When you start planning a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, chances are one of the first activities you will read about is a day trip to the Rosario Islands. The most popular beach in Colombia’s archipelago is Cartagena’s Playa Blanca on Baru Island. After reading mixed reviews, I debated whether Playa Blanca was worth visiting. There are numerous islands that make up the Rosario Islands. While some have large beaches, others lack the vast stretches of golden sand that many visitors are seeking. So which beach in the Rosario Islands should you visit? The best beach to visit in Cartagena depends on several factors, including your budget, desired beach amenities, and your individual travel style.
Which beach in the Rosario Islands should you visit?
Without a doubt, visiting the Rosario Islands is one of the top things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. There are numerous islands in Colombia’s Rosario Islands that directly cater to tourists. The most popular and largest of the Rosario Islands is Isla Baru – or Baru Island in English. Baru Island is home to the most well known and most visited beach in Cartagena, Playa Blanca.
Playa Blanca Cartagena, Colombia
Playa Blanca is the most popular beach in the Rosario Islands. It is the largest and easiest beach to visit from Cartagena. Playa Blanca is located about an hour away from Cartagena by car or approximately 45 minutes by boat.
How to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena
Many tour groups offer excursions to Playa Blanca. Some of the excursions take you exclusively to Playa Blanca for the day while others include the beach as one of several stops in an island hopping day trip.
Many of the tour groups that take you to Playa Blanca access the beach by water. But you can also visit Playa Blanca by land. There is a bridge that takes you to Baru Island from mainland Colombia. So you can take a shuttle to Playa Blanca from Cartagena, or if you don’t want to be restricted by a tour, you can easily take an Uber or taxi to the beach. An Uber cost approximately $17 USD (as of 2018) for our family of three. We paid our driver double that amount to return for us and take us back to Cartagena.
Tips for taking an Uber or taxi to Playa Blanca
A word of warning if you plan to get to Playa Blanca this way: it’s best to arrange a ride back to town with your driver before you get to the beach. If taking an Uber, you will likely need to pay cash for your ride home, so make sure you have some. The area is extremely remote, so internet access and readily available Uber drivers aren’t an option. When we went to Playa Blanca there were a few transportation companies that offered us a ride back to Cartagena while we were waiting for our Uber driver. They were somewhat sketchy and pushy, so we were glad we arranged our ride back to our hotel in Cartagena in advance.
If arriving to Playa Blanca by car, you will drive down a bumpy, unmaintained dirt road and walk through a less-than-desirable area to get to the beach. My first impression when walking to the beach from the dirt road is that Playa Blanca was dirty and extremely run down. I’m guessing most tour companies take visitors to Playa Blanca by boat so their first glimpse of the beach will be the golden sand and the clear water.
Pros and cons of a Playa Blanca day trip
A day trip to Playa Blanca is the easiest and least expensive beach to visit from Cartagena aside from the small stretch of shoreline in the Bocagrande district of Cartagena. It is a public beach, so while it is inexpensive to visit, you will pay separately for everything. If you want to relax in a cabana or under an umbrella, you’ll have to rent one. Don’t want to sit in the sand? You’ll pay extra for a lounge chair.
The beach is crowded, not only with visitors but with vendors. Like in the town of Cartagena, the vendors at Playa Blanca almost ruin the experience. You will be approached numerous times with offers to buy a coconut drink, a massage, food, or souvenirs. I realize the locals are just trying to make a living, but it does definitely take away from the relaxing atmosphere most beach-goers are seeking. We ultimately stayed in the water the entire time which helped us avoid the vendors.
If you do want to buy something from the vendors or if you want to rent a cabana or chairs, make sure you bring cash. We did not see an ATM on the beach. You also will not find indoor restaurants or shops at Playa Blanca. The accommodations and the food vendors along the beach are primitive, makeshift bars shaded with a tarp or a tin roof.
With that said, the sand was soft and the water was calm, shallow, and warm. That made the day trip to Playa Blanca enjoyable for our family.
Is Playa Blanca worth visiting?
Despite reading numerous negative reviews, we visited Cartagena’s Playa Blanca anyway. We were traveling on a budget and decided last minute to go to the beach. It was too late to book a day trip to the Rosario Islands through a tour company, so we opted for Playa Blanca. While it wasn’t a horrible experience, I’ve become spoiled by the stunning, quiet beaches in places like St. Maarten. Playa Blanca didn’t live up to my expectations. If you plan ahead and book an excursion a day in advance, I’d recommend skipping Playa Blanca and visiting another beach in the Rosario Islands instead.
Best beaches in Rosario Islands to visit instead of Playa Blanca
While it may cost you more to visit one of the private or less crowded beaches in the Rosario Islands, the experience will be worth the additional money. For a family-friendly beach with fewer people, no pushy vendors, and access to hotel amenities head to Hotel Isla del Encanto on the far end of Baru Island. The cost of the day trip includes the use of their lounge chairs, bathrooms, a pool, and restaurant. For even more solitude and relaxation, stay the night in the hotel. You’ll have the beach basically to yourself after the day trippers leave.
Ultimately, a day trip to the Rosario Islands that doesn’t include Playa Blanca is going to come with an additional cost. But if you want to experience the best beaches in Colombia, skip overrated Playa Blanca and head to one of the more secluded areas instead.
Have you visited Playa Blanca from Cartagena or taken a day trip to the Rosario Islands? Let us know your experience in the comments below.