Playa Blanca, Barú – Complete Guide from Cartagena, Colombia

Playa Blanca, about 90 minutes south of Cartagena, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia.  A stunning, white sand beach with crystal clear water, it is well worth a visit from Cartagena.  Read on for a complete guide to visiting Playa Blanca, including why you should visit, practical tips, how to get there, and where to stay at Playa Blanca, Colombia.

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Photo of a girl and guy with drinks in a coconut at Playa Blanca, Colombia.
Susana and I enjoying some Coco Locos at Playa Blanca. Read on for a complete guide to visiting Playa Blanca from Cartagena.

Where is Playa Blanca?

There are a handful of different beaches in Colombia that have the name Playa Blanca, but by far the most famous one is Playa Blanca, Barú.  A gorgeous stretch of white sand beach Playa Blanca, Isla Barú is located about 90 minutes to the south of Cartagena.

Barú was originally a peninsula that the Spanish cut a canal across making it the Isla Barú.  Playa Blanca is located on the western coast of Barú.

Long a mainstay on the Cartagena backpacker itinerary, it used to be quite the adventure to arrive, but a bridge and paved road built a few years back has made it a much easier trip and transportation from Cartagena to Playa Blanca is easier than ever.

Why Visit Playa Blanca?

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.

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, it will never be the lighter traveled paradise it once was, but it is still worth the 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, which I highly recommend (more on that below).

Due to the larger crowds, I would, however, try to avoid visiting on Sundays or Monday holidays, as well as during peak tourist weeks like Easter or Christmas time as it just gets too packed.

With that being said you can still enjoy a beautiful beach and have a great time if you follow some of the practical tips below.

Photo of 3 girls at Playa Blanca, Colombia.
The water at Playa Blanca is the gorgeous, crystal clear Caribbean sea you’ve been looking for.

What to See at Playa Blanca

That is, besides beaching it at a beautiful beach.  Here a few other things to do at Playa Blanca

  • The Colombian National Aviary is a 10 minute drive away.  It’s very well done and worth the visit.  If you come on the shuttle, moto, or taxi, you could arrange them to drop you off there and then grab a moto to the beach or get a moto from the beach there.
  • There are jetski rentals and you can do outings on tubes or the 6 person noodle from guys on the beach.
  • If you stay for the night, you can do a bioluminescent plankton tour.
  • Oh and you can get a drink in a coconut.  My favorite is a coco loco, but a piña colada works too!

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, many boats also pull up to the left of the entrance.  There’s a tree on a little point down the beach with a swing that is a popular photo spot.  Just before or after it is my preferred area of the beach.

When deciding where to settle on the beach, 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.
Photo of people sitting around a table at a Playa Blanca hotel.
Pick a place where there is shade and chairs to spend the day on Playa Blanca.

Be Prepared for 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.

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.

Be Sure to Negotiate

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.  Also, keep a mental tab of what you’ve consumed.

A Few Practical Tips on Negotiating and Estimated Prices at Playa Blanca

  • A standard fish lunch should run you from 20-40,000 pesos depending on type and size of fish.  Lots of times, they’ll show you the fish.  If you’re in a group, you can likely negotiate a discount.  Some places will have menus, some won’t.
  • Beers should be 5-8,000 pesos, cocktails 15-25,000 pesos, and water and soda 3-5,000 pesos.  Keep in mind, these have to be brought to the beach and kept cold, hence 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 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.

Photo of a guy walking on the beach with some others sitting on a tree trunk outside a Playa Blanca hostel.
While it gets a bit more crowded than this today, Playa Blanca is still absolutely gorgeous.

How to Get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena

Back in 2011, when I first came to Colombia, 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.

Now it’s much easier to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena.

You have 4 options to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena:

  1. Take a shuttle bus from Cartagena to Playa Blanca
  2. Take a bus to Pasacaballos and motorcycle or collective taxi to Playa Blanca
  3. Take a taxi from Cartagena to Playa Blanca
  4. Take a tour to Playa Blanca

Option 1 – Shuttle to Playa Blanca

The shuttle bus operated by Mamallena Hostel has become our method of choice for transportation to Playa Blanca from Cartagena.

