The waters of Isla de Rosario and Playa Blanca, Barú in Cartagena are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Now this is what I call a tropical paradise! Turquoise blue, crystal clear waters lap up against the sides of our tour boat now decked at the entrance to Isla de Rosario.
It has taken us an hour to sail here from Cartagena pier and has cost us $45,000 COP ($25 USD/20 Euro) per person. The tour boat was full of families, couples and kids, all waiting to witness the beauty of Isla De Rosario and Playa Blanca, Barú, famous for its glistening blue Caribbean waters. The two islands are part of the Rosario and San Bernardo National Park, which are home to one of the most important coral reefs along the Colombian Caribbean coastline. Playa Blanca, on Barú Island, particularly excited me, mainly because of the translation of its name from Spanish to English meaning ¨White Beach¨. While waiting to get there, Andres and I took a nap…again…in the middle of the boat floor…. while everyone starred (in jealousy obviously), as our 4 friends, who we became close with in Santa Marta, kept our seats warm.
As we approached Isla De Rosario, the waters got gradually brighter and more beautiful. Mini islands with impressive beach houses became more frequent until we reached our destination. We got down with the masses of tourists and headed towards the tiny “beach”, which was really just a small stone-laden entrance to the water. It was warm, finally! Most of the beaches I’d been in so far were freezing. It was a very hot day, so being the ‘blanquita’ that I am, I lashed on the factor 60 sun-cream and headed into the turquoise sea.
We had only been in the water about 10 minutes, swimming out far to an area where the water gets suddenly shallow again, when I felt a weird tingling sensation on my legs as I swam. I brushed my leg with my hand and thought I felt something wiry but tried to continue swimming. The tingling turned to a very painful stinging and I started panicking, not knowing what was wrong with my leg. I was being stung by a jellyfish; repeatedly. After everyone noticed me embarrassingly splashing around in the water, they all immediately knew what was happening. Andres, being a tropical geek, came over and brushed the “agua-mala” jellyfish off my leg, while getting stung in the process. He brought me to the shore, as the pain increased. My leg was all red and bumps started to appear where I was stung. Apparently the old myth of urinating on a jellyfish sting does work…but I didn’t go down that route. We went to look for another tropical trick; vinegar. The locals selling oysters by the entrance to the boat didn’t have any but offered me lemon for the stings. The tropical geek warned me if I put lemon on my skin in the sun, it would stain my skin black for possibly months (I could do with a tan…but no, I didn’t use that method either!). In the end, I didn’t do anything but wait and the pain was gone within half an hour. It looked worse than it felt. So we went back to the boat and continued on the tour, heading towards Playa Blanca on Barú Island.
Playa Blanca, Barú
Playa Blanca is beautiful, despite the beach being completely full and overrun with tourists and local guys hassling you to buy oysters the minute you step off the boat, even though you say no about 20 times, but still they force them into your hand and then try to charge you the equivalent of $5 USD…anyway its very pretty. The sand really is white and the water turquoise blue. The tour we were taking also provided a “free” lunch on the island so naturally we headed straight for the food.
After consuming rice, beans, meat, plantain, salad and soup (for which we had to pay extra) and a lemon drink…. we were stuffed and definitely not able to go swimming straight away. When we eventually got into the water (for a whole 2 minutes), our friend Maye spotted more ‘agua-mala’ so we quickly left as the tour boat was already calling people back to the boat for departure back to Cartagena.
With such clear waters and unique nearby tropical corals, scuba diving is a very popular activity on the islands. Many people on the islands sell snorkels, goggles and flippers but, not-surprisingly at rip-off prices. I wish I had thought of buying some for much cheaper in Cartagena and bringing them with us. Scuba diving on these islands would be amazing.
It is also possible to stay on Barú Island, either camping or in a hostel or hotel, all with varying facilities. Our time on Playa Blanca was disappointingly short so it would have been nice to camp and get to know the island better. We probably spent too much time at the restaurant; however, the huge crowds meant we couldn’t have gone much faster. By the time we made it back to the beach, they were already bringing people back to the tour boat, which was docked a few meters out in deeper water.
The tour itself may not half been worth the full $45,000 COP, especially given the time we had on Playa Blanca, Barú but the food was good and the islands themselves are gorgeous and are definitely worth a trip to see the crystal clear waters and white sands of the Caribbean Sea. As it was our friends who booked the tour for us, I am not sure how competitive Mary Tours’ prices are, but they have been running for over 35 years and are one of the most popular companies in Cartagena to do day-tours with. Cartagena is also one of the most popular and famous tourist destinations in Colombia and is full of travelers all year round so you can expect to pay slightly extra for these type of tours, however you don’t have to take a tour and can probably get a boat separately to Barú or Rosario for much cheaper. The visit to these islands, however you do it, is definitely worth it, after all I experienced my first ‘agua-mala’, which now qualifies me with bragging rights among the locals.
For more travel photos from Isla de Rosario and Isla Barú, check out our Flickr set here.
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