Isla Barú, located just off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, is the kind of tropical paradise that most visitors to Cartagena envision when they book their tickets. Palm trees, bright blue Caribbean sea, sandy beaches, fresh seafood and fruit juice… heaven, basically. But you won’t find that beachy paradise within Cartagena, a bustling city that is better known for its spectacularly colorful streets, flower-laden balconies, and delicious food than its beaches.
Many visitors choose to leave Cartagena to visit some of the nearby beaches on the Caribbean coast, such as Santa Marta or Parque Tayrona. But not everyone has the time to hop on a 5-hour bus to access those beaches. Luckily, there is Isla Barú, a small island floating in the Caribbean located under an hour away from Cartagena by ferry or taxi. You can visit Isla Barú for the day, sunning on the shores of stunning Playa Blanca, or you can choose to stay overnight, which is what we did. Read on for more tips about visiting Isla Baru and Playa Blanca, and our pick for the best Isla Barú hotel!
Planning a trip to Cartagena? Here are a few posts you’ll want to check out before your trip:
- What and Where to Eat in Cartagena, Colombia on a Budget
- What to Pack for Colombia: The Ultimate Packing Guide
- The 10 Most Instagrammable Places in Cartagena, Colombia
- How to Get from Cartagena to Santa Marta
How to Get from Cartagena to Isla Barú
What some folks don’t realize is that there’s more on Isla Barú than just Playa Blanca! And it isn’t a remote island – there are roads in and out. In fact, it isn’t an island at all – Isla Barú is actually a peninsula! Kind of a misnomer, eh?
To get from Cartagena to Isla Barú, there are a few options. If you’re looking to spend the day on Playa Blanca, you can head straight from Cartagena to Playa Blanca. You can book a ferry or shuttle, or take a taxi or moto-taxi. You can also book a day tour, like this one.
- Take a speedboat: This is the fastest option. If you just want to get to Playa Blanca ASAP, you can take a 30 minute speedboat directly from Cartagena’s port in Old Town – book it online here. Alternatively, a cheaper but more complicated option leaves from busy Mercado Bazurto. Take a taxi to the Mercado around 8-9am to make sure you snag a spot, although, as always, you’ll have to wait for the boat to fill up before it departs. Depending upon how good your negotiation skills are, this speedboat to Playa Blanca will cost anywhere from COP 20,000 to 40,000 one way. The return boat departs around 2-3 pm.
- Take a day trip: This is the easiest option. Book a tour like this one that will pick you up from your hotel, drive you to Playa Blanca (about 1-2 hours), and drop you off again after a day of fun in the sun. This tour includes lunch, chairs, lockers, and bathroom facilities, so you can enjoy your time on Playa Blanca stress-free. The cost is about $35 total.
- Take a tour bus: This is the most comfortable option. An air conditioned bus will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and drive you about an hour and a half to Playa Blanca. This option includes lunch as well, and costs about $12 each way.
- Take a private shuttle: This is the best option for groups. You’ll reserve either a private minivan (fits up to 12) or SUV (fits up to 4) to pick you up from your hotel and drop you off at any hotel on Isla Baru. The cost is around $50 each way. If you’re traveling with a group, this is by far the best and easiest choice!
- Take a bus & moto-taxi: This is the cheapest option, and the most adventurous! First, you’ll take an inexpensive 30 minute bus to Pascaballos – you can pick it up at the corner of Calle 30 and Carrera 17. Then, hire a mototaxi to bring you to Playa Blanca. The mototaxi should take 20 – 30 minutes and cost no more than COP 10,000 depending on the driver and your negotiation skills.
The priciest option is to wing it and just flag down a taxi to take you from Cartagena to your destination on Isla Barú. In our case, since we’d booked a resort on Isla Barú, our accommodation actually offered a shuttle driver. After doing some price comparison research ourselves (by asking local taxi drivers for a quote) we opted to book their private shuttle. It sounded easy, low-stress, and at only $80.000 COP each way (or $100,000 COP to and from the airport) it was economical, too.
But it’s us, of course, so nothing is ever as easy and low-stress as it’s supposed to be…
Our private shuttle to Playa Manglares from Cartagena showed up promptly to pick us up from the main plaza just outside the entrance to the walled city of Cartagena, as we had requested. Except before we found our actual driver, Jorge, we were approached by some other random taxi driver, who asked us if we needed a taxi to Isla Barú (an educated guess for gringos in Cartagena covered with luggage, I guess).
