Colombia’s Tayrona National Park is a truly special place. Nestled in-between the captivating turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains, Tayrona National Park is home to excellent jungle hiking and many beautiful beaches. This combination was too enticing to pass up and we knew we had to visit Tayrona National Park with our kids.
Of all the experiences within Tayrona National Park, the hike to the Cabo San Juan beach appealed to us most. We love hiking with our kids (aged 4 & 6) and a fun hike through the jungle to a tropical Caribbean beach in paradise sounded absolutely perfect for us.
We had previously hired Magic Tour Colombia for a 6-day private tour to Ciudad Perdida, so we knew we could count on them for a great family experience. For our day trip to Tayrona National Park, we teamed up with them again, trying out their Cabo San Juan – Parque Tayrona – Santa Marta day trip, allowing us to share our honest experiences with you.
Tayrona National Park with Kids
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Getting to Tayrona National Park with Kids
Magic Tour picked us up at our oceanfront Rodadero vacation home rental; a fun beach resort suburb southwest of Santa Marta. We’re used to tour buses showing up really late, but Magic Tour showed up at 6:40am – 5 minutes earlier than planned!
The journey to Parque Tayrona was scenic and comfortable. One of the guides gave an informative talk during the ride, while another collected passports from everyone on board in order to buy admission tickets to Tayrona National Park.
We arrived at the main El Zaino Tayrona National Park entrance at 8:20. While our guides bought entrance tickets, we waited at a restaurant / shopping complex. During our short wait, we had a chance to use a toilet (for a small fee) and apply sunscreen. There’s also a store to buy supplies (water, snacks, sunscreen etc.) here as well.
By 8:40 we were back on the bus driving deeper into the park. During this 10-minute drive, we got our passports back. We were given two wristbands – one for admission to the park and one to show that we had purchased the mandatory insurance policy for the park.
The Hike to Cabo San Juan with Kids
The instructions were quite simple – get on the trail and keep walking until you get to Cabo San Juan. This is made easier as the trail to Cabo San Juan is well marked.
Tayrona National Park is a national treasure of Colombia and the hike to Cabo San Juan is truly beautiful. The trail to Cabo San Juan snakes its way through thick jungle while following the brilliant turquoise waters of the Caribbean coastline.
Most of the hike is through a dense, deep green jungle. You’ll be amazed at how thoroughly the vegetation can block the powerful equatorial sun. As always when dealing with nature, animal sightings will vary from day-to-day, but we encountered three groups of monkeys and many colonies of fascinating leaf-cutter ants.
You’ll pass many beaches along the way, but the first two are off-limits for swimming due to dangerous water currents. There are scenic viewpoints for these off-limit beaches and their massive crashing waves. The sheer natural beauty of them will stoke your excitement to keep moving and get to Cabo San Juan.
The one-way distance of the hike from Cañaveral to Cabo San Juan is 3.2 miles (5.2km). The trail follows the coast and is relatively flat with only five small hills to climb along the way. It should take a typical adult between 1h45m to 2 hours to make the one-way hike.
Facilities along Cabo San Juan Trail
Given the huge number of tourists who enter Tayrona National Park every day, it’s no surprise there are plenty of ways to spend money within the park.
Along the trail to Cabo San Juan you’ll find a few groups of indigenous selling coconut water and orange juice. The indigenous people will be dressed in their customary white clothing, but please be respectful when taking pictures.
We learned on our Lost City hike that the proper etiquette with this culture is to ask them first. Within Tayrona, they typically request 4,000 COP (~$1.20USD) per picture.
Also along the hiking route to Cabo San Juan you’ll find non-indigenous vendors selling cold drinks and ice cream treats. There are also restaurants, souvenir stands, hammocks for rent and a campground.
Once you arrive at Playa Cabo San Juan, you’ll find a large, very busy restaurant. There’s also a well-supplied convenience store will all kinds of drinks, snacks and basic tourist needs.
Cabo San Juan Hiking Gear
A long hike through the jungle to a beach creates a few choices regarding what gear to bring.
