The cherry on the sundae of my memorable trip to Colombia was staying at Playa Manglares on Isla Baru, including a frantic 2.5 hours (exactly!) that we spent on the island’s most beautiful beach, Playa Blanca.
For the tail-end of our Colombia trip, Kelly and I decided to head to Isla Baru, about an hour’s drive from Cartagena, to relax and to better enjoy the clear waters of the renown Playa Blanca. Upon arrival we met Steve and Marcel who we ended up spending the rest of our trip with. The former was a wisdom tooth surgeon from New York who had spent a couple years in Venezuela and could speak Spanish fluently. The later was a 20-year old Venezuelan who lived in Bogota and knew about as much English as I knew Spanish.
So…very, very little.
My Spanish is limited to ordering cheese (queso!) and beer (cerveza!) and knowing if someone is yelling that there is a shark in the water and to book it out of there (tiburón!). The important things.
Since Kelly and Steve spoke both English and Spanish, when we were all together we could cobble along a conversation but when Marcel and I were alone, we would awkwardly attempt to practice our linguistic skills.
Me : *points at bird* Lindo!
Marcel: Si! Bueno Espanol.
Marcel: *points at another bird* So cute!
Me: Si! Bueno Inglés.
Marcel : Thank you.
Despite the language barriers, our group had so much fun, snorkelling, exploring Islas del Rosario, drinking mojitos, and devouring amazing seafood on deserted beaches.
Our last day together, we planned to visit the National Aviary and Playa Blanca. We hadn’t anticipated that the aviary would be as cool as it was and spent longer than we had allotted for. The guys had to return to Playa Manglares to catch their ride back to the city in the early evening which left us a mere 2.5 hours to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in South America.
Our driver dropped us off at the steps that led down to the beach at the edge of the chaotic parking lot of Playa Blanca. We removed our sandals and walked barefoot in the fine, white sand through the colourful maze of stalls, covered in beautiful, hand-painted typography advertising rum drinks, coconut oil for sun tanning, and grilled seafood. Every inch of Playa Blanca was buzzing with frenetic energy from kids squealing as they built sand castles to locals calling out to draw attention to their services and products.
At Olga’s suggestion, we found Maria’s Kiosk for lunch and we were seated at a plastic table under an awning that protected us from the harsh, midday sun. Maria came over with a tray of freshly caught lobster and cojinua and pargo fish for us to inspect while we sipped exotic, fruity cocktails in coconuts and hollowed out pineapples, topped off with rum and colourful paper umbrellas
I also ordered a bowl of a thick yellow broth that I saw some locals eating and despite all the amazing cuisine I ate in Cartagena, that mystery soup was the best thing I had. I call it “mystery soup” because I couldn’t get a straight (English) answer as to what it actually was. The locals said it was a beef soup but it tasted like seafood but there were chicken bones in it. Huh.
The rest of our time on Playa Blanca was blur as we tried to do as much as possible. The beach was a feast for the senses, making me as hyper and over-stimulated as a sugar high toddler as I alternated between going for a dip in the clear, turquoise waters and laying out on the shore to tan.
Masseurs found us and laid out large blankets to give us heavenly, full body massages, rinsing our limbs with a bucket of water before rubbing coconut-scented lotion into our skin.
Kelly and Steve decided to take a jet-ski ride, leaving Marcel and me to watch the bags. We sat on the beach, tanning and employing our limited vocabulary of English (him) and Spanish (me) to attempt conversation. We managed about a minute of blurting out random words before lapsing into an inevitable but companionable silence.
We weren’t alone for long. One of the local men selling hand-crafted bracelets crouched down beside me, trying to tempt me into a purchase by laying several on my arm for me to see, accompanied by a stream of Spanish.
I greeted every foreign assault of words with a helpless shrug accompanied by the only phrase I managed to master:
“Lo siento, no Espanol. Solamente Inglés.”
Sorry, no Spanish. Only English.
He then directed his commentary to Marcel, assuming that as my companion that he’d be able to translate on his behalf. Marcel was just as lost as the bracelet salesman, searching for the relevant English words as I sat there as confused as ever.
Luckily Kelly and Steve returned just in time to hear the bracelet salesman repeat the last half of his pitch, gesturing to my arm before standing up and starting to walk away. I asked them what he had been so determined for me to understand, hoping it was a good deal on the bracelets.
“He said that you should stay here and marry him so your skin can get as dark as his.”
The grin that he threw back at me as he was walking away confirmed her translation and made me glad hadn’t been able to understand what he was saying at the time.
By the time we left Playa Blanca, we were exhausted and had sand in every crevice but satisfied with the knowledge that we had crammed as much of the experience into 2.5 hours as possible.
Car service arranged through Playa Manglares, less than 15 minutes.
Maria’s Kiosk (ask around if you can’t find it)
She’ll bring out a tray of the pescados del dia (fish of the day) that’s grilled and served with arroz con coco (coconut rice), pataones (fried, pressed plantains), and salad: COP$60,000 (approx. $20 CAD)
Also ask for the Sopa de res (beef soup) with a splash of lime. Best thing ever.
– Bathing Suit (I wore mine)
– Your phone or camera
– Cash, just what you need
– Bring cash, preferably in small bills
– Bring a lot of sunscreen
– Don’t leave your things unattended as it’ll easily get stolen
– Go early to avoid the hottest time of day and to stake out a good spot
Even if you only have 2.5 hours to spend on the white sandy beaches of Playa Blanca, it’ll be worth it! Let your skin drink up some vitamin D while you sip on fruity, rum-filled cocktails. I highly recommend searching for that Colombian soup. I know you’ll be sweating balls in the heat but it’s a dish you won’t find anywhere else.
If you want to enjoy the turquoise waters of Islas del Rosario and explore the natural wonders of Isla Baru, do yourself a favour and stay at Playa Manglares. If you like free money, use this link for $45 off your first Airbnb stay. I loved it so much that I dedicated a whole post to it’s magical jungle appeal.
Keep your stalking game strong and follow me @teriaki if you aren’t already!