When it comes to beaches, there are some stunning options around Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, but the idyllic white sand and crystal clear waters of Playa Blanca have to be top of the list. A long stretch of beach, lined with palm trees, alongside the warm Caribbean sea, with no roads in sight… what could be more perfect? You can even stay the night on the beach, and be lulled to sleep by the lapping of the ocean from the comfort of your hammock or hut. Want to know more? Check out my Playa Blanca stories on my personal blog.
As it’s across the bay on Isla de Baru, part of the Rosarios archipelago, getting to Playa Blanca can be difficult – and a little pricey. But this post should save you some hassle and a lot of money.
How to Get to Playa Blanca
Most people book a boat trip at the main port, which comes as part of a long tour of the Rosarios Islands which, by most accounts I’ve heard, is fairly boring. It’s also the most expensive option of transport (costing a minimum 50,000 pesos per person – and that’s just one way), and arrives actually at Playa Blanca around mid-afternoon, so you don’t get long on the beach itself. Not to mention that arriving this way means paying an additional entrance fee for the Rosarios archipelago.
So, how to avoid these extra costs? Instead of the main port, head to the Mercado Bazurto from where you can take a speed boat, like the locals do. Tell your taxi driver you want to take a ‘lancha’ from Mercado Bazurto to Playa Blanca, and he’ll know where to drop you off.
Be prepared for a little discomfort – these are basic motor boats crammed full (and I mean full) of locals and their cargo. You may find yourself sharing a seat with a sack of potatoes – but it’s worth it for a cheaper and more interesting experience.
Get to the port as early as you can. Boats leave all morning, but times are unpredictable so the earlier you arrive the more certain you can be of a ride.
As soon as you step out of your taxi you’ll meet a ticket tout who will sell you a place on a boat for about 20,000 pesos (don’t pay more than 25,000). If you’re better than me at haggling, I’m sure you can even get the price down below 20,000.
Don’t take the first offer you receive, though. Check how full the boat is first because it won’t leave until it’s full. They might say they’re leaving in ten minutes, but it’s not true – they will wait until the boat is almost sinking under the weight of cargo and passengers. Get into the fullest boat and you hopefully won’t have as long to wait, although as we’re talking about Colombia it’s impossible to predict anything!
Another option I’ve read about is an overland route, but I don’t know anyone who has actually done this so the steps and prices are all unverified: 1. Bus to Pasacaballos (1300 pesos) (leaving from the center – India Catalina- 2. Ferry or canoe to cross “Canal del Dique”(1000 pesos) – 3.on the other side you take a mototaxi to Playa Blanca (10.000 pesos).
Where to Go on Arrival
The cargo boats drop you towards the quieter end of the beach, while the tour boats will stop at the very busy ‘tourist’ end. However you arrive, if you want a quieter bit of beach head left as soon as you get off and keep walking about 10-15 minutes. Here you’ll also avoid the majority of salespeople trying to force souvenirs and massages on you.
Where to Stay in Playa Blanca
The ferry back leaves around 3/4pm so if you want a good amount of time at Playa Blanca consider staying the night. There are a couple of expensive hotel options at the far, far end of the beach, or you can rent a wooden hut or hammock at fairly decent prices.
Hostel Any is a good option, with a friendly owner and stilted wooden huts facing the ocean. A hut cost us 20,000 each for one night, and the hammocks (complete with mosquito nets) were quite a bit less. Don’t expect luxury if you’re staying overnight: bring your own toilet paper and a decent antibacterial hand gel. Be warned, the toilet is not a pleasant experience! There’s one shower at Hostel Any which is more or less outdoors, and is of course only cold, so you might want to skip it altogether and trust in the cleansing power of the ocean!
What to Do
As if the warm, Caribbean waters and soft white sand isn’t enough! But, there is plenty else to keep you occupied at Playa Blanca. Up at the touristy end I spotted a few watersports companies that are pricey but fun. By night, the beach-side bars and restaurants light up with candles and lanterns; you can sit on chairs on the sand and enjoy a cocktail under a shower of stars.
If lazing on the beach isn’t relaxing enough – you can always splash out on a massage from one of the many local women trawling the beach with buckets of oil. Make sure you don’t take the first price,always negotiate.
Don’t miss the Coco-Loco man. He’s easy to spot: a local guy traipsing up and down the beach with a wheelbarrow full of coconuts and booze. For about 10,000 pesos, he’ll hack the top off a fresh coconut and fill it with a lot of rum, ice and cream, rustling you up the ideal pina colada to sip on the beach as you watch the sunset. Bliss! If you like your booze even boozier, go for a coco-loco, which seems to be something of his own invention involving huge measures of multiple spirits inside the coconut.
What to Pack
- Insect repellent
- Sun cream
- Toilet paper
- Antibacterial hand gel
- Swimwear and towel
- A change of clothes
Don’t take your big luggage – most hostels on-land will store it for you overnight. Just a small daypack with the essentials will do. And leave your valuables behind – you’re not likely to find doors and locks on Playa Blanca.
How to Get Back to Cartagena
You should be able to hop on one of the speed boats making the return journey the next morning, but a cheaper way to return is by the ferry which leaves between 3 and 4pm every day. Tickets for this are sold through tour companies, but there’s always extra space and the captain will sell you a ticket for about 12,000 pesos or less.
Just walk up the beach to where it gets a little busier and ask around for ferry tickets – someone will sell you one! It’s as easy as that. Don’t worry if the tickets look used and show an old date, like ours did: it seems locals have some arrangement with the ferry staff outside of the tour companies.
If you’ve visited Playa Blanca recently and have any additions or amendments – please comment here, I’d love to hear from you. And of course, if you have any questions or comments please get in touch.