Parque Tayrona, Colombia: All You Need Is a Hammock
If you’re looking for steel drums and drinks served in coconuts, the Caribbean has easier options than Parque Tayrona. But none of them offer the sense of accomplishment you get from bushwacking your way to the beach. Tayrona, on Colombia’s northern coast, is 58 square miles of beaches, coves, and mangrove swamps, each one more appealing than the last. A van takes you as far as the jungle roads allow, then you’re on your own. It’s just you and the howler monkeys, iguanas, and poison dart frogs as you hike a trail that weaves between the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta — the world’s highest coastal mountain range — and the sandy beaches below, where the water is aquamarine and coral reefs sparkle below the surface.
You’ll reach the closest beach, Arrecifes, in about 60 minutes, but keep hiking west for another hour until you hit Cabo San Juan del Guía. You’ll know you’re there when you see a narrow, 40-foot-high spit of land extending 100 yards into the sea, splitting the beach into a pair of half moons — an oceanside oasis and the ultimate reward after the long hike. At the peninsula’s peak sits a thatched-roof, open-air cabana maintained by the park and outfitted with a dozen hammocks that go for around $15 a night — one of the few places in the world you can sleep surrounded by the ocean, without an all-you-can-eat buffet. (If you need a bed, accommodations can be found elsewhere in the park for $100.)
Away from the beach, a short jungle trail into the mountains leads to a cluster of pre-Columbian ruins at El Pueblito. Or hop into a game of barefoot soccer with some locals. It’s safe to swim here, and several rocky outcroppings make outstanding diving boards. But most visitors get one look at Cabo San Juan’s half-moon beaches and see no reason to move much at all. There’s a bare-bones juice bar just off the beach, where your best bet is to pick a fruit you’ve never heard of — start with lulo, a fuzzy orange that looks like a green tomato inside. But why not find your own meal? The palms lining the beach offer plenty of shade, plus enough coconuts to feed anyone smart enough to bring a pocketknife.
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