While the Canaveral area of Tayrona National Park is probably heavily visited by Colombians due to its easy accessibility, it is not much frequented by the backpacker crowd as it is far-removed from the more notoriously party oriented portions of the park. The tourist bus crowd that frequents this portion of the park is likely to either do a long day hike to Cabo San Juan de la Guia or perhaps more typically hire a horse to there, Pueblito, or both return. Since the area probably offers the nicest accommodation in the park and is the most easily reached, it's understandable. Unfortunately, many backpackers miss the area completely since it is so far away from their chosen destination. To be fair, we would have likely missed it as well if the shuttle bus had been waiting for us after hiking back from Arrecefes. Since we had to wait anyway, we decided to do a short jungle walk to the beach. My wife was a bit tired so she only did a portion of it and I left her with all the packs so I could explore the coast more thoroughly while she waited for the shuttle. This turned out to be quite good. Not only were there excellent coastal views from fantastic vantage points but there was some interesting archeological sites as well as running into an amazing osprey nesting.
From Cabo San Juan de la Guia you can hike up to Pueblito, a lesser known and less well-preserved Tayrona ruin than La Ciudad Perdida. The rough stone path climbs for about an hour and can be slippery when wet but it was completely dry when we thought about doing it. We didn't think long, having already done La Ciudad, we opted to enjoy the beach and beach trails rather than do the climb. It is my understanding that the ruin is not very elaborate and pales in comparison to La Ciudad Perdida. Perhaps if we had not done or were not planning on doing that bigger trek, we might had decided to do it, but as it was, it seemed to be too much of the similar thing so the beach won out. Just beyond Cabo San Juan de la Guia was a very nice and much less crowded beach reached by a short but pretty jungle trail. This nice stretch of beach was quite long and by walking to the end of it you got away from 98% of the people in the area. Supposedly, the next beach up the coast is a clothing optional one for those so inclined.
Cabo San Juan de la Guia is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Tayrona beaches and is thus also the most crowded. It is for good reason with its stoney outcropping that doubles not only as a great lookout to both sides of the cape but also a covered hammock area if you care to spend the night out there. It is a fairly large area and by walking just up the beach for ten minutes you can avoid some of if not completely escape the masses. While the waters are not quite as calm as La Piscina, it is a relatively calm area and safe for swimming. One of the good things about such popularity is the conveniences that go along with it and you can get food and something to drink without going too far.
La Piscina is perhaps the most calm-watered beach in Tayrona National Park. Its name literally means “the pool” and that is exactly what it looks like and it's hard to imagine that just around the rocky bend lies the far rougher Arrecifes Beach. La Piscina is very well sheltered by these rocky outcroppings and generally speaking a very gradual incline of sand which makes for a great place to swim or take the kids without having to worry so much. We never specifically went to this beach but every time we passed it on the way back, we had to jump in to cool off. It was just too inviting not to.
Lot of people come to Colombia specifically for its beaches. Having spent a lot of my life living close to beaches, I am more drawn to mountains and admittedly most of my South American trips have centered around mountains. In planning for Colombia, it was pretty much the same but there were some beautiful sounding beaches that seemed too good to pass on and besides, they were very close to some of the mountains we were to trek in. Tayrona National Park sure has more than its share of gorgeous ones and while not drive up accessible, they are reached easily enough by walking only a few miles. One of the most ruggedly stunning is Arrecifes which has very strong currents and is not recommended for swimming. That said, it is great place to relax and watch sunsets. It also features some small lagoons that are particularly good for watching wading birds.
Another 20 minute walk from La Piscina will take you to Cabo San Juan, a beautiful cape with good beaches and views. This is a very scenic beach, truly magnificent. It's the most popular in the park (high season is in January), perfect for swimming and camping. It offers fully-equipped camping facilities: tents, hammocks, showers, restaurant, food stalls, even a small soccer field. At the end of a golden sand beach is a promontory with excellent views of the surrounding landscape and the immense ocean.
If you go beyond Cabo San Juan along the coast you'll find a pretty nudist beach, the most solitary beach of the Parque Tayrona. Actually, it is not a nudist beach since most of the people wear swimming costumes. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that even in a conservative country like Colombia they are giving naturism a chance.
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A 20 minute walk from Arrecifes will take you to La Piscina. The majority of the walk is along the coast and shoreline with some areas forested by palm trees. La Piscina is a sandy bay with tranquil waters. A reef in front of the coast forms a natural swimming pool. It is the only really safe place to swim in the park or go snorkeling.
