Tag: Cartagena

How to Travel the San Bernardo Islands like a Pro…

San Bernardo is an archipelago of ten islands forming half of Colombia’s ‘PNN Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo’ and are situated two hours off the coast of Cartagena in the Caribbean sea.

The islands are a well known destination for holidaying Colombians however are pretty off-the-beaten track for the regular tourist trail.  While planning our trip to Colombia this summer I kept coming across mentions of them from backpacker friends but could find little information about them online.  All I knew was that they were secluded islands with paradise beaches and off the beaten track – exactly what I was looking for!

I read traveler forums which suggested staying on the main land in Cartagena or Tolu and visiting the islands on a boat tour.  The tours spend the day island hopping, finishing up on Isla Murcura for lunch and sunbathing time, before taking you back to the mainland before evening.

Following the crowds and organized tours aren’t really my vibe.  And I wanted to spend at least a week on the islands not one day.  So we decided to break away and visit the islands our own way.  Organization was a little difficult but the adventure meant we got to stay longer, bond with the locals and experience real island life.

Here is my guide to travel the San Bernardo islands like a pro…

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How to Get There…

From Cartgena take a two hour bus ride along the coast to Tolu.  (Side Note: Tolu makes a great place to spend the night if you want to see some authentic Colombia culture.)  From here jump on a morning boat tour visiting the San Bernardo Islands.  The tours last for a day but speak to your boat driver, explain where you want to be dropped off and schedule a day for them to come and collect you back.  It costs a little more for a ticket this way but the drivers are more than happy to oblige and its worth the extra cost to see the real beauty of the islands.

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(island vibes)

Where To Stay…

The main islands to sleep on are Isla Palma, Isla Tipitan or Isla Murcura and most of the accommodation options available are luxury resorts.  I much prefer hippie places with chilled out vibes, and after a lot of research I scouted out these three cool options.

Hostel Isla Murcura.   Our hostel of choice, we stayed here for ten days and loved it.  The hostel has a private beach and stilted cabanas overlooking the sea.  The bar and restaurant serve amazing food and the guys who work there are super cool.  There is no wifi so you can disconnect and spend the days swinging in hammocks and drinking fresh coconuts.

Casa En Nel Agua.  Located just off Isla Tipitan the hostel is build on stilts surrounded by sea and coral reefs.  This place looks cool if you want to stay somewhere totally unique.

La Playita Hostel.  Located on the more secluded Islas Furte this hostel is great if you want some adventure and action.  The hostel organize sufing, kite boarding and paddle boarding trips and offer private rooms, dorms and an open air restaurant and bar.

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(sunset views from hostel isla murcura)

What To Do…

Chill.  With no cars, roads or wifi there is little to do on the islands but chill, swing in hammocks and drink fresh coconuts.  Read books, journal, sunbath on white sand beaches and swim in crystal clear waters.

Discover the Beaches.  As well as our hostel’s private beach, Islas Murcura also has a public beach on the opposite side of the island.  Though it fills up with visiting tours over lunch the beach has a family fun vibe and come 3pm when the boat tours leave you will have the place all to yourself again.

Take a Night Time Plankton Tour.  Visit the mangrove lagoon on Isla Tipitan after dark and jump in the water to see the florescent plankton light up and glow around you.  It looks like your are surrounded by hundreds of tiny stars!

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(fishing and sunbathing on paradise beach)

What to Explore…

The Coral Reefs.  The islands are surrounded by coral reefs and it’s possible to see amazing marine life by snorkeling just off the island.  If you want something even more special organize a snorkel trip to ‘Chara’ an underwater gardens out at sea to view beautiful coral formations and groups of colorful fish.

The Coastline.  Isla Murcura is tiny and it’s possible get around the island pretty easily.  Go on foot to meet the locals and see the colorful shacks of the pueblo or rent a kayak and paddle around the islands for beautiful coastline views.  Bring a snorkel to see some fish or stop on the public beach for a coconut half way around.

Isla Sucre.  Neighboring island, Isla Sucre, is the most densely populated island on earth.  Its 350 sq m is occupied by 500 people who live in a mass of colorful shacks and concrete.  Explore the maze of alleyways weaving thought the community that is teaming with cooking smells, music, children playing, animals and generations of family living together.

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What To Eat…

Fresh Fish and Lobster Tails.   Head over to the public beach and try the delicious food being cooked up by the locals.  Choose from fish or lobster freshly caught and enjoy served with fried plantains, rice and salad.

Exotic Fruit Smoothies.  Visit the drink vendors on the public beach to sample delicious fruit smoothies freshly blended from fruits picked from the forest.  Choose guava, starfruit, passion fruit or mango – yum!

Local Seafood.  Befriend local fisherman and restaurant owner Joel who works on the far end of the local beach and organize a fresh seafood catch for dinner.  His home cooking is delicious and eating on the beach under the stars is a beautiful experience.

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What to Bring…

Money.  There are no banks or ATM’s on the islands so bring as much money as you need.

Snorkel and Mask.  The islands are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and its not possible to rent snorkels on the island so make sure to bring one with you.

Sun Cream and Bug Spray.  Bring essentials like sun cream and bug spray with you from the main land.  There is a tiny shop in the Pueblo used by the locals but it isn’t always very well stocked so if you think you are going to need something, bring it with you.

Have you traveled to the San Bernardo Islands?  If you have any travel tips or fun experiences please share in the comments below…

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8 Reasons to Travel Colombia

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Since traveling around South America back in 2009 it has always been my dream to return to this magical continent and visit Colombia.

On our initial trip we chose to skip Colombia, feeling hesitant about the countries safely and political situation, and instead opted for the more central route of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil & Argentina.  I loved our trip and I would never wished to change it, but so many of the backpackers we met on route told us of the magic of Colombia and what incredible experiences they had there and the dream to explore Colombia was sparked in me.

This summer, nearly seven years after my first visit, we decided to finally make my Colombia dreams a reality.  We finished up work at the end of July, left our laptops at home and headed off on a three and a half week adventure that was one of the best experiences of my life.

It is an absolutely breathtaking place, full of colour, life, soul and some of the kindest people I have ever met.  Its a place of great contrasts, of poverty and wealth, creativity and corruption.  And it’s a place of awe-inspiring natural diversity with mountain ranges, amazon forest, cultural cities and Caribbeans beaches.  It is one of the best places I have traveled to, so I wanted to share 8 reasons to inspire you to travel to Colombia too…

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Unbelievable Bogota.

A city of contrasts, where anything really can happen, Bogota is exciting, lively, hectic and artsy.  Soak up culture in La Candelaria, see the cities creative side on a Graffiti tour, sample the incredible restaurants and bars or explore the markets and connect with the locals.  Bogota is a whirlwind that has so much to offer!

Beautiful Untouched Beaches.

Offering chilled Caribbean charm or rugged wilderness on the Pacific coast, Colombia’s beaches are a stunning mix of white sand, clear waters, coral reefs and aquatic wildlife.

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Some Incredible Coffee.

Colombia’s coffee is produced in the central ‘Zona Cafeteria’.  It’s lush, green landscape makes for some beautiful views and you can even have a relaxing stay in a Coffee Finca.  You can also find incredible coffee all over the country.  Try getting a freshly brewed cup from a street seller and drink it in a plaza watching the world go by.

It’s Home to the Kindest People.

Colombia’s are so friendly and kind.  They treat you like a family member and welcome you to their country with open arms.

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Inspirational Street Art.

Bogota’s legalization of graffiti in 2011 marked a