Everybody raves about Tayrona National Park. It’s a jungle and beaches on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and it’s supposed to be some kind of magical fairytale place of natural beauty. We had a few days, and didn’t have time to go off and do the Lost City trek, so we got the bus from Santa Marta out to Canaveral, where the entrance was.
Please allow me to indulge in a little rant about Tayrona. I’ll preface it by saying that yes, it is indeed a very beautiful place. The beaches are lovely, the jungle is wonderful, there’s some incredible wildlife. But here are the downsides:
It costs a ridiculous amount of money for the entrance fee, which includes nothing, and Nationals pay less than half the price. While I’m on that, what the hell is that about? I come across this so much in the world – tourists paying more than double the price in official fees. And if anyone so much was thinks of making the argument that the countries which do so are so much poorer, and they need the money, and tourists shouldn’t be so stingy as to begrudge them a little extra cash, I’d point out that it happens all over Western Europe, too, including on the Paris Metro. The UK doesn’t do this; neither does the US and neither, to the best of my knowledge, does Australia. Why do people think that tourist-pricing is okay? Either something costs something, or it doesn’t. People boycott Burma because of the government’s extreme tourist-pricing; why do other places get away with it? Because the problem, surely, is when the people in charge do not use the money to improve the standards – and that is definitely a problem in Tayrona National Park.
The places to stay are hilariously bad. Basically, you either stay at Cabo de San Juan campsite, Arrecifes campsite, or one of the excruciatingly expensive eco-lodges on the way. You have to hike to Arrecifes and San Juan (for a couple of hours, with your gear), so you might pass a couple of these on the way. But it’s quite usual to pay several hundred dollars a night for these, and believe me, they are not worth it. But your alternative is, as I say, the campsites. For a hammock, jammed in with dozens of other hammocks, you pay £7. For a tent, you pay £7 per person, so you can’t even try and save money by squishing people in. For a three-person tent, with a mattress that had clearly never been washed, ever, we paid £20. Oh my God!
If the campsite facilities had been amazing, I might have just about been okay with this. But there was one sink, four toilets with no paper, and around the back of the toilets were four pipes sticking out of a wall under which you could shower. In front of everybody. In cold water. And if all four were on at once, one was barely a trickle. And I can tell you, when you have a queue of thirty or so people all wanting to shower the beach off themselves before the sun goes down and the mosquitoes get ferocious, the pressure really is on. That was definitely the most voyeuristic shower I’ve ever had.
You can buy soap – for £1 a bar. You can order food at the restaurant, but it might well be spaghetti out of a can for a fiver that takes an hour to arrive. And if you think that anyone who works there will be polite or helpful to you, you’re in for a shock. Why would they, when you’re clearly willing to pay shedloads to be there? I assume that’s the mentality anyway; I can’t think of anything else that could account for all the attitude.
So yes: Tayrona National Park is beautiful. But unfortunately the beauty is tainted, if not ruined, by bad attitude. It seems that the people who own and run Tayrona (it’s 95% privately owned) don’t appreciate what they have for anything more than the money it brings.