Looking out of the mirador, a cottage-like structure, standing high-up on a sandy peninsula and surrounded by large rocks, smelling the salty ocean, and listening to the sound of the waves I was in awe. Palm trees pose, whilst shading the beach, and the Sierra Nevada mountains reflect on the Caribbean Ocean. Wow! Now I have understood for myself what the fuss of Cabo San Juan in Tyrona Park is about.
PNN (Parque Nacional Natural) Tyrona is a 35km gorgeous Natural Park, along the coast from Taganga to Rio Piedras. The areas was home to the Tyrona people, in fact Pueblito is a small village found in the park, where ruins similar to those at the Lost City can be found. The park is covered in rain forest, and has beautiful views, but the beaches are what attracts us travellers to the area.
Cabo San Juan del Guia is one of the most popular beaches in Tyrona Park, and attracts hundreds of backpackers daily. El Zaino is the main gateway on the highway to Riohacha. Here is where you need to present your passport and pay COP$42,000 as the entrance fee for the Tyrona Park. If you're a student under the age of 26, take your student card with you - that way, the entrance will cost you COP$8,500. From this entry point, you'll jump on a mini-van that will take you to the end of the paved road at the first beach - Castilletes. You can either pay the van COP$3,000 or walk the 4km distance - trust me, you'll need to save the energy for later.
From Castilletes, you can opt for a 2 hour adventurous walk or take a lift on one of the horses available at COP$40,000. The walk in itself is a great journey; walking on wooden boardwalks, passing through shaded forest, at times walking on sandy beaches you'll be passing through Canaveral and Arrecifes (two other possible camp grounds). Along the path, keep to the left, to avoid going down to La Aranilla or La Piscina, instead of going to San Juan.
Once you arrive at the camp site of Cabo San Juan, there is a reception where you will need to pay for your accommodation. There are the following 5 options:
pitch your own tent - COP$15,000 per person
rent a tent (generally speaking - with no shade) - COP$50,000 - if you are 3 people you'll need 2 tents as 2 people are allowed in each tent
rent a hammock shaded under a big gazebo (with no mosquito nets) - COP$20,000
rent a sea-view hammock on the mirador (if you are lucky - there's only 16 spaces) - COP25,000
rent a sea-view cabana on the second floor of the mirador (expensive and still shabby looking & only 2 available) - COP$150,000
No matter how many nights you will be staying, or which of the above options you choose, you'll need to go to the reception every day, at around 11am to book your accommodation for another night and to get the coloured wrist band. If you specifically want on the hammocks in the mirador (which you do) be there at around 10:40am to make sure that there's still space.
The camp ground consists of 1 restaurant, where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at reasonable prices (between COP$6,000 & COP$28,000). There's also a juice bar, offering healthy drinks at COP$5,000 and a small shop selling the essentials (beer, water, nibbles, and toilet paper). There is also a locker room that you can use for free, provided you have your own padlock. There are also 4 toilets (2 men and 2 women) and 4 showers - which isn't enough for the 300 people that the camp ground can hold. At the very back on the eating area of the restaurant, there are 4 electricity sockets that you'll be able to use if you hoard them early enough.
Cabo San Juan is a great spot to relax on the beach, get sun-kissed and enjoy a swim in the Caribbean Sea. You can beach hop to the adjacent beaches if you spend around 2 days there. In all fairness San Juan is as beautiful as it sounds, but the sea is a bit rough. The natural break-water at La Piscina offers a calmer alliterative for a pleasant swim and is only a 15-minute walk away from Cabo San Juan.
Snorkelling tours are offered at Cabo San Juan at COP$45,000 where you can swim in the Natural Reserve with high diversity in its eco-system and meet the friendly turtles and starfish which inhabit the area. If you're into football then we have good news - day in, day out you and other backpackers can challenge the locals to a game of football at the Suan Juan sandy pitch. Make sure you capture the stunning sunset over San Juan from the mirador.
You can leave this heaven on Earth by going to el Zaino on foot or by horse. However if you are headed to Santa Marta area, you can catch a bumpy 45-minute boat trip which leaves daily at 4:30pm for COP$45,000 which takes you to Taganga (only 5km away from Santa Marta - a taxi costs COP$10,000). It is advisable that you do not go in peak season - especially between 15th December and 15th January - the locals know that it's gorgeous and flock (and take over) this lovely beach. Low season is between February and November - however Like the Lost City, this Natural Park is closed on the first 2 weeks of September where the Ingenious People meet to perform soul-cleansing rituals (they believe that somehow, us backpackers carry negative vibes).
Do not go to Cabo San Juan before reading the following 13 important tips:
Be early at the gateway - by 10:00am there is already a 30-minute queue.
Get a discount by presenting your student card (if you have one) which will save you COP$33,500
Walk the track in comfortable shoes - not in flip-flops
Travel light - take the essentials only with you. If you didn't leave your back-pack at your last hostel, you can leave it at the restaurant that's in the gateway (when paying the tickets) for COP$5,000
Take sun screen and mosquito repellent - neither being sun burnt, nor constant scratching from mosquito bites are fun
Take an inflatable pillow for better sleep - accommodation, for some off reason, does not include pillows
Take toilet paper (or buy it from the shop) - but don't expect to find it in the toilets
Take a first-aide kit - their medical tent is always closed, and doesn't look like something you'd want to get healed in
If you're sleeping on the hammocks high up in the mirador, take long sleeves - it's chilly at night
Playing football? Colombians play barefooted - use some socks when playing to protect your feet (it might get nasty!)
Swim with care - the sea at Cabo San Juan is rough. It has deep currents that might be challenging for the not so experienced swimmers
The restaurant, toilet, showers - all have immense queues - Avoid the queues be early or late
Take care of the environment. Hopefully there's no need to tell you this, but this is a Natural Park, so leave it as you found it (if not better)