The surface of the Cabo San Juan hiking trail varies quite a bit over the hike to the beach. The default trail surface is the natural dirt jungle floor with many tree roots jutting out.
When the jungle gets especially dense, the dirt trail is replaced with long sections of elevated wooden walkways. The hike is rounded out with walks through deep sand when you are close to one of the many beaches and the occasional small boulder to navigate.
Based on the distance of the hike and the variety of surfaces encountered, we recommend you wear a good pair of hiking sandals. The tree roots, boulders and copious amounts of horse poop make flip-flops a bad choice, while closed-toe shoes will be too hot in the hot Colombian sun. We have used Keen hiking sandals for years and we highly recommend them.
We visited Tayrona National Park with our kids in mid-December at the beginning of the dry season and did not encounter many mosquitos. That said, anytime you are in a jungle setting you should carry mosquito spray as you never know from day-to-day when they will be active.
Aside from that, just bring your beach essentials: sunscreen, sun hats and a compact beach blanket. Water, snacks and prepared meals are available along the trail. If your budget is tight, bring enough supplies in to last the day, otherwise pack lightly, bring enough food and drink to supplement your purchases.
Cabo San Juan with Kids
We love hiking as a family, so we were drawn to Magic Tour’s Cabo San Juan day trip. Our kids were 4 & 6 at the time of this trip and based on our experience, here’s what anyone thinking of hiking to Cabo San Juan with kids should know:
There’s plenty of things on this hike to keep kids happy and entertained.
Our kids were so excited each time we encountered a group of monkeys. We’ve been to many jungle settings with the kids before, but this was the first time they had seen monkeys in the wild. One little monkey treated us to an up-close look as he simply hung out on a tree branch a mere 10 feet from us.
There are many colonies of leaf-cutter ants along the way. It’s a little hard to get kids to stop and look at ants, but once you draw their attention to what the leaf-cutter ants are actually doing, they quickly become captivated, Kids love watching and following the trail of these amazing creatures.
The kids also loved walking on the wooden walkways. There’s just something about wooden walkways that makes kids want to run ahead and be crazy.
And of course, there’s Cabo San Juan beach. Kids love beaches and will have a ton of fun with some well-deserved time playing on the sand.
That said, there were a few challenges we encountered on this day-trip:
The walk to San Juan is supposed to take approximately 2 hours each way, which gives a normal person approximately three hours to enjoy the Cabo San Juan beach. Our kids are great hikers; in fact, a few days prior they had just completed the legendary Lost City hike.
Despite their hiking skills, they are slower than a typical adult and it took us 3 hours each way – leaving us with just an hour at the beach. This meant we spent 6 hours hiking with only 1 hour at the beach. We had promised the kids a fun day at the beach and we felt a bit guilty that we didn’t fully deliver on our promise.
There’s no questioning the beauty of the Cabo San Juan beach. It’s an intimate cove surrounded by jungle and large rocks – it’s stunning, but it’s not the best beach for small kids. Our kids carried their buckets and shovels the whole way to the beach, but the sand is actually just small pebbles, making it impossible to build sandcastles.
Our other concern was the ocean. The water got deep very quickly and the waves were quite large on the day we visited. The waves were large enough to knock our kids down and it wasn’t much fun for them in the water.
Final Thoughts on Tayrona National Park with Kids
Tayrona National Park is a special place and is a must-visit for anyone visiting the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Had we not had kids with us, the Cabo San Juan day trip with Magic Tour would have been a truly excellent outing as we love hiking, we love jungles and we love beautiful Caribbean beaches.
In the end, despite how beautiful and fun the hike was, we felt that the ratio of 6 hours hiking to 1 hour of beach time was not great for the kids.
We used Magic Tour Colombia for this day-trip as well as our 6-day trek to Ciudad Perdida and we have nothing but good things to say about them. If your kids are a bit older and faster than ours, then we’d recommend the Cabo San Juan day trip without hesitation.
In hindsight, the Playa Cristal day trip from Magic Tour Colombia would have been much better for us. Playa Cristal features a day playing on a white sand beach with crystal clear water. There is no hiking involved with this tour, so families will spend much more time enjoying their time on the beach.
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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.
When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).