Tayrona National Park (but not really) – Days 110-112

Family buying bananas on side of the road in jungle area

If you’ve had 4 days of warm, wet weather, why not go someplace with warmer and wetter weather?! We had a great intro to Colombia with our stay in Cartagena but since we had booked things ahead of time, we were on the move! Our destination was a mini-resort hotel just outside of Tayrona National Park at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was our first internal transit day and we were anxious to see if we still had those backpacker skills from years ago.

Paigey got us to the bus terminal in Cartagena where we jumped on a minibus that would take us to Santa Marta. Paigey planned it well as she got the front row for herself and the kids. This allowed her to converse with the driver and minimize any queasiness from the ride. I on the other hand, was squished (when I say squished, I mean squished) in a window seat with a full complement of passengers. My agony was short-lived as the bus cleared out after two hours leaving just our family and one other man for the rest of the route. Paige had coordinated with the bus driver and a “buddy” of his was waiting at the final stop to take us the remaining hour to our destination.

Child in swimming pool with snorkel

We then spent the next few days lounging just outside Tayrona National Park. We had planned to see the Instagram-worthy beaches in the park but we hadn’t done our research. It was a 3-hour hike through the jungle and there was no way that would be enjoyable with the kids. Plus once we got there we would probably have to hike back out. The weather was stormy so taking a boat back couldn’t be counted on. So we did the next best thing. We lazed around a resort, ate a bunch of food, swam in the cool pool and got sunburnt. Maybe the last two parts were related as we put 3-4 hours a day in at the pool with the kids. We taught Isabella how to use a snorkel and then Julie wanted to learn. After five minutes, Julie wouldn’t take the mask or snorkel off. It got to the point where Julie would spend pretty much 15 minutes without surfacing. She would sound like a little Darth Vader with her breathing. And I never knew you could giggle while snorkelling but that’s pretty much what Julie did for a day and a half.

Now I have to call a spade a spade. My wife is not a “sit-by-the-pool” or beach kind of person. She lasts about 30 minutes and then gets antsy. Well, things were no different this time. Somewhat upset that we didn’t end up going to the national park, Paige set off to create her own adventure. She spoke to a tour operator and arranged a day of activities for the family. We were going to take a boat up a nearby river and then tube lazily back down to the ocean. So the next day we got up and ate an early breakfast as our minibus was due to pick us up at 8 am. The bus arrived and we drove 40 minutes to a small town on the Don Diego. While the boat was readied, the kids and I followed leaf-cutter ants along the shore. We were fascinated by the long trails and we tried to spot the ants carrying the biggest leaves. With the boat’s arrival, the ant viewing stopped and the four of us piled in. There was a slight change in plans due to the downpour as they decided it was not the best to go tubing. As an alternative, they suggested visiting an archaeological site that was sacred to the indigenous people of the area. We were in a good mood so went along with this change of plans.

We actually enjoyed our time at the indigenous site/museum. The local guide took her time teaching us about the native population that frequents the site. She left it to Paige to do the requisite translation for her kids and her husband (my Duolingo Spanish does not cut it). There are some recreated native sites at the museum and we got to hike up some small terraces. It felt like our own small Ciudad Perdida (which we aspired to do but realized would not have been possible at all). The kids even spotted and chased some poison dart frogs along the trail (incredibly they refrained from catching them).

We got back in the boat and saw some locals floating down the river on rubber tubes. The boatman suggested we should do the tubing since it would be the same price whether we did it or not. So with the weather gorgeous, we ignored the rationale for not doing it in the first place and got changed into our swimming trunks (in a random person’s house in the town). Then we got into some industrial rubber tubes lashed together with rope and floated down the river.

It was awesome. We got sunburnt badly, saw howler monkeys (and not like 50 ft off in the distance, I mean wild howler monkeys 15 ft above your head), and kept an eye out for caimans! Don’t get me wrong, the river was calm and there was no real risk but it is funny to show pics of us wading in brown water. But our boat guide was “all-in” and was excited to show us all the nooks and crannies of the river. And once we passed under the bridge in the town, we didn’t see another person for our entire journey to the ocean. We had the experience all to ourselves.

We finished up where the river meets the ocean with the waves breaking violently on the coast. We were so hot we didn’t even bother to go to a secluded beach 30 minutes away. We had had a great day and Julie was missing her snorkel.

Up next we leave the luxuries of the resort and catch a plane to Medellin.

Where we stayed (5 words or less):

Wildlife seen: (bringing this back for this leg – includes Cartagena results)

Poison Dart Frog on Pathway
  • Sloth – in the middle of a park in Cartagena
  • Cotton Top Tamarins – we showed restraint and didn’t try to feed them
  • Pelican – eating fish along the beach in Cartagena
  • Egret – everywhere in the national park area
  • Gecko – Isabella got to experience a gecko “dropping” its tail when caught by an 8-year-old
  • Bat – it dive-bombed us in the pool at night, Paige left the pool
  • Turkey Vultures – they were on the condo towers in Cartagena – weird
  • Howler Monkeys – 15 feet away and could hear them roaring
  • Iguana – Izzy spotted one during lunch and went tearing off after it
  • Leaf-cutter ants – Mike’s favourite
  • Poison Dart frogs – we did not touch them!

By the numbers

  • Number of times the power went out during the storm: 4
  • Number of trees that fell over during the storm: 1 – right outside our room
  • Amount our taxi driver paid for a preloaded Reggaeton USB drive – 5,000 COP
  • Cockroaches relocated outside our room by our Isabella: 2
  • Geckos Isabella scared for life: 2 – one she picked up and lost its tail, one accidentally snuck into her backpack and we left him in the airport lounge

Ciao for now,


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