Playa Blanca, south of Cartagena on the island of Barú, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia. A gorgeous, white sand beach with crystal clear water, it is well worth a visit from Cartagena although it can get croweded. Read on for a complete guide to visiting Playa Blanca in Cartagena, Colombia, including how to get there, where to stay and some practical travel tips on avoiding the crowds.
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Practical Guide to Playa Blanca, Cartagena – Contents
- Is Playa Blanca Worth Visiting?
- What to See and Do at Playa Blanca
- Playa Blanca Tours vs Going On Your Own
- How to Get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena
- Day Trips to Playa Blanca vs Spending the Night?
- Places to Stay on Playa Blanca, Barú
- Packing List for Playa Blanca
- Practical Tips
(including avoiding crowds and dealing with vendors)
Too long; Can’t Read it All Quick Overview
Playa Blanca is gorgeous and worth a visit, but it can get crowded. Walking down the beach a bit can escape many of the crowds. It can be easily visited on all inclusive tours, tours that include the nearby islands, or on your own. Spending the night is possible but expect fairly basic accommodations and limited facilities in cabins like this. For more comfortable accommodations with private beaches away from the crowds, consider the all inclusive Decameron at the end of the beach or Las Islas or Isla del Encanto (also good for day passes) farther south on the island. Practice your best no gracias for the vendors.
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Is Playa Blanca Worth Visiting?
My answer to if it’s worth it to visit Playa Blanca from Cartagena is it depends. It’s a gorgeous beach, arguably Caribbean Colombia’s finest, however it can get very crowded, infrastructure is limited, and there are nicer options if you’re able and willing to spend a bit more to visit the nearby Rosario Islands.
However, if you are on a tighter budget and want to see some crystal clear water and white sand, or you have the time to do the islands and Playa Blanca while avoiding the weekend and holidays, I think it is still absolutely worth visiting. I will say, it is important to know what to expect when visiting.
That’s where I come in. Playa Blanca will always have a special place in my heart as it is just about 15 minutes from the town of Santa Ana where I spent my first year as a volunteer teacher in Colombia in 2011. I spent lots of time there that first year and frequently visited the next few years.
*Before planning your trip to Cartagena, be sure to revise the current Cartagena curfew. Recent times have also shown how important it is to have travel health insurance. World Nomads is a leader in traveler’s health insurance. Get a quote here. Mask mandates also remain in effect on airplanes and most public places in Colombia. Pick up some medical grade masks or some KN95s for extra protection.
This was back when there was no bridge to the island, the road was unpaved, and getting to the beach was quite the adventure. You would have to take a little ferry if you came via car or bus or you could cross in little canoes and take motorcycle taxis to the beach. Tour boats did bring people for day trips as well but they concentrated around the main entrance.
There was little development down the beach, only a handful of restaurants around the main area and some cabins and little hostels down the beach. It was an idyllic place to enjoy a largely unspoiled and undeveloped beach, and spending a night was an all but obligatory stop for backpackers trekking Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
The road I believe was paved in 2012 and 2013, and the bridge opened in 2014. Of course the road has led to a lot more development and larger crowds. That has led some to conclude it’s not worth visiting anymore. The reality is, Playa Blanca will never be the lighter traveled paradise it once was, but it is still worth a visit.
The water remains crystal clear and beautiful, and it is still a place to get away from it all, especially if you spend a night (more on that below).
However, I would avoid going to Playa Blanca on weekends, especially Sundays or Monday holidays, as well as during peak tourist seasons like Christmas, New Years, and Easter week. Besides being popular tourist seasons for Cartagena generally, it’s common to see people bus in from Barranquilla and Santa Marta as well.
If those times are the only ones you have, honestly, I’d just skip Playa Blanca entirely. The crowds are just too much, and the truth is the lack of proper infrastructure and the crowds are a hazard to the ecosystem, not to mention unpleasant. You’re better off enjoying another of the beaches of Cartagena.
What to Do at Playa Blanca
Well, you are on a gorgeous Caribbean beach. Relax, hang out, do some swimming, and. work on your tan!
Ok, I have a feeling you already thought of those things. In addition to normal beaching it, there are a few other things to do near Playa Blanca.
Down past the end of the beach, there is some good snorkeling. There is a small reef and you can see a good amount of fish. Some tours to the beach include snorkeling, and you can also find boats that take people out to snorkel from the beachfront as well.
See the Bioluminescent Plankton
You’ll have to spend the night or book a tour that includes this, but the bioluminescent plankton off the coast of Playa Blanca is pretty neat. Susana and I have actually never done this at Playa Blanca but we did in the San Bernardo Islands and thought it was really interesting to see.
