Posted by: vivalatinamerica | January 9, 2010

Tayrona National Park – As Pricey As It Gets

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.

Sophie Carville

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  1. What a whiner! Dude, next time, just stay home. Or if you must take your whiney rant on the road, please keep your bad attitude to yourself.

    • you are right man! this is a jungle, survive!
      the thing is that tourist pay for entrance….

    • Thanking the person who gives the heads up. Thumbs down to you, jerk. Calling people names because they have legitimate complaints? What kind of animal are You? Hope You stay home rather than have to put up with the like of you, somewhere.

  2. That´s so true that why i invite you to copy this post and send in to this is the company that runs this and others in the country.
    maybe i say maybe their hear the voice of someone from outside Colombia that think like almost everyone i know that went to Tayrona park…but shit you kwow we writte to them thinks like these but are a unlesseffort due they don´t care.

  3. thanks for your info… good to know. dieter

  4. You are right. It is really over-priced. And the comment by George is bang out of order.

    Saying that we bought all our food and booze and weed and so saved money that way. You just have to expect these places to be a rip off. BTW. Playa Blanca was even better than Tayrona

    • Thanks – George´s wasn´t the only negative reply I got, so it´s nice to get the pòsitive ones. Apparently if you don´t like every single place you go to ever in the world (and it´s not like I didn´t like Tayrona, either!) then you shouldn´t leave the house. Nice. Still, glad you did well out of it!

  5. I had a very similar experience when I entered Los Nevados national park in zona cafetera. Like you I felt, ok, if you’re going to DO something with the money you are taking from people, I might understand. But they don’t. And they don’t care. And when you question them about it’s as if they never even thought about it, or couldn’t comprehend what the heck you could be taking about. And let’s be clear: Colombia is not a poor country, it’s not about noting having money. It’s that much of Latin America doesn’t “get” the concept of tourism. (The trick here is to enter from the south, from the town of Solento. No fees, no forced-on-you guides and gorgeous.)
    And “it’s all good” people like George are simple-minded yokels who should keep their meaningless opinions to themselves. I think.

  6. Thinking of going to the park but maybe not now! Talking about “loads of money” wot sums are we talking about here? I’m not a pack packer so not looking for a bargin bucket holiday just want to relax on a beach and take some pickies of the wildlife!

    • It’s all relative; bear that in mind. It’s about $20-30 entrance fee, food is about half as much again to double the amount anywhere else and is not great, and a place in a tent or a hammock is about $10-15. Again, you have to bear in mind that this is all in comparison to the rest of the country, and is also expensive given the very basic conditions there. They do have a few ecolodges, but that would be a silly financial range. Not for backpackers,and surely that’s the point of the park.

      That being said, Tayrona is incredibly beautiful. Lots of jungle, lots of beach. You can’t swim a great deal or out very far, even on the safe beaches, because the current is exceptionally strong, but lazing around on the beach is nice. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to Tayrona, but I do think you need to be well and truly psyched up for the fees, because if you’re not expecting it they can tarnish what would otherwise be a lovely experience.

      You can bring food in as long as you’re subtle about it; our bags certainly weren’t checked. Oh, and take as much repellent as you can carry. And don’t believe anyone who tells you that mosquitos don’t go near the Rotunda.

    • just go with a local and you wont spend that much, carry your own food because they dont check, but you can buy some if you want, you can go for one day only and it would be good to take some pictures, and you wont spend money for staying there, or carry your own tent, if you want to stay 2 days or more.
      its a great place, be positive! you will love it if like that kind of tourism.

      • Manuel- if you carry your own tent, do you have to stay in the campsites and pay or are there spots to wild camp. Thanks, Mf

  7. Regarding the entrance price of the entrance to the park, the price for locals (and I believe it is the case for all the other examples you mentioned) residents pay taxes that cover the costs of the maintenance of these services/places which entitles them to pay less that tourists.