Trying to figure out whether he was actually our taxi driver, we asked him whether his name was Jorge. He insisted that it was, and then launched into a full-on theatrical production trying to convince us that he was our driver. Except that he couldn’t tell us the name of the hotel he was supposedly driving us to. Cue massive eye-roll. Y’all, one day I hope to stride through life with the conviction of a taxi driver in Colombia.
The good news is that it’s incredibly easy to find a taxi to Isla Barú or Playa Blanca: just head to the main plaza with your luggage and look confused for 3 seconds. Someone will be by straight away 😉
- Travel Tip: When traveling in or around Cartagena, always, always, always negotiate the price of a taxi BEFORE getting into it! Otherwise, you will find yourself paying a “gringo tax” far above a reasonable price. The taxis here do not have meters – they also typically do not have backseat seatbelts. However, we still recommend them over renting a car and attempting to drive yourself. For more information about getting around in Colombia, check out our guide to transportation in Colombia.
Playa Blanca Day Trip vs. Overnight on Isla Barú?
The first question to ask yourself when planning a trip to Playa Blanca or Isla Barú is: do you want to spend just the day on Playa Blanca, or do you want to stay overnight? If a day trip is all that you’re after, you can easily book a tour like this one or take a ferry or shuttle to and from the beach.
However, it’s not what we recommend. Our recommendation is to stay overnight on Isla Barú instead of taking a day trip to Playa Blanca!
Why wouldn’t we recommend one of the most popular day trips from Cartagena? Well, because it’s so popular. In recent years, there’s been a surge of tourism to Playa Blanca, which has turned it from a sleepy beach to a bustling marketplace.
A few hours of laying on the beach Playa Blanca means crowds of tourists and vendors coming up and selling you everything from massages to fresh shrimp cocktail (for what it’s worth, the shrimp cocktail is delicious, and the massages are terrible). Jump in the water, and vendors on jet-skis will come up and offer to sell you things, then zoom away in a plume of smelly gas when you say “no, gracias” for the 85th time.
As a tourist, the constant barrage of salespeople is irritating, but also understandable. The native residents of Isla Barú have lived here for many years, and it is only thanks to a recent rise in tourism that the island has basic amenities like electricity or running water. For more information, you can read about the story of Isla Barú here.
Marketing handicrafts and services to the tourists who are coming to visit their beautiful, isolated home is one of the best ways these locals have to earn a living. But there is little quality enforcement and a lot of unlicensed businesses that have sprung up in recent years. Plus, the constant interactions are overwhelming and can quickly undo the feeling of relaxation that relaxing on a beach typically brings.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the morning and after around 3PM, Playa Blanca becomes gloriously quiet again. The crowds haven’t yet arrived or have already gone home, the vendors have cleared out, and you can take a blissfully peaceful walk on the beach admiring the beauty that brought visitors to Playa Blanca in the first place.
So, bottom line? The best way to visit Playa Blanca is to stay overnight on Isla Barú! By choosing to stay overnight in Isla Baru, you can still use your tourist dollars to support locals working in the service industry and you can take advantage of the off-peak hours on Playa Blanca. It’s a win/win, and that’s why we recommend visiting Playa Blanca and Isla Barú this way rather than as a day trip.
There are several options for places to stay on Isla Barú for all budget ranges. We stayed at a wonderful family-owned boutique resort called Playa Manglares – more on that later.
What to do on Isla Barú, Cartagena
There’s more to Isla Barú than just one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! I mean, not much – this is a small, quiet tropical island, after all. But here are the top 3 things to do when you’re visiting Isla Barú.
Relax on Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is the most popular attraction in Isla Barú for a reason! If you’re staying on Isla Baru, you should at least spend a few hours on Playa Blanca – just arrive before noon or after 3pm to avoid the crowds.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink near the beach, but bring cash to pay for them (and any vendors who offer you something tempting).
Bring what you need for a beach day: swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good book. We have a few more suggestions at the bottom of this post.
Snorkel in the Rosario Islands
Las Islas del Rosario are an archipelago of islands located near Isla Barú, also off the coast of Cartagena.
They are a protected national park, and home to Colombia’s most beautiful coral reefs, which makes visiting them an excellent chance to snorkel! The beaches on the Rosario Islands are every bit as stunning and tropical as Playa Blanca, but there’s absolutely NOBODY there – very different from the midday crowds and vendors you’ll find on Playa Blanca!
