Walking with jaguars.

We’d just spent the night camping in hammocks in the middle of the Colombian jungle – Tayrona National Park to be exact. Tayrona National Park is 34 kilometres from Santa Marta and only a few hours by bus from the main city of Cartagena.

Tayrona National Park is an absolute must-see if your travels take you as far as Santa Marta or Cartagena. It’s 150 square kilometres of pristine Colombian jungle with the refreshing waters of the Caribbean Sea running along the northern coastline. It is home to over 500 species of birds, animals, bats, reptiles and a hugely diverse sea life. Among the creatures that thrive on the forest floor, nothing tops the king of the South American Jungle- The Jaguar.

Jungle accommodation

Jungle accommodation

There is accommodation spread throughout Tayrona National Park which usually consists of hammocks under an open hut exposing you to the cool jungle breeze, this also means insect repellant is an absolute must. The main area for accommodation is a 45 minute hike in from the entrance. Entry will cost you $22AUD and you can expect to pay between 5 or 6 dollars for a hammock.

We stayed one night and spent the day exploring the jungle and coastline before stumbling upon a little beach called La Piscina (after hearing the name my mind was cast back to the book Marching Powder but luckily enough this was a completely different kind of ‘La Piscina’). La Piscina is a beautifully calm beach secluded from the notorious currents that menace other parts of the coastline. We spent hours under the sun with regular trips to the juice stand at the end of the beach for freshly squeezed jugo de naranja.

La Piscina

We ran back through the jungle to our camp and noticed the fallen coconuts all over the ground from the trees above. We attempted to treat ourselves to coconut milk in the most primitive fashion, we scoured the surrounding bushland for anything that could help us tear open the hard shells of these delicious coconuts. We found a metal bar and some rocks, brought them back to camp and set about opening out afternoon treat. The 3 of us spent the next hour on rotation trying to crack one open. As a survival method, I’m sure we burned more calories in opening the coconut than we actually received from eating but it was by far the most delicious coconut milk we had ever tasted.

Fresh Coconut Milk

The next morning we had two choices for the return leg of our journey – a 45 minute walk back to the entry we had come from or a 6 hour hike through the jungle to the closest town. Of course, we chose the 6 hour hike. We strapped into our standard issue hiking thongs, packed away our 6 litres of water, nuts, tuna and bread and went to thank the owners for an incredible stay. We told them of our plan to take the 6 hour hike and they told us without a hint of humour in their voice ‘Be careful of jaguars’. We walked towards the exit of our camp, laughing off what we thought was the joke they played on every backpacker that came through. We were joking around and doing our best to imitate jaguar roars to each other when another group of backpackers walked past and asked us whether or not we had also heard the roars this morning. We stopped dead in our tracks and realised maybe this wasn’t just a big local joke. They explained there had been reports of two jaguars roaring not far from our camp early that morning. We decided to make the 6 hour hike out anyway.

We spent the first hour or so on edge, with our ears wide open for signs of a lurking jaguar. We soon came to accept the fact that the chances of seeing one were pretty unlikely and we allowed ourselves to become distracted by the beauty of the surrounding jungle. We stopped for lunch perched on top of rock overlooking the jungle and coastline, made our lunch and soaked in the Colombian sun, it was completely silent.

No sign of jaguars yet…

The remainder of the walk led us through ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls and a family living deep within this jungle. We made it jaguar-free to the nearest town, some 6 hours later and got a bus back to our hostel where we succumbed to exhaustion in the pool. This is not a trek I’d want to do solo!