  8. Any suggestions on where to stop in Tayrona and the best beach? Same for Santa Martha. I’m not back packing but not bothered about lux accom

  9. The best shower I had in my life was in Tairona park! lol Liters of waters fall at once of the most beautiful and fresh water ever it come directly from the top of the mountain! In a sistem created hundreds years ago by the native, as pure as it gets! you guys can drink that water no problem, at least we do lol
    Colombians get out of the beach around 3 so you have 3 hours to hit the showers, thats our logic, good or bad, as the prices the Tayrona Park is a natural reservation so it took a long time until Enviroment Ministery let the goverment allow tourist in, they pay a lot of taxes to the goverment to run this place.

    The entrance ticket now that I think about it is not cool, but I guess all this comes from the idea of first tourist (mostly american) we had that always made a mess of anything leaving garbage in the jungle, beach etc, or even hurting wild animals, buying drugs from ppl who killed farmers etc, yes they should realize that the eco tourist are not he same nowdays.

    Im really not sure but that my opinion.

    This is camping, sometimes when you are camping in others countries you dont have even a loo, my advice? Take food with you, you can set fire and cook at cabo, bring your tents, and all you pay is the entrance, but you could take a boat from taganga and not pay! Dont come in raining season, changes every year so you must check that!

    Playa blanca is more tourist, instead of ecotourist!

    Good luck!

    Pardon my english!

  10. I don’t usually comment on travel blogs, but having recently come across this article while researching a trip to Tayrona National Park, I feel compelled to write, if only to correct at least some of the inaccuracies peddled by this misinformed and disagreeable piece.

    Aside from the complaints you make about the accommodation, the food and service (what exactly were you expecting, the New York Hilton?), particularly invidious is your characterisation of the entrance fee as ‘a ridiculous amount of money,’ and your claim that ‘Why do people think that tourist-pricing is okay? Either something costs something, or it doesn’t.’

    Firstly, the entrance fee to Tayrona for foreigners is 35,000 Colombian pesos (I’ve been separately on a public holiday and a week day, and the price is the same). At today’s exchange rates that works out at approximately $18.55, or £11.80.

    Clearly this is a small fortune, when one considers that with £11.80 you might buy slightly less than two packets of cigarettes in the UK, or that $20 would stand you two fifths of the daily parking charge at JFK airport.

    But this is evidently nothing compared to the gargantuan sum of £7 ($11 or 20,000 Colombian pesos) you were parted with to rent a tent in Cabo de San Juan. £7 that might be better spent buying two journeys (only within zones 1-2) on the London Underground, or $11 with which you could almost afford a 10 pack of Trojan Magnum Condoms in the US. At approximately 4% of the cost of a basic room in a New York Marriot Hotel, Cabo San Juan’s prices must surely be competing with London or Tokyo as the world’s most expensive. (Incidentally the cost of a camping place, not including tent, in Yellowstone National Park is $20).

    Your point that foreign tourists should not be expected to pay more than nationals in Tyrona is so spectacularly crass and uneducated that I almost choked on my delicious Colombian coffee.

    To begin with, the 2011 minimum wage in Colombia is 532,500 pesos per month (approx. £2,304 or $3,607 per year). In Britain the minimum wage is approx. £10,000 per year (the US doesn’t have one). Colombian GDP per capita is $9,800 per year, compared with $46,700 in the US and $43,785 in the UK.

    The reason that entrance prices are larger for tourists than Colombian nationals is that for most Colombians paying the actual ‘fair value’ for entrance into the park is unaffordable. For many, going to Tayrona is a special trip that they can afford (even at the current rate) only once every few years, perhaps once in a lifetime. I have met many Colombians who haven’t been to Tayrona because they cannot afford it. @allen – I suppose Latin America doesn’t ‘get’ the concept of tourism in the same way it doesn’t ‘get’ the concept that it should subsidise spoilt western tourists to run around their places of natural beauty before they return to their mollycoddled existences where they can complain about how awful the food is in those poverty stricken third world countries, and why can’t the buses work on time?

