Playa Blanca, Cartagena: How to Get There + Tips for Visiting

Playa Blanca, Isla Baru, with its shockingly bright turquoise water and golden sand, is Cartagena’s most famous (and infamous) beach.

This beautiful stretch of golden sand paired with the turquoise sea is known for its jaw-dropping beauty, but also its congested crowds, pushy salespeople, and reportedly less-than-stellar levels of cleanliness.

Before heading out to Isla Baru to experience Playa Blanca for ourselves, we honestly weren’t sure whether or not we’d come to regret making the trek out to the beach.

Ultimately, though, our day on Playa Blanca ranked among our top five days from our month in Colombia: we found the highlights to be just as beautiful as described, and the criticisms to be overblown.

Want to plan your own perfect day on Playa Blanca?

Here’s what to know.

crowds of swimmers on playa blanca cartagena

What to Know about Visiting Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is not technically in Cartagena–instead, it sits about a 45-minute shuttle or speedboat ride away from the city on the beautiful Isla Baru.

Its proximity to the city, though, means that Playa Blanca is widely considered to be one of the best beaches in Cartagena!

Isla Baru is one of Colombia’s Rosario Islands, an island chain that reaches into the Caribbean.

Though many of the islands are small and privately owned, Isla Baru is larger and is home to about 20,000 people.

Playa Blanca is absolutely stunning, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction and has become far more popular in recent years.

The main reason for that?

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Within the last several years, a bridge has opened connecting Isla Baru directly to Cartagena, meaning that tourists can arrive with much less effort than they used to be able to–and traffic has picked up as a result.

The development of the beach into a more and more popular tourist destination has come with all the double-edged swords that development often does, providing jobs and income to local families, but also causing issues with trash disposal, a shifting economy, and more.

We feel it’s important to have those changes in the back of your mind before visiting Playa Blanca, not to discourage anyone from going, but just to make sure that you keep perspective (and to make sure you pack your trash in and out and try to maintain patience with energetic locals trying to make a living from this new income source).

Playa Blanca, Cartagena: La Espanola Cafe sign nestled in the sand with sun chairs in the background

When to Visit Playa Blanca, Isla Baru

If you’re looking for a deserted beach, Playa Blanca is not the Colombian beach for you.

If you’re looking for a quiet, one, though, the earlier you get there, the better.

We arrived at Playa Blanca via our shuttle bus about an hour before the first speedboats of tourists did, and that first quiet hour with a less crowded beach was wonderful.

If your goal is to avoid crowds, also consider a weekday visit if possible, as Playa Blanca (and Cartagena in general) is a popular weekend getaway for Colombian families.

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How Long to Stay on Playa Blanca & Isla Baru

Though most people (including us) tend to only visit Playa Blanca as a day trip from Cartagena, if you’d like to have the stunning beach (almost) entirely to yourself, consider spending a night on the beach on Isla Baru (or for an even quieter experience, consider a few days on Isla Grande).

Though conditions typically aren’t luxurious, there are several options for staying on or near the beach overnight, and therefore experiencing some of the best times that Playa Blanca has to offer: sunrise and sunset

Shop available lodging on Isla Baru!

Kate Storm laying down on Playa Blanca with the sea surrounding her

How to Get To Playa Blanca from Cartagena (Without a Tour)

When wandering the Old Town of Cartagena, you’ll likely be bombarded with salesmen attempting to sell various “Rosario Islands” and “Playa Blanca” tours at steep prices.

We’d recommend avoiding these: not only are they expensive, but they also tend to be very regimented.

Whether or not any of the “inclusions” actually end up being included is a bit of a shot in the dark, and extras like visits to aquariums and such tend to only eat up time that could be better spent on the beach.

Better options are to take a shuttle, take a speedboat, or to use public transportation to reach Playa Blanca independently (we’re not very familiar with that final option, but it can be done).

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We chose to take a shuttle through Hostel Mamallena, which ran 50,000 COP (or about $17.50 USD as of the time of writing) per person round trip, and got us to Playa Blanca earlier than the crowds.

