Many complain that there is no cheap eats to be had at Tayrona National Park but that is not necessarily true. Yes, things are generally more money but there are some less expensive options. Obviously, the closer the campgrounds the more money you are likely to pay and that goes double for Cabo San Juan de la Guia. The place to stay is going to be the most expensive to eat, right? Along the trail you will run into locals selling things at much lower prices and though it might not be exactly the right time to eat, it behooves you to grab a snack and perhaps eat a little less later.
Favorite Dish: One of the things we found on our travels were happily arepas con heuvos. This coastal delicacy had enamored itself to us since being introduced to it in Mompos and then all through Cartagena and Santa Marta. Another thing that was fantastic and in much need along the trail was fresh-squeezed orange juice. Of course, things were not as cheap as in the aforementioned cities but they were still much more reasonable than eating at the “resort restaurants.” An arepa con huevo set us back 2500 COP ($1.25) and a very large OJ was 3000 COP ($1.50).
Though guidebooks will often lead you to some great gems of sometimes institutions in the realm of dining, you have to keep your ears open when it comes to talking to not only locals but also other travelers or you can miss out on some great little spots. One of these was the Panaderia near Arrecifes. We met a girl who spoke lovingly of the chocolate bread at this small bakery. It was so good she walked every day from the Cabo campground where she was staying. Since we were camping much closer to it, we decided we better check it out early during our stay so we could do the same if we agreed. We did and we did.
It would be easy to miss it if walking up the beach. All you see is a small sign that says “Panaderia” and nothing else. Though visible from the beach, it would be easy to walk right by it unless you were seeking it out. In a jungle clearing just off the beach, the owner's house doubles as the bakery and there are a few simple benches with tables for your dining pleasure. Their cute kid is likely to join you at your table.
Favorite Dish: The first day we had a Pan de Choco and a tinto each for 6000 COP ($3). Though it was nothing like a chocolate croissant, it was a nice doughy bread filled with a good amount of nice tasting chocolate goop. They were quite big and filling and the coffee was one of the better of the non-gourmet ones we had in Colombia. It was a real find for us as while camping with limited water, it didn't make sense to make up hot beverages when it was not cold out. The second day we had the same with an additional Pan de Queso (same thing but with cheese), two additional tintos and a fresh-squeezed orange juice, all for 13500 COP (just under $7).
Finca Paradiso had a small restaurant on its premises and most people used it for most if not all their meals. While it was not cheap, it was not insanely expensive considering they pretty much have you over a barrel, a captive audience with few other options. We did however have another option as we not only had our tent with us but also our lightweight backcountry stove. We had carted this along with the leftover fuel from our El Cocuy trek all around Colombia. We even had a few backcountry freeze-dried meals to use up and that is exactly what we did, thus saving us quite a few dollars in the process. Finally, a payback for all the effort and after not having the meals for a few weeks, they tasted pretty good. Ok, beef stew might not be what you are dreaming about when camping on the beach but compared to paying 18000 COP ($9) for a small piece of fish with white rice, it wasn't so bad either.
Favorite Dish: We did sit in the restaurant and have a few fruit drinks one night but the drinks were not nearly as good as in Cartagena or Santa Marta and more expensive as well. We paid 12000 COP ($6) for three fruit drinks. Beers were 3000 COP ($1.50), about twice as much as is typical but they do have to pack everything in by horse (and presumably out!). We actually preferred to sit at our own picnic table and could imagine it would be perfect if you could manage to get beer there without having to carry it in/out. It was a great spot for birdwatching. We even saw a pair of toucans right from our table.
The restaurant at Cabo San Juan de la Guia is not a great budget option but considering its prime location and stranglehold on its captive audience, it could be a lot worse. It's cafeteria, plastic picnic area atmosphere would be perfectly fine for a typical South American budget eatery and to be fair, perhaps this is what it portends to be, but price-wise it's not cheap. Despite this, it's crowded and expect a wait at peak times. Oh, it's only open peak times...how convenient...for them. So, you're looking at waiting in a line to order from a fairly limited menu, waiting a bit for your meal, and sharing all this with quite a few people that expect more for their money when descending on a backpacker haven. Now, that term may sound like an oxymoron and it is becoming increasingly so. Tayrona National Park in a nutshell. Anyway, you don't have much choice and it was certainly worth giving it a shot since we too were a couple of captive backpackers visiting the park.
Favorite Dish: I went for the Pargo, a local fish typically battered and fried with ubiquitous French Fries, pricey to say the least for 18000 COP ($9). Doreen, tired of not only Colombian food in general but certainly their fried fish attempts at departure, opted for spaghetti with mushrooms and garlic (12000 COP or $6). Neither meal was bad but they were not big for their prices either. Let's put it this way, we had a snack before even leaving Cabo and it wasn't like we were backpacking all day with all our gear! Admittedly, fair food even if at inflated prices.
There are a few local restaurants in the park - in Arrecifes, Cabo San Juan and La Piscina - serving seafood, meat and pasta, and you can also get the breakfast. Food and drinks in Tayrona are incredibly expensive compared to Colombian standards. Coming from La Guajira, where first class fish and lobster were in abundance, and we had it every night for a very reasonable price, we decided we were not going to have any meals in the park. But instead, we had a variety of delicious traditional snacks from simple native restaurants and food stands and things that we brought with us.
