The park opens at 8 am every day, so make sure to arrive right around this time to maximise your Tayrona experience (buses from Santa Marta, Palomino, or Riohacha are regular and easy to catch). Pay your entrance fee at the Zaino park entrance and then catch the minibus that regularly ferries guests from the entrance to the start of the hiking trails. From here, it’s easy to get onto any trail and explore more of the park.
As time is limited, it’s advisable to start hiking right away in the direction of the most popular of Tayrona’s beaches (and one of the few where you can swim), so get on the trail to Cabo San Juan via Arrecifes. However, don’t assume that just because the park is beloved for its beaches, this is all there is to experience: the hike through the jungles is in itself part of the magic of Tayrona, so keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and colourful exotic birds during the walk.
Once you reach Arrecifes beach, take some time to walk along it and enjoy the wonderful panoramic views of Caribbean waters and jungle-clad mountains in the distance before continuing to Cabo San Juan. The rest of the hike will take you past several beautiful stretches of beach before you arrive at your destination.
Cabo San Juan has a stunning beach where you can swim, camp and generally enjoy the experience of being in a gorgeous Caribbean National Park. Assuming you make some stops along the way during the hike in, you should arrive there by around midday. Grab a table in the restaurant and enjoy a fresh-fish lunch and a fruit juice before putting your bags in your tent or hammock and heading down to the beach for some well-deserved sunbathing and swimming.
Later in the afternoon, you can hike along the beach through the scrubby forest to several adjacent beaches, including a nudist beach if you fancy taking a dip as nature intended. Grab some dinner, retire to your hammock and fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing around you. The next morning, you have two options: get up really early and hike back to the entrance (you are much more likely to see wild animals this way), or rent a horse for the return journey to cut down the time and enjoy a new experience.
Rather than entering the park via the more popular Zaino entrance, you can enter via Calabazos. This entrance is less popular and the hike takes you via the ancient indigenous ruins of Pueblito, which are actually larger in size than the famous Lost City. It’s a longer and tougher walk, which takes around three to five hours depending on your pace and physical fitness, but you are more likely to see animals, and the experience is arguably a more rounded one, as it includes the cultural aspect of a visit to Pueblito.
Once you arrive in Cabo San Juan from Pueblito, you can follow the same itinerary as above: spend the rest of the day enjoying the surrounding beaches, eat some fresh fish and enjoy a few beers before bedding down for the night in your tent or hammock. The next morning, grab a horse or get up early to hike through the jungle at dawn and head to the Zaino entrance for a full Tayrona round-trip.
Whichever of these two options you choose for your 24 hours in Tayrona National Park, you are sure to have an enjoyable and exciting experience. It is possible also to cut down on hiking time by arriving in the park by boat from Taganga, but you miss out on the jungle adventure aspect of a visit to Tayrona, so this is a less fun option, but if you struggle with hiking or physical fitness it is potentially a more attractive one.