There are a lot of ways to see Tayrona National Park. Ideally, I would have camped or stayed in one of the ecolodges on the beach, but that would have been too difficult to organize with our group of ten. From Santa Marta, there are a lot of day-trip options too.
Since we were doing a 4-day trek through Ciudad Perdida the following day, we decided to take it easy and check out the beaches in the park instead of hiking.
Our hostel had tours to two beautiful beaches: Playa Cristal and Bahia Concha. Bahia Concha was a 30 minutes bus ride away and Playa Cristal was a 40 minute boat ride away. From talking to people and online reviews, Playa Cirstal (also called Playa del Muerto) sounded like a much nicer beach with great snorkeling. The only downside was that the boat ride offered by the tour is really rocky. None of us wanted to get sea sick on our day of relaxation. Our server at Lulo told us we could actually find a bus to the town nearest to Playa Cristal and then take a much shorter boat ride. But no one seemed to know where this bus was or what the closest town was.
Since we had a group of ten, we decided to make our own way to Playa Cristal. We figured out the nearest beach you could drive to was Bahia Naguanje. Our hostel found us two taxis willing drive there and back for 200,000 COP (~$60 USD) per car. Since the park is an hour away, the driers ended up staying with us the entire day because it didn’t make sense for them to drive back to Santa Marta and then pick us up. So they were basically our private driver for the day. (We felt bad they cancelled their whole day for us until we found out later they made the equivalent of 1/3 one month’s minimum wage in one day.)
Once you reach Bahia Neguanje, you can take a quick 10-minute boat ride (or hike 30 minutes) to Playa Cristal. Apparently, with our boat came a guide that basically catered to us during our time there. When we reached Playa Cristal, he put in our drink orders. and everyone got a coco limonada (a coconut cocktail served in a coconut). You can ask them to cut the meat out for you after you’re done with it too. Then we discovered passion fruit margaritas which were AMAZING!
There is also a restaurant on the beach that serves incredibly fresh and delicious fish. There’s no menu. The menu is a platter of different types of uncooked fish and you just pick the one you want them to cook. Each of us ate an entire fish.
There’s also the option of snorkeling here. Our “guide” told us the best snorkeling was between Playa Cristal and Bahia Neguanje so that’s where we went. The coral reef here is really nice and there are lots of little fish. The only problem we had was with the equipment. Some of us got broken snorkels and couldn’t really see much. Also, they make you wear life vests so you can’t dive in. There’s still plenty to see though!
Video and photos by deb2ie.lin
Just on the island alone, our group of ten people ended up spending about 755,000 COP ($235 USD) total for fresh fish, a ton of drinks (mostly alcoholic), boat rides out to the beach, another boat ride for snorkeling on the reef, equipment rental, and some guy to wash the sand off our feet. We basically got a private tour for a great price!