Travel

Visiting Playa Blanca/Isla Barú from Cartagena


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When I was in Cartagena after the New Year, everyone I met said Playa Blanca was just too packed to visit. It was high season and many people were on holiday. But I knew it was a place I wanted to go. You can dive, snorkel, swim with the plankton, sleep in hammocks, camp, dance, etc. There is no power during the day, and very limited fresh water, so showers are not a priority. A lot of people do day trips to Isla Barú/Playa Blanca from Cartagena and there are a number of ways to get there. You can go by boat, take a shuttle with a local hostel, or take a bus to Pasacaballos and then a moto taxi to Playa Blanca. Food and water are more expensive as it is an island, so if you staying the night (or nights as it is definitely one of those places you begin to lose track of time) and you are on a budget, it is advised to take at least the basics with you. 

We arrived about midday as we were coming from the Santa Marta area. As we entered the beach, there were a lot of people. But just walk towards the right when facing the sea and the crowd becomes less and less. You will start to see hostels and cabanas and feel a very relaxed vibe. We had a tent so we were able to camp. Accommodation is very basic, but what more do you really need when you are relaxing in paradise?

Afro Nautica Cartagena Dive School Playa Blanca Isla Baru Colombia
Afro Nautica Cartagena Dive Center Photo Credit: Andrei Seba

We took the plancton (plankton) tour with Afro Nautica Cartagena. They are a dive center with a number activities. You can do fun or discovery dives with them, snorkel/skin dive, swim with the plankton, or take a day trip to Isla del Rosario. The plankton tour was amazing. You meet at Afro Nautica for a briefing on plankton. What it is, what it isn’t, etc. The briefing is offered in both Spanish and English depending on the group. There were a little more than 20 of us, so they split us into two groups and off we went into the night via a lancha. You are given a lifevest and once you arrive to the location, you enter the water two at a time. You can immediately see the plankton changing the color in the water as you approach in the lancha. I have swam with bioluminescent plankton before, but it was different here. It was so bright and fluorescent. In the past it was more like a sparkle in the water. Sadly, you need a special camera to truly capture it, a GoPro won’t pick it up at all, below was the best we could capture from the lancha. Which just means you have to go check it out for yourself, trust me, it’s worth it!

Swimming with plankton Playa Blanca Colombia
Plankton tour with Afro Nautica Cartagena Photo Credit: Andrei Seba

The next day we decided to do the skin dive with Afro Nautica (bonus: they take credit cards as there are no ATMs on the island). I had no idea what skin diving was. It is snorkeling while holding your breath to dive and observe aquatic life up close. You use a mask, fins, and snorkel. They teach you the skin diving techniques such as clearing water from your snorkel. You snorkel (swimming in the surface and looking down) and when you see something you’d like to explore more closely, you skin dive (dive below the surface). This was not a strong suit for me, and our guide was very patient and encouraging with me. I am glad I tried it as it was something different and pushed me out of my comfort zone. There were some nice fish and corals that we were able to see on the tour. 

Skin diving with Afro Nautica Cartagena Playa Blanca Colombia
Fish swimming out of coral Photo Credit: Andrei Seba

There are several options to return to Cartagena. We left in the afternoon. There is a shuttle that goes back around 3pm. This allows you to get in another full day enjoying the beach and the beautiful turquoise water. I highly recommend staying at least one night in Playa Blanca. Seeing that sunset alone is worth it. 

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