I can’t believe this is the path I’m on. Walking through the jungle, I’d heard waves pounding against the shore in the distance, thundering and echoing like a promise of magnificence to come. Now I’ve reached a clearing where I see the jagged edges of the mountainous jungle reaching into the ocean. The transition between the two landscapes is softened by early morning mist. I’m not very far into my hike and this park is already more than I imagined it would be.
A few days before, some travelers who’d already been to Parque Nacional Tayrona mentioned that you have to hike two hours or more into the park get to the idyllic beaches. Have to hike. I remember it sounding like a chore to get to the prize. But now that I’m here, I’ve found eden right here on this trail. It’s one of the most rewarding paths I’ve ever taken.
The morning I go to Tayrona, I wake up before sunrise to leave for the park. The hostel is surprisingly busy at an early hour. Many people are leaving for wilderness excursions and some members of the younger crowd are still up from the night before. My hostel is on the edge of Santa Marta on the way to Tayrona, so I just have to go to the main road and wait for the right bus. But I don’t know what bus to look for so I call out to several as they pass by. “Tayrona?” They shake their heads and continue on.
Eventually a beat up white van pulls up. “Tayrona?” It’s the driver asking me this time. It doesn’t appear to be any kind of official transport and I wonder if I should get in. I peer inside the colectivo to see who else is riding. There is a mother and her kids, an old man with a large burlap sack of fruit, and others who look like they’re going to work or running errands. “Si,” I reply, and get in. I am wedged between a window and the sack of fruit. I can see the road we are driving over through holes in the bottom of the van. In Colombia, getting to your adventure is always an adventure in itself.
I like the jovial atmosphere in the van, the way the driver knows many of the passengers, the way many of the passengers know each other. After about 40 minutes, we pull up to Tayrona and the driver is eager to let me know that we’ve arrived. Throughout the country, you get the sense that Colombians are excited when tourists show up to explore the best places the country has to offer after all the years when people didn’t come.
Inside the park, I take another colectivo to where I begin my hike. The terrain of the trail and the surroundings constantly change, and it just keeps getting better. The trail takes me everywhere I want to be: through the jungle to the ocean, along the beach and over boulders, through tunnels that cut through mangroves, between fruit bushes that rise out of the sand, under the shade of palm tree groves. Sometimes it’s a clear trail and other times I get lost when it disappears and it’s nice to let that happen and see what I stumble upon.
When I want to stop for lunch, I find a tiny cove with a view of the coastline covered with smooth boulders and palms. It’s my own little private beach. I perch on a rock to eat and then take a dip in turquoise sea.
I’m not alone in the park. Throughout the day, I encounter other hikers and several people I’ve met before in Bogota, Villa de Leyva, and San Gil. When I see faces I recognize, I stop to chat and it brings me out of my meditative state. But most of the day, I experience the park without many sounds except the ocean and the wind rustling the leaves and the animals hiding in the trees. And in this delicious silence, I’m fully absorbed in the immense beauty that surrounds me on these wild, wondrous shores of Colombia.