Cartagena Colombia: Playa Blanca, A True Island Paradise

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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.

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Playa Blanca’s main beach, where your boat lets you off

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.

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Looking past the end of Playa Blanca’s main stretch of beach

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.

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Even canoes can’t get enough of Playa Blanca

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.

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Get out of the sun under one of Playa Blanca’s tropical cabanas

I let myself cool off in the shade, then we headed out into the sea for a swim.

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Enjoy a traditional Colombian Caribbean lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and fried plantains

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.

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After lunch, visit with one of the friendly vendors who have set up shop along Playa Blanca

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.

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You’ll probably make other friends at Playa Blanca

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).

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End the afternoon with a Coco Loco, a rum drink served inside a real coconut, while relaxing in one of Playa Blanca’s hammocks

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.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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