Would you like to enjoy Tayrona National Park without the tourists? I’ll let you in on three secrets how to do so:
- Use the Calabazo entrance
- Visit Playa Brava (and stay overnight)
- Stay at Arrecifes
Unfortunately Tayrona National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona or PNN Tayrona for short) is no secret among tourists anymore and it might seem impossible to escape the crowds. The hiking trail from the El Zaino entrance towards the beaches is flooded with busloads of tourists on flip flops, dragging along cooler boxes. The beaches then turn out to be packed with both Colombian tourists and foreign tourists. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, these crowds can be a disappointment.
Luckily there still are some tucked away beaches where you can have the beautiful scenery all to yourself!
Sound too good to be true? Well, I’ll let you in on a little Tayrona National Park secret. Even during high season it possible to see only a handful of other people. The catch? You will have to walk a little longer to get there.
Curious where in Tayrona you should go? I’ve written it all down so you can enjoy it as well!
Tip: The options below are also great when the tickets for the main entrance El Zaino are sold out. So remember this if you are heading to PNN Tayrona during high season (December – January).
Table of Contents
Highlights Parque Tayrona
- Idyllic palm tree lined beaches without the tourists
- Breezy hammock accommodations next to the beach
- Scenic jungle walk to get there
- No booking in advance needed (even in high season)
Tayrona National Park hiking map
Check out the hiking map of Tayrona National Park below.
Secret #1: Use the Calabazo entrance
Practical information about the Calabazo entrance (Parque Tayrona)
It is NOT possible to buy tickets online for the Calabazo entrance. Even during high season you can just show up to buy tickets at the entrance. I emailed with the park authorities and they replied that it was okay to enter at the Calabazo entrance with a ticket for the Zaino entrance. However the staff at the gate did not agree with this email and it resulted in an hour long debate with them (in my very broken Spanish). Not fun. Lesson learned: buy your ticket for the Calabazo entrance at the gate. If you want to buy tickets for the other entrances, visit the official website of Tayrona National Park.
When we were ate the Calabazo entrance during high season, there was no line at the entrance. We didn’t even see other visitors there! We also did not have to watch a video before entering the park like reported for the Zaino entrance. Neither were our bags checked for alcohol.
Summary: advantages of using the Calabazo entrance to enter Tayrona National Park
- You can’t book an entry ticket for the Calabazo entrance in advance. This means you can always visit Tayrona NP, even if the tickets are sold out in high season!
- No tourists, so no waiting
- You do not have to watch a video before entering
- Your bag isn’t checked for alcohol
- The hiking trails starting at the Calabazo entrance are empty
Secret #2: Visit Playa Brava
The secret beach at Tayrona Park I’m talking about? Playa Brava is the place you need to be! Playa Brava is on the coast in the middle of the National Park. It’s a beautiful white beach lined with palm trees. The picturesque accommodation is literally next to the beach, so you’ll be able to hear the ocean waves while falling asleep!
How to get to Playa Brava (Tayrona National Park)
So how do you reach this little piece of paradise? Use the Calabazo entrance. From there it’s a 3 – 4 hour walk to get there. Some parts can be a little steep. There are a few very basic food stands on the way, especially during the first half of the hike. However, I would recommend bringing enough water for the entire walk.
To get the most out of your day, and to avoid walking during the hottest part of the day, it’s best to start walking early. The park already opens at 8:00. I’d advise sleeping near the entrance. Unfortunately, there are only a few places to sleep nearby the Calabazo entrance. An affordable option nearby is Finca Gordita.
There is only one road along the national park. Collectivos (public busses) pass by frequently. Wait by the side of the road and wave one down. Ask them to drop you at the Calabazo entrance.
Playa Brava: Tayrona's secret beach
Playa Brava is empty and idyllic! If I have to come up with one negative point, it’s that swimming isn’t possible because of the rough water. Though this is the case for most beaches at Tayrona.
Accommodation Playa Brava Teyumakke: hammock next to the beach
There is picturesque accommodation right along the beach at Playa Brava Teyumakke. This is the only option. How expensive is it to sleep at Playa Brava? Well, it’s very cheap! You can choose from basic cabins or hammocks (30k COP). Booking in advance is not necessary but it is possible if you feel more comfortable doing so. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The hammocks come with a mosquito net, blanket and pillow. The toilets and showers are basic and dark.
There is also breakfast (20k COP), lunch (30k COP) and dinner (30k COP) available. Cold beers cost 5k COP.
Secret #3: Arrecifes
Most tourists dash past Arrecifes on their way to the more well known Cabo San Juan, but not you! Arrecifes has deserted, wide white beaches.