Visit the Nearby Aviary
The Colombian National Aviary is located very close to Playa Blanca. It is excellently done. Some tours include it and the beach, or you can stop here on your way to the beach. Read more about the aviary here.
Rent a Jetski or Ride the Banana
You’ll see guys going by on jetskis offering to rent them from anywhere to 15 min to an hour. You’ll also see boats go pulling banana floats and inner tubes, which you can pay to ride. A note of caution, these are very informal arrangements and you should use them at your own risk. There have been some accidents, and I would discourage doing either on busy days at the beach.
Tour the Mangroves
This is a little less common, but past the end of the beach, there is also a mangrove swamp that you can usually find some boats selling little tours to go and see.
Enjoy a Nice Fish Lunch and Cold Beer
Yea, this much obligatory. Anywhere on the beach should offer the traditional fried fish plate, which goes perfectly with an ice cold beer and the pretty beach!
Do a Playa Blanca Tour or Go on Your Own?
If you’ve decided you can avoid the crowds on peak days and want to see beautiful Playa Blanca, you might ask yourself if it’s worth booking a tour to Playa Blanca or going on your own. As someone who generally does not do organized tours and a few years ago would have advised against it, with the larger crowds and so much development on the beach, I actually don’t think it’s a horrible idea anymore.
Below, I’ll discuss the advantages of taking a tour from Cartagena to Playa Blanca and the advantages of going on your own.
Reasons to Take a Tour to Playa Blanca
First, nearly all tours include lunch in addition to transportation, and they are generally reasonably priced. They also include a chairs and shade at a designated place on the beach. This means you won’t need to spend time walking down the beach looking, haggling or comparing prices for sitting areas and lunch prices.
It may mean you pay a little more, but it is convenient. Look especially for tours that go to beach clubs or to the area known as Playa Tranquila (this is down the beach where are fewer crowds). If you are not very confident with your Spanish, a tour to Playa Blanca from Cartagena is also a good option.
This tour is a great option. It includes everything you need and is reasonably priced for being able to book online, and the comments make clear it does go to the less crowded area of the beach. This tour also includes snorkeling and a boat ride through the mangroves.
Another potential advantage of doing a tour is some include a visit to the aviary. It is just a short distance from the beach and tours there often include a visit to the beach for lunch and a couple hours hanging out. It is possible to do the Aviary and then go to the beach on your own, but it can be somewhat difficult to find transportation besides flagging down mototaxis on the main road. This smal group tour includes the aviary as well as afternoon on the beach.
Finally, the last potential advantage of doing a tour is you can do one that includes the islands as well, seeing them and Playa Blanca in one day. Of course, if you have a group, you can rent a private boat, see the islands, visit party spot Cholón, and finish the day at Playa Blanca. If you don’t have a large enough group to make that cost effective, a tour like this one that includes the islands and Playa Blanca is another good option.
Going to Playa Blanca on Your Own
If you’d prefer to go to Playa Blanca without a tour, it is absolutely doable. I’ll speak below about how to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena, but first the advantages of going to Playa Blanca on your own.
The first is the reason why I generally don’t do organized tours, freedom. You can choose where you want to hang out on the beach, going down farther from the crowds if you want. You can likely negotiate a better price for chairs and lunch, as well. So, depending on what form of transportation to Playa Blanca you choose below, you can definitely save some pesos by going on your own.
Finally, if you plan to spend the night, you are likely better going on your own. Wherever you spend the night should let you use their chairs and shade areas as a courtesy, and many will negotiate a good rate that includes food. Plus, while you may be able to negotiate a tour to pick you up a different day, not getting the return transportation means you’d be paying for something you’re not using.
How to Get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena
You can get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena via tour boat, by taxi or private car, by tour bus, by motorcycle taxi direct from Cartagena, or by a combination of bus and then collective taxis or motorcycle taxis from the town called Pasacaballos.
Back in 2011, during my year as a volunteer teacher, it was a real adventure to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena. You had to take a bus or taxi to the town of Pasacaballos, then get a canoe or ferry across the canal, then get a motorcycle taxi to the beach along an unpaved road that was either dry and dusty or wet and muddy. Or you could go via tour bus or private car and often have to wait ages to get the ferry across.
Now it’s much easier to get from Cartagena to Playa Blanca. Obviously, if you’ve chosen to go with a tour to Playa Blanca, your transportation will be included and you can just skip this part. However, if you’ve chosen to go on your own, you do have a few options.
