Paradise found, Playa Blanca

29 Apr

We wiggled our toes deep into fine, soft sand and felt Caribbean waters lapping around our ankles. Small, curious translucent fish darted about our feet and the heat from a golden sun tingled our bare shoulders. True to its name, Playa Blanca is a brilliant white stretch of sand nestled in a wide bay and backed by thick forest and the occasional coconut palm. We gazed out at the unbroken surface of clear turquoise water and knew there was only one thing for it – dive in head first!

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Located on the Isla Baru Peninsular, Playa Blanca is roughly 20 kilometres south-west of Cartagena. The beaches directly around Cartagena tend to be darker sand and a bit dirty but, just a short ride away, it’s possible to find your own slice of tropical paradise.

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There are two ways to get to Playa Blanca, by boat and by a bus/moto-taxi combo. Both work out to be similar in price ($20 USD return), but in terms of ease and style we’d recommend taking a boat. Smaller and quicker speed boats (more expensive) and slower but more comfortable cruisers (cheaper), leave at set times throughout the morning from Cartagena’s old town harbour, returning from Playa Blanca at around 4pm.

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Buy your ticket from your hostel or directly from the dock on the morning of departure. The plus side of the boat is that it’s spacious and airy, unlike the cramped and hot bus. It also offers some terrific views of the beach and Cartagena from the water. You can either do the trip in one day or purchase a split ticket from the captain allowing you to travel on one day, stay overnight at the beach and return on another.

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The number 1 thing to do at the beach is…. absolutely nothing. Sit back, relax and soak up the sunshine. After days of sightseeing in Cartagena you won’t need an excuse to snooze in the shade or read a good book. The only time you should worry about getting vertical is to make a short stroll into the water which feels like stepping into a warm bath.

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We loved the homemade seats half-submerged in the sea – just in case it all gets a little too much! For extra refreshment, don’t forget to take an ice-cold beer with you.

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For those feeling slightly more active, there is some good snorkeling just off the beach (masks can be rented from the restaurants) or kayaking is also possible.

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The accommodation along the beach is low-key and rustic. The threat of a large upscale resort has been on the cards for some time but until now the vibe remains wonderfully relaxed. Camping is possible with your own tent, hammocks can be slung between trees or two-storey wooden cabanas, thatched with palm fronds, line the beach complete with double beds, mosquito nets and views to die for. Electricity is minimal so at night the stars shine bright and candles twinkle on tables. Showers consist of a cold hose or a dunk in the sea.

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Just wander along the beach to find somewhere that takes your fancy. Prices are similar but the favourite spots rise and fall like the tide. The further down the beach, the more space and quiet spots you’ll find. If you do decide to stay over, you may want to consider leaving your big backpack at your hostel/hotel in Cartagena and just carry a smaller bag – most will offer this service free of charge.

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Each of the options has its own family run restaurant facing the beach where tanned travellers relax on sun loungers sipping cold beers and listening to Bob Marley on loop. Furniture is made from driftwood and mobiles decorated with shells and coral spin in the light breeze. Grilled fish, crab and king prawns, with spicy marinade, were some of the freshest we had in South America.

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Mobile stands selling ceviche can’t help but catch your eye. Cubes of red snapper are marinated in lemon and lime until the fish turns from pink translucent to opaque white, the acid changing the structure of the fish and part cooking it. The dish is served with red onions, garlic, fresh chilli and herbs – it’s mouth-wateringly delicious. Bars selling exotic cocktails with fresh fruits also attract a steady stream of visitors. The bars along the Colombian Caribbean are famous for serving “Coco Loco”, a delicious mixture of coconut water, several different types of rum and cream. They’re very drinkable but be warned, they pack a punch, especially in the heat of the day!

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The proximity of Playa Blanca to Cartagena is part of its success but at times can also its downfall. At weekends, boats full of local and international day trippers descend on the beach from late morning until around 4pm. We noticed that Colombian families in particular don’t like to travel light so you’re soon surrounded by cool-boxes, inflatable toys and beach bags the size of a small aircraft hanger!

When the boat tours arrive, hawkers roam the beach selling everything from sunglasses to jewellery and carved stone statues to sarongs. Ladies with essential oils offer massages, many of which give unwanted exfoliation as the sand finds its way everywhere. Platters of oysters are also paraded down the beach and advertised as an aphrodisiac. It’s easy to feel annoyance towards these men and women destroying your peace. Why would we possibly want to buy a dolphin carved from stone, the weight of a small cannon ball for our already over laden backpacks? But spare them your courtesy as these often poor individuals work hard to earn money to support their families. A simple “No gracias” will send them on their way. You may even find a wry smile creeping across your face at their market trader patter.

The true essence of Playa Blanca is the simple life. The king size beds have been replaced with hammocks, the spa replaced with sugary soft sand, the plunge pool replaced by crystal clear seas, and electricity replaced by twinkling candles. The dress code is ‘dare to bare’ and make sure you leave your shoes at home. It’s guaranteed to leave you feeling fully recharged and ever so slightly ashamed you ever demanded air conditioning and duck down duvets!

4 Responses to “Paradise found, Playa Blanca”

  1. thetravellush April 30, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    Playa Blanca sounds amazing! I didn’t realize there was such a beautiful beach so close to Cartagena. I always enjoy reading about new places. Thanks for sharing and I hope I make it to Colombia and Playa Blanca soon!

    • latinchattin May 1, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      This area really makes for a great trip with the colonial beauty of Cartagena and the chilled beach life of Playa Blanca all within easy reach. We’re pleased we could add another place to your travel list. If you’re anything like us though, the list never seems to get any smaller! Take care and happy travels xx

  2. infused exposures April 30, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Love it guys!! Between this and your last great post about Cartagena, we are getting some great information!!!! I think we might have an upcoming date with Playa Blanca as a result (as well as a seaside or full on in-the-sea) beer o clock!!! I think we’ll take the boat option too-thanks for the tip! Gorgeous photos!!! Miss you guys! xoxo

    • latinchattin May 1, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      Glad we could send a few good tips your way. Beer o’clock in the sea is one of those bucket list moments – got to be done. Hope you guys have a wonderful time on the Caribbean coast. We’ll be thinking of you. Miss you both too xx

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