    @Viva Latin America, Tayrona national park does ‘cost something.’ If you’d actually bothered to talk to any Colombians or park officials during your time there you might have found out that it costs something to recompense the Arawak Indians whose holy ancestral lands you are tramping about on. It also ‘costs something’ to hire and pay the park attendants who maintain the trails, the police that protect your belongings being stolen, the official conservationists that support the park’s amazing biodiversity (many of whom, incidentally, are volunteers), the lifeguards that stop you drowning and the national park service itself, which, among other things, has the piddling responsibility of ensuring large tracts of Colombia’s national parks aren’t taken over by Marxist guerrillas and who restore the rainforest after large parts are cultivated for coca leaves.

    Frankly, if you are too poor or too unwilling to pay the relatively small sums required to enjoy Tayrona, you shouldn’t be travelling anyway, regardless of the size of your budget. The attitude displayed above tells you so much more about the obnoxious nature of many western tourists than any ‘fault’ of Colombia.

    Tayrona is a magical place, which in my experience is completely unique. Its blend of natural beauty, stunning (and often empty) beaches and wildlife is wonderful and difficult to do justice. I strongly urge any prospective tourist to visit it. By my calculations you can do the whole return trip from Cartagena, Barranquilla or Santa Marta for approximately 120,000 Colombian pesos, travel, accommodation and food you buy there inclusive (one night). That works out at around $63 or £42. Money well spent.

    • Hi Oliver,

      I’m glad you commented, and I’m glad your comment was so thorough, and I’m further glad that you weren’t abusive, so thanks for all that. Obviously, Tayrona Park throws up a lot of opinions, not just my own, and it’s good to have as many as possible to help travellers decide what to do and where to go. But I’m glad you had such a lovely time. It certainly is a beautiful place.

      I hope others find your price comparisons useful and also the up to date informations.


  11. Oliver has put his experiences of this wonderful place much better than I could! I also wondered what the hell some people on this blog was on about! The camp sites, food and entry costs are all good value and I hope others are not put off by jaded views.

    • ZealSteve! You commented earlier, before you went – please tell us about your experience! I believe that the more opinions are on here, the better, and it always helps people to read about the detail of places in order to prepare themselves before they go. I’m tempted to put together a post based on the comments on this one.

  12. Reading the comments above I can see both sides of the argument.

    Granted the camping facilities were somewhat primitive (especially the showers at san juan). But I’ve seen the same (or less) in more developed countries who charge about the same for campgrounds (parts of Canada come to mind). As far as the showers were concerned, they were no better/worse than many hostels we stayed at elsewhere.
    As for sleeping in the hammocks at Arrecifes there was one psychotic white duck that wouldn’t stop quacking at us.

    The scenery was very beautiful and definitely worth seeing imo. I didn’t really think that the park fee was too unreasonable given the size and state of the park.

    The only downside to me was that the food in the park was very expensive (at least 4-5 times what the same items would cost in Columbia outside the park). However I noticed that many people simply brought in their own food. The only hassle we had was that we had brought in some rum and were gently told that we were not really supposed to do that and to be discrete about it.

    As far as mosquitos go, the amazon is significantly worse. Even hiking through the jungle we barely noticed them.

    Per person, 3 nights in tayrona ran us roughly 150,000 pesos (excluding the rum) each which included all food, fees, and transport. That works out to roughly $30 USD/night.

    My advice to anyone going would be to bring in your own food and sleep in the hammocs. Also go in expecting a campground/hiking trip.

    • Thanks for the thorough reply – glad you had a lovely time, psychotic duck notwithstanding :)

  13. Hi guys thanks for this thread, has been a very interesting read. Can you bring your own tent/mats in the park and just rent the camping space? Or even camp somewhere on your own. I assume not but thought to ask, back home we are not allowed to free-camp inside national parks. cheerio!

