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Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Easy Trips -

In 1499, the first Euro­peans to reach the South Amer­i­can main­land came in sight of Colom­bia’s Caribbean coast. They would have spied snow-crested moun­tains ris­ing ahead of the bow made of Span­ish tim­ber. Sail­ing closer, they would see a spine of green hills and a strip of white-sand beaches. Fi­nally, stand­ing on the cusp of the new world, they would have en­coun­tered indige­nous tribes, thatched vil­lages and a rain­for­est that stretched into the heart of the con­ti­nent.

In the five cen­turies since then, rain­forests have been felled, cities built and many indige­nous cul­tures lost across Colom­bia and South Amer­ica. Yet Tay­rona Na­tional Park is a pocket of Caribbean shore pre­served: a slice of land ap­pear­ing much as it would have long ago to a Span­ish sailor’s eyes.

Well, more or less. It isn’t clear what the con­quis­ta­dors of Castile would have thought of to­day’s beach­front bars blar­ing out reg­gae, or cor­ru­gated shacks serv­ing up plates of red snap­per and co­conut rice to hun­gry sun­bathers. It’s doubt­ful whether they would have taken a si­esta in the ham­mocks that line the seafront, the fab­ric stretched and deep­ened by years of post-lunch naps.

But this is only one side of the park. From the beach, a few lit­tle paths wan­der vaguely through man­grove

com­prises a dozen stilt houses at the east­ern end of Tay­rona Na­tional Park, over­look­ing the beach of La Piscina. The huts are based on the de­signs of indige­nous Kogi dwellings, and fea­ture thatched roofs, ceil­ing fans and com­fort­able ham­mocks on the pa­tio (from $290; eco­hab­san­ta­marta.com).

The main gate­way to

is at El Zaino (ad­mis­sion $12; par­ques­na­cionales.gov.co). The vil­lage of is roughly a two-hour hike from the beach at Cabo San Juan del Guía. The walk re­quires sturdy footwear. swamps and climb up into the hills. The sounds of crash­ing waves and hu­man voices re­treat, and the buzz of hum­ming­birds and the hoots of howler mon­keys grow louder. Igua­nas scam­per among the leaf lit­ter and on all sides is dense jun­gle, some­times vis­ited by jaguars on their night­time prowls. The trail be­comes wilder too: knot­ted ropes are on hand for scal­ing boul­ders, rick­ety bridges span moun­tain streams.

The re­ward for a two-hour climb from the beach is ar­riv­ing at Pue­blito, which trans­lates to English as “lit­tle vil­lage.” There are just two or three thatched huts be­long­ing to the indige­nous Kogi tribe. Set in a for­est clear­ing, the huts rest on foun­da­tions laid long be­fore Colum­bus stood on the sands of the New World. It of­fers a small in­sight into pre­con­quest life across the Amer­i­cas: chick­ens cluck­ing about the ter­races, smoke ris­ing from a hearth, and, hid­den in the ravines around the vil­lage, sa­cred places where cer­e­monies are per­formed and no out­sider may step. The si­lence is to­tal but for the coo­ing of doves.

“I could never live out­side this for­est,” says tribal el­der Manuel Sauna Di­gala, sport­ing a flow­ing white robe. “Pue­blito is the in­her­i­tance from my an­ces­tors and they chose well. I want to live for­ever in this for­est. And when I die I want to be buried here.”

The Caribbean coast is at its wildest in Tay­rona Na­tional Park: home to white-sand beaches, swathes of rain­for­est and an­cient indige­nous cul­tures.

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