By far the most recognisable and iconic of Tayrona’s many beaches, Cabo San Juan is the most popular one for tourists in Tayrona due to its stunning setting, ample accommodation options, and the fact that you can also swim there – something that isn’t common in Tayrona due to the area’s treacherous currents. Two gorgeous white sand beaches that seem to mirror each other, overlooked by the famous hammock hut on a small hill jutting out into the sea, Cabo is visually stunning and justifiably popular.
One of Tayrona’s lesser-known beaches is also one of its longest and most impressive ones. Cañaveral lies further to the east of the park, in an area rarely visited by most travellers, but it is well worth the short detour to spend some time wandering along its isolated sands. Bordered to the west by the expensive and luxurious Ecohabs, the beach is another non-swimming affair, but don’t let that put you off making a visit – it’s a spectacular stretch of sand and leads to the lovely, and barely trodden, ‘Nine Stones’ hike along the eastern cliffs of the park.
One of the largest beaches in Tayrona National Park, Arrecifes is another one of the park’s more popular sandy destinations, due to its location roughly equidistant between the park entrance and Cabo San Juan. It is also home to some campsites and small restaurants. Visitors cannot swim at Arrecifes – as a prominent sign warns you, there have been at least 100 deaths by drowning there – but it is a stunningly beautiful spot, with panoramic views of the park’s jungle-covered mountains, as well as amazing sunset vistas.
La Piscina is another one of Tayrona’s most sought-after beaches for the simple fact that – in case you hadn’t guessed – you can also swim there! Its name, the swimming pool, is a reflection of its calm and tranquil waters, caused by an offshore reef which protects the area from the worst of Tayrona’s famous and deadly currents. It’s a pretty little stretch of beach, divided into several hidden coves by rocky outcrops jutting into the sea, and is often full of sunbathers and snorkelers enjoying the warm waters and colourful tropical fish of the bay.
Castilletes lies even further to the east of the park than the aforementioned Cañaveral and is even more unknown by most travellers in Tayrona. It’s easy to reach, however; a signposted turn-off from the main entrance road indicates the simple cabins and hammock accommodation offered at the beach, and it is, therefore, the quickest sandy shoreline to visit from the entrance. It’s another non-swimming locale, but its wild beauty and isolation more than make up for that. It is also reachable along the ‘Nine Stones’ hike via Cañaveral and the Ecohabs.
A short walk through some arid, scrubby forest from Cabo San Juan is Tayrona’s nudist beach. Don’t be put off by the name, though; it’s not exactly bursting at the seams with naked beachgoers and is easily long enough to find a quiet section if you do fancy stripping off away from potentially prying eyes. It is also a truly lovely beach. Surrounded by jungle-clad mountains, the waves can be wild – lifeguards are on hand to indicate whether swimming is allowed – but the scenery is wonderful and well worth the short walk from Cabo.
Playa Cristal lies in a different part of Tayrona National Park than the other sandy shores listed, and it’s an ideal destination to include in a day trip from nearby Taganga or Santa Marta. These trips also take in the beautiful Siete Olas (Seven Waves) beach and involve some hiking and a boat ride. The reward for your effort, though, is a lovely and secluded stretch of sand, which only allows up to 300 visitors a day, which is relatively calm compared to the busy beaches of Cabo San Juan or La Piscina.