    • Indeed you can, and I don’t think you have to pay for camping space! You may have found the way to go! Just remember that you have to hike with your tent and kit, so be prepared to carry. Have a great time :)

  14. Colombia tiene sitios espectaculares y diversos, entre ellos parques naturales como este donde puedes disfrutar de un encuentro con la naturaleza y animales como el mono aullador, el mono maicero, el tigrillo, las más de 70 especies de murciélagos o la exhibición V.I.P de innumerables aves migratorias … En cuanto al precio creo que son minucias para disfrutar atractivos que en otros lugares no se encuentran. Acá les dejo una página que encontré donde se amplían sus atracciones, seguramente les va a ser muy útil para armar un mapa de viajes y turismo Abrazos.

  15. Hello and thanks everyone for the information. Very usefull for someone who is planning to go there. I think with bringing our own tent and food we can reduce the cost.
    However I do have some questions on the possible things to do, besides diving, snorkling and swimming.
    – How many interesting day walks/hikes are there?
    – I read about Pueblito. Is this something?
    – Are there options to do longer hikes (2-3 days)?

    Thanks in advance to everyone who answers to my questions.


  17. I have spent more than 2 months in tayrona – arrecife-, with 6 friends met in Quito,à swiss,a german, an australian,an Austrian,and an english guy i’ve met 7 months ago in Equador ….Tayrona is à very beautiful place and at the time we were in the park as to be closed for unclear reason(epedemy) Feb 94-Mars94….. We were not allowed to live the park until it reopen 6 weeks later…Once à week 2 of us had to sneak out of the park to go buy food and the rest in Santa-Martha with à night in a hotel and back the following through the jungle…À memorable experience all the way through this 2 months….living in our hammack and à fire on for cooking was great,fishing,….and sharing stories with only 10 people living in arrecife…. Due to the closure….great great moment…..I will just advise you to be careful with the sea although it is very beaUtiful,at times it can be very dangerous,on ny last week in march 2004 à Colombian drowned and à good friend from England lost his life as well…very sad and tragic moments in life……RIP my friend….

  18. Im Colombian and in my opinion .. is true that you have different prices than the nationals. But im currently dtudying in the UK, london and is stupid that EU people pay 3000 pound for my course aand I have to pay 7000 pounds for the same one. This ids incredibily more ridicoluos and unfair so dont come and argue about only 7 fucking pound that you earn in one hour of working here in the UK.

    • You have a very good point; it’s awful that foreigners have to pay so much more for education. Actually, it’s awful that education in the UK is so expensive in general. If it’s any consolation, as of next September university students in the UK will be paying £9000 per year – I sincerely hope that foreigners’ fees won’t skyrocket too. But I suppose they probably will :(

  19. Never been to the park, but do live in a developing country and work in tourism. The pricing issue can be justified as the locals spend all there life paying taxes, so one of the benefits for them is that they get cheaper access to National Parks. £1 for a bar of soap sounds reasonable. The logistics of bribing food in and running a tourism operation in a remote area are complex and expensive. People have a right to make a living. The world does not exist to accommodate young backpackers on a budget!

  20. hey there good peoples.

    Interesting reading here. As always opinions are opinions.
    I’m just about to depart to Tyrona (for better or worse). I can’t wait.

    I’m actually going straight there when i arrive from the UK. But i’m wondering what you do with your backpack and valuables when your off in the day?

    Do they have lockers to keep your stuff safe?
    Many thanks for any info you guys can shed?

  21. In my opinion it’s all about managing expectations. You cannot expect to go to a fairly remote place such as Tayrona and find rows of powerful showers, squeaky clean loos and Michelin-star chefs serving amazing food for less than £2. And the thing is Tayrona offers you this option: stay at the ecohabs and you’ll get exactly that for around £200 a night. Not expensive in comparison with 5* hotels all over the world. And that’s the standard you’ll get: an Eco-luxury 5* resort.

