The recent flim, The Lost City of Z, based on the book by David Grann about the explorer Percy Fawcett has received mixed reviews but everyone is interested in the amazing place where the story takes place. The film was shot in Northern Columbia near Tayrona National Park in Columbia and is actually a wonderfully unspoiled spot of the world. .
Tayrona National Park is located 40 kilometers outside of Santa Marta on the Northern Coast of Columbia. The most amazing thing about this area is the contrast between the ocean and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. Columbia established Tayrona as a national park in 1969 and it is a very popular destination for Columbians (and South American’s generally). We explored Tayrona because of the remote location (and thus less tourists) and beautiful hiking promised. We have been fortunate to hike some pretty pristine trails around the world and look forward to remote natual beauty. The park covers 12000 hectars (and 3000 hectars of sea) so the hiking options are extensive.
Pristine, yes. Secluded, no.
While the natural beauty was remarkable, so were the crowds – something I did not anticipate. We were traveling off season (November) and our hike felt more like a long line at Disney World than a remote encounter with nature. At the park entrance you were required to queue up and wait 15 minutes to view a presentation about safety and care in the park (100% in Spanish). The oddly structured start (especially given how structure is not really a part of things in South America) felt out-of-place and not really accomplishing its purpose. We then took a very hot, cramped bus from the entrance to the start of the trailhead For the first 30 minutes of the hike we were stuck in massive crowd of people lined up along the trail. It wasn’t until we got much further in that we were able to ditch the crowds and finally experience a more rustic quiet beauty.
The hiking leads you from cove to cove along the coastline. The currents at nearly all the beaches are too strong to swim but if you make it all the way to Cabo San Juan there is a restaurant, a cove for swimming and a nice place to spend the day. This is also where much of the camping is located in Tayrona. Open air camping in hammocks or in rented tents are available but a better option is Ecohabs which are huts perched on the hillside overlooking the ocean. These are the only non-camping option actually in the park.
We decided to stay just outside the park in Villa Maria. This small collection of “ecohubs” are just 3 km away from the entrance of Tayrona and they are doing a remarkable job with sustainable tourism. Their infastructure is notable in this area (they claim to be the only place to stay in the area with air conditioning and hot water) but they are keeping a very distinct sense of place. Individual ecohuts are spread across a beautiful property. The main house serves meals (breakfast included) and they have a pool plus a beautifully developed nature trail down to their own swath of beach. The entire community is involved in the resort and they seem to be making great effort to help educate visitors about the local area.
What I loved so much about Villa Maria is that once you arrive, they can set you up with any number of activities and in doing so, help support other tourism initiatives in this rather undeveloped part of the world. While the resort itself is not situated directly on the water, the resort has designed a nature walk that takes you from the center of the resort to a private beach. Beyond the resort itself, the hotel can arrange for tubing excursion or the opportunity to visit Orinoco, a small indigenous village a few kilometers up a country road. They can also assist you with a private guide to Tayrona National Park (but you likely won’t need it.)
The food was surprisingly good given the remote location. Breakfast is included in the cost of the room and we ate both lunch and dinner at the restaurant (there are not a lot of options other than a few touristy places outside the entrance to the park). Prices for the double room huts averaged about $150 USD.
Closest Airport: Santa Marta, Columbia
Transportation to the resort: The resort is located about 40 minutes from the town of Santa Marta. The resort has a few drivers (or can arrange for a taxi) that can take you to and from the airport. for about $38 USD.
Have you visited Tayrona National Park? Have you stayed at Villa Maria? I’d love to hear about your experience.