I walked…no, I limped, out of Parque Tayrona, feeling quite smug. Yes, my back ached and hunger knotted my stomach, but I felt like I’d gotten away with something. Every traveler I’d met had warned of the park’s high prices, but apparently it would be worth the money. I’d successfully navigated around the unexpected costs that touristy places like to throw at visitors, with no damage to myself or my bank account. Here’s how you can do the same:
Bring food– You might be able to carry all the food you need depending on how long you plan to stay. Restaurants in the park will set you back at least 20,000 pesos per meal…and you’ll need more calories with all that hiking. Because you can’t cook in the park, bring foods like nuts, bread, and avocados. Or, you can do like me and cook rice and spaghetti beforehand, then bring it along in a plastic bag.
Bring a student ID– The park entrance fee is only 8000 with an ID, but 40,000 without. Expired ID’s should work fine… mine did the trick.
Bring your own water filter– Not only is bottled water pricey (4,000 pesos for a small bottle in the park), but it’s awkward to drink from throwaway plastic waste in a place dedicated to protecting the environment. I used my LifeStraw; you can fill bottles up with tap water in the restrooms or at a restaurant. UV pens and iodine tablets are other good options.
Don’t pay for a donkey– You can rent a donkey to carry you or your heavy bags, but it will cost about 40,000 pesos. Instead, most hostels in Santa Marta will guard your bags for free while you are in the park. Pack light and walk; donkeys are wonderful company, but just not worth the money. Plus, the hikes aren’t terribly strenuous.
Sleep on the ground– At your own discretion. Camping and hammocks cost 20,000 pesos, and I didn’t want to shell out that much when that money could be used on a nice hostel room outside of the park. I dressed in black and slept in a grassy patch beneath a palm tree. When a light rain woke me at 4 a.m., I crept around the campground like a ninja and found a wonderful ocean-view perch where I enjoyed a lackluster sunrise in perfect solitude.
However, experiences are priceless. The money saved now can be used towards more adventures, but quality is more important than quality… so don’t forget to enjoy yourself. The highest price to pay is misery.