Isla Barú: from Cartagena to paradise on one of Colombia’s Caribbean gems
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There are many Colombian islands to visit within a couple of hours’ boat ride of Cartagena, the most popular ones being Isla Grande (one of the Rosario Islands) and this little here gem, Isla Barú. This is an incredibly beautiful part of Colombia, and unlike other isles, it’s mega easy to get from Cartagena to Isla Baru since it’s *almost* attached to the mainland. The sands are white (thus the island’s most popular beach is called ‘Playa Blanca’) and the sea is a gorgeous Caribbean turquoise. The sights and sounds can be overwhelming during the afternoon, but a sunset on the beach is just what the médico ordered. This guide will take you through you how to get from Cartagena to Isla Baru, the best places to stay on the island and memorable things to do. Isla Barú does feature in our ideal 2 weeks Colombia itinerary; go check it out if you’re stuck for a trip plan for Colombia!
After this post about whizzing over from Cartagena to Isla Baru, Colombia, you may also want to have a read of:
Isla Baru wasn’t technically an island until a canal was built, separating it from the mainland. While there’s unfortunately a lot of poverty in the centre of the island, the beauty of the Playa Blanca coastline is INSANE, and it’s been rustically developed as a cash-cow for the lucky locals that can take advantage of it (ok, who are we kidding, it’s yet another paradise cashed in on by hotel-building Europeans). You can contribute to the local economy by buying food and drink off the vendors that come round, but do be prepared to barter down that gringo tax 😉
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Our most important tip: don’t day-trip from Cartagena to Isla Baru
You can indeed, and it’s one of Cartagena’s most popular day trips. However, if you’re going to go to from Cartagena to Isla Baru we BEG you, don’t just go for the day. You can get some great deals on day trips, but we ended up using the trips as one-way transportation to stay on the islands. Between the hours of 12pm and 4pm, the beautiful long beach is swamped with tourists, and you can barely see the stunning white sands. At 4pm, the day boats leave, and hardly anyone seems to stay over (at least during the week). Pure paradise, more or less to yourself. You can get some great deals on day trips from Cartagena to Isla Baru, but we ended up using the trips as one-way transportation to stay on the islands.
If you don’t believe us, check out our video of our last time on Isla Baru as part of a visit to Cartagena, here:
Best places to stay on Isla Baru
The most popular places to stay are on Playa Blanca, a beach to the north of Isla Barú, which is conveniently close to the mainland so very easy to get to via sea or road. Generally, things are quieter in the middle of Playa Blanca – you don’t want to be too close to the day-trip boats to the South in the day, nor too close to the bars towards the North during the night. The beach is clean all the way down, though you can expect a little debris if there is a storm the night before.
Posada los Tesoros offers nicely-rated accommodation on Playa Blanca, and is an absolute explosion of colour. With beach beds, hammocks and murals in the rooms, you’re definitely getting the Caribbean experience there.
Hostel Ichtus is another great budget option – we actually stayed there two times, and would definitely recommend it for its wooden-shack-charm, friendly staff and closeness to Nena, one of the best beach clubs on Playa Blanca.
Now, Hostel Ichtus is about as back-to-basics as it comes, but if you’re looking for a hotel or Airbnb that can blow you away in the other direction, Isla Baru also has plenty of high-end beauties to choose from. These resorts tend to be right in the very south of Isla Baru, well away from boats and day-tripping tourists on Playa Blanca. Luckily, most will offer their own private means of transport from Cartagena and back. I mean, look at this one on Playa Scondida. Just look at it.
6 amazing things to do on Isla Baru
1. Swank out in a beach club
Beach-club vibes all over! While most of the beds available are less than luxury on Playa Blanca, swanky four-poster beach beds at Nena are some of the best on Baru. Nena beach beds cost 100,000 COP a day, but we found both times we visited that by only wanting the bed after lunchtime, we could wangle a half-price deal if paying in cash. There’s no obligation to buy drinks and food exclusively from Nena Beach Club once you’ve hired a beach bed there, so you can pick some bevvies up from one of the local sellers that walks past.
2. Try your hand at watersports
Along the beach, you’ll find many opportunities to try out jetskiing, paragliding and even banana boating. Make sure to negotiate your rates up front, and keep an eye on the time you have to bring any toys back. Also, do your best to avoid chopping off swimmers’ heads.
