If I could spend more time in any one location in Colombia I would most definitely choose the secluded Tayrona National Park on the stunning northern coast of Colombia.
Sun, sea, sand and an abundance of mountainous rainforest rising directly up from the Caribbean Sea tick all the right boxes for an unforgettable adventure. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful natural places in South America.
Trekking through the tropical jungle along a muddy trail to get in to the park is an incredible experience in itself. I was fortunate enough to spot monkeys and exotic birds settled on their arboreal perches, providing them shade under the jungle canopy. Multi-coloured butterflies drifted awkwardly on updrafts, guiding me further into the jungle. After an hour or so trekking with a rucksack through sweltering humidity along the dirt tracks from Cañaveral, I eventually heard the booms of distant waves and with each new step the ocean beckoned me closer. The under-currents and rip tides at Arrecifes beach are too strong and treacherous to swim safely so I made do with a refreshing splash in the surf.
The scenery was transformed as the trail began to hug the coastline and the screen of the jungle canopy was traded for glorious insistent sunshine amid a reviving sea breeze. The mountainous rainforest flourishes here, rising sharply upwards from the palm-lined beaches to the misty cloud layer in a lush blanket of green. Below, the powerful waves break onto huge granite boulders thrusting seawater into the sky like an exploding bottle of pop.
A short walk in the white powdery sand led me from the wild waters to a calm and protected bay at the lovely La Piscina where I found only a handful of sun worshippers. Onward I rambled, and it wasn’t long before I gazed upon the renowned Cabo San Juan de Guia with its two tranquil bays interspersed by a rocky outcrop.
I planned on staying for three nights, in a hammock slung up in the thatched-roof hut on top of the giant boulder. After the tough slog through the jungle, a swim in the sea and an afternoon nap on the beach, I ate a basic but hearty meal of rice, salad and freshly fried fish. Nothing tasted better than well-deserved dark rum as the sun sank spectacularly out over the Caribbean horizon. The lack of ambient light in the park meant that on a cloud-free night the skies were emblazoned with countless stars, making stargazing a truly cosmic experience. As nightfall descended, the sounds of the jungle began to ebb and the gentle sound of waves washing the beach lulled me to sleep.
In Tayrona National Park you adjust to being awake during daylight hours and sleeping as soon as it gets dark. Retiring to your hammock a couple of hours after sunset and getting up just after sunrise become standard. Apart from a local with a guitar and people gathering around a fire, nothing much happens here after dark.
During the day the beaches and waters are very much a place to kick back and unwind, the pace is slow and life reverts back to basics. Eat – Drink – Relax – Swim – Drink – Eat – Swim – Relax – are very much the order of the day’s activities.
The shallow waters of El Cabo are ideal for swimming and there are many spots to snorkel with a variety of marine life found amongst the rocks and unique and protected reefs. While I didn’t see any sea turtles on my snorkelling jaunts I did manage to glimpse the one and only sea horse I’ve ever seen, pink sea snakes and countless species of colourful tropical fish between the vibrant corals.
Some of my most memorable moments were not spent relaxing on the beaches of Tayrona but hiking the jungle trails up in the mountainous rainforest near the indigenous village of Pueblito. It was on those trails that I first heard the roars and then managed to pinpoint a group of howler monkeys way up in the tallest canopy tree. Further up the trailhead where a jungle stream dripped over moss-covered rocks, I discovered some tiny Yellow-striped Poison frogs (Dendrotabes truncates). These small amphibians didn’t hop away when I got in close. Being poisonous, they have few predators and were unmoved by my camera. On the way back down toward the beach along a different trail I spotted a Praying Mantis camouflaged like a plant stem and watched patiently as it bayoneted and then devoured an unsuspecting wasp.
Those jungle experiences from Tayrona will stay with me just as much as the pristine wild beaches and warm turquoise waters of the national park. I can’t wait to go back!
by Mark Boultwood
About the author:
Mark Boultwood is an Englishman currently living in Bogota, Colombia. Mark first ventured to South America in the late 1990s, years later found himself volunteering at an animal refuge for a year, caring for a Jaguar in the depths of the Bolivian jungle. His passion for travel and new experiences landed him a decade-long role specialised in leading small group tours from Mexico right down to the tip of Argentina and almost every country in between. His interests include wildlife photography, hiking and collecting treasures from the places he travels. He is a freelance correspondent for Uncover Colombia. Follow Mark on Twitter at @markboultwood