Since we knew we’d be arriving to the park in the early afternoon, we decided to hike the shorter route along the coast. One of the park employees suggested we leave our big backpacks in lockers near the entrance so we didn’t have to hike all the way in with them. Thinking we would just camp once we were in the park, we decided to go against the suggestion and hike all the way through with our huge packs. Little did we know, we’d be the only people with two backpacks each - one in front, one on our backs - throughout the entire hike. Guess, we should listen every once in a while ;)
Side Note: There are two entrances to hike to the beaches. You can either enter from the side entrance and then hike four hours through the dense jungle to the beach or hike along the coast for about two hours. We chose the latter because we were short on time. We only had two days. to spend there.
Once we had entered the park and paid 48,000 pesos each, we hopped in a small van with a handful of tourists and made our way to the start of the trail. It cost us 3,000 pesos each and was definitely worth it. Otherwise, you’re hiking on a road for about an hour before you even hit the trailhead. During the first half of the hike, the path was easy to follow as most of the walkway was constructed with wooden planks. We passed a lot of tourists + locals alike during the first part of our journey due to the three day long weekend/Colombian holiday. We also noticed most people packed pretty lightly with daypacks and jugs of water if they were staying overnight.
Side note: The sites provide hammocks, cabins, or tents if you choose to stay overnight. We’d recommend packing and hiking as light as possible, especially if you are hiking to the further beaches like the ones we hiked to.
It was a beautiful walk through several different landscapes passing by coconut trees, traversing the muddy horse trails surrounded by lush greenery, as well as trudging in the dense golden sand along the beach. We passed three or four main beaches (Naranjas, Arrecifes, Piscine, and Cabo San Juan de Guia) before we reached the one we settled on for the night (Playa Brava). The first four beaches were really nice, but there were definitely the most amount of people on them. It seemed like an eternity until we finally decided on our perfect, isolated camping spot. It was about 3pm by the time we were all settled in with our hammocks and tarp set up, and enjoyed the rest of our day in the sunshine.
Setting Up for the Night
While I sat on a perfectly formed log and delved into my newest Garbriel Marquez novel, Ryan immediately sprinted into the waves. Although the beach was a bit rough with large waves and a strong current, we both enjoyed the refreshing water after our sweaty hike. If you're looking for a calmer area to swim, I’d recommend the beach adjacent to ours or La Piscina (a peaceful and calm bay) about thirty minutes before reaching Playa Brava.
We enjoyed an incredible sunset and made our delectable dinner (PB + Jelly sandwiches with plantain chips and the remaining of our nuts). We also made time for a game of Gin Rummy 500 under the rising full moon above! I'm pretty sure I won if anyone was wondering ;) We were really worried about the rain (OK, I was way more worried than Ryan), but we credit God for holding off the rain and blessing us with a peaceful night's sleep.
Sour + Sweet
The next morning, Ryan woke earlier than I did and took a collection of sunrise morning shots. I woke up groggily, but well rested and continued reading until he returned. We stayed at this beach for an hour or so soaking up the peaceful morning and without another soul in sight. It was hard to leave this peaceful paradise, but we wanted to start hiking before the sun was at it’s highest point and we only had a limited amount of water. Since Ryan was set on staying longer at the beach, I thought of the perfect compromise. If we started walking earlier, we could hit one of the stunning swimming beaches along the way before it became overcrowded with tourists. He was stoked!
After about 30 minutes of hiking, we realized were off track. Getting lost is something that happens from time to time when we’re hiking - no big deal. Usually, I would have my normal initial reactions when we get lost. I would be frustrated, then Ryan would give me a few kisses to get me out of my funk, and I would be able to shake it off realizing my negative emotions weren't helping the situation. However, today was different. My sister was going into surgery in the morning and I hadn’t talked her the day before to wish her good luck or tell her I love her (since we had no wifi connection in the park). To say the least, my emotions were on edge. I was anxious, feeling guilty for not talking to my sister and I was taking it all out on Ryan for leading us astray. In the midst of everything, Ryan was getting just as worked up because of my emotions and the situation worsened. He knew something was bothering me - more than just the fact that we were lost. Being the smart man that he is, he let me hike on my own for awhile.
After we had walked for a while and reached a beach we knew we could swim at, I finally broke down. All my emotions were heightened and I couldn’t hold it together anymore. I let him know what was really bothering me - not being able to talk to my sister when I knew how frightened she was to go into surgery, missing my family, and knowing I couldn’t be with them during this difficult time.
Letting It All Go
When I was finally able to release all that was going on in my mind, Ryan comforted me in the way he always does and just let me cry. He brought me back to reality with his selfless suggestion, “Hey, we don’t have to stay at this beach long. We can hike as quickly as we can back to town and find wifi connection so you can call your sister.” In this moment of complete selflessness, I realized how selfish I was by not being considerate of what Ryan really wanted and only focused on my own worries. Quickly, I let Ryan know, “It’s ok. Let’s enjoy our time here for an hour or so, and then we can push ourselves hiking fast so I can talk to my sister.” We enjoyed a refreshing swim at such an amazing beach, I found a coffee, and Ryan had a blast jumping off the large rock faces. After about an hour and a half in the ocean, we continued on our way - making it back in record time. We quickly found a bus back to Santa Marta and I was finally able to reach my sister.
Hiking is an activity that Ryan and I love doing together for many reasons. Firstly, we are able to enjoy amazing treks and see unbelievable sites that you can't simply access by car. Secondly, we feel so accomplished and empowered after a physically challenging hike when we reach our final destination. Thirdly, because it forces us to get through and tackle some of our most difficult mental blocks in our relationship. No internet. No music to zone out to. No amenities to find comfort in. No other distractions. When something goes wrong, it's just us, the elements of nature and God. It forces us to react and live out the faith we are so strongly working to strengthen. It pushes us sometimes to a point we don't want to face. However, when we move through that difficulty and look up for guidance, we come out stronger and more secure in our relationship every single time. This is one of those trips that challenged us physically, mentally, and spiritually. And because of that, it is a memory and a hike I won't ever forget.