You can book a tour of the Rosario Islands from Cartagena (like this one) or book a tour that includes time in the Rosario Islands, like this one.
If you’re staying overnight on Isla Barú, book once you arrive – it will be cheaper! We were able to arrange an affordable private tour directly with our resort, so ask your accomodation if they can assist.
Visit the Bird Sanctuary
The Avario Nacional de Colombia is a little known attraction on Isla Barú, but well worth a trip – especially if you like animals, which we do! The spacious, privately owned bird sanctuary is home to lots of feathered friends, from flamingos to peacocks to macaws to condors. Each giant enclosure is designed to mimic the birds’ native habitats. Allow about 3 hours to make your way through all of the habitats.
The bird sanctuary is a bit too far to walk to from elsewhere on Isla Barú, so you’ll want to take transit to get there. To visit the bird sanctuary, you can either take a taxi from Cartagena (45 minutes) or a taxi or moto-taxi from anywhere on Isla Baru. Ask your resort or hostel to help arrange a trip, or look for the drivers around Playa Blanca and ask one of them for a ride.
- Travel Tip: The sanctuary opens at 9am, and the earlier you arrive, the better to catch the birds at their most active! Plus, it gets fairly hot around 11am and you’ll be outdoors – bring a bottle of water to help you stay cool.
What to Pack for Isla Barú, Cartagena
Now that you’re all rarin’ to hit the beach, what are you going to pack for Cartagena and Isla Barú? You gotta look cute for those white sand beach/bright blue water photos.
But what else do you need to bring? What about way less cute stuff like safe drinking water and bug repellent?! No worries, we gotchu. Here’s a quick summary of the most important things to bring to Isla Baru.
- Steri-Pen Water Purifier: The tap water in Colombia is not safe to drink. Instead of wasting a bunch of disposable plastic bottles of water, our preferred environmentally friendly solution is the rechargeable Steri-Pen! It purifies water in 90 seconds, using an UV light to kill living bacteria and viruses in even the most untrustworthy tap water. This handy little water purifier saved us a LOT of money (not to mention plastic waste and illness). We use ours with our foldable Sawyer water bottle or our hydration pack and it works like a charm, but you can stick it into any water bottle. (Note: you can also use a Sawyer mini filter or water purification tablets to purify undrinkable tap water, both of which we brought just in case, but we found that we preferred the Steri-Pen for ease of use and taste.)
- Picaridin Bug Repellent Lotion: This is hands down our favorite tried and true bug repellent. It’s incredibly effective, lightweight on your skin and doesn’t make you feel like a greasy mess, and it’s quick and easy to apply. After discovering this lightweight little bug repellent lotion, I will never go back to those awful sprays. First of all, I hate spraying them because it always somehow gets in my mouth and makes everything taste like chemicals for the rest of the day. Second of all, DEET literally burns my skin. And third, this is more effective and provides better skin coverage than the sprays. The bugs on the beaches in Isla Baru come out around sunset and you WILL need some strong protection.
- Permethrin Spray: This actually isn’t something to pack for your trip, but something to do BEFORE you visit Colombia. Permethrin is a bug repellent that adheres only to fabrics, leaves no smell or residue on clothes, and doesn’t harm human skin. Before your trip, spray all of your clothing, paying special attention to hems, cuffs, and socks, to fight bug bites all day long. Thanks to our diligent use of Permethrin and Picaridin during our trip to Colombia, we left with just a few bug bites while our travel companion was COVERED. Permethrin spray lasts for up to 6 machine washes. Important Note: this is something to buy and use BEFORE you leave for your trip! Set a day or 2 aside for spraying all of your clothes, PLUS your backpacks and anything else made of fabric, like a sleeping bag or liner.
- Reef Safe Sunscreen. Going into the ocean? You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. You know, unless you hate coral, fish, and also all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm ocean life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! Although reef-safe sunscreen is a mineral sunscreen, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe – look for “Non-Nano Zinc Oxide” (more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen from Sephora on my face.
- Mineral Sunscreen: This is the least harmful type of sunscreen, according to science. Mineral sunscreens use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. They basically simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by physically reflecting away UV rays, like tiny little mirrors. Meanwhile, regular chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and ends up in your bloodstream (and breast milk, according to this study) which kinda squicks me out. Mineral sunscreens do not soak into your skin (according to this study). So even though mineral sunscreens can feel a bit heavier than chemical sunscreens, I prefer to use them anyway! I use this one for my body, and for my face, I use this lightweight mineral face sunscreen.