    I’ve tried both options: the hammocks when I was younger and the Ecohabs this year. Both are good for different reasons and, compared to UK prices, both offered to tourists at very reasonable prices. Don’t forget tourists sometimes pay £3 for a coffee in London and £25 for cheap theatre seats. In Central America, entrance to some national parks is $50 (Monteverde in Costa Rica). So in that context Tayrona is very reasonable. And please don’t complain about the standard of food there: you’re just reinforcing the gringo stereotype. Perhaps package holidays are more suited to you, where you’ll always have a rep to complain to (see the other stereotype that wants British people complaining about everything, starting with the weather).

    Tayrona is the closest to paradise I’ve ever been to. It has plenty of stunning beaches although the strong currents mean you cannot/should not swim. The Pueblito is worth seeing but it can be anything up to 7hrs trek depending where you are staying and which route you take. Try the restaurant near La Piscinita beach if you can afford it – for about £20/$28 you’ll enjoy one of the best meals with the freshest fish.

    I also found the park rangers and staff very helpful and polite.

    To Oliver: you make an excellent argument, thanks.

  22. Regarding the safety of the beaches in Tayrona Park, it must be noted that the beaches that are too dangerous, like Arrecifes, have a clear sign forbidding people from swimming there.The park has other beaches that are quite safe for swimming, like ‘La Piscina” and Cabo San Juan. It must also be noted that Taryona Park inlcudes more than the jungle walk from El Zaino to Cabo San Juan. There are other very beautiful beaches that can be reached by car or boat, like Cinto, Playa Cristal and Bahia Concha. When you go by boat to the park you don’t have to pay the entrance fee..

    To Oliver: thank you for explaining so well and giving accurate information.

  23. Definitely a rant.

    I loved my first stay at Tayrona, going back there soon and really excited. I agree the whole area around Santa Marta is pricey for accommodation, but food and transportation are quite reasonable.

    The entrance fee to the park is about $15, that’s totally fine with me. There are some well maintained trails around the park. Living in Canada, we always pay park fees here.

    I stayed at a lovely place called Finca de Los Angeles. Accommodations throughout the park are rustic, but that’s what one signs up for in a wilderness area!

    The place is really beautiful. I loved it during the rain season – very atmospheric and not as crowded. People are very friendly and welcoming.

  24. I only ready a couple of comments about the entrance fee and a trek through the jungle. that’s one way but most people including myself jumped on a boat from santa marta. It’s a quick ride and inexpensive and once you get there you can explore the beaches yourself. The boat drops you off at the main beach which is where you can stay over night on hammocks. Hand down the most beautiful beach i have ever seen (although this was 6 years ago), a magical over night experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

  25. Hey and Wow!!

    Thanks for the insight, I am currently in Peru and was looking at photos of Tayrona national park and wanted to stay there for an extended period of time but did not want to fork out the big bucks for the bungalows so I was looking into camping online and came across your article, sound horrible to say the least.

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Steve – Thanks for your comment. I’d like to point out that other comments show my opinion to be wildly unpopular, so do bear them in mind! Have a great trip :)

  26. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and
    I find It really useful & it helped me out much.
    I’m hoping to present something again and aid others such as you aided me.

  27. @Vivalatinamerica I just came back from Tayrona to Cartagena and I was looking for info about the park as I am still astonished by its beauty.

    I believe back in 2010 everything was a mess. It surely was. But after almost 4 years things over here have changed. Showers are separated from toilets – with available toilet paper – and everything is nice and tidy. Hammocks are way better than the ones in the pics and include locker and an antimosquitoes screen.

    Apparently people are nicer, the restaurant food has changed dramatically (now you have a wide variety of options from gourmet dishes (fried seafood rice w/coconut milk and a juice) at 12 pounds and low priced arepas con queso at 1.2 pounds, which are quite tasty.

    On the other hand, Tayrona Park is still pricey for non-colombians, but conditions have improved substantially. I invite you to come again and change your mind.

    Cheers! and it’s a pity your experience wasn’t as good as mine!


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