Living on the Caribbean coast of Colombia has it’s advantages, like being less than an hour from paradise, notably the white sand beaches of Playa Blanca on Isla Barú. Each visit to this magical island often reminds the visitor of the beauty of nature and the ocean, even if for just one night.
Traveling via bus from the center of Cartagena to Pasacaballos and then by taxi to the beach, 12:30 p.m. was an excellent arrival time: the beach was still filling with people, and the sun beamed brightly through billowy white clouds on a bright blue sky.
Heading north on the shore, past the crowds of families and vendors, finding a cabaña at Las Aventuras de Pipocho was a wise choice before a quick change from clothes and a refreshing swim in clear sparkling waters.
After a few hours, salt-water logged and hungry, finding lunch on Playa Blanca was easy, due to the many new restaurants and hostels recently built on the once-open shores of this beautiful oasis.
Walking only a few meters along the blue waves dotted with rocky white coral, the menu from Dios es Todos featured several vegetarian options, including a “burger” with fries, at a reasonable cost for the beach, where vendors tend to hike prices due to transport and storage. After a ten minute wait, the food arrived, hot and fresh: a grilled protein patty and fried egg, fresh lettuce and tomato, nudged between soft bread; tasty and satisfying after a good swim.
Hours later, after suntanning, snorkeling among black and white striped fish and diving down to view bits of red ruffled sponge (Teichaxinella sp.), a cool bucket shower and clean clothes meant being night-ready and revived. During a second walk down the beach at happy hour, Reggae music played while beach dwellers settled into chaise lounges to watch the sun set, sipping cocktails and savoring the last bits of the day.
In the past two years, construction on Playa Blanca has been growing at gazelle-like speeds, with hostels competing for space in front of one another, or building skyward, adding third floors to their already bulging edifices. Coctelerias kiosks have been replaced with full eateries, and even the coco loco stands have given way to full bars.
Memories of picnics with friends under a tall tree with very few buildings nearby have faded, replaced by crammed palm-roofed palcos and hostels offering tent space on the surrounding sands.
Those returning after a visit to Playa Blanca can only wonder how long it will be before these bamboo and wood buildings, some of them three-deep at varying intervals, overtake the shores completely. Still, if you can find your solitude in a small space, it is a sweet place for an overnight, as the sky fills with stars and the air surrenders to a slightly cool breeze.
With its turquoise, briny water at warm bath-like temperatures, the sea surrounding the beach is a waist-waders dream for sheer relaxation.
Morning arrived like a warm, wet blanket, as the electricity to the cabaña had some how been cut during the night, leaving the hours between five and seven a.m. to rise in temperature with the sun. A sweaty walk down the beach, which was filling again with people, brought delicious coffee and juice at Bar Zion before another few hours in the ocean.
With its turquoise, briny water at warm bath-like temperatures, the sea surrounding the beach is a dream for those seeking sheer relaxation. Likewise, watching paddle boarders and kite surfers submit to the seawater in physical activity was motivating, but the best decision was welcoming the buñelo lady with her golden nuggets of delicious fried corn meal, served with a slice of chilled quesito blanco in a paper napkin: the perfect little start to another coastal day.
A few hours later, the beach swarmed busily with happy people reveling in a festivo Monday. Taking a last glance at the little local paradise, a taxi back to Cartagena left the crowds to clamor for shade under umbrellas and tarps, wishing them all “buenas tarde” on the steady-growing sands of Playa Blanca.