- Leather Sandals: I’m completely in love with my Capri Teva sandals. These things are amazing. Not only are they actually cute, but they’re incredibly comfortable. They’re cute enough to be worn with a dress or shorts, on long hikes, to the beach, white water rafting, anything. They’re comfy enough to stand and walk in for 12+ hours, versatile enough to hike in, and the perfect water shoes. They’re lightweight and well made. After near daily use in sand, dirt, and rocks, my Tevas are barely showing any wear at all. I’ll never buy another brand of sandals again. They’re the perfect sandals for travel! We also each brought a pair of Allbirds Tree Skippers(his, hers), which are lightweight and breathable, and perfect for hot days with lots of walking. Plus, they’re eco-friendly and super cute!
- Full-Sized Travel Towel: A full sized, lightweight, quick-drying towel is super handy to have in Isla Baru. This awesome travel towel is much bigger than your hotel room’s towels, weighs next to nothing, rolls up small enough to throw in your bag, and dries quickly so you’re not lugging around a heavy wet towel all day. Bring it to the beach, on your snorkeling tour, or just in case you can’t resist the urge to dive in to the sparkling blue water!
- Travel Clothesline: This is a super handy tiny little clothesline that is easy to hang up almost anywhere. We think it’s a must-have for Isla Baru because it’s perfect for hanging up wet bathing suits and towels that need to be dried. It weighs nearly nothing but is strong enough to hold a ton of wet clothing! String it up outside on your deck in the sun to dry your bathing suit overnight – much more effective than hanging it in a damp bathroom.
- Dry Bag: Don’t set foot on a boat without putting your stuff in a dry bag, just in case. You never know when a wave/rogue sea lion is going to splash your sh*t. This one is excellent, with a mesh section in the front that we use for wet bathing suits or towels. Plus, it comes with a phone protector too, so you can wear & use your phone safely while white-water rafting, kayaking, or snorkeling!
- Flowy Sundress/Beach Coverup: You NEED a cute, beachy dress that doubles as a beach coverup! Trust me, being able to toss on a cute dress and go all day long will make your life so much easier (or at least reduce stress during your vacation). I found some majorly cute dress/coverup options at Swimsuits For All, which sells affordable swimwear for sizes 10-34. This is my current favorite find – it’s hella cute, super soft and comfy, AND it has pockets, which I LOVE. I’m also digging this and this. I have major chub-rub so I wear these handy little bike shorts underneath, which have 3(!!!) phone-sized pockets, and I’m set all day long chafe-free.
- Rash Guard or Swim Shirt: I’m gonna be honest with you: applying reef-safe sunscreen can be a little unpleasant. It’s thick and doesn’t soak in easily. But like, I love animals and the environment. So my solution is actually to cover up my skin as much as possible so I don’t HAVE to wear sunscreen. Win/win! When swimming or snorkeling, especially in cold water (like in the Galapagos) I always wear a long-sleeved rash guard. They help to protect my skin from the sun and provide a little bit of added warmth (though not as much as a wetsuit). Another alternative I’ve done is wearing lightweight merino wool shirts (his & hers). The thin layer of wool protects my skin from the sun and insulates me, keeping me warm even when it’s freezing! Another good option is a white button-down quick-dry shirt.
- Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m snorkeling, and I’m getting up close and personal with marine life which means I need to be extra cautious about sunscreen. Swim leggings let you move underwater without restriction while providing sun protection (so you don’t have to use sunscreen!) and like a bathing suit, they dry quickly and stay comfortable once you’re out of the water. I love my swim leggings (and matching top) made by Waterlust, an ethical and sustainable conservation-focused apparel company. Their marine-life themed leggings are chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials, and they have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL. For more details about why I recommend these, head over to our Waterlust swim leggings review post!
- Cute Bathing Suit: YOU GUYS. I have found THE perfect swimsuit, and I’m obsessed. I literally bought this suit in 3 different colors the day I tried it on. See that picture of me?! It’s the first picture of myself in a bikini that I’ve ever truly and deeply LOVED. I feel SO gorgeous in this bikini, I can’t even. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s a freakin’ steal! Pick one up in every color from Amazon! If that’s not your style, I recommend browsing Swimsuits For All, which sells adorable suits for sizes 10-34. Even just looking at their models makes me feel all curvy and beautiful. If it’s not your style, check out my guide to the best swimsuits for curvy girls.
