you can sleep in (you have to be there on time). The sea at Cabo de San Juan is calmer than at Arrecife, but there is still a nice current.
Tip: take a good look around you en route because there is plenty of wildlife to spot in this area. For example, we came across a group of monkeys between Nudist Beach and Cabo de San Juan.
From Cabo you walk the ‘standard route’ to the next beach: La Piscina. This beach gets its name from the calm water, so you can swim and relax. We thought this was the nicest place to put our towel a little longer. It is a lot quieter here than at Cabo and you have a cool view of the large bay with huge rocks. There is also a restaurant here where you can sit down for a nice lunch.
From La Piscina you walk further towards Arrecife. At Arrecife you will also find campsites to spend the night in the park. We have chosen to sleep in a jungle lodge outside the park but we understand from other backpackers that it is a bit quieter / more relaxed at Arrecife than at the campsite at Cabo de San Juan.
From Arrecife back to Cañaveral
The last part you walk back from Arrecife to Cañaveral. There you can catch a van to the main exit El Zaino. From Arrecife to Cañaveral you mostly walk on wooden scaffolding with quite a few stairs up and down. Along the way you pass some places with a beautiful view. We did notice a huge difference in terms of crowds on this part of the route; we walked back to the exit in one long procession. From the main entrance El Zaino we have taken the local bus back to the Calabazo entrance.
Tayrona timetable in one day:
Calabazo entrance starts at 8 a.m.
11.00 am arrival Nudist Beach
11.15 after a short drinking break you continue to Cabo San Juan
11.35 arrival Cabo, time to take a refreshing dip
12.30 walk to Piscina for a nice lunch and a few relaxing hours on the beach
15.30 walk from Piscina / Arrecife towards the El Zaíno exit
17.00 take the last bus from Cañaveral back to the exit (costs 3000 COP per person)
Bus to the exit
Buses run to and from the El Zaino exit from the car park at Cañaveral. This road of 5 km is pretty boring so I recommend getting into that van. Unless you want to take some extra steps …
Sleep in or outside Tayrona park
You can choose to spend several days in this nature park. Both at Cabo de San Juan and at Arrecife there are campsites where you can rent a tent or hammock. This way you can spend more time in this beautiful nature reserve. If you prefer a bit more comfort and are not afraid of a spicy one-day trek, you can also choose to take an accommodation at one of the entrances. We have chosen to spend two nights at jungle lodge Manigua Tayrona Hostel and this accommodation is right next to the Calabazo entrance. A perfect base to visit Tayrona in one day. Although we doubted in advance whether we wanted to sleep in or outside the park, we were very happy with this choice. The super nice hostess Alejandra speaks English well and can give you all the information you need.
The advantage of an accommodation outside the park is that you can also explore another beaches in the area. Tayrona consists of more than 60 beaches, most of them aren’t visited. We went to Coco Beach because we had a free afternoon. This beach is near the main entrance El Zaino, but it is still nice and quiet. It is freely accessible and you will find some small restaurants there. We went here with a private driver but you can also just take the local bus and ask the driver if he will stop at this beach. Please note: the beach is not clearly marked, so it is useful to check the exact location with your hotel in advance.
Tayrona Park is not open all year. In 2019 the park was closed the entire month of February and in 2020 the park even seems to close three times. So check this well in advance!
As a foreign tourist you pay 63,500 COP admission per person.
The route between Canaveral and El Zaíno is boring and has no added value. Our advice: take the bus (3000 COP)
At the entrance of El Zaino it seems to be busy and you get (required) an instructional video. This is not the case with Calabazo. It was nice and quiet there and we only had to show our passport.
Intensity: the standard part from El Zaino to Cabo de San Juan is easy to do. The alternative trek from Calabazo to El Zaino on the other hand is a lot more challenging, a little basic condition is nice.
Are you going for the day trip and do you want to do the entire route? Then starting at the Calabazo entrance is the only option given the severity of the tour and the influence of the temperature. If you stay for several days you can of course end up on this side of the park.
Direct buses run from Palomino to Tayrona. The bus runs every 10 minutes and costs 7000 COP p.p.