Getting to Playa Blanca from Cartagena via Taxi or Private Transportation
The easiest, but priciest, is to go via taxi or private transportation. The taxi price to go to Playa Blanca from the Centro of Cartagena is $85,300 COP according to the official prices. That is however, a one way fare, and if you are planning to go via taxi, you’re better off negotiating a rate that includes the taxi waiting for you and bringing you back so you don’t get stuck not getting one back.
We did that in early 2021, and paid $180,000 pesos. It may be possible to negotiate that down a bit, but I would expect to pay in the neighborhood of $160-200,000 COP. If you’re looking for a more comfortable ride and top notch service, consider booking a private SUV with BnB Colombia (use the discount code ExploreColombia10 to get 10% off).
Especially if you do want to include the aviary, getting private transportation for the day is an effective way to do it (that’s actually what we did when we hired the taxi for he day). If you have a group of 3 or 4, you actually won’t end up paying much more than going to Playa Blanca on public transportation below.
Going to Playa Blanca in a cary should take about 45 minutes, but can take longer due to traffic during peak seasons.
Getting to Playa Blanca via Public Transportation
Taking public transportation to Playa Blanca from Cartagena actually isn’t all that much different than back in 2011 today. To take the bus to Playa Blanca, you have to take a bus from Cartagena to Pasacaballos, a small town outside the industrial area of the city and just across the canal from the island of Barú.
I am going to be honest though, I have not done this since 2019, and am unsure of current prices, especially post pandemic. There have also been some cases of robberies on the road, so this is best not done alone.
You can get the bus to Pasacaballos across from the wall near the India Catalina stature (look for buses parked on the curve), along the Avenida Santander in Cabrero, or from the crossroads known as Ceballos (you can also get collective taxis to Pasacaballos from here). From Centro, it should take approximately an hour to get to Pasacaballos and the 2021 price of the bus is $2,700 pesos
Once in Pasacaballos (it’s the small town after you go past the refinery and port), you will need to take a collective taxi (usually private cars or 4x4s) or a mototaxi to the beach. Don’t be afraid to ask on the bus for them to tell you where to get off. The last time we did this, the cost of the collectivo was $8,000 pesos a person and a moto $10,000 pesos, but those may be slightly higher now.
To be honest, I’d probably advise against going this route now. Maybe that’s just because I’m nearing my mid-30s, but the safety concerns, the time it takes, and the inconvenience outweigh the savings to me. For the price of a few cocktails at most places in town, you can just do one of the tours or day passes mentioned above, and if you are in a group, hire a taxi. Still, if you’re on a tight budget, you should be able to get to the beach ok this way.
I’ve also heard you can take a mototaxi from Cartagena directly to the beach for approximately $40,000 pesos and get boats from the market to Playa Blanca but I would discourage doing either.
What about the Playa Blanca shuttle bus?
So, there used to be a great Playa Blanca shuttle from Hostel Mamallena. It was only $50,000 pesos round trip and had multiple departure and return times as well as letting you come back a different day.
Unfortunately, it sounds like they are focusing more now on day passes to their partner restaurant/beach bar Ocean Blue, which is probably better business for them. Honestly, just doing the day pass and asking if you could come back another day if you want to spend the night might still be a good way to go. They are in the process of getting back up and running, so I will try to update this in 2022 with more details on that as an option. (In the meantime, you can read a bit about Ocean Blue in this post).
Getting Back to Cartagena from Playa Blanca
You can return to Cartagena from Playa Blanca by taking a moto back to Pasacaballos then hopping the bus or a taxi back into the town. Until about 4 pm, it should be pretty easy to find motos outside the main entrance to the beach. If you plan to leave after that, you should arrange it before hand.
It’s also common that tour boats will take people back. This can be a quicker way to get back to town. You will likely see guys walking up and down the beach in the early afternoon advertising they have spots. It’s been a while since I’ve done this so I’m not sure what current prices are, but I would think they would be in the $20-40,000 COP range.
Is spending the night on Playa Blanca worth it?
There are some big advantages of spending the night on Playa Blanca, mostly being able to enjoy a gorgeous sunset and a less crowded beach. However, with limited infrastructure, accommodations are basic and will be uncomfortable for some.
Do not expect running water, although many places do now have toilets that flush down a hole in the ground, and may have showers that use salt water or stored water. There is no electricity on the beach either, although most places will have a generator that they run for at least part of the night. Very few have air conditioning, although most will have fans to use on the generator.