- Sun Hat: Who says sun protection can’t be cute? This hat protects your face, neck, and chest from the sun with UPF 50+ strength, AND goes with every outfit. The adjustable band around the rim guarantees that this hat will fit your head perfectly, and the neck cord means you can wear it even when it’s windy! This is my go-to everyday hat, although Jeremy opts for a Panama-style sun hat.
For more helpful packing tips, check out our complete Colombia packing guide, or head to Amazon to shop from our hot weather packing list all in one spot.
Now that you’ve got your bathing suit and sandals ready to go, it’s time to book your accommodation. We’ve got just the spot!
The Best Isla Barú Hotel: Playa Manglares
Situated on Isla Barú, about an hour outside of Cartagena de las Indias in Colombia, is Playa Manglares. The beautiful resort is located on the shores of the mangrove forest at Barbacoa Bay, on the other side of Isla Barú from the more popular – and far more crowded – Playa Blanca. We were seeking peace and quiet and hammocks and a private beach, and Playa Manglares was exactly what we needed!
If you’re considering a trip to Isla Barú or the nearby Rosario Islands, we highly recommend staying overnight on the island, away from the crowds of tourists & vendors, to soak up the best of the Colombian Caribbean coast.
Getting from Cartagena to Playa Manglares was a fairly simple task because we arranged an inexpensive private shuttle through the resort. And even though we were propositioned by a taxi driver claiming to be our shuttle, our real shuttle driver soon rescued us and whisked us away in his air conditioned van that actually had seatbelts in the back seat (backseat seatbelts are not a thing in Colombia). Luxury had arrived!
The drive from Cartagena to Playa Manglares lasted about an hour, winding through small Colombian villages, fields of shrubs and a few grazing cows.
Upon our arrival at Playa Manglares, a wave of relaxation rushed over us. From the sounds of birds energetically calling through the palm trees to the waves we could hear crashing on the beach through the trees, we could feel all the stress and tension of the exciting but bustling city of Cartagena fading away.
Our room at Playa Manglares was straight luxury. Like, OK: we’re budget to mid-range travelers, and we can’t typically afford luxury.
But Playa Manglares is actually within our price range, and it feels incredibly luxurious! Like, the first thing we saw upon entering our room was a gigantic outdoor shower. Picture a waterfall shower-head in a massive ceramic tiled tub built above the treetops in a stunning, open-air bathroom.
Y’all, I’ve never looked forward to a shower so much in my life.
I’m not gonna lie, it took us a while to stop freaking out over the bathroom and actually check out the rest of the room. We are easily excited.
But the rest of the room was every bit as baller as the bathroom. In-room hammocks? Check, one for each of us. A massive bed the size of my kitchen? Check. Multiple fans for maximum cool breezes? Check, check, and check.
And finally: a massive balcony with 360 mangrove views, the sound of crashing waves, and comfy chairs? CHECK.
Every inch of our room was beautiful and comfortable. The sounds of the waves crashing just outside our window and the calling birds just added to the amazing ambiance!
The friendly owner’s son, Juan, led us on a tour of the property. The resort is small and intimate, with only a handful of bungalows and rooms. Every aspect of the resort was designed with an eye for detail and beauty, from the open-air pavilion on the beach where meals are served family-style to the beckoning stone pathways running criss-cross through beachy brush and foliage.
The resort somehow manages to feel both luxurious and homey. The open-air bathroom – with its giant mosaic jacuzzi bath, palm leaves and stars overhead – feels like pure luxury, something out of a 5-star resort. But then there are the little reminders that you’re still here in Colombia: not at a 5-star hotel but run by a giant corporation, but in a small boutique resort still run by the family who built it, stone by stone.
Like, there’s the honesty bar, where you can pour your own drinks – or wait until someone politely knocks on your door and asks if you want a mojito – and record your tab to pay at the end of your stay. There’s an outdoor shared bathroom, both to shower off after the beach and just because it’s convenient to have a shared bathroom for use by anyone who might need it.
And of course, there are pets: one chubby old muffin perennially passed out on the ground, sleeping so hard we were legitimately concerned; and another little fluff-muffin who made friends with us only while we were eating, when he’d come up and put his head in our lap endearingly. Full disclosure: all animals are muffins to us. They’re all just fluff-muffins full of love, and we adore them all. Yes, even the ones that aren’t fluffy. Like the frog we found in the toilet of the shared bathroom. Which was adorable, after we stopped freaking out about it.
