Playa Blanca, with its shockingly bright turquoise water and golden sand, is Cartagena’s most famous (and infamous) beach.
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.
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What to Know about 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.
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?
Within the last five 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 trash in and out and try to maintain patience with energetic locals trying to make a living from this new income source).
When to Visit Playa Blanca
If you’re looking for a deserted beach, Playa Blanca is not the 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.
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 for available lodging on Isla Baru!
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).
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 out Hostel Mamallena on Booking.com!
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!
Tips for a Great Playa Blanca Experience
We loved our time on 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:
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.
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.
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 jetskis and boats close to us in the water, something that is a challenge for some visitors.
What to Pack for Playa Blanca
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.
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!
Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 Mirrored Swim Goggles — Swimming is much more fun if you can see underwater.
Sunglasses — Playa Blanca is incredibly bright.
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.
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.
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.