The city of Cartagena, Colombia is known for the charm and splendor of its 500-year old centro historico, the nuevo-luxe of its Miami-like Boca Grande neighborhood and, more recently, the drama surrounding Obama’s Secret Service hooker scandal. One thing Cartagena is not known for is particularly beautiful beaches.
After you’ve finished strolling Cartagena’s colorful, bougainvillea-lined streets, take a speed boat (or a slow boat, if you prefer) to Isla de Beru, just a short jaunt at 50,000 pesos colombianos from the Cartagena boat terminal. What awaits you is an idyllic paradise that will make you feel shipwrecked — and, if you’ve only booked a day trip, like you should stay longer.
I was initially a bit disappointed when I arrived at Playa Blanca. Heralded by literally every other backpacker I encountered as “Colombia’s Best Beach,” it seemed cluttered and even dirty in parts. Still, I couldn’t get past how content all my fellow beach goers seemed to be there.
It seemed to take forever, but eventually my friend Kevin and I reached the end the crowds. The beach beyond that point was deserted; the clear, calm surf was devoid of swimmers. I wasn’t yet convinced that Playa Blanca was the best beach I’d ever seen, but I was beginning to feel comfortable there.
As we walked further down Playa Blanca, the beach took on an idyllic, shipwrecked feel. Empty canoes sat in the still, swimming pool-like water; most of the cabanas were empty. All of a sudden, I heard a shout.
“Texas!” It was John, a guy from California I’d met in Santa Marta a few days earlier. He invited Kevin and I into the cabana where he’d been staying.
I let myself cool off in the shade, then we headed out into the sea for a swim.
As we floated on top of the gentle waves, I began to realize why John had been camped out on Playa Blanca for five days. The pace of life was as slow as I was moving through the thick, humid air; the breeze was as soft and sooting as the hammock I was lying in.
On the way out of the water, I bought a “Coco Loco” from one of the many vendors that can be found walking up and down the beach. A concoction made with coconut water, several different types of rum, cream (and, in my case, vodka), the Coco Loco is a deceptively smooth cocktail — it packs a fierce punch.
After my Coco Loco Kevin and I headed down to one of the many restaurants on the busier part of the beach and enjoyed a traditional Colombian lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and fried plantains. I’d had it nearly every day I was along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, but it tasted just as amazing as the first time. Most day tours include this lunch as part of the ticket price, which is usually around 50,000 COP ($28).
We spent a few more hours lounging with John in his cabana. Although the time for the boat to depart came relatively slow, I was sad when it was time to leave. I came not expecting a lot and to be fair, there isn’t “a lot” on Playa Blanca. Still, if I hadn’t had a flight scheduled for the next morning, I would’ve stayed several days. Playa Blanca is a true paradise.