Advantages of the Mamallena Shuttle from Cartagena to Playa Blanca:

  • Multiple departures and returns (including one at night if you want to stay for sunset or to do the bioluminescent plankton tour).
  • You can come back a different day if you stay at the beach

As of late 2019, the price is 50,000 pesos per person round trip, which is also a great value given the convenience.

You can find out more about it, get contact details, and book directly here.  You’ll be able to pay in cash or by card at the hostel when you depart.

While a bit more expensive, you can also book ahead and pay online through Viator.

Photo of a guy drinking out of a coconut at Playa Blanca, Barú.
If you haven’t picked up on it, having a piña colado or coco loco straight out of the coco is an obligatory ritual for me at Playa Blanca.

Option 2 -How to Take the Bus to Playa Blanca – Cheapest

This is the cheapest way to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena.  You have to arrive to the town of Pasacaballos and then take a mototaxi or collective taxi to the beach.

Here are the steps to follow to take the bus to Playa Blanca:
*Prices last updated late 2019

  • Get the Pasacaballos bus (look for the name at the top of the windshield).
    • You can get it where you see buses stop on the curve just across from the wall at the entrance of Centro near the statue of India Catalina.  It can also be picked up along the waterfront in Cabrero, or at the crossroads known as Ceballos.
    • The bus costs 2,500 pesos
    • It should take approximately an hour.
  • Take a collective taxi (colectivo) or mototaxi to Playa Blanca.
    • You can get both a couple blocks past the main plaza in Pasacaballos.  If in doubt, ask the sparring (the guy who collects the money) to let you know where to get out.
    • colectivo should cost 8,000 pesos and will take 4 people.
    • A mototaxi should cost 10,000 pesos.

To get back to Cartagena from Playa Blanca

You can walk up to the entrances of the beach and you should be able to find a mototaxi pretty easily up until around 4 in the afternoon.  If you plan to leave later than that, I highly suggest you arrange it before hand.  Once back in Pasacaballos, you can get the bus back to Centro, a collective taxi to Ceballos, or a taxi direct to where you’re going.

You can also find boats leaving between 3 and 4 pm that will take you back to Cartagena from Playa Blanca.  Usually, these are tour boats that have extra space.  There’s been many a times where we’ve done this after spending the day or 2 days on the beach and wanted to get back quicker.

Option 3 – Take a Taxi from Cartagena to Playa Blanca

This is of course the most expensive way to get to Playa Blanca, but it is the fastest.

The official taxi fare to Playa Blanca is 81,000 pesos from Centro.  However, in my experience, you can expect to pay anywhere from 80-100,000.  It can be cost effective if you are a group of 4 and you plan to come back by boat or bus.

*You can see other taxi rates in this guide to getting around Cartagena.

If you want to return by taxi as well, you should just negotiate that the taxi wait for you.  I’ve never done that, but I would expect you could negotiate it for something in the neighborhood of 200-250,000.

Option 4 – Take a Day Tour

Coming with a day tour is undoubtedly the easiest and most convenient way to get to Playa Blanca from Cartagena.  Tours either come by boat or by bus, and they should include lunch and places to sit.

You can find vendors on foot or at stands in Centro selling these tours.  Expect to pay in the neighborhood of 100,000 pesos per person.  You can also book day tours online via Viator or via GetYourGuide.

However, I would generally discourage you from taking these tours.  You will usually end up in a crowded spot, where there are tons of people both in the water and having lunch.  I would much prefer to come myself and choose where to post up for the day.

The one case where I would suggest considering a tour is if you want to include a visit to the Rosario Islands or the Colombian National Aviary.  Both are well worth doing, and tours often include a visit to Playa Blanca.