Hostel Mamallena is located in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena. We arranged for our tickets the evening before heading to Playa Blanca via email, and the hostel was incredibly fast to respond and easy to work with.

Check rates & book your stay at Hostel Mamallena!

Playa Blanca in Colombia as seen looking down the beach with the turquoise sea on the right and golden sand on the left

Sound like too much hassle?

I get it–taking shuttles isn’t for everyone, and there are days when a pre-arranged tour is just our speed.

In that case, we’d recommend opting to take one that has already been reviewed rather than choosing a random one of the street–this day trip from Cartagena includes plenty of time at Playa Blanca and is well-reviewed on Get Your Guide!

Book your day trip to Playa Blanca today!

Boat of tourists arriving to the beach of Playa Blanca near Cartagena Colombia

Tips for a Great Playa Blanca Experience

We loved our time at Playa Blanca, but some people definitely have a less-than-ideal experience there.

Here are a few things that we think really helped our day go smoothly.

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Take a shuttle instead of a boat.

Taking the shuttle with Hostel Mamallena allowed us to arrive on the beach before the bulk of the crowds, and get a taste of a quieter side of Playa Blanca.

Consider renting a cabana.

We’re not normally the types to pay for extras on beaches, but our shaded cabana cost less than $10 USD for the day and paid off in a big way: not only was it comfortable (and kept us from getting burned), it also meant we were set up a bit further back on the beach than most visitors, so we had to shake off far fewer salespeople throughout the day.

Golden sand and turquoise water of Playa Blanca Cartagena as seen when looking down

Come with the right expectations.

Playa Blanca is busy, there’s no doubt about it.

Come prepared for that, and you’re much more likely to have a great time.

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Set up away from the most popular entrance points to the beach.

Though we were definitely still among the crowds where we set up on the beach, we were far enough away from the most congested points that dealt with far fewer jet skis and boats close to us in the water, something that is a challenge for some visitors.

Kate Storm and Jeremy Storm sitting next to the sea on Playa Blanca Colombia

What to Pack for Playa Blanca + Isla Baru

Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without insurance–anything can happen, and this is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. Traveling to Colombia is generally quite safe, but also likely involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying out new adventures in a foreign land… where you may or may not speak the language.

We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Colombia, and got a lot of peace of mind from having our policy active during our trip.

Sunscreen — The sun is very strong in Colombia! Don’t forget to reapply every couple of hours.

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Cash — Not too much, but not too little: consider if you’re going to want to partake in an extra activity like renting a jetski or getting a massage, and decide from there how much to bring. At least bring enough for some cold drinks!

Swim Goggles — Swimming is much more fun if you can see underwater.

Sunglasses — Playa Blanca is incredibly bright! We barely removed our sunglasses when we weren’t swimming.

Water & Snacks — While you’ll likely want to buy drinks and maybe a snack or lunch at the beach, we recommend coming prepared–you’ll pay much less for whatever you bring over yourself.

View of Playa Blanca Beach near Cartagena Colombia. The sea is to the left and umbrellas to the right

Was Visiting Playa Blanca from Cartagena Worth It?

Yes, yes, absolutely yes.

While this wasn’t necessarily a deserted-island type beach, we had an incredibly fun and relaxing day hanging out together reading, lounging in front of the sea, swimming, and just chatting and catching up with few distractions.

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The crowds, while present, didn’t feel overwhelming, and we didn’t find the salespeople to be disruptive at all, as almost all of them moved on immediately after a simple shake of the head and friendly “gracias” if we weren’t interested.

We are so glad we decided to make the trek to Playa Blanca, and it definitely enhanced our time in Cartagena.

About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

30 thoughts on “Playa Blanca, Cartagena: How to Get There + Tips for Visiting”

  1. $10 for a cabana seems like a steal of a deal! I’ve seen them rented elsewhere for $400-$500. You look so relaxed at this beach. Great tip about using the shuttle!

