Taking a bus would be a very long journey—the route takes significantly longer at 17 hours or more. At this distance, private transfers are recommended over self-driving to the national park.
If you have more time in the country, consider this 8-day itinerary—it includes both Bogotá, Cartagena's Old Town, and a visit Tayrona National Park for a dose of the rainforest and the Caribbean Sea.
Duration: 1.5 hours
Your best option from Bogotá to the National Park is to fly to Santa Marta. Several non-stop domestic direct flights leave from El Dorado International (BOG) Airport in Bogotá to Santa Marta. Direct flights are around an hour and a half in duration. Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) is the airport serving Santa Marta.
The airport is located 10 miles (16 km) south of downtown Santa Marta. Taxis are readily available for hire in the ground transportation area of the airport. There are no meters, so negotiate a fare with the driver before starting your journey.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 15 hours, more with stops
Going overland from Bogotá and Tayrona National Park takes over 15 hours—and is an expensive option at this distance. Having a car and driver gives you the freedom to explore this northern route. You can certainly make the drive in one day, though many travelers opt to take their time, spending the night at one of the pleasant towns along the way.
Consider a stop in Catedral de Sal, the famous church made out of rock salt mine outside the town of Zipaquirá, which is about 45 minutes north of Bogotá.
Another point of interest before reaching the National Park is the quaint town of Villa de Leyva. It’s like stepping back in time. This white-washed colonial town is worth a stop to spend an hour or two. Near the shop, there are restaurants, bakeries, and artisanal shops. They are also some interesting archaeological sites nearby as well, which you can read about it here.
Duration: 16 to 20 hours
If you want to ride the bus from anywhere from 16 to 20 hours, you’ll want to depart from Terminal de transporte de Bogotá Salitre. This bus station is about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of the Candelaria neighborhood. Buses usually arrive in Santa Marta anywhere from 17 to 22 hours, depending on road conditions.
From Santa Marta, you can catch the public bus from the Santa Marta terminal or from behind the central market in Santa Marta. They leave roughly every half hour. Buses operate all day and will take you directly to the park’s entrance. You'll arrive at the entrance called “El Zaíno” between 45 minutes to one hour. From El Zaíno, catch the shuttle bus to venture further into the park or walk a few kilometers to your accommodation.
Other options from Santa Marta are taking a private transfer, renting a car, or taking a boat.