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The Vibrant Detour to a Park South of our Border

When we began this quest in April 2016, Andres and I knew it would lead us to unexpected places, but we never imagined detouring so far south to a national park in Colombia, which is one of the many places we’ve been these past few weeks. By the end of November we’d fallen off the continental U.S. into the sandy arms of Virgin Islands National Park, where clear waters and mosquitos embraced us with equal warmth.

Standing in the Virgin Islands sea, days from journeying just a bit further south.
Standing in the Virgin Islands sea, days from journeying just a bit further south.

From the Virgin Islands to Colombia

Then we jumped across the Caribbean Sea, hopped across a few Andes Mountains and eventually found ourselves in our 23rd (unofficial) national park on this quest: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. The park is nestled right on the Caribbean coast where a rough sea meets the Sierra Nevada mountains, which reminded me of a tropical version of the Appalachian mountains. Ironically, Colombia also has 59 national parks, and we don’t mind borrowing one to increase our final park count from 59 to 60.

Here Nature is a painter busy at work, her brush dipping relentlessly in the winds and waters, brushing different shades of light and dark across the tumultuous sea and rugged mountainsides.

The reason for our trip to Colombia was family oriented; we spent much-needed time with relatives and holed ourselves up to work during the holiday season. While there we couldn’t resist the lure of Colombia’s magic, the fourth most ecologically diverse country in the world. Truly, this country is seven times smaller than Brazil but packs nearly the same biodiverse punch with 314 different types of ecosystems.

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Colombia is richly colorful, from its diverse people to artistic city walls and lush natural landscapes.
Colombia is richly colorful, from its diverse people to artistic city walls and lush natural landscapes.

After 7 Weeks in Colombia

We are now officially back on the U.S. Quest and driving from Florida to Texas over the next week to begin the grand Southwest chapter.

But before we move ahead too quickly, we want to pause and fill in some of the gaps. After all, we still have much to share from our park visits in Florida and the Virgin Islands.

First, a little eye candy from the wild beauty of Tayrona National Park in Colombia:

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Typical fishing boat used for transportation in Tayrona.

Getting around Tayrona

We realized in Tayrona how much our U.S. national parks have spoiled us – here you don’t find the same kind of road infrastructure or ranger culture – a visit takes a lot of meticulous planning, followed by acceptance of things not going as planned, especially when it comes to transportation.

Boating is a popular way to get around here since the park is flanked by the sea on one side, but waters here are quite rough and your day to a nearby beach might be called off due to weather. While there’s no shuttle bus as a backup plan, you could hop on the back of a motorbike and endure some bumpy roads. And if that doesn’t work out, you’re likely to find a horse or mule to jump on for a ride.

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Once You’re There, the Real Adventure Begins

The upside of poor infrastructure is a truly wild and untouched feel in the park. There are crowded areas, but we were fortunate to enjoy a part with only a few huts and handfuls of people here and there. For the most part you hear nothing but the strong wind and rhythmic sound waves, your constant companions.

The park feels raw and textured with an abundance of rock surfaces, coral, and thick foliage. You never know what you might discover wandering along the beach and snorkeling along the coast.

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Camping or Eco-huts

There are campgrounds in the park, as well as huts like this eco-hut. There’s no electricity, phone signal, or running water, so solar power and either rain water or water brought into the park keeps you up and running.

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Nature, the Ultimate Painter in a Rough Park

It’s a unique experience to stay somewhere completely open to the elements. The breeze was so strong we never had issues with mosquitos or other insects. While the photos look tranquil, don’t let them fool you. The Caribbean is a restless soul, not afraid to show you her true power once you get out from one of the many coves in the park.

Here Nature is a painter busy at work, her brush dipping relentlessly in the winds and waters, brushing different shades of light and dark across the tumultuous sea and rugged mountainsides. It’s an inspiring place where you’ll never get bored watching the same landscape change with the time of day.

The water changes from black, to gray, to blue, to green, and even gold or silver at times depending on the sun. Any number of moods graced these waters throughout the days. Monet would have loved it.

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The waves begin to roll once you leave a cove, and once you’re out on the open water you better have your camera stored safely away. Getting soaked to the bone and fearful for your life are two inevitable results on the sea, at least for land dwellers like us.

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Room with a view, from the hut where we stayed for 5 days.

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Tayrona National Park is the kind of place for adventurous ones, for those who want to truly detach for a few days and let the churning waters mesmerize your spirit. It was a unique place for us to spend Christmas, where we even built a tree out of driftwood, and sang carols above the soaring wind.

My aunt gazing upon the lights of our driftwood Christmas tree, which eventually found its way back to the beach.
My aunt gazing upon the lights of our driftwood Christmas tree, which eventually found its way back to the beach.

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