Exploring Tayrona National Park & Cartagena With Intrepid Travel

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Before I left the UK, everyone I spoke to that had previously visited Colombia raved about Cartagena. Looking through pictures before I left, it did look stunning, so I made sure I had a couple of days to spare at the end of my Intrepid ‘Experience Colombia’ trip to explore the colourful city more.

But after experiencing what Bogota and Medellin had to offer I was slightly dubious that Cartagena wouldn’t match the great times had in the other Colombian cities I visited. How wrong I was, and how right everyone else was…

We landed from Medellin into Santa Marta, and made our way on the hour long bus journey to Tayrona National Park. The first thing that struck me after stepping out of the airport was the heat. It was mid-October and it was 25 degrees – much warmer than Medellin and Bogota. Time to buy some sun cream.
No later than we arrived, the heavens opened. It turns out that when it rains on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, it really rains. We knew we had an hours hike through the jungle ahead, but the rain wasn’t letting up. This was going to be a wetter than an otters pocket.
Torrential rain at Tayrona National Park

If anything, the rain got more intense, and even the best Patagonia waterproof couldn’t keep me dry. Most of the path was marked with wooden planks, but it was up and down, over rivers and stream, logs and rocks. But you know what? It was great fun. Everyone was soaked to the bone, but in great spirits. Some of the path was flooded up to knee height. Most of us were wearing hiking boots / shoes and shorts/long hiking pants. No-one cared, we just plodded on, with a squelch in our step 🙂

It was at this point, when the rain subsided, that this whole little Tayrona adventure reminded me of LOST. Virtual strangers trekking through a downpour in the jungle and finally emerging on a beautiful sandy beach.

Walking onto Arrecifes Beach in Tayrona National Park
Walking onto Arrecifes Beach in Tayrona National Park

We finally made it to the camp just before dark, and were greeted by 10 hammocks – our bed for the next two nights. Oh, and mosquitos. And midges. Bitey little f**kers.

After a restless sleep with noisy, Star Wars-effect-frogs throughout the night, we were up early for more trekking, this time to some beaches further along the coast. After 40 minutes we reached La Piscina, a small beach which basked in the sun. You could even get some freshly made orange juice.

Fresh orange juice at La Piscina beach, Tayrona National Park

After all the hiking through the jungle and along the beaches, through Bogota, Medellin, El Penol and Guatape, it was finally time to kick off the flip flops and experience the warm waters of the Caribbean coast. It was so nice to swim in the sea and float around!

After an hour or so, we then walked further to a bigger, more popular beach, El Cabo.

El Cabo beach sign, Tayrona National Park

El Cabo is a very picturesque beach, which made sunbathing and swimming around in the sea even more fun.

El Cabo beach, Tayrona National Park

We explored one more beach another 20 min hike away, which was perfect to just lay in the sand and fall asleep. It’s what sunny, lazy days were made for.

Eventually we made our way back to camp, but not before stopping to watch the sunset on Arrecifes Beach. After grabbing a couple of beers, we sat on the beach, watched the sun set, and a thunder storm begin. A very apt time to dance salsa we thought. It’s a great story to tell that we danced salsa on a beach in the middle of thunder and lightening.

The next morning, we were up early again for the trek back through the jungle, and back to the bus. Safe to say the return hike was much drier and a little faster.

After 2 hours in the bus, we reached Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, a small volcanic mound where you can lounge around in volcanic mud. It’s meant to be good for the skin, but the smell of the sulphur and the warm, thick grey liquid counterbalances that thought! Still, it was lots of fun, and I’m sure my skin would say the same.

Volcan de Lodo El Totumo

After making a slippery descent down the steps, old Colombian women were waiting at the bottom. In a mother like fashion, they led us down the road to the river. This friendly but stern woman told me to sit down in the river and began washing off the volcanic mud. A few others from the group made it down too, so we were all sat in the river together, memories flashing back to being washed in the bath as a child. That memory was soon gone as the washer women then made us all take our shorts and bikinis off as they washed them too. It was quite the bonding experience!

