How to get there
From Santa Marta take the bus from the intersection of Calle 11 & Carrera 11 which costs around USD$2 (6,000 COP). Ask the driver to bring you to the park entrance (there are actually two entrances and you'll be going to the second one, which is the most popular).
The entrance is around USD$15 (42,000 COP) for foreigners, USD$5 (16,000 COP) for Colombian citizens and USD$2.50 (8,000 COP) for students or under 25s. If you're a student, don't forget your ID! They also require a passport at the gate so be sure you bring it.
The hike starts from the entrance, but it's 7km to the first beach. This part of the hike is the least scenic and is the only part that can be done by car. There is a van at the gate which costs just USD$1 extra and is definitely worth it. You'll save time and see more of the park inside.
To reach any of the beaches you must hike the trail or go by horseback. Bring lots of water, some good shoes, mosquito repellent and snacks. If you can, I highly recommend leaving large backpacks and any unnecessary items back in Santa Marta.
From the drop off point you'll reach Cañaveral -> Arrefices -> Cabo San Juan
It is about an hour and a half walk from Cañaveral to Arrefices. Then another 45 minutes to Cabo San Juan. Piscina, the swimming area, is in between Arrefices and Cabo San Juan.
Day trip or overnight?
Of course, there are benefits to both. You will save money if you go just for the day as food and accomodation are much more expensive than in Santa Marta (dinners are USD$5-7 or 15,000 to 22,000 COP) . But, you will see more of the park, without rushing if you stay for a night or two.
We went there with the intentions to stay for a couple of nights, but a big rain storm chased us away on the afternoon of our second day. Oh well, we were running out of food anyways.
Where to stay
You have three accomodation options: hammock, tent or a cabin. A Hammock is the cheapest option for solo travellers, but if there's more than one of you, you may want to consider renting a tent. We paid just USD $7 (21,000 COP) for a two person tent. Unfortunately, you can't book online so it's first in best dressed. There will be vendors at the entrance who you can book through. We went on a public holiday and arrived late in the afternoon so you may have more options and more competitive prices than we did.
You can also choose which beach you would like to stay at, Cabo San Juan is the most popular option and the furthest away, but it can be packed and far from tranquil! We stayed in Arrecifes and had a tent area to ourselves. Paradise!
- The police go through your bag very thoroughly before entering, so if you're thinking of bringing any kind of alcohol, drugs or illicit items, you may want to rethink it. That includes a knife for cooking.
- Food is pretty expensive inside. Bring easy to make meals and bottled water. You'll save a fortune.
- The ocean is pretty rough so there is only one place for swimming, La Piscina.