Caribbean Beaches of Colombia
By Andrew Kolasinski
The soft white sand at my feet and gentle sea breezes were all in perfect proportion as I settled into my beach chair, sheltered from the sun by a palm leaf awning.
Cartagena with a million and a half people is the Caribbean’s metropolis, and there are nice beaches within its boundaries. The urban beaches, though crowded are not too dirty. There are even decent surfing waves.
Bocagrande is the nearest and most popular, set in front of a row of hotels and apartments. The sand is cleaned daily and the waves are just right for body-surfing or boogie boarding. You have to adjust for the constant attentions of beach vendors offering cold drinks, hot snacks and massages. Take shade if you arrive early under the sparse trees, or rent an umbrella or awning.
A bit less crowded Castillogrande is more upscale with luxury hotels and private beach clubs. This stretch of coast is too calm for surfing because of a submerged breakwater built hundreds of years ago to keep pirate ships away.
There are other beaches in Cartagena, but the most appealing are just outside town. The Rosario Islands are a 45-minute boat ride from the inner harbor. The clump of 30 islands range from deserted to a full luxury resort. Rosario Islands is a National Park though most islands are privately owned.
Playa Blanca is a two hour boat ride though it is connected by road. It is perfect Caribbean beach with palm trees, calm blue waters and soft white sand. Glittering enticingly across the strait is a Spanish Colonial fortress built of coral rock. Playa Blanca is nicest in the morning before most of the tour boats arrive. You can rent a rustic beach cabin and enjoy the peace once the day trippers leave. Note that the return boat trip is often a rough and wet ride, so protect your electronics.
Beyond Cartagena there is plenty of shoreline to explore. A four hour bus ride will get you to Santa Marta, a city of 400,000 with some fair beaches along its malecon. The rock island in the bay is an outcrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The beach opposite the shipping port, though picturesque is not the cleanest. A kilometer to the east the beaches are much better, though the bay that makes this a good commercial port does not produce any waves.
A 15 minute bus ride from downtown Santa Marta takes you to Taganga, a small fishing town with a nice swimming beach. Along the eastern edge of Taganga Bay you snorkel over coral formations.
The people here practice an unusual form of fishing. Nets are set from boats, and then people in the surrounding hilltops alert the fishing fleet when a school of fish is spotted. The fishermen rush out to bring in the haul and everyone gets a share of the catch.
From Taganga you can ride a passenger boat to Playa Grande, an even smaller fishing village where the road has not yet arrived. Alternatively you can hike for fifteen minutes along the shoreline to reach Playa Grande. There is one dizzyingly narrow span of cliff edge trail. Taganga has a couple of guesthouses and a few waterfront cafes and a nice clean beach.
Next is Tayrona National Park, an hour by bus from Santa Marta. The park has many beautiful beaches for swimming, snorkeling and surfing. It is a great camping trip, and there are tents and bedding available for rent. From the park entrance it is a two hour jungle hike down to the beach (you can hire a horse). The jungle meets the sea at Tayrona.
Palomino Beach is an hour’s drive from Tayrona, then a 10 minute hike. There’s a river mouth at one end of the beach and swimming and tubing in the river are fun options.
Colombia’s Caribbean coast is a heaven for beach lovers. There are so many great beaches, and each one is better than the last.
Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, specialists in adventure tours to Colombia and throughout South America.
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