During the Independence of Cartagena, many locals indulge in travel for part of the week, returning to the city for the main celebrations as the seven days come to an end. After connecting with award-winning photographer William Zarza-Garcia, and viewing his gorgeous sights of Tolú on Instagram, it was hard to resist visitng this little Colombian town, located about an hour from Sincelejo, to kick off the days of Independence.
Leaving from the terminal de transportes for a three-hour bus ride ($30,000 COP) from Cartagena and arriving to the entrance of Tolú, a ten minute bici-taxi ride led to Hotel Mar de Plata, where owners Marta and Marcos offered kind greetings.
Marta served chilled limonada as Marco described his life transitioning from Italy to Colombia, and Luis completed the check in. Hotel dogs Luna and Mateo inspected the simple, clean accomodations of a single room while two bright green parrots argued and kissed loudly on the large, shady patio.
William and I met with friendly hugs and headed out for lunch, choosing Cevicheria Roberto for cocteils de camaron and pulpo. Roberto is Christian, so we had to go across the street to buy our cervezas, returning just in time to enjoy the creamy, lime-enhanced treat famous on beaches of Colombia.
Eating and drinking, we discussed the history of Tolú and it’s involvement with famed narcotrafic leader Pablo Escobar’s buddy José Gacha, who was gunned down outside of the town back in 1989.
Following lunch, William guided me through the narrow streets, describing the details of the main plaza and it’s lovely church, continuing on to the malécon and main road along the water, right down to the estuary, where the ocean meets a river and silty salt water mixes with a fresh stream.
Returing back to town, we stopped to talk with the owner of La Potencia, a ceviche kiosk named after the idea that raw seafood gives you the potential for strength, and thus, power for love. Whatever the folklore, as evening fell on the little town and cluttered storefronts gave way to neon lights, it was great to experience this first full day in cozy Tolú.
The next morning brought an early tour with Club Nautico Mar Adentro of the Archipiélago de San Bernardo, a group of nine islands (plus one man-made). As the skies changed from blue to hazy grey, our lancha, carrying about 30 passengers, sped through the blue waves of the Gulf of Morrosquillo, passing Santa Cruz del Islote and disembarquing at the white sand beach of San Bernardo. Snorkeling brought the discovery of a few dried starfish, and shiny, silvery-blue fish darting between green and yellow beds of long, soft kelp beyond the shores.
While the early afternoon light rains fell softly, I joined David from Medellin among the tourists savoring a lunch of grilled tuna, rice, patacón and salad. Island girls walked around, offering arroz con leche (sweetened rice with milk) and delicious cocada served in large pieces of raw coconut.
As if on cue, the sun came out in time to dry up the skies and provide a lovely sunset for the ride back to Tolú. Later in the evening, true to Paisa form, David and his friend Sebastian offered tragos of Aguardiente on the front balcony of Hotel el Turista, as Dinah the pitbull kept the riff-raff at bay.
Sunday morning, after a delicious breakfast at Hotel Mar de Plata, a friendly family from Bogotá left the hotel for a 20-minute bus ride to nearby Coveñas.
William and I joined the family and shared the day wading in warm, shallow pools of calm ocean waters. Snorkeling near the rocks of the cove revealed black and yellow striped angelfish, brilliant orange coneys and few small barracuda.
Established in the sixteenth century as a port for slave traders, Coveñas is now a popular vacation spot for the many Colombians along the coast as well as from the interior. Returning in the afternoon, we indulged in breads and sweets from Panderia el Parque before heading back to the hotel for dinner.
The night before a festivo Monday in Colombia usually brings families of all sizes to the street for shopping, snacks and socializing. Tolú is such a small town, it’s easy to suspect the entire population (33,000 +/~) was out for the night, cruising the streets in long, car-like bicycles, some holding up to twelve people, as reggaeton and champeta blasted from the stereo below the passengers’ seats.
Vendors lined the malécon, offering woven wares and ceramic recuerdos of sweet memories, as people celebrated the late hours of the night in this sleepy beachside treasure in Sucre.