La Piscina is a quiet beach with emerald-like stones and few giant rocks to climb. On the way back we stayed here quite a while to relax in the shade of the coconut trees on the idyllic warm sand. This was also where I had my last bath in the Caribbean sea before returning to European winter.
There is no campsite, people mostly stop her for a nice swim. If you get hungry, there are locals selling arepas, sweets and fruit.
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After 45 minutes of walking from Cañaveral through the tropical jungle we came to the first beach, Arrecifes. This is a breathtaking untouched beach with a beautiful landscape of white sand, palm trees and spectacular huge rocks which have been shaped by rolling waves, and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the background.
Facing the beach is a tiny island. There is also a fresh water stream where birds come to drink. Several places to stay can be found in Arrecifes, all with hammocks, a campsite and a restaurant. One of them has also cabañas.
A very scenic beach, but unfortunately it has strong currents and is not safe for swimming. There is a board with a warning that many people have drowned here in the past. So you better respect it. A 20-minute walk along the shoreline will take you to La Piscina, the nearest beach where you can swim.
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From the San Juan del Cabo beach, you can hike up to the village/ruins of Chairaima Pueblo via a rock-strewn path that takes 1-1.5 hours. You are not permitted to start the hike after 1 pm as it is dangerous to be on the path when it starts to get back. You should allot 3-4 hours roundtrip including your visit to the ruins which, though small, are interesting to visit. The hike itself is part of the fun. Take good footwear as the path goes through a small river, through small spaces carved out by rocks (like a tunnel) and thereafter, you are climbing (and later descending) very large rocks with smaller, sometimes uneven and unstable rocks in between. It takes some balance and coordination so try to have your hands free (e.g. bring water and snacks in a backpack). There are signs along the way indicating the percentage of the path that you have covered. Once you arrive, you are invited to sign into the village by the Koggis who still live there and have the option of buying a few basic items from them such as hemp jewellery.
Its a 15 minute hike east of San Juan del Cabo and there are route markers along the path that tell what percentage of the hike you have covered thus far which is nice. Alternatively it is about 25 minutes from Arrecifes. The area has a large span of narrow beach with crystal clear waters and no waves (protected by reef) as well as lots of Seychelle-like rocks to climb and explore. Bring your own snorkelling gear or rent from the people working on the beach. Some snacks may be available there but otherwise bring your own water and food for the day.
The first beach you come to, if you walk from Cañaveral, is Arrecifes. The beach looks very inviting and the landscape beautiful, but unfortunately the sea currents are strong here and you should not swim. A sign will tell you that people have drowned here in the past. If you want to stay in Arrecifes you can easily walk to one of the other beaches to the east for swimming.
There are two places to stay at in Arrecifes, both having hammocks for rent, cabins and a restaurant. I only saw one of the restaurants open, the one nearest to the beach. And you can also camp here as well.
If you are not much of of a swimmer there are plenty of coastal trails to hike here or you can even head up the hill to the ruins of Pueblito which I did not do. The coastal trails are flat for the most part and can be done like most barefoot. It was raining when I was there so hiking to the gate and back, I had my boots on. The locals that staff the place were in rain boots due to the storm and the mud at the time. The jungle keeps most of the sun out of your face but it can still get a bit steamy during the day.
I came up here to find a great empty beach...found it sans a couple of people on it for the most part. The water was warm which made up for the overcast conditions. There is a bit of a break here so had a little fun bodysurfing it. The further west I went from Arrecifes the better it got.
The beach of Cabo San Juan is some 25 minutes from La Piscina and it's a very stuning beach, light golden sand and in a crescent shape. It's kind of big, too and very scenic. On the promontory at the end of the beach there's a sort of wooden construction from where you can have wonderful views.
There's a restaurant and a campground on this beach and it's usually packed with people, since it is the most beautiful. However do not fear... the beahc is quiet. Most of the people staying there overnight go there to hang around and drink the day away with other backpackers. They don't seem to care much about the idillic beach they are in.
From the parking lot, in total, you'll need to walk 90 minutes to reach this beach... if you don't have much luggage or if you push it a bit (we timed it on our way back) you can easily make it in 60 minutes.
The beach of La Piscina has very calm waters and it's safe to swim. The beach is kind of small but very quiet, and there's a local couple selling chocolate, water and arepas, in case you would like to stop for the day. There's a couple of big boulders, too - but it's not as scenic as Arrecife.
It is about 20 minutes walk (15 if you push it) from Arrecife to la Piscina, again through dense rainforest and again on a well-maintained path. There's no campground there and very few people stop longer than for a refreshing dip in the waters