  2. You give some excellent tips here, and I’d like to visit. Very true about being mindful of the people and how tourism can affect these areas. As travellers, it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of a new place without thinking of the impact on the locals. Playa Blanca is definitely my kind of place.

  3. Really glad to see you enjoyed your day! We didn’t make it to Playa Blanca when we were in Cartagena (mainly because we were a bit beached out after San Blas and it sounded very crowded) but I feel like we missed out now!! Great tips. Interesting points about the impact of tourism, I think you summed it up perfectly calling it a double-edged sword. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve been travelling I’ve been really uneasy about things but equally everywhere I’ve been in Colombia the locals seem so happy to have tourists visiting!

  4. Playa Blanca looks gorgeous! I’m from New York City, so I don’t think I’d mind the crowds. I liked the tip to take the shuttle. This beach seems like a fun experience if you go in prepared.

  5. I’m not the kind who enjoys beach vacations as they can be slightly boring and monotonous, but Playa Blanca definitely looks gorgeous and picturesque. I’ll definitely stop by when I’m in the area, great to consider it as a possible day trip from Cartagena! 🙂

    • If you’re not a beach person, there’s also a mud volcano to go bathe in near Cartagena! 😉 But personally, we totally think one beach day is required on a trip to Cartagena.

  6. Thank you for al the great tips! Taking the shuttle seems like the way to go to avoid the crowds. The beach looks stunning – hope it stays that way despite the development of tourism.

  7. Irrespective of the crowds, Playa Blanca does seem like a great beach to relax and unwind. Your recommendations will certainly come in handy for anyone visiting the beach. I really liked all the photographs.

  8. I am more of a mountain person than a beach. But can anyone say no to the turquoise waters of the Playa Blanca? I doubt. I would absolutely love to spend a few days here. However, the crowds are not a thing I enjoy 🙁 I liked your packing list.

    • Unfortunately, crowds are a given in some of the prettiest spots in the world! But there are quieter Rosario Islands if that’s what you’re looking for–they’re just usually a bit harder to access. 🙂

    • We just booked one from one of the cafes when we got there! If you arrive early enough, there’s plenty of availability–there we plenty to choose from when we arrived. 🙂

  9. This post is great! I am visiting Playa Blanca soon and am taking the same shuttle. Just wondering, how many hours did you end up staying? There are only two shuttle times as per the hostel website. Thanks !

    • Hi Ecire! I believe we were there for 4-5 hours or so. I believe that they do have a later pickup for the afternoon/all day group that leaves at around 5 in addition to the morning and afternoon runs, but we left in the afternoon. 🙂

  10. Thanks to this post, I snagged a day trip ticket on a shuttle from the hostel as recommended – 2 hours before departure. My original tour guide had cancelled the night before, so this came through for me right on time. The transaction was easy, the shuttle ride was pretty bumpy, but the trip to such a beautiful beach was worth it all.

  11. Thanks for the great post! Do you happen to know if at Playa Blanca there were any boats offering to take you to Isla Grande?? Also, how long was the shuttle ride approximately?
    Thank you in advance 😀

    • Hi Sarah! I’m not sure about the boats to Isla Grande–honestly we didn’t pay much attention to anything but the sunshine and water once we were on the beach lol. The shuttle took about 45 minutes and wasn’t a bad ride at all!

  12. Can you be specific about your arrival spot in “Playa Blanca”? I look at a map and the coast in pretty long. Where exactly did the shuttle from Hostel Mamallena drop you off? How would you define the beginning & ending of “Playa Blanca”? The whole coast of Isla Baru? Thanx

    • Hi Doug! We were dropped off a short walk from La Espanola–it’s been a bit, but I’d estimate under a 5-minute walk?

  13. Thank you very much for this article, very complete !
    Indeed Playa Blanca has one of the most beautiful waters of Colombia.
    I particularly liked my trip to the San Bernardo islands, which are among the most beautiful beaches in Colombia. But also those of the Tayrona park.

    Cheers !


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