Colombia is a country that has everything that any tourist can desire. If you want a beach vacation go to San Andres, for a diving experience Taganga is the best choice, for those who want to feel themselves as Indiana Jones – go to Amazonas and explore the rainforest. There is a vacation here for any budget. You can be very thrifty and feel comfortable, or you can have a luxury holiday. However, one of the places I couldn’t really put in any category was Isla Baru near Cartagena. This place is a combination of heavenly beautiful scenery, undeveloped slums, and expensive prices at the same time.
For my Colombian trip Cartagena was one of the must visit places in my mind. However once we arrived in Colombia everyone that we met told us Cartagena isn’t worth visiting.
That is why we decided not to spend too much time in Cartagena proper, but instead at Isla Baru relaxing on a snow white beach and drinking Cocoloco.
Isla Baru is famous for its white beaches and turquoise water. If you check Google photos you will see a tropical paradise, a place where you want to spend a few days for sure. This was our thought precisely, so we booked accommodation at a beachfront guesthouse for 6 nights. And only on arrival did we understand that staying 6 nights was a huge mistake.
The problems started once we booked an accommodation (on booking.com) and asked the host how to get there. For a week he couldn’t explain what we needed to do and at the end he told us to take a taxi to the last parking spot on isla Baru and from there walk on a beach for a few minutes to the hotel. Red flag number one.
From Medellin we flew to Cartagena (with a stopover in Bogota) and at the airport took a taxi to Baru island. Since the island is located quite far from the airport, it took us an hour of taxi ride to get there and 115,000 COP (about $30).
I need to mention that the whole taxi drive was an adventure itself. Because we flew to Cartagena in the evening it was already dark outside. Seems like it shouldn’t be a problem, right? No, wrong!
Once we left Cartagena’s main area and got closer to Baru island, the road lights disappeared. So we had to drive in complete darkness (with just the car lights). But it wouldn’t be such a big problem if the road was good. The closer we got to our final destination, the less of an actual road was there. At one point there was just a dirt trail with huge deep puddles.
We finally arrived at that “last” parking lot on Isla baru, took our small suitcase (thank God we didn’t bring a lot of stuff with us) and went down to the beach to look for our hotel.
It took 20 minutes walking on the sand, carrying the suitcase in our hands before we reached our accommodation. So much for ‘just a couple minutes walk’
Later I figured out the reason why there is no road behind the beachfront and why you can’t drive straight to hotels. But more about this later.
When booking a hotel for Isla Baru we of course saw pictures and knew that it was going to be a simple bungalow with everything necessary. So we didn’t expect anything more than that. However, there is a lot that we didn’t know about this and any other accommodation here.
First of all the reason why there is no road close to the hotels is because along the beautiful white sand beach there is a dirty swamp behind the hotels where people dump their garbage.
Thankfully the swamp didn’t really smell, but the problem we had were animals that love places like that. Therefore there were tons of cockroaches everywhere in the room. I even saw one that was as big as my palm. The mosquitoes are another thing that bothered us a lot. And because the walls of the bungalow are wooden and not sealed, they had free access to our bodies all night long. And the third, but not least is the rats that you can hear constantly running on the roof (and possibly into your room).
I am usually a person who can adapt to anything, but can you imagine my state of mind after I saw all of that? Of course, I didn’t sleep almost the whole night. I covered myself with a thin sheet and was listening to everything moving around, and hoping that nothing crawls on me or falls down.
Why didn’t we leave right away? Oh I really wanted to, but you know how hard it was go get to Isla Baru. And taxis don’t usually come at night to that place. But even if they would, our friends were about to arrive the next morning, so we couldn’t abandon them like that. So we decided to give it a shot and stay at least one night.
In the morning we got up and decided to look where to get a cup of coffee. Since our hotel had a restaurant we asked and were surprised to know that we have breakfast included. Simple eggs and a cup of instant coffee, but it is still nice to get, especially when you are super tired from not sleeping all night.
I want to tell you a little bit about our room. We had a room on the second floor (the first floor is the kitchen for the restaurant). In the room there was one double bed and one bunk bed, a fan and a TV that we never turned on.
There wasn’t really a place to put even a small suitcase, unless you put it on a bed.
The bathroom in this bungalow was an interesting experience. And I am not even talking about bad shower pressure (there was just a drip). To flush the toilet we were given a bucket with water from the sea. The other fun thing was that there is no electricity on the island during the day. So from 9 AM till around 5 PM you are not only unable to charge your phone/laptop, but you also need to go to the bathroom in pitch black (flash on your phone helps a little) or with the door open.
Isla Baru was actually a peninsula in the South of Cartagena until it was cut off by a canal. It is a popular holiday spot among local tourists. However, only later I figured out that most of the tourists are coming here for a day trip and not staying overnight (smart).
The beachfront here is as beautiful as they say. Way better than San Andreas where everything is covered in seaweed, or Taganga with yellow sand and often dirty water (mostly slimy seaweed).
Baru island has everything: clean white fine sand, clear turquoise Caribbean water that was really warm in the beginning of May, and a bit of civilization to get your drinks or a meal.
With scenery like that you want to spend your time laying on a sunbed and reading an interesting book. Unfortunately the sunbeds that our hotel had were not included in the room price and we had to pay extra 50,000 COP for them.
Due to a flight delay, our friends arrived in the evening and we had no choice but to stay on Baru island at least one more night. Same as us, they were shocked and that night they couldn’t fall asleep at all. I, on the other hand, was so tired that I fell asleep very fast. Woke up just once during the night due to a big rat fight over our heads on the roof.
In the morning everyone agreed on leaving Isla Baru the same day. We scheduled our taxi for 5 PM, and arranged a small boat to take us to the parking lot instead of walking on the sand with suitcases.
A big surprise was that the owner of our accommodation agreed to charge us just half the price we needed to pay (for just three nights). So we kept our stuff in the bungalows until it was time to go.
A big plus of Isla Baru is that the beach/water is very beautiful and definitely worth a visit. But just a daytrip, not overnight.
Baru island was not overcrowded with tourists, so no one will bother or annoy you (maybe just a few pushy vendors selling food or trinkets).
You don’t need to bring food and drinks with you to the beach. There are a few restaurants where you can have a pretty good lunch.
Almost every place offers sunbeds and tents, which is very convenient if you are ready to pay.
Isla Baru doesn’t have ATMs, so bring cash with you, because you will stay hungry. There is one guy that has a credit card charge machine, but he would charge you an extra 20%, so I would not recommend using it if you can avoid it.
No electricity during the day. It might not matter to people who are coming to Baru for a daytrip, but for those like us who decided to spend a few days here (plus everyone in our group is working remotely) it is a big problem.
No internet of any sort. Hotels and restaurants here don’t have Wi-Fi. And even if you have a phone plan with internet, it won’t work most of the time.
Everything is super overpriced. Our bungalow full of cockroaches, rats and with no electricity cost us $60 a night. The food and drinks here cost the same as in a nice restaurant in Medellin. We were even offered a hookah that was 200,000 COP (insanely expensive).
If you decide to visit Isla Baru I advise you to do it as a part of a daytrip. This way you will enjoy it way more, and I am sure you will have a lovely day and good memories from this place.
For those who think that this place is for them and want to spend a few days here, I can say this – embrace yourself and prepare yourself (bring enough cash, power bank, mosquito repellent, and be ready to sleep together with cockroaches).