We settled into our room and full-on flomped. There were hammocks in our room, which we’ve recently realized is all we’ve ever wanted in life. Swaying in our hammocks, reading and working, we were lulled by the birds twittering outside our open windows, the gentle rustling of palm fronds and, just close enough to still be audible, the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
We’ve experienced the feeling of Colombian “tranquilidad” before, but this was a new level of chill, even for us.
What to Do at Playa Manglares
Although Isla Barú is the home of the famous Playa Blanca, one of the most popular day trips from Cartagena, Playa Manglares is located on the other side of the island with a private beach tucked between clusters of mangrove trees. The private beach at Playa Manglares is a bit more rocky than the brilliant white sand that Playa Blanca was named for, and the water is a darker blue and just a touch cloudy. However, what it lacks in picture-postcard looks, it makes up for in brilliant, incomparable emptiness.
While Playa Blanca is buzzing with tourists and salespeople hawking their wares for much of the day, Playa Manglares is quiet and calm, with only a single other resort in eyesight several miles away down the shoreline. The water may not be good for snorkeling, but it’s invitingly warm and excellent for swimming. It’s also perfect for kayaking, and of course, there’s a kayak free for any guest at Playa Manglares to borrow as they please.
Of course, Playa Blanca is a short taxi ride across Isla Barú if you DO want to experience it, but we didn’t feel the need. We loved having the beach all to ourselves. We set our camera and towels down by one of the hammocks strung to a mangrove tree and skipped off into the water without worrying that somebody might take our stuff (this is a huge deal, seriously).
At some point, we managed to drag ourselves from our restful lull, pull on our swimsuits, and grab the helpfully provided beach tote to take the extremely short walk to the beach. We splashed in the water for a few hours, until the sun started to fall – we’d been warned not to stay out on the beach too late, lest we risk bug bites. Hey, if that’s the only downside to this paradise, we’ll take it.
If you’re looking to venture out from Playa Manglares, you can easily arrange a private day trip to the Rosario Islands which picks you up and drops you off directly from the hotel. You can also arrange a trip to the bird sanctuary nearby on Isla Barú!
The Story of Playa Manglares
After a shower in our ridiculously beautiful open-air shower, towelled off and clean, we headed down to the open-air pavilion for dinner. The entire resort eats together, family-style. Between bites of fresh grilled fish and spinach, we all introduced ourselves, swapping stories and tips. It felt like what we love about a good hostel: that excited inquiry about where you’ve been, where you’re going, recommendations shared and requested. And it felt all the more special to share the table with Juan, the owner’s son.
As we all ate together, he regaled us with stories of Isla Barú and of the origin story of Playa Manglares. And y’all: the story is CRAY. It’s like, some Gabriel Garcia Marquez realismo magico cray sh**. OK, here’s the story.
So flash back about 20 or so years. Little Juan’s father fell ill, and the doctors gave him only a year to live. Faced with this gravity, his father made the pilgrimage to the family’s vacation home, here on Isla Barú, to spend his final days.
At the time, the property was little more than a tree-house and an artist’s studio. But it was everything to the family, and it was just as restful and tranquil as it is today. His father meditated and swam each day, spending hours in his painting studio overlooking the beach and the mangroves. He listened to the birds chirp and the rustle of the leaves and the crashing of the waves … and he got better.
Instead of 1 year, he lived for 15, when he died peacefully of old age, here at Playa Manglares.
Y’all, if that’s not a good reason to quit your day job and go live your dreams on a beach somewhere, I don’t know what is. I was sold. I was also nose-deep in a bowl of fresh vanilla ice cream topped with fried plantains with panela and I was ready call it a night. But the story wasn’t over yet….
Every night, a friendly spirit is said to walk the grounds of Playa Manglares, wearing white robes and happily admiring the foliage and breathing in the ocean air or whatever. And every night, at EXACTLY the same time, the resident dogs bark at EXACTLY the same spot – right over there, just off of the dining pavilion.
As if on cue, the dogs rose from the tables and STARTED BARKING AT THAT SPOT, tails wagging in excitement. I kid you not. This actually happened.
Honestly, I probably would have been creeped out if I wasn’t so incredibly enchanted. Y’all: if you haven’t read 100 Years of Solitude yet, consider this the push you need, because I felt like I was living the book right then and there. The magic of Colombia was here: strange and unexplainable things were happening and Jeremy and I were just like, “oh, that’s cool, that makes sense. Nothing wrong with the friendly ghost of your father hanging around the resort!” I felt like I had slipped into Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s head, taken a look around, been like “yup, weird sh** happens in Colombia, and wow, it really makes for an excellent story.”
