Wandering through Colombia

Written for The Cult Collective. September 2015. Photos and Words by Madeline Tolle. View the published piece here.

    Colombia has always been an alluring destination. It’s a place of mystery, largely untouched by tourists, with its diversified landscapes in a small geographic body, bridled with a reputation for both beauty and a history of notorious crime. To experience the entire country in one trip would take weeks at a sprint. For an initial venture into this amazing country, it’s no surprise that many choose to begin in Cartagena and the Caribbean coast. Cartagena is an old port city established by the Spanish to export precious metals from South America back to Spain. It’s a beautiful city in bright colors that looks like something out of fairytale. While Cartagena is a beautiful destination to explore in itself, it’s also the perfect jumping off point to explore the real heart of Colombia, the jungle and coast of Tayrona National Park.

 

It’s a six hour drive due west along the Caribbean Coast from Cartagena to get to Tayrona National Park. There’s certainly no fanfare announcing your arrival. The road features one roadside restaurant, a bus stop, and a small souvenir shop. The entrance to the park is practically missable, if it wasn’t your sole reason for being there.

 

There’s a small sign, almost hidden, set back about 25 feet from the main road announcing that you’ve arrived at the park. Once you pass the sign, it becomes clear that this is indeed the entrance. To enter the park, you’re asked to provide your passport and pay the entrance fee before taking a van fifteen minutes into the jungle, where the real entrance lies. It’s the trailhead. The true magic of Tayrona, lies at the end of this trail.

 

It will take about an hour and a half from when you start hiking to get to your destination. The trail is extraordinarily dynamic, with a range of scenery that must be seen to be believed. Beginning with ascending and descending through a lush jungle and twisting around boulders and massive rock piles, the trail then nears the coast. It becomes almost barren, with just sea air and the sound of waves crashing on large rock fields that are mostly free of vegetation. The last remaining stretch, and the largest portion of trail is gains no elevation, but weaves across small streams and through fields of gigantic palm trees bordered by prehistoric sized ferns.

 

Upon arrival, at the end of the trail, everything seems to just open up. There’s a wide grassy field, then the magical and perfect cove for which you’ve made this long journey to get to. The cove upon closer exploring, is actually more like two coves, splitby a small hill with a pavilion on top, creating the most picturesque view. The sand is soft and warm, and the ocean, in the bluest color is ever present with large waves that crash softly on the shore.  While the waves roll in like clockwork, this is one of those places where time seems to cease to exist. The days linger on for seemingly ever.

 

After spending the day lounging in the shade of palm trees, swimming in the water, and climbing on the coastal rocks, the sun will set. The only option for dinner is a small open air pavilion, which features traditional Colombian cuisine of local fish, rice, and beans and juices made of local tropical fruits. Nothing is particularly glamorous, but it’s simplicity, it is extraordinary. The perfect meal to follow an ideal day. After dinner is served, the restaurant pavilion is the only source of light, so travelers from all over the world linger for hours, playing cards, drinking Sol, the local beer, and chatting, trading stories of adventures had, and those yet to come.


At 10 pm, the generator is cut, the lights go out, and it is quiet. It’s in this natural silence that it becomes apparent how truly remote this place is. The stars shine so brightly, free from light pollution, indicating that it is time to retire for the night to a hammock, which is the perfect way to end a day at Tayrona, gently swaying in the breeze, listening to the sound of the rolling Caribbean sea, dreaming of tomorrow, and another day in this idyllic Colombian paradise.