If that all sounds totally unacceptable, consider staying at one of the best beach hotels in Cartagena and just doing a day trip to Playa Blanca. You could also look into the all-inclusive Decameron Resort located on a private beach at the end of Playa Blanca, although that will of course be much more pricey. Isla del Encanto (read about our experience there here) and Las Islas a bit further south are also two of the very finest resorts in Cartagena. Finally, if you want a nice beach stay that has a good balance between cost and value, and can live without it being on Playa Blanca, I recommend Islabela in the islands (read bout our experience there here).
I’ve had plenty of fun nights on Playa Blanca. I remember my first night staying there in a hammock strung up in a little shelter without a roof. Since all the day trips leave around 3:30, 4:00, you can usually enjoy the late afternoon with much fewer people on the beach. The sun sets directly over the Caribbean in front of the beach as well, and is very pretty.
So, as long as you’re aware you won’t have a nice shower and A/C (trust me, hangovers can be unpleasant), spending the night can be fun.
Where to Stay at Playa Blanca
For where to stay on Playa Blanca, you’ll find lots of cabin, hostel style accommodations up and down the beach. The places towards the end of the beach tend to be the newest. If you are planning to spend the night at Playa Blanca, I recommend asking around and comparing prices.
Ask to see the rooms, ask if the electricity stays on all night or not, and see if you can work out a deal that includes at least your lunches. Also, consider the beachfront area as well as you should get access to chairs and whatever shade areas or umbrellas they have too. Finally, you may want to consider if they have a little bar and/or what they charge for drinks when deciding where to stay.
Do I need to reserve a place to stay at Playa Blanca ahead of time?
Generally, you do not need to reserve ahead for places to stay at Playa Blanca. In fact, due to the lack of electricity and spotty internet (not to mention destruction of electronics), not many places even have a way to reserve ahead of time. Therefore, I would say you’re best off just going and asking around and comparing once there.
There are a handful of places, which tend to be nicer and on the higher end price wise, that do take reservations online if you’d like to have the peace of mind of reserving before hand. Here are a few places you can book online ahead of time via Booking.com:
- El Paraíso de Mama Ruth – Pretty row of multicolored cabins you have almost certainly seen on Instagram.
- La Cabaña Glamping Geronimo – Nicer place with glamping domes and a great beachfront area
- The Wizard – Colorful and party vibe hostel
- Nuestra Cabañita – Cabins near the end of the beach where it’s the quietest
All of those places have hundreds of mostly good reviews up on Booking.com as well, so you should feel pretty good about reserving there and know they will be nice.
Packing List for Playa Blanca
- You’ll want to pack your favorite bathing suit. For the girls, this leaf print bikini is cute and Caribbean themed.
- So is this sarong.
- For the guys, these palm tree print trunks would be perfect.
- And don’t forget your towel. These retro microfiber towels from Dock and Bay are cool and quick drying. For something less flashy, the Rainleaf microfibers are some of the best travel towels around.
- A good snorkel set is also nice to have given the clear blue waters at Playa Blanca Cartagena.
- I love my RawWood bamboo shades (see my review here). Besides the fact that they float, the green lenses also make them perfect for the Caribbean!
- This Panama hat is packable, meaning it won’t lose its shape when rolled, folded, or mashed up in a bag.
- The facilities are a bit crude, so having some camping toilet paper is a good idea. Not only will you be glad you did if you need it, but because it’s biodegradable, it’s better for the crude sewage systems on the beach.
- Good tunes are always a plus on the beach. The JBL Clip is a great little compact bluetooth speaker for travel.
- I love my Roam backpack (see my review here). It is easy to pack in a larger bag or carry for a short trip if you can manage to leave your larger luggage somewhere in town.
If You Stay the Night
- Definitely take bug spray if you spend the night. If there’s not a strong breeze the mosquitos will eat you alive once the sun goes down. I like OFF! Deep Woods which you can also get in towelette form.
- This palm sized first aid kit is also a handy thing to have if you suffer any cuts or scrapes.
- If you do like to have your tunes and/or your phone on the beach, this Ankor backup battery and charger may prove handy.
- A Pacsafe is great for traveling and protecting your valuables. You could also try this smaller AquaVault Flexsafe that has a handy clip for beach chairs.
- Finally, even if places have gotten better about having bathrooms, you don’t want to be stuck with a bad stomach on Playa Blanca. Take along some Pepto Bismol just in case.
Practical Tips to Enjoy a Visit to Playa Blanca, Colombia
How to Avoid the Crowds at Playa Blanca
Head down the beach to the right away from the main entrances by land near the parking lots.
