I arrived an hour later in Cartagena as my flight was delayed. There were no direct buses from airport so I walked two blocks and found a bus there which just operated with per-purchased cards. Hence, I took a Cabify for 7,000 COP to my hostel.
As the last week of my trip just started I needed to be efficient. So I dropped my bags and immediately around the neighborhood to get a set fish lunch for 10,000 COP. Good value for a soup, a main and a drink!
Then I walked to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. I decided to take as well the audio guide (16,000 COP + entrance of 25,000 COP) which turned out to be more like a story time than a history lesson. The fortress played for Spanish an important role in the defense of Cartagena. The English launched a couple of attacks in the 18th century on it but were unsuccessful to bring Cartagena under their reign.
The fortress is well-preserved and has a lot of canons and big storage room for ammunition. It was very interesting to walk through the narrow and low walls of the battery. It was built on purpose that narrow since the Spanish were usually smaller than the English and used this as a defending strategy.
There’s a good 360 degree view of town with it’s skyscrapers on the horizon. As this was a sufficient viewing point and the weather was getting worse I skipped to go up to the Convent on the next bigger hill.
I started walking towards the old city center but then a tropical rain started. It was pouring like hell and a heavy thunderstorm went through. I nearly forgot how heavy it can be in the tropics 😉
Locals told me that the storm lasted longer than it usually did and the streets flooded up to 30cm high!
Suddenly, even big garbage bins were floating around the streets!
I decided to make the best of the situation (luckily I had my rain poncho) and grabbed one of the nearby standing taxis. On the way to the Palacio de la Inquision the cab driver had to turn around three times and use alternative routes as streets were deeply flooded. At one point I realized that water even made its way into the car where the driver’s and my feet were. It was not a lot and hence we continued to the museum. For 1.5km it took us nearly 30min! I was glad that arrived at the Palacio.
The Palacio talks a lot about the history of inquisition and exhibits examples of individuals who got imprisoned because of disbelieves. It has two floors with temporary and permanent sections. Most of the explanations are in Spanish. I’d say that it’s worthwhile for people interested in the inquisition topic but I did not like it (18,000 COP with student ID 😉 ).
Afterwards, I wondered around town a bit and visited as good as I could Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza San Pedro de Claver, Catedral de Cartagena and parts of the surrounding town wall. I say as good as I could as after the heavy storm water was standing everywhere in the old city center. Fortunately, I decided to go with flip flops this morning 😉
After the stroll I got some nice octopus ceviche dinner at La Cevicheria which was yummy but definitely overpriced (60,000 COP for a decent sized bowl). Ceviche was by the way the only thing the restaurant served at that time as there was a power outage going on after the rain.
Then I went for a couple craft beers near my hostel and returned to it around 20:30. As I booked it because of the roof top Jacuzzi I had to use it as well. To my surprise the water was quite cold and it did not produce any bubbles which was a bit disappointing. The adjacent bar and couches were nice though so I chilled out a bit before hitting my bed.
The next day I tried to catch a bus from Mamallena to Playa Grande on Isla Baru for 50,000 COP. However, the bus had left earlier than a travel blog had claimed. I spontaneously decided to try the travel blog’s other option and took a moto taxi for 3,000 COP to the Mercado. Unfortunately, I was unlucky as well as no boats were heading in this direction.
So I jumped on the next bus to Pasacaballos (2,500 COP, 1 hour) where upon arrival a moto taxi driver offered me the journey to Playa Blanca for 10,000 COP. After 30min on the scooter we saw the vast landscape of Isla Baru and crossed a bridge to the island which was just 5 years old. Before people had to cross by ferry. Stiven, the moto driver, dropped me right in front of the beach path and I tipped him with an additional 2,000 COP.
Hardly arrived at the beach a mussel seller offered me couple of his treats with lemon. I figured that he would get cheeky as he asked for 120,000 COP for six mussels. I gave him 6,000 COP and left quickly.
Then I finally saw the ocean and the beach. A picture as from a travel magazine! Turquoise water and white sand. Welcome to paradise! Vamos a la playa!
The drawback of this paradise is that it’s a well-known secret and completely packed with visitors. Particularly many Colombians seem to love this beach as there were more Colombians than Gringos.
I headed south towards the beach and found a tiny beach spot behind a short climb over rocks. Here I had the paradise nearly for myself!
I went snorkeling which was far from spectacular. Still I got to see small fishes and dead corals. I relaxed and read my book and then headed back after two hours to the craziness of the main beach in order to get a beer. I even ran into Cem and Benny who I met in Medellin – such a small world!
At 15 o’clock I took the last boats leaving for the day towards Cartagena. I asked the driver of boat which carried a tour group whether he could take me with them and we agreed on 15,000 COP – a great deal! Bye bye beach of my dreams – I had a blast!
About half way one of the engines died. Luckily, there was a second one which was brought us slowly (even a small rubber boat with engine overtook us 😉 ) and safely back to harbor. I walked in 10min back to the hostel and grabbed my backpack and took a moto taxi for 4,000 COP to the bus company MarSol. As the next bus to Santa Marta was leaving 50min later I grabbed a quick dinner around the corner (pizza food truck!) and came back to the terminal on time. As always in Colombia the bus left late (25min) and took longer then proclaimed (5:30h instead of 4:20h).
I can recommend Isla Baru despite the mass tourism and also Cartagena is nice for a day or two. However, I did not find it as fascinating as the Lonely Planet who named it the most beautiful city in South America. Disagree! For me that’s still San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico 😉