3. Relax into a massage
If you’ve scored the fantastic combination of having a Baru beach club bed and looking suitably gringo, within minutes you’ll be swarmed by eager massage ladies. These women are PERSUASIVE, and often give you free ‘taster’ massages that are really hard to say stop to, but unless you do intend to buy a massage, don’t let that go on for too long or else you’re in tipping territory. That being said, the massages are cheap and they are verrrrry good. Just treat yourself to a full one 😉
For night owls looking for a bit of magic, you can take evening bioluminescent plankton boat tours from Isla Baru. If you haven’t see bioluminescent plankton before, all you need to know is that it’s dark until moved, at which point it starts to shine and sparkle like a goddamn Disney movie. Swimming in bioluminescent plankton will have you feeling like Tinkerbell. The boat tours leave at 6pm and cost just 25,000 COP; your accommodation will be able to arrange this tour for you from Playa Blanca. However, for a bit more moolah you can take a boat tour directly from Cartagena,too.
5. Flap around at Isla Baru’s aviary
Isla Baru is home to a whole bucketload of bird species in the Aviario Nacional de Colombia – the largest aviary in Latin America, in fact. Expect to see flamingos, hawks, macaws and more. The aviary is open from 9am with last entry at 4pm, and entry costs 60k COP for foreigners. You can self-tour, but real enthusiasts will get a kick out of the all-inclusive birdwatching and photography tour.
6. Take a boat to the Rosario Islands
During the day, you can also take 65,000+ COP boat tours from 8:30am around the Rosario Islands (similar to what you would experience if you took the tour to Isla Grande from Cartagena via Isla Baru) to see Isla Grande or other less commonly visited islands, such as Isla de Marina (home of the famedIslabela eco-resort), or the party island of Cholón.
How to get from Cartagena to Isla Baru
You have three main options to get from Cartagena to Isla Baru:
The 1-hour bus from Cartagena to Isla Baru is 30,000 COP, and the bus back is 15,000 (weird, we know).
A private car will cost you around 90,000 COP each way between Playa Blanca and Cartagena. All hostels will be able to arrange one to pick you up.
Alternatively, you can ride with the day trip boat from Cartagena and visit some of the other islands (including an aquarium and some snorkelling for extra monies) before being dropped at Playa Blanca for lunch. Just tell them you won’t be taking the return ride to Cartagena from Isla Baru – though unfortunately you don’t get the boat any cheaper if you don’t take the return. The simple day trip boat tour will cost you 40,000 COP (£10) including a grilled fish lunch. Keep in mind there is a national park tax of 18,500 COP on top of this.
To get from Cartagena to Isla Baru in this third way, take the boat from La Muralla port; taxis will know where you mean when you say you’re going to the Rosario Islands. When you get there, you will be mobbed by tour operators who get rather possessive over you if another operator tries to sell to you. Head straight to the vendor windows and ask their best rates. Of course, you can always attempt to skip this stressful part of the experience by booking a small-group boat tour in advance.
If you go for the non-private option, make sure you bring lots of sunscreen as you’ll have to sit in the sun at the dock until all the seats on the boat tour have been reserved. This could be up to an hour, in our experience.
Isla Baru FAQs
Electricity & WiFi on Isla Baru
Be prepared, unless you’re staying at some high-priced accommodation, WiFi on Isla Baru tends to be sketchy, if it exists at all. In fact, many hostels that don’t have their own large generators will only have electricity for 6 hours a day. This can mean some hot, sticky nights without aircon!
If you have a phone sim that works in Colombia (Brits, we recommend buying a Three sim card as it works for free out here), we did manage to get a slow 4G on Isla Barú.
Are there ATMs on Isla Baru?
Nope. Sorry. There is no cash machine on Isla Baru. You’ll have to take a wad of cash with you, especially as the majority of hostels, bars and restaurants will ask for payments in cash or charge extra to use a card machine. Don’t forget to check out our list of fee-less ATMs to see where you can get free withdrawals in Colombia. To help you budget, an average meal in a restaurant is 25-30,000 COP per person on Isla Baru, a cocktail is around 15-25,000 COP, and you can get beach vendor nibbles for 4-8,000.