Posted by: Jena Davison | January 23, 2013

Playa Blanca, Isla Barú: Paradise in the Caribbean

Anyone going to Cartagena should pencil in a day or two to go to Playa Blanca on the Caribbean island of Isla Barú, about a 40-minute boat ride from the colorful coastal city. This pristine beach with velvety white sand, sky-high palm trees and bright turquoise waters is peeled straight off of a postcard. Despite its high tourism, Playa Blanca remains completely rustic, which adds to its overall charm and appeal. Most tourists come here for the day from Cartagena, either via speed boat or a combined several-hour tour to the Rosario Islands that swings by the beach on its way back to the city. Of course, you can do this too, but you will miss out on Playa Blanca’s golden hours: those before and after the tourists come.


If you don’t mind sleeping in basic accommodations—and I do mean b-a-s-i-c—you should spend the night on the island. You will need to bring your own tent, rent a tent there, sleep in a hammock, or find a bed in an upstairs attic-like space in a local’s home or restaurant, reachable by wooden stairs.  Bringing your own tent is the cheapest option; you can actually camp for free at some places, but they usually don’t even have a bathroom in that case. For as little as 5,000 COP per person, or around $2.80, you can camp at a place with toilets (albeit dirty and without toilet paper); and for as much as $8.50 per person, you can secure a camping site with a bathroom and shower. Nonetheless, camping in Playa Blanca is significantly cheaper than renting a room in Cartagena, so take advantage of that, plus the fact that you will be sleeping on the sand, just feet from the gentle waves of the Caribbean Sea.

Hammocks on Isla Barú

Hammocks on Isla Barú

When the tourist boats round up the crowds and the beach empties out at about 4 p.m., Playa Blanca’s true colors shine through. Well literally, you will have a first row seat for the evening’s breathtaking blood-orange hued sunset, but you will also get a real taste of the island’s chilled-out, time-passes-slower-than-usual vibe. You will also have an opportunity to chat with the friendly locals and meet other like-minded travelers, if you desire.


Sun Setting on Playa Blanca

Isla Barú has limited electricity, so upon nightfall, the whole place has a truly intimate and magical feel. You can enjoy a heaping plate of fresh seafood—the specialty being whole fried fish and coconut rice, yum!—with friends or loved ones crowded around small wooden tables illuminated by faint candlelight. Wash it all down with a beer or fresh fruit juice with the sounds of the waves gently pummeling into shore. Take a deep breath—this is paradise. This is also about the time when going to the bathroom becomes a more challenging, disgusting affair, especially for those with female parts. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!

If you are in no rush, you can hop back on a tourist boat in the afternoon, or arrange to take a mototaxi to Canal del Dique, which you will cross by canoe or ferry. On the other side of the canal, you will need to take a bus from Pasacaballos to the center of Cartagena. This is the cheapest, yet longest and most complicated option (about $7-8 total). The easiest way to get back is early in the morning (around 5:30 a.m.), when a speed boat (very rough/bumpy journey) leaves to bring local island people to Cartagena to work (about $11.50). You will arrive at the Mercado Bazurto in Cartagena, from where you can take a local bus or taxi into town; it is not far, maybe a five- or 10-minute ride, depending on where you are staying in the city.

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca

The cheapest way to get to Isla Barú from Cartagena is not by taking one of the many slow-moving tourist boats ($22.50-28, including lunch) or a speed boat from the main dock. Instead, go to Mercado Bazurto (no later than 9 a.m., when the last one leaves; get there 30 minutes early to reserve spot) and take a cargo boat to Playa Blanca (about $14). Having taken the tourist boat to the Rosario Islands and Isla Barú, I advise against it, especially if your main goal is spending time on Playa Blanca. If you arrive to Isla Balú this way, you will only have about two hours at most on the island. Luckily, we spent the night, so we had more time to enjoy it.

Turquoise Waters of Playa Blanca

Turquoise Waters of Playa Blanca

The Rosario Islands are very pretty but the entire tour takes over four hours when Playa Blanca is just 40 minutes away, making it a real roundabout way to arrive! The tour stops at one of the islands to allow people to visit the aquarium, or you can rent snorkel equipment and explore off of a tiny, lame “beach” and bathing spot near the aquarium. Playa Blanca is absolutely heavenly and is the highlight of the entire tour, so you are probably better off just heading straight there from Cartagena.

Two of the Many Rosario Islands

Two of the Many Rosario Islands


  1. good article

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