The city of Cartagena sits right on the Caribbean coast, however, the beaches in the actual city leave one with much to be desired.
Boca Grande is the biggest beach in Cartagena. It is often compared to Miami Beach for the juxtaposition of a beach next to white condo high-rises.
Well, we ventured to Boca Grande, and let’s just say that it was pretty disappointing. After living in Miami for two years, I can assure you its beach is far superior to Boca Grande.
For one, as soon as our feet hit the sand, we were approached by vendors selling everything from drugs to ceviche. When I go to the beach I prefer not to have to say “No, gracias,” every 3 minutes.
A second reason we were unimpressed was the beach was dirty. The sand felt dirty, and it was littered in places with cigarette butts and trash.
It was nice to spend the morning in the ocean, but we both left feeling kind of icky.
Since our beach day wasn't exactly what we were expecting, we decided to make a day trip to the Rosario Islands to relax on the famous white sand beach of Playa Blanca.
On Saturday morning, we walked to the marina and bought tickets for a boat. We didn't actually leave the harbor until about 30 minutes after we were slated to leave. Not really surprising. After all, we are in Latin America, and nothing starts right on time.
The part we weren't expecting, however, was that we were on a broken boat. Well not exactly broken, but one of the motors wasn't working. We spent the first 40 minutes cruising at a snail’s pace, while other boats sped by.
Finally, a captain from another boat tossed a wrench aboard, and a few whacks of the motor later, we were speeding out of the city. Ah, the powers of Colombian engineering!
As we approached the beach, I could tell it was't just another Boca Grande. No, this beach was beautiful. White sand, clear turquoise water, palm trees swaying in the wind, and thatched roof huts lining the beach.
But then I spotted the vendors.
Damn, I thought we left those at Boca Grande!
As soon as I jumped off the boat, I was surrounded by a swarm of vendors trying to sell me every service available. One older man shoved an oyster in my hand, cracked it open and squeezed a lime over it. “Probar este, gratis!” Try it, free!
*Note: We heard from someone later that they tried the supposedly “free” oyster, then was charged 5 thousand pesos (enough for a decent meal).
At the same time I had an oyster in hand, a woman squirted a glob of lotion on my shoulders and started rubbing them. “Masaje, señorita!”
Yet another man tried to put a pearl bracelet around my wrist.
Ben was climbing out of the boat when he lost a sandal. Imagine his surprise when, after finding his shoe and heading to shore, he saw me surrounded from all sides by locals! I was frozen, unsure of what to do, so it was a relief when Ben grabbed my hand and led me away.
Though we did wave of vendors most of the day, we eventually fell victim to massages. They felt amazing, but we had to tell the women to stop after about 20 minutes. They kept telling us we were “so tense because in America we work too much”, and they wanted to charge us more money.
No way was I getting screwed!
After playing in the turquoise water and relaxing on the sand, we enjoyed fresh fish for lunch, followed by jugo de maracuyá con leche (passion fruit juice) made right in front of us. Talk about paradise.
By the early afternoon, we were pretty exhausted, sunburned, and ready to take a cold shower. (I have never enjoyed cold showers until staying in Cartagena!)
Although the boat ride to the beach was a bit crazy with the motor not working and all, the ride back was INSANE. No exaggeration.
The afternoon brought choppy winds, and the waves around us rose two or three meters. But that didn't slow the captain down. People were crying and getting sick around us, waves were splashing on board.
With each wave, the boat would fly up in the air and smack back down sideways, making everyone clutch their seat. Well, there were two seats onboard without backs, and guess who was sitting on them? That’s right, Ben and me.
I don’t get seasick and I’m not afraid of fast boat rides, but there were a handful of times I seriously thought we wouldn't make it back.
About halfway back the waves were much calmer, making for a much more pleasant ride. Since we weren't clutching onto anything we could find and fearing for our lives anymore, we were able to focus on other things – like how badly we got sunburned! Ouch!