Picture-perfect paradise

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Where I stayed
El Cabo

Flag of Colombia  ,
Sunday, March 5, 2006

This is it, we´ve found it... true paradise. A crystal-clear azure sea, crescent-shaped coves of white sand framed by tall palms against a backdrop of jungle-clad hills, few people and no cars, hammocks in the shade from which to gaze at it all.

We thought Bahia in Brazil was a spectacular stretch of coast, bit this place tops any beach paradise we´ve come across in our nine months of travels. It´s called Parque Nacional Tayrona.

We´d heard much about Tayrona from other travellers, and had read that it´s Colombia´s most popular national park (and rightfully so). So, after a day of diving in Taganga, we packed our day packs and on Thursday 2 March took a bus from Santa Marta to the Park entrance, about 35km to the east.

Foreign visitors pay a steep US$10 entry fee - we made the staff work for it, though, by asking for a map of footpaths. No complete map exists, so one friendly chap spent quite a while drawing in all the paths on a very basic map. The first 3km or so of road into the park is paved, but beyond that, all the beaches, settlements and sights are connected by footpaths only. Yippeee, no smelly, noisy vehicles!

We took a van up the paved road to the junction from where the footpaths fan out, and from there did a lovely circular walk through lush coastal rainforest to a viewpoint overlooking a pristine little beach. An interesting feature of Tayrona is the abundance of large, round granite boulders, often stacked in piles as if scattered by an invisible hand. Within the forest, these are overgrown with vines and creepers, often hiding little caves and passages between the boulders... very Tomb Raider.

In the late afternoon we took the main footpath to Arrecifes, a wild, windblown beach with three restaurants and basic accommodation options - a few rather expensive cabanas, camping, and hammocks under thatched shelters. We opted for the hammocks, and, after a swim at the next little bay, settled in for the evening. Over a few beers we got chatting to a Dutch fellow named Jeroen (who lives in Botoga), his sister and her friend.

Our night in the hammocks was a restless one. Those who´ve slept in them many times before reckon they´re comfortable... but apart from a few short afternoon snoozes, neither of us have tried a full eight hours in a hammock. Like night buses, it takes a little getting used to, I think. We tossed and turned, finally getting some sleep toward daybreak.

In the morning, Jeroen joined us and the three of us walked west along the coastal footpath, stopping at sheltered little bays for swimming and snorkeling. Around midday we reached El Cabo, another basic little resort with restaurant, campsite and hammocks. This place has the most fabulous setting, much better than that of Arrecifes - it overlooks two small crescent-shaped beaches, sheltered from the wind and with those marvellous granite boulders forming a surf-break. Jungle-clad mountain slopes loom behind it.

Despite having planned to leave the park that day, we immediately decided to spend another night here at El Cabo. But not in a hammock! Thankfully, the place had some tents for hire - great, we´re used to hard matresses on the ground! We booked our little tent and, with Jeroen, hit the footpath to Pueblito.

Nestled in a valley between mountain peaks, surrounded by cloud forest, are the ruins of an ancient pre-Columbian settlement named Pueblito. Before the Spanish conquest, the forests, mountain peaks and valleys of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta were the domain of the Tayrona Indians. Located about 40km to the interior of the Park is Ciudad Perdida, the grand Lost City of the Tayronas, which can only be visited only on a six-day hiking tour. However, Pueblito is a smaller version of Ciudad Perdida, with a similar construction style.

The walk uphill to Pueblito was quite a slog - 40 minutes of profuse sweating in the humid afternoon heat - but worth it. From the path we enjoyed some magnificent views of the coastline and the sea of rainforest below us. We found the ruins themselves fascinating - perfectly paved pathways join a number of circular platforms on which round wood and palm-thatch dwellings would have stood. A couple of dwellings had been reconstructed to give an impression.

The exact extent and age of the site are still a mystery, and archeological excavations are ongoing. In fact, the three of us were lucky enough to meet an anthropologist on site. A Colombian doing his PhD with the University of Chicago, he was happy to answer all our questions about the site and tell us more about the Tayronas. We spent a good half-hour chatting to him before making our way back to El Cabo.

After a much-needed swim, we settled down on the beach to watch the sunset with a few beers. After Jeroen had walked back to his cabana at Arrecifes, a few of us gathered around a table to play a dice game by candlelight. Earlier in the day, we´d bumped into our diving friend Jurgen and his mate Gary... who´d come armed with some dice!

On Saturday morning, the two of us relaxed on the beach with our books for a few hours, and walked further along to yet another magnificent stretch of pristine white sand. At late morning, we walked back in the direction of Arrecifes, stopping frequently for swims, and then headed back to the park gate on the inland forest path.

Well, it was our lucky day for spotting wildlife. First, a large, short-tailed rodent (resembling a cross between a capybara and a rat) which the anthropologist had told us about the previous day (can´t remember the name!). Then, two troops of tiny monkeys. These cute little guys have white tufts of hair on either side of their heads, like earmuffs, and the most exquisite auburn colouring on their lower bodies. Not once, but twice they scurried and leapt from branch to branch in the trees above us, calling to each other with high-pitched squeaks.

With heavy hearts, we said farewell to this untouched paradise. We made our way back to Taganga, where we spent the night before catching a bus to Cartagena on Sunday morning.
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tato on

Amazing pictures! i found a cool website with good info about el parque. www.santamartacity.com

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