Keen to escape dark, cold and dreary January we were looking for somewhere warm and sunny to visit! Having spent just 3 days in Bogota during our 2016 global adventures we were wanted to explore more of this fascinating country. With temperatures in the early 30’s at this time of the year, the Caribbean coast of Colombia seemed the perfect choice!
Following a 2.5 hour flight from Fort Lauderdale we were met at Cartagena International Airport by the friendly Jorge (pronounced ‘hor-hey’) for our pre-arranged taxi service to Isla Baru.
Isla Baru was previously part of a peninsula to the south of Cartagena, until a canal was cut through thus turning Baru into an island. A recently built bridge now spans the canal which enables an hour long car transfer from the airport.
We were delighted to arrive at Playa Manglares a rustic eco lodge in the middle of nowhere! We were met by Juan who showed us to our spacious airy room complete with wide open shutters and an open air shower! We were not given any keys as the doors to each lodge have no locks (although there was a decent safe in the room).
All meals were taken in the outdoor dining area where everyone sat at one large table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow guests and share stories of travel and adventure over delicious home cooked organic food and a mojito or two!
Juan and his mother Olga joined us for dinner in the evenings. Olga (the owner of the lodge) is the warmest and friendliest host you could ever meet! She gave hugs all round and made us all feel like one big happy family!
If you like unique rustic accommodation, Playa Manglares reminded us particularly of our lovely stay in Tapik Beach in the Philippines, an equally remote and wonderful location. Also La Tortuga Verde in El Salvador or the AirBnB mud hut in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile spring to mind!
Aviario Nacional de Colombia
The Aviario Nacional de Colombia is a short 10 minute tuk tuk ride from Playa Manglares and is well worth a visit! This is a bird conservation establishment with birds from Colombia and South America.
Parrots fly freely amongst the trees although other birds are kept in huge well-maintained aviaries. A mostly boarded walkway takes about an hour or two and winds its way through the aviaries and mangroves giving you the opportunity to see and appreciate many species of colourful exotic birds.
Other animals such as this large iguana roam free!
After a couple of days relaxing in Playa Manglares we had made friends with some lovely people and six of us (with Paula & Randy from Colorado and Caitlin & JJ from Seattle) set off to the Rosario Islands for some snorkelling and more beach life.
The small speedboat picked us up directly on the beach at the Playa Manglares and we set off for the day. The boat headed to Baru Town and cut through mangroves before setting off across the sparkling sapphire blue Caribbean.
The abandoned ruins of notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar‘s extensive beach hideaway can be seen on Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands. Escobar was once one of the richest men in the world, shipping 15 tons of cocaine into the US every day until he was shot dead in 1993.
Following a snack at an island restaurant it was time for some snorkelling…
We had about 30 minutes of snorkelling and while the sea was crystal clear and we saw quite a few small fish and some corals it was in fact quite busy with several other snorkel trips nearby.
From the snorkelling we headed back to the same beach shack for lunch then re-boarded the boat to head to an island!
We arrived at what must be the dedicated boat trip island as it was heaving… With bars, beach barbeques, and loud music this tiny party island was in full swing! Thankfully our guide lead us across the island to a small deserted beach complete with beach chairs and presented us with a cocktail menu… this was more like it!
After an hour or so of relaxing on the beach, chatting with the others and sipping our drinks it was time to head back to the tranquility of Playa Manglares.
With its turbulant past Colombia tourism is a relatively new concept and while we enjoyed our day and it was interesting to see the Rosario Islands it wasn’t the best boat trip… a quiet, low key deserted island is more our kind of thing!
The following day was spent in our blissful paradise, reading books in hammocks and sipping mojitos. However in the afternoon we decided to head off for sunset cocktails to a nearby resort…
Just a few miles away from the remote and tranquil Playa Manglares is Playa Blanca… we learned that only a short time ago this was a tropical paradise with its beautiful golden beach, turquoise sea and swaying palm trees… sadly over-tourism has got a firm grip and the beach is lined with tacky bars, cheap hostels, jet skis and trash!
Eight of us had piled into three tuk tuks as, after much deliberating earlier in the day, we had decided to trundle across to have a look at this tourism disaster for ourselves. We were hoping that late afternoon on a weekday when the day trippers had disappeared back to Cartagena we would experience some of that paradise beach hidden beneath the hoardes.
We did have an enjoyable time watching the sunset with drinks in hand watching the daytrippers start to disappear…
Thankfully before we left the hoards had mostly dispersed and we did see the beach in its not-quite pristine beauty…
And it looked even better at sunset as we made our way back to the tuk tuks and back to our own little Playa Manglares paradise.
Our 4 days in Isla Baru soon came to an end and we said our goodbyes before heading back to Cartagena to the Berlinas bus station to buy our bus tickets to Santa Marta, our next stop!