Accommodation in Arrecifes: luxury hammock
Arrecifes is definitely more built up than Playa Brava and there are multiple options for accommodation here. Zona Camping Sector Arrecifes is good value for money. You can hear the waves from your hammock (!!), but thick bushes obstruct the view of the beach. The big breezy camp site offers hammocks (30k COP pp), cabins or a camping spot for your own tent. There are about 150 hammocks, so even in high season reservations aren’t needed. Only about half of the hammocks were taken when we were there during high season. Each hammock comes with a big locker to store your belongings. Bathrooms are clean and up to date and there is HOT water for the showers! The on site restaurant has many tasty options for breakfast, lunch and dinner for reasonable prices.
Itineraries to have Tayrona National Park all to yourself
The itinerary everyone does at Tayrona (and you shouldn’t)
Route: El Zaino entrance – Cabo San Juan – El Zaino entrance
The real ‘turbo tourists’ squeeze this into one day, meaning they are walking more than they’ll have time to enjoy the beach. Another downside to this one day rout is that you’ll miss out on sleeping in a hammock. In my opinion staying overnight in Tayrona National Park really adds to experiencing the park.
So how should you plan your itinerary at PNN Tayrona? Read on!
Recommended: 3 day itinerary to avoid the crowds at PNN Tayrona
Route: Calabazo entrance – Playa Brava – Pueblito – Cabo San Juan – Arrecifes – El Zaino entrance
- Day 1: Walk from the Calabazo entrance to Playa Brava (3 – 4 hours). Stay overnight at Playa Brava Teyumakke as explained above.
- Day 2: Head over to the eastern side of the park via Pueblito. On the coast you can visit the beaches in this order: nudist beach, Cabo San Juan, La Piscina and Arrecifes. Cabo San Juan is beautiful to see, but packed with tourists. There was a line of about 40 people waiting for a table for lunch when we were there. Continue to one of the more quiet beaches for lunch. Spend the night in Arrecifes (skip up to discover where to sleep in Arrecifes).
- Day 3: It’s an easy walk from Arrecifes to the exit at El Zaino.
Short on time: 1 night itinerary in Parque Tayrona without tourists
Route: Calabazo entrance – Playa Brava – Calabazo entrance
If you are short on time it is also doable to do a return trip to Playa Brava from the Calabazo entrance. Both days will involve 3 – 4 hours of walking, leaving enough time for beach bumming.
Practical information Tayrona National Park
When (not) to go to Tayrona National Park
Please note: Every year Tayrona National Park closes for a number of weeks to give the nature a breaks and to allow the indigenous people to do their rituals in peace. Check out the PNN Tayrona official website for updates on when the park closes.
In 2023 Tayrona National Park will be closed during the following dates:
- Feb 1 – 15
- June 1 – 15
- October 19 – November 2
- In 2022 the park closed during the same times as 2023.
- In 2021 the park closed its doors 3 times, during which tourists could not visit the park: February 1 – 29, June 1 – 15 and 19 October – 2 November.
It’s also a good idea to avoid rainy season when planning your visit to Tayrona National Park. The paths get muddy and beach bumming just isn’t as fun in the rain. It rains in Tayrona National Park between May and November. Atleast try to avoid the wettest months (September and October).
Many local Colombian tourists visit Tayrona National Park during Catholic holidays, meaning it gets busy. I’d you’d like to avoid the crowds, stay clear of those dates.
What to bring to your overnight trip to Tayrona National Park
- Head torch
- Thick sweater for chilly nights
- Sleeping bag liner. The hammocks are not washed after every guest.
- Deet against mosquitos
- Descent walking shoes (I wore hiking boots, but sneakers should be fine)
Summary of the most important tips: how to enjoy Tayrona without the crowds
Didn’t manage to read through the whole article? Don’t worry, here are the most important pointers for visiting Tayrona National Park:
- Don’t do a day trip to the park, the distances are simply too large to have significant time at the beach. An overnight trip with just one night is okay if you are short on time.
- Use the Calabazo entrance to get to Playa Brava. The main advantage of using the entrance is that there are no tourists and no mandatory video. However, it is NOT possible to buy this entrance ticket online.
- When doing a 2 night trip through Tayrona, sleep at Playa Brava and Arrecifes. You don’t need to reserve (even in high season).
- Hammock accommodation and food are available in the park for very reasonable prices.
- Follow the tips above and you’ll be able to enjoy the beaches in Tayrona without tourists (even in high season!!)
What are you waiting for?! Go enjoy Tayrona National Park before word gets out!
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