Back on the bus, and after another 2 hours, we finally made it to the much talked about city of Cartagena. The next few days were spent roaming the colourful streets, eating the freshest fruit you’ll ever taste, nibbling on cerviche and getting a guided tour with the history of the city. We also tried Boca Grande beach, but this was a haven for the locals to sell everything and anything to you, all the time. Fun to lie in the sun, but I challenge you to find a quiet spot 🙂

Wandering the streets of Cartagena


Wandering the streets of Cartagena


The main square behind the clock tower in Cartagena

It was a lovely lazy few days, and a great way to finish the tour. We sat on the final night, drinking Aguila, in front of the Iglesia de la Trinidad.

The intrepid Experience Colombia travel group

But I wasn’t done with Cartagena. Neither was another member of the group. I had two more days to roam, and whilst the initial plan was to try the Rosario Islands, we opted instead for Playa Blanca.

After a scenic, warm 2 hour boat trip, we landed at Playa Blanca and quickly scurried away from the crowds to feast on a huge, fresh fruit salad and find a quiet spot a long the beach. After covering myself in sun cream, I took a few pics looking back a long the beach. It didn’t look far from paradise.

The beach at Playa Blanca, Colombia

UK Health and Safety would have had a field day with the journey back, with a small boat taking passengers back and forth to a bigger boat. No ladder or ropes to use to climb up though, just a scramble up the side of the larger boat. I’m pretty sure we were the only English speaking people on the boat trip back, but it didn’t stop us enjoying the spontaneous caberet, Colombian music and salsa dancing – a great end to a great trip.

There was only one thing left to do. Another few member of the group told us that part of the film Romancing the Stone was filmed at a hotel in Cartagena, and that the restaurant there was excellent, but pricey. It was our last night in Colombia, so of course we booked, at the Santa Clara Hotel. After ordering the tasting menu, the belt buckle was undone, and we sat back, reminiscing over the last 10 days. Whilst sipping on a port, naturally.

Enjoying port at the Santa Clara Hotel, Cartagena

The Colombia trip was booked with Intrepid Travel, and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of adding Colombia to their South America to-do list.

For a full list of all the Intrepid tours that travel through Colombia, please click here. Happy travelling!

4 replies
  1. Alexandra
    Alexandra says:

    Hi 🙂
    I am thinking of doing this tour in January next year! Your photos look amazing!
    What is the name of the place with the hammocks in Tayrona that you stayed? Is there any place that you can bail and maybe pay for an upgrade to a room?

  2. Simon Heyes
    Simon Heyes says:

    Hi Alexandra,

    Thanks for the comment. I get a lot of spam, so have to authorise comments 🙂

    I couldn't recommend the trip enough. Out of my whole 5 month trip, Colombia was my favourite country, mainly because it threw any pre-conceptions I had completely out of the window. You'll love it 🙂

    Tayrona isn't that big…there's only 2 or 3 main camps, and this was the largest one. There are cabin rooms available I think, but I'd just go with the experience of sleeping in the hammock. It's comfy enough, and how many times can you say you slept in a hammock? 🙂

    Otherwise you'd need to speak to Intrepid before the trip starts and see if they can sort something for you.

    Let me know how you get on!


  3. Alexandra
    Alexandra says:

    Hi again!

    Thank you! We are going to Peru and Ecuador before hand so I'm really excited!! Everyone says that Colombia is supposed to me amazing 🙂

    I get motion sickness so I'm just worried that I might start feeling a bit sea sick from the hammock 😛
    Do you remember the name of the camp you stayed at?

    Alex 😀

  4. Simon Heyes
    Simon Heyes says:


    I think the camp was called Arrecifes…as that was the beach right next to the camp. You can sleep in tents too if I remember rightly.

    You'll love Colombia – incredibly friendly people, amazing coastline (spend as much time as you can around Cartagena) and the freshest fruit you'll ever taste 🙂



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