A National Park worth risking it for.

I had chosen Santa Marta because it was the closest city to Tayrona Natural Park, a National Park that was a beautiful hike through the jungle to the coast. I had planned on doing it on Sunday since we had a full day. However, I learned the night before that all of the entrance tickets for tourists were sold out. I was disappointed, but felt better when we discovered there was another beach nearby worth visiting. Despite that discovery, I still thought there might be a chance they save some tickets at the door.

Ryan was on board with the plan to go to the park first and if we didn’t get in, we would head to the beach 20 minutes away. After hostel breakfast (fruit and eggs) on the rooftop, we took a taxi out there, about an hour drive. Our taxi driver turned out to be a big Yankees fan which we bonded over briefly as we stopped at a Cajero (ATM). He dropped us off and pointed us in the right direction. The situation seemed promising as there were definitely some lines to get in and no one was telling us to go away because they were at capacity. Fortunately, after waiting in a short line, we were able to get our tickets. We headed towards the entrance and saw a line of people waiting for vans, so instead we chose to walk. Along the way we stopped for some water and a bite to eat at a jungle hotel. The food was healthy (ish) and delicious. Looking back, I’m glad we stopped because it was probably about another 1.5 hours until we had the opportunity to eat again (ice cream) and then another half an hour before we came across a restaurant. The walk was pretty cool, we took it slow and hung out with a dog, which we named Nina, who followed us for most of the way. We also saw some large ant farms which were interesting and gross at the same time.

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Eventually we made it to the official trail head and began our trek. We saw some Capybara (large rodent-like animal), butterflies, and a lot of lizards. The most impressive thing I saw were these large boulders placed sporadically throughout the jungle forest. They seemed so out of place, as if they fell from the sky and were so huge. The hike was decently hard, but it went by fairly quickly. Eventually we made it to the first viewpoint which was a beach. The Caribbean waves and current were too strong so they don’t allow swimming, which was too bad because we were sweating a lot by this point. The path now changed to be less forest and more a boardwalk amongst the low bush-like trees and rocks. We continued on until we reached La Piscina, a bay which we could finally swim in. The sand was glittering and left you with shimmers on your skin, the sea was very salty. We relaxed for a bit, but continued on because you had to get out of the park before 5pm when it starts to get dark. It was about 2pm at that point.

 

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Our next destination was this place called Cabo, known for having a hostel on the rock point jutting out into the sea. It was cool to see, although I would imagine sleeping in the hammocks might get cold at night. It was easy to become turned around at this point and we couldn’t quite find the path that led back out to the main road. We ended up finding a man who was selling tickets to take a boat back to Taganga (a 10 minute taxi ride from Santa Marta). Considering it was 3:40pm at this point and the walk back to the road was 2 hours (if we didn’t get lost), it seemed smart to take the boat. I felt less smart once I was out at sea….

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It was obvious the seas were rough, and these boats weren’t big. I was a little nervous, but I figured they knew what they were doing. The first few big waves got a few woooos and laughs. However, this supposed 15 minute ride in reality was 50 minutes, and after the first 10 minutes, the excitement turned to fear. I had my wet bag wrapped around my wrist, ready to ditch my backpack if we went overboard and hopefully salvage our phones and passports. The woman sitting next to Ryan was leaning over the edge hurling and the girl next to me began crying. I gripped the edge of the boat with one hand, using the other to swipe the constant spray of salt water away my eyes. Between the setting sun and the salt water, I couldn’t see much. When I did have a second to look around all I could see were enormous waves, and the nearby cliffs that those waves were hurtling into. I started to plan what I would do if we capsized, whether I would try and float until rescue came or if I would try and go ashore where the rocks weren’t as steep. I also started to think of all of the warnings to travel safe, and how a capsized boat wasn’t probably what my loved ones had in mind when cautioning me. Needless to say, we made it. Although we were soaking wet, and now freezing since the sun was going down, it was an experience I wouldn’t forget! I only wish I could have taken photos or video to show how bad it truly was. We sat to dry off and watch the sun set, then a woman in a dive shop helped us get a taxi back to Santa Marta.

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It was 6pm by the time we arrived home so we showered and went out for dinner. Although I had some negative first impressions of the area we were in, that quickly changed. We walked just a few calles (streets) before we reached a cute street lined with colorful decorations and restaurants. We found one that looked good and chowed down a much desired dinner. We were surprised by some nearby fireworks, which were fun to watch, but when the residuals started landing in my food it was time to go!

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Our hostel has a great rooftop bar and a DJ, so we each enjoyed a Cuba Libre while playing a game of billiards. We also tried this other game in which you toss a coin hoping to hit a slot that leads to the highest number of points. After a game each we were tired and went to watch a movie on my laptop, I was excited to see that Bird Box was on Netflix because I kept seeing it on social media. Sadly, I fell asleep after 15 minutes, but according to Ryan it was good!

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