We lay in bed later that night, sprawled out comfortably under our mosquito nets and watching tiny lizards chirp and chitter their way across the white walls, lulled to sleep by the sound of waves crashing through the open windows and the swaying of the palm trees.
Colombia is magical.
We highly recommend a stay at Playa Manglares if you’re visiting Isla Barú! You can check availability on Booking.com
Where to Stay on Isla Barú on a Budget
Playa Manglares is a great option if you’re willing to splurge a little bit (by Colombia standards), but you can stay on Isla Barú on a backpacker’s budget, too.
We’ve heard great things about Hostel Urantia and also about Media Luna Barú, which is a sister property to this popular hostel in Cartagena.
There are also some phenomenal VRBOs on Isla Barú. We love this beautiful 3-bedroom house. It’s right on the beach and has a fabulous deck full of cozy hammocks overlooking the turquoise water. The housekeeper, Hernando, lives at the back of the property and can take you fishing, snorkeling, or to the nearby coral reefs!
FYI, we recommend booking vacation rentals directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
Are you excited to visit Playa Blanca or stay overnight on Isla Barú? Drop us a comment below!
Hey, are you planning a trip to Cartagena & Isla Barú? Here are a few posts you’ll want to check out before your trip:
- What and Where to Eat in Cartagena, Colombia on a Budget
- What to Pack for Colombia: The Ultimate Packing Guide
- The 10 Most Instagrammable Places in Cartagena, Colombia
- How to Get from Cartagena to Santa Marta
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Disclaimer: I was hosted by Playa Manglares in exchange for an unbiased review. Any inaccuracies, opinions, and ghost story embellishment are 100% my own and totally not their fault.
Feature photo credit: “Playa Blanca – Islas del Rosario” (CC BY 2.0) by Jorge Lascar
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I absolutely HATE being eaten alive by mosquitos. They put such a damper on my travel experience :'( How bad would you say the mosquitos are on Isla Baru? and how do they compare to Tayrona national park? haha thanks!
Lia Garcia says
Hard to say because we use a REALLY effective mosquito repellant strategy and rarely get bit! So I didn’t really notice any in either location. I can’t recommend the 1-2 punch of Permethrin on clothing + Picaridin lotion on skin enough! Links to those product: https://practicalwanderlust.com/recommends/permethrin-spray and https://practicalwanderlust.com/recommends/insect-repellent-with-20-picaridin/
Thank you so much for your suggestions! We loved Playa Manglares and the bird sanctuary. Probably should have listened to my gut and not gone to Playa Blanca because it was SO high pressure and expensive. Should’ve just laid on the Manglares beach All day!
Practical Wanderlust says
Playa Manglares is amaaaazing! We absolutely love it. But, Playa Blanca is definitely on the more expensive side since it has become so touristy. Next time if you want to still visit Playa Blanca, you should stay overnight at Isla Baru and just plan an entire day trip to playa Blanca which is what we did to save some coin!
We’re hoping to stay here in April! Question though- Do you recommend spending 2 nights on the island? Is there enough to do there for 2 full days? Or spend the extra day in Cartagena? We’d only have 1 full day in Cartagena and 2 nights here or the other way around.
Lia Garcia says
Not sure if there’s enough for 2 full days unless you REALLY love the beach or you want to spend a day just relaxing and enjoying slow island life. If you’re the kind of traveler who prefers to be doing things every day rather than relaxing, I’d recommend more time in Cartagena – you can definitely spend a full day exploring Cartagena on foot, but you wouldn’t be able to stop into any museums or do a food or history or graffiti tour or anything like that. Or maybe you can split your time and do 1.5 full days in each!
Nick Zakzuk says
Hi, I lived in playa blanca for 8 or 9 months. Total Paradise. This was back in 2014. Is there electricity and wifi now?
Lia Garcia says
There was where we stayed!
If you take a private car out to Playa Blanca, do you still have to leave at 3pm?
Lia Garcia says
Nope, if you have your own driver you can leave whenever you like.
You mentioned leather sandals, can you send a link or a photo? They have quite a few options on their site and I’m curious which ones you’re wearing. Especially if they can be casual or dressy and are leather and waterproof and can be worn for hiking. They sound like the absolute perfect shoe.
