The nearest starting point for visits into Tayrona is the busy colonial market town of Santa Marta, South America’s oldest surviving city, dating back to 1525 when conquistador Rodrigo de Bastildas first arrived to its shores. Some would describe Santa Marta as a more rough and ready version of Cartagena, and arguably more typically Colombian. The national park itself is located 34 kilometres away from the town and covers a total area of 15,000 hectares, of which 3,000 is Marine Park.
Characterised by dense jungle that meets undeveloped palm-fringed beaches, the park is part of the wider region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This mountain range reaches altitudes of up to 6,000 metres and contains unique pre-Columbian archaeological sites such as La Ciudad Perdida or the ‘Lost City’ which dates back to 11th Century; an area that also still has indigenous Kogui Indian communities. The topography of the park is wide ranging and incorporates rainforests, mangroves and spiny forests.
The area protects some 65 mammal species, 200 bird species and 50 reptile species, and amongst the most important sightings are the emblematic Andean condor, howler monkeys, eagles and the elusive and mythical jaguar. In the marine park, lobsters, turtles, sponges, sea urchins and a wide variety of fish can also be seen through snorkelling or diving trips, possible from the beach resort of Taganga or Santa Marta.
Some of the beaches are also turtle hatching grounds throughout the month of May.