Doing a private boat is the best way to do the islands if you have a group large enough to make it cost effective.  All private boat tours should give you the option of 3 stops that can include Playa Blanca.  You can book private boats for up to 10 people online through Viator or GetYourGuide or do a shared boat tour to the Rosario Islands, boat party spot Cholón, and Playa Blanca through Viator.

You can also book a tour that goes to the Aviary and then Playa Blanca for lunch through Viator.

You can of course also choose some combination of options 2-4 to get to Playa Blanca.  We’ve for example done the private boat with a group and then stayed the night at the beach and come back a different way the next day.

Photo of a couple at Playa Blanca, Cartagena.
We actually had our pre-wedding photos done at Playa Blanca. It is that pretty!

Spending a Night

Is it worth it to spend the night at Playa Blanca?

I’d say, if you have the time and can, yes, it is absolutely worth it to spend a night.

Why should you stay a night at Playa Blanca?

  • You’ll get to enjoy the beach with fewer people.
  • Most people go home around 4 pm, leaving only those who are staying to enjoy the gorgeous sunset.
  • Night beach parties are always fun.
  • Likewise, you’ll wake up to a much less crowded beach as the bulk of the crowds don’t arrive until lunch time.

The one caveat to staying is there is not running water at the beach.  So be prepared to be sandy, not get a proper shower (there is a whole ocean), and bucket flush.  Most of the cabins do have generators to power fans at night now.

If that all sounds totally unacceptable, you could also look into the all-inclusive Decameron Resort, although that will of course be much more pricey.

Photo of some people swimming at Playa Blanca, Cartagena.
Taking a dip at sunset is one of the reasons to spend a night at one of the hostels or hotels on Playa Blanca.

Where to Stay at Playa Blanca

I remember back in the day, staying in hammocks for like 7,000 pesos.  You may still be able to find a place willing to let you stay in a hammock, but not for that price.  There are a slew of hostel/cabins along the beach now.

Again, I can’t stress enough to make sure you walk down to the right from the main entrance.  Most places to stay at Playa Blanca are going to have similar accommodations, so you should look for a place that has a good beach in front, shade, and nice chairs.  Most of the places should have both group and private rooms, and should have similar prices.

I would expect something in the neighborhood of 50,000 pesos a person.  

Do ask to see the rooms, and do compare pricesAlso, you might be able to get a decent deal that includes some or all of your meals.

We usually stay at Pacho Lay, located right before the tree.  This is where we have always stayed.  It’s not anything special, but I taught one of Pacho’s daughters, they have always been good to us, and his wife Norma is a great cook.

There are a handful of newer places that look almost like proper hotels on Playa Blanca as well.  These include Hotel Calamari and Princesa del Mar.  They are of course more expensive than the standard Playa Blanca hostels.

It isn’t necessary to book anything in advance unless you just have to stay in one of those newer Playa Blanca hotels.

Photo of the sunset at Playa Blanca, Barú Island.
Seeing the sunset itself is the best reason to spend a night at Playa Blanca!

Packing List

Your Beach Gear

Accessories

  • 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.
  • I’ve come home red from Playa Blanca too many times to not tell you to be sure you pack sunscreen.  My favorite is Coppertone Sport, which holds up well in the water.
  • 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.

If You Do 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 toilette 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.
  • 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.

A Few Final Tips for Playa Blanca

  • Take cash.  There are no nearby ATMs and none 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 liter bottle 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 to go on the late shuttle back.  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.
Photo of a girl standing in front of the water with a sail boat in the background at Playa Blanca, Cartagena.
One last shot of the beautiful Playa Blanca.

There you have it.  A complete guide to visiting Playa Blanca, Barú from Cartagena!  I hope it helped you plan your trip and that you have a terrific time at this beautiful beach!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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You may also be interested in the following posts:
Complete Guide to Visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, Colombia
Top 10 Places to Get Sunset Drinks in Cartagena, Colombia
Ultimate Guide to Palomino, Colombia’s Hippest Beach Town (2019 update)

Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?

Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena

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