Lia Garcia says
It’s this one: https://amzn.to/2OL690D
You’ll find more info about them (and lots of photos) in my women’s shoe guide, here: https://practicalwanderlust.com/2018/09/best-womens-travel-shoes.html
I have heard from other travelers to avoid any vegetables unless they’re boiled, and fruits including these delicious juices I read about. I am afraid to get sick on my trip. What was your experience with food safety in this region?
Lia Garcia says
Definitely avoid raw vegetables, including salad, unless your host specifically lets you know that the meal was prepared with filtered water (or if they’re a fruit or vegetable with a tough outer skin that doesn’t need to be washed). As for the fruit juices, you’ll be fine – the fruit juices pretty much all come from fruits with thick, tough skins and they’re blended with pre-bagged ice made from purified water, or milk. We definitely didn’t have perfect stomachs while we were here, but we didn’t get sick either – I haven’t gotten sick in Colombia since my very first trip when I drank a whole glass of tap water like an idiot and spent the next 2 days in agony. Sooooo don’t do that and you’ll be OK 😉
Hi, did you visit areas of of Isla Baru other than the tourist spots? Any trip through town?
Lia Garcia says
Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to, no.
Jennifer Magliano says
Great info! I’m dying to go! I’ve been unable to find a definite answer, though, about the yellow fever vaccination. Do you know if it is necessary for Isla Baru? Thank you!
Lia Garcia says
Hey Jennifer, the yellow fever vaccine is recommended by the CDC for all visitors to Colombia and it is legally required to enter certain parts of the country. I don’t think it’s required to visit Isla Baru – and nobody has ever asked us for our yellow card during our trips to Colombia, but we carry it with us on every trip anyway. It’s a pretty inexpensive and painless vaccine to get and I do 100% recommend getting it out of an abundance of safety!
hi there, did you ever get a definite answer to your question? I am going to Columbia and want to go to Baru islands and am not sure if the shot is mandatory for the islands?? Thank you in advance:)
Lia Garcia says
I mean, I don’t think anyone is going to check your yellow card at the docks (nobody checked ours), but you should still get the shot because it prevents you from getting Yellow Fever. It’s recommended by the CDC and even if there’s not a government checkpoint there, you should still get it!
Helen Shih says
I really really want to stay here, but I generally get horrible mosquito bites. The fan really works well enough?
Lia Garcia says
Wellll we didn’t rely on JUST the fan – we were using the fan plus the netting, plus bug repellant lotion, plus we permethrin sprayed all of our clothing before our trip. Those are our typical precautions before we visit anywhere buggy, and we generally end up with fewer bug bites than most of our travel companions! We didn’t get too many bites overnight here, but we did get a few when we took a barefoot walk on the beach around sunset – be sure to Permethrin Spray your socks and pants if you’re planning to be out on the beach after dark!
Ahhh you’re fueling my Colombia wanderlust
Lia Garcia says
Muahahaha, that’s exactly what we’re here for!
Andrea Mayfield says
I am dying to go to Cartagena and visit some other surrounding areas! Its truly so pretty there! I really hope I make it there soon 🙂
Thank you for this fantastic, detailed post! I was just talking to my friend yesterday and she was saying how Cartagena would be a cool place to visit. While I’ve always been interested to visit Colombia one day, I admit that I don’t actually know a ton about it or where to go and what to see. Now that I’ve read this, I REALLY want to go to Cartagena and Isla Baru!!
And wow, that bathroom in Playa Manglares – incredible!! I would totally have the same reaction as you guys haha.
Lia Garcia says
Yesss you should go! Colombia is fantastic and we love the Caribbean coastal region. We’ve got loads of guides for when you do decide to visit!
Loved Isla Baru when I was there! We did just do the day trip though, which was nice but definitely would have been better to stay overnight. If only I’d had this to read before I went!
Lia Garcia says
Guess you’ll just have to return 😉
Jaime Scilingo says
I have never heard of Isla Baru! I visited the Rosario Islands when I was in Colombia in ’97 and forgot tampons…what a mistake! Playa Mangalares sounds like it would be where I’d want to spend most of my time. Thanks for sharing the info!
Lia Garcia says
Ohhhh noooooooo! Story time … when I got my period for the first time ever, I was in the Florida Keys at a marine biology summer camp. They were all like “learn how to use tampons or you’re going to get eaten by a shark.” It was terrifying so I left camp early. That was a really depressing story, but on the bright side, I did not get eaten by a shark, and it sounds like you didn’t either, so … yay! 😛