Playa Blanca gets way too crowded around the main entrances. In addition to those coming on cars and tour buses, many tour boats also pull up to the left of the entrance.
So, if you want to find fewer people, head to the right from the main entrance. Generally, the farther you go, the thinner the crowd will be, although there are boats that pull up as well. Still, especially if you had to come on a weekend or during high season, the long walk is well worth it to avoid the crowds.
Once the crowds start to thin out, start looking for where you want to spend the day. When deciding where to settle on the beach, do keep in mind the following:
- If you’re planning to have lunch or spend the night, you should be able to get chairs and shade included as a courtesy. Therefore, ask about those things from the start. There’s no point in paying for chairs to then go and have lunch or stay somewhere else.
- Look for a place that has some beach in front of it where you’ll be comfortable.
Come Prepared for the Vendors
I’ve never found Playa Blanca to be nearly as bad as the beaches in Bocagrande, but there are vendors, and some can be a bit pushy. It’s frustrating, and the massage ladies. can be especially aggressive.
Again, I spent a year in the nearby town, and there aren’t many other opportunities for people besides moving to the city or working at the beach. While, yes pushy vendors can be frustrating, it is worth keeping in mind the context and that there are much worse ways for people to earn a living.
With that in mind, I’d also encourage you to patronize businesses owned or at least operated by locals. By that I mean people born and raised on the beach or in one of the nearby towns. And do consider getting a mango, fruit salad, cocada, piña colada, coco loco, massage, oysters, or bracelet from one of the vendors if you want one.
Negotiate and Agree to Prices
With the aforementioned in mind, always negotiate prices, and probably more importantly, always make sure you agree on prices for anything before hand.
Unfortunately, here, as anywhere, there are people that look to take advantage of others. The best advice I can give is to try not to let yourself be taken advantage of. The best way to do that is to make sure you know the prices before you buy or agree to buy anything. Make sure it’s clear if chairs are a courtesy or you will be charged for them. Also, keep a mental tab of what you’ve consumed so you’ll know if your final tab is correct.
Keep in mind these are just ideas, and we have note been out to Playa Blanca in a while, so if you’re finding most places are charging differently after comparing, these prices may just be out of date.
- A standard fish lunch should run you from 25-50,000 pesos depending on type and size of fish. If you’re in a group, you can likely negotiate a discount. Some places will have menus with set prices, some won’t.
- Beers should be 5-12,000 pesos, cocktails 15-30,000 pesos, and water and soda 3-5,000 pesos. Keep in mind, these have to be brought to the beach and kept cold, so expect higher prices than what you’ll find in a tienda in Cartagena.
- There are no such things as free samples, no matter how much the massage lady or oyster monger insists. Particularly with the massage ladies, occasionally you have to be insistent to the point of being rude that you’re not interested.
- If you feel like the prices you’re being told are unfair, head farther down the beach and ask. There shouldn’t be much difference. At the end of the day, it’s all fried fish, beers, and beach chairs.
- Know how to say “No, gracias” (no, thank you) with a finger wag. Also, “Ya tenemos lugar” (we already have a place), and “De pronto más tarde” (maybe later) are useful.
Now that you know how to avoid the crowds, and what to expect price wise, you’re ready to plan your trip to Playa Blanca from Cartagena.
A Few Final Tips for Playa Blanca
- Take cash. There are no nearby ATMs and few if any of the businesses take cards.
- Taking a bottle of rum and buying cokes as you go is a good way to save some pesos, as is taking a big bottle or jug of water and some snacks.
- I’d suggest leaving any big bags in Cartagena if you can. Most hotels and hostels would likely hold them for you if you ask.
- If you’re leaving the beach, be sure you do so by 5 pm, unless you have arranged transportation later than that before hand. It gets tough to find anything after that.
- The crowds are stressing the ecosystem in Playa Blanca. Don’t litter, and it’s not a horrible idea to take out what trash you can as there just isn’t proper waste disposal on the beach.
Practical Guide to Playa Blanca – Conclusion
There you have it. A complete guide to visiting Playa Blanca, Barú from Cartagena! It’s a gorgeous each, and if you go ready to avoid the crowds and equipped to deal with the vendors, you’ll surely have an excellent time in the crystal clear waters and white sands.
I hope it helped you plan your trip and that you have a terrific time at this beautiful beach! If you do go to Playa Blanca, I’d love for you to let us know what you thought as well as give any additional tips you have for other travelers in the comments below.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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