Favorite Dish: After two hours of walking and taking pictures we came across a very primitive panaderia (bakery) serving most delicious chocolate breads. They were still warm when we ate them and together with banana and a cup of coffee from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this was our excellent second breakfast (first one we had at 5:30am in the restaurant of Hospedaje Anita where we were staying: arepa de queso, a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee).
During the day we tried a lot of different things. Actually, I had the impression that we were eating all the time :) Along the way we had some bocadillo (guava paste) with cheese (excellent combination). We bought them in the shop outside the park and brought with us. We made a longer stop for bathing at the most beautiful beach of Tayrona, Cabo San Juan, where we had 'lunch' - tuna sandwich and a beer. Another stop for bathing was at La Piscina where we additionally refreshed ourselves with a piece of cold watermelon. And on the way back... oh, I just could not resist having another arepa - my favourite arepa de queso.
All very simple, but delicious Colombian snack foods :)
The restaurant in Cabo San Juan is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but is closed in-between. The lunch and dinner menu is the same and the cheapest alternative is spaghetti with tomato sauce for 6000 pesos (August 2008). I ate chicken with rice, French fries and salad for lunch and spaghetti with mushrooms for dinner. Those meals were 10 000 pesos each and nothing special. For breakfast I had bread, egg, butter, jam and coffee for 7000 pesos. There were a few different breakfast options and I had rather had the one with the fruit salad, but at the moment they didn’t have any fruits in Cabo San Juan.
I got the impression by talking to someone staying in Arrecifes that the prices were about the same, but they did not have the cheapest alternatives on the lunch and dinner menu in Arrecifes. When I walked pasted Areciffes on my way to Cabo San Juan I had a coca-cola at the restaurant. A bottle of 60cl was 2500 pesos. And when I walked back the next day I had a freshly pressed juice of mango and passion fruit for 4000 pesos.
At La Piscina I saw there was a food stall where a woman was selling empanadas during the day.
We had lunch at the very simple beach restaurant in Cabo San Juan, the only place where you can get food in this spot... it's a long open-air tatched construction with plastic tables and plastic chairs... nothing fancy, but you're not here for the foood, anyway. You're here for the scenery and the beach.
Favorite Dish: I had arroz con camaron (coconut rice with srhimps): it costed 18000 COP and it was delicious. Slightly more overpriced than outside the park, but everything has to be transported here either by mule or by boat... so it makes sense that it should cost a bit more. Water is also a little bit more expensive but again, I think the price is fair. Cigarettes, by contrast, costed 4000 COP - far too much, so stock up well before going into the park.
The open-air restaurants throughout Parque Tayrona are rather expensive but the food is good. Fresh sea-food, stakes, spagetthi, salads, rice, sandwitches... anything you need. including chocolate, soft-drinks, beer, cookies etc. But i would advise you to bring your own food - cheaper that way. And it's also fun to cook it over the fire yourself. And you might also want to take a day trip into the Pueblito or to the nice beaches, in which case it is good to have your own supplies.
This outdoor restaurant on the beach under a thatched roof serves breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the day until around 8 pm. The provisions and snacks store next to it is open until around 10 pm and sell beer. We had been warned about the excessive prices at the restaurants in Tayrona but it wasn't what I had expected. Basic breakfasts with bread, juice and coffee started at 5,000 pesos and went up more for eggs and meat. Lunch and dinner options had decent offerings of grilled meats, pasta, seafood, fish, salads, fries etc. Vegetarians could get by as they had some salads and a hearty dish of pasta with tomato sauce or creamy mushroom sauce for 7500 and 11,200 respectively. Honestly not that bad! Meats and seafood were slightly more expensive with the priciest option being around 20,000. So nothing more than $10 on the menu and while the food isn't gourmet, the portions are big so you shouldn't go hungry.
Strangely, somehow, Tayrona National Park actually has a bakery! And boy is it delicious - their treats included chocolate and coconut pastries and mini-cakes. A lady tends to walk through the camp sites several times a day with hot items for sale in her basket. Alternatively, you can make the hike over to the bakery which is about 15 minutes from Arrecifes or a good 30 minute hike from Cabo. Its hard to miss as it is on the path to Arrecifes from Cabo and there are sign markers once you get close.
The better facilities in Arrecifes are still not really reason enough to stay there over Cabo. However, if you are growing tired of the options at the restaurant in Cabo, you may want to make the 45 minute hike over to Arrecifes for a different, and arguably better, dining option. Here they have a more varied, healthy menu include fruit shakes and the light. The ambiance is also a little better.
The local cuisine of the carribean coast is one of the most tasty in Colombian. Before you start the trek or afterwards, make sure you recharge your bodies' batteries in one of the tastefull restaurants in the main highway. There are several right outside the entrance to the park.
I ate at Cabo San Juan. But prior to arriving there I walked past several camp grounds our places with huts for rent and they also had food and beverages for sale. You will not get a 4 star meal here but you will get something that will fill you stomach. Mostly local food and the usual commerical snacks and sodas. You don't need to worry about water as you will find the bottled stuff here to if you want to keep you pack light as I did.
Favorite Dish: I had pasta with meat sauce and it was fine..think they had fried fish and other dishes that people were eating. I heard few if any complaints to the chef when I was there.