Backpacker’s Paradise Outside of Parque Tayrona, Colombia

I’m writing this from inside an open air hut. To my left, Lia is swaying on a hammock. Past her is a pool, complete with waterfall and slide. In front of me is our beautiful cabana nestled in foliage and trees. Around us we hear various birds, water trickling or splashing, and some animals we haven’t actually been able to see. The entire property is made up of stone walkways, huts, scuttling lizards, and so many greens and browns, it’s hard to believe this is anywhere near a city. But we’re only about an hour outside of Santa Marta, Colombia, a bustling city that we passed right through on our way to paradisaical Eco Hostel Yuluka, just outside the entrance to the famous Parque Tayrona.

Getting here from Cartagena was a bit of a challenge. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, Lia plans, I execute. It usually works well, but I realized some of the information she had researched was a bit outdated and we needed to improvise. Not a problem. Navigation is something I’m pretty good at. I planned on asking the owner of our hostel the morning we left what would be the best course of action. I didn’t want to be rushed, and we wanted to enjoy the hearty included breakfast, so we planned to wake up at 6:30 and pack up.

We rolled out of bed around 8:40 and barely made it to breakfast. I asked the hostel owner how to get to Parque Tayrona. He responded in English using his usual cadence of normal speed followed by super speed. “Oh man. To get there itistoofuckingeasy.” Apparently, his definition of too fucking easy is different than mine. As he casually explained about 7 different options, all of which went over my head, I grabbed onto the easiest one. But it would take cash. No problem. I googled where the closest ATM was: right around the corner. Getting cash would be toofuckingeasy.

Google lied. A security guard told me (I think, my Spanish still isn’t very good) that I would need to walk through the mall, then through a plaza, then I’ll find Banco de Bogota. Mind you, Cartagena is hot. Air Conditioning is an expensive luxury in Colombia, so the mall was sweltering. I crossed the plaza, feeling the sweat pour down my back. I reached the bank, grabbed the cash, hid it (safety first!), and walked back. When I returned, my loving wife kept her distance because I looked like a soaking wet ginger mop.

At around noon, we had finally packed up, paid for our room, and said goodbye. We hailed a taxi right outside the hostel and told the driver to go to the Berlinas Terminal in Marbella. Berlinas is a big minibus company. We grabbed two tickets for Santa Marta for 80.000 COP (roughly $27). After 30 minutes of stewing in my own sweat and talking to a guy backpacking from England, I was met with the sweet sweet embrace of A/C. The three hour journey was not terribly relaxing though, since drivers in Colombia seem to treat double yellow lines and other road rules as suggestions or challenges.

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Our cabana at  budget hostel Eco Hostal Yuluka, and the restaurant. We chose a 7 bed dorm.
Our cabana (Tucan) is on the right. The bar and restaurant looms above. This was what we were hoping we’d find…eventually.

We sat ourselves right next to the driver, in prime A/C range. The driver couldn’t understand us. It was fine because we also couldn’t understand him. Due to that oversight, 4 hours later we wound up dropped off somewhere in Santa Marta. He called it Centro. I called it lost.

At this point I knew we needed to get a bus at some place called Mercado Publico for Palomino, which is past our hostel. Where or what Mercado Publico is, I wasn’t sure, but a friendly armed police officer took pity on our broken Spanish and pointed us in the right direction.  I should mention that absolutely everyone we’ve encountered in Colombia thus far has been patient, kind, and helpful. Every time we got lost (which was many times), we asked someone else for help, and were pointed in the right direction.

After 20-30 minutes of wandering through crowded market streets and smelly alleys, weighed down by our packs and drenched in sweat (or, if you want to be optimistic, adventuring! exploring a new and totally unfamiliar place!), we finally reached Carrera 13 y Calle 11, where we were escorted into a bus. I have no idea why the bus had chosen this particular intersection to be located, as it wasn’t a bus stop in the usual sense of the word. But wherever it was, it was the right bus (we could tell by the guy we followed that kept yelling “Palomino! Vamanos!”) and we boarded it.

It took us a little north of an hour and costs us both only 14.000 COP (about $2.33 each), which was perfect for our budget and worth the trek to find it. I was really uncomfortable at this point. I had re-drenched myself in sweat after walking 15 blocks. This bus had no AC, but they do drive with all the windows and doors open, so when we eventually got on the highway I was granted a brief reprieve. Someone had told us to drop our bags by the door, which made us nervous, and street vendors and people asking for change would hop on and off, which made us more nervous.  I was tasked with keeping an eye on the bags, and alternated between that and watching Colombian music videos (I have so many feelings about Colombian music videos, but that’s for another entry). The bus dropped us off with no stolen belongings at km 28, as we had requested (official bus stops apparently don’t exist here). After 6 long hours of travel, we finally found Eco Hostel Yuluka.

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GoPro shot of pool at Eco Hostal Yuluka.
Bruhhhh. Peep this pool game. And it was the perfect temperature. After a long day of bus navigation, this was definitely needed.

Upon first walking into the walls surrounding the hostel, our jaws dropped. This place is amazing. It looks like paradise. The staff is so nice and helpful.  Checking into our 8-person dorm, we spent some time chatting with our dorm mates. One is from Quito and is visiting for a couple of months, the other was from Australia and is about 5 months into her South America adventure.  Haven’t yet met any other Americans. The thatched hut cabana dorm room is air conditioned, but is slightly open to the elements, so I got a few bites. We’re not in malaria territory, so they’re more annoying than scary.

The hostel has a restaurant on site, and the food is fantastic and affordable. We had a filling dinner of bandeja paisa, a traditional Colombian meal of rice, beans, ground beef, chorizo, fried egg, sweet plantain, and cassava bread. We washed it down with jugos naturales, which is like a slushy made with the fruit of your choice – our favorite is maracuya, a kind of passion fruit. The dinner cost just 18.000 COP ($6) and the juice about 4.000 COP (roughly $1.50) – again, perfect for our budget. The complimentary breakfast was also delicious: 2 fried eggs, a sweet pancake with honey, fresh watermelon, and another jugo naturales (tomato de arbol this time, which is sort of like a sweeter cranberry). Did I mention this hostel cost us less than $10 a night each? If anyone is wondering how to travel on a budget, inexpensive hostels like this are how.

Colombian sunset over Eco Hostal Yuluka.
Look at this freakin gorgeous Colombian sky right at sunset.

We loved this place so much, we decided to give up a night in Parque Tayrona for another one here.  Lia and I spent the day swimming, reading, and working on the blog. We needed a day of rest after yesterday’s stress. We’re still getting into the travel mindset, so soon I’m sure a day of buses and mild freak outs won’t require a day off but now it does.

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We can’t recommend this place enough. Lia said it might be her favorite hostel ever (although Mountain Hostel in Switzerland is still bae). There are both hot and cold showers – though it’s blissfully not sweltering hot here though, so we enjoyed the hot shower – mango trees galore, kitchen, laundry services, and tons of wildlife to see, like these crazy lizards that run on their hind legs like tiny velociraptors. Included towels and breakfast, all for the incredibly inexpensive price of less than $10 for a dorm. I wish I was being paid to say this, but sadly I am not – we just loved this place like crazy!

Lia just fell asleep on her hammock. She’s really cute y’all.

So after this, I think I’m going to go for another dip (I’m really into that water slide), a shower, and some more delicious food. Tomorrow we will take the complimentary shuttle from our hostel and head off for Parque Tayrona in search for more adventure!

Eco Hostal Yuluka sign from the highway en route to Parque Tayrona.
We cannot recommend this place enough! It’s worth a trip just for the hostel.

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So for all of you Practical Wanderlusters out there looking for a how-to guide, here’s my TL;DR…

-From Cartagena, taxi to Berlinas in Marbella (we paid 8.000 COP)
-Grab a Berlinas minibus to Santa Marta (40.000 COP each)
-Tell the driver you need to get to Cra. 13 y Cl. 11, Mercado Publico in Centro
-Grab the Palomino bus and get off at km 28 (7.000 COP each)
-Walk into paradise at Eco Hostal Yuluka (Hostelworld link)

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