So you’ve made it to Cartagena! Yes! You have done it and now you’re all set. Of course you are.
With a small bag (you have sunscreen and a book, don’t you?), an open white long sleeve shirt and your swim trunks, you make your way through the streets. You are admiring the locals, the fruit vendors, the sunny sky. You can feel the ocean’s breeze and a tingling sensation begins to let you know you’re just moments away from a nice beach.
You step across the street and your eyes meet the sand and the water but……
IT’S HORRIBLE! AAAAH IT’S ALL WRONG. Dark brown sand with little bugs nipping at your plump, pale, ankles…
Six or seven men dangling hats and jewelry come up to you, creepily shaking your hand and trying to offer you all sorts of whispered deals, special offers, and it is not, what you wish was occurring.
You can’t believe it. You spin and move to see if it’s just where you are standing. Nope. Everyone on the beach looks sad and somehow confused – they are splashing angrily at the waves, secretly holding back tears. You messed up. You thought Cartagena had a nice beach. It does not. You fool!
Ok ok , so you are reading this and thinking huh? Cartagena is on the coast (isn’t it?) – I always see tropical beaches and pictures when I Google “Cartagena”. Heck, even some fancy-pants travel writer said it was Where to Go in 2017.
That’s just the point. While easy to mess up, you must know one thing before visiting Cartagena, Colombia: all of the best beaches are a boat ride away.
You’ll want to arrange a boat ticket from the central boat dock – set just outside the city walls. Any taxi can take you, or you can walk. Ask your hotel or any front desk for the schedule. Typically you want to purchase a ticket through your hotel or show up at 7:30am and buy the ticket to your island of choice from the four companies that operate the ticket booths.
Isla Baru and Playa Blanca
The most popular day trip is to Isla Baru – actually a long stretch of sand and beach called Playa Blanca – that is connected as a peninsula to Cartagena. You could technically grab a taxi and drive for 45 minutes but that would be more expensive, and the taxis don’t really drive back to Cartagena (or at least there’s fewer taxis).
When you buy the ticket, there are typically 3 or 4 companies that offer the same general plan: you get on a speed boat, they zip you to the beach, drop you off at around 10am and then give you a ticket for a lunch – it’s a fish, rice, salad, and a soda, type of a lunch. Everyone gets the same lunch. It’s a good deal. The boat also offers a multi-stop option that includes something silly like an aquarium or a tour. If you go that route, you only get an hour or two at the beach. If you are inclined with that plan, just stop reading this and go back to perusing Pinterest, or whatever it is you do with your free time.
Note that as the day wears on at Playa Blanca you run the risk of missing your boat back. The boat pulls up close to shore at 3pm and will wave and you better be close to the drop off point, because they will waive once or twice and everyone gets on the boat and departs – with or without the same number of sun seekers that rode en route in the morning. You’re back in Cartagena by 4pm.
If what you want is a day on the beach – tropical sea, sand under your toes, and a cold beer. Then Baru will be great.
Just know this: it can be crowded, there will be hasslers, people that are nice and harmless but they’ll bug the shit out of you. There’s only one way to play it. “The old prison scenario”. When you get off that boat, act like you just got off the bus that is dropping you at prison – chained to another inmate and set to serve 25 to Life. You know what I mean. Better tough it up, otherwise those beach scammers will be bugging you all day long. Keep walking down the beach, avoid any chairs that they want you to pay for, anyone who comes up to you and is annoying gets a mean mug and a no thanks. Just keep walking until you find a nice spot in the sand, nearby to a little bar, and make your camp. As long as you are ready for that, Isla Baru will be a great day trip. I like this cheat sheet of good tips too.
(The day we went to Baru it was cloudy and stormy, but still fun to hang at the beach bar. When it’s sunny, the beach is white and the water bright blue green.)
Islas del Rosario: Isla Pirata aka “Pirate Island”
From the very same launching dock to Baru, you can see a sign for a hotel / island called, Isla del Pirata. If your high school Spanish language classes don’t kick in, this is of course, Pirate Island.
Fantastic for a solo traveler looking to vibe out in a hammock or float in a calm little patch of tropical green water. Also great for a romancing couple looking to slurp tropical drinks and instagram each other. Or even a family looking to all hang – without the chaos or hassle of Baru.
It costs a bit more – maybe $75 USD per person but includes a better lunch and you will have lounge chairs, hammocks, benches, docks, all the island is for you! It feels a bit like a deserted island with: broken tables and old signs and twists of sea rope.
The sign you are looking for at the boat dock
Beer with a view
Islas del Rosario: Gente del Mar
For those looking for a the same general idea as Pirate Island (more comfy, less hawkers, and your own private island) but with a slightly less pirate-y feel and an actual sand beach! Then I can’t suggest Gente del Mar anymore. It is the island just past Pirate Island and you will reserve the boat ticket from the same launching dock.
Actually the beach at Gente del Mar is so serene and relaxed, that you may find yourself unable to muster the strength to flip the page of your book. Instead, you’ll just lay full recline on your lounge chair and tilt your head to the side to stare at the calm blue green water – a slight smile forming on your face as dribble makes it way down you chin.
When I was just here in October, it was great. Like, wow I don’t want to ever leave great.
The only island with a sand beach
You can rent stand up paddle, kayaks, and more!
There’s snorkeling and blue green Caribbean sea
Well one hopes these tips will help make your stay in Cartagena, Colombia more enjoyable and ensures that you will not be deprived of your beach time.
Have you been to Cartagena, Colombia? If you have any other tips on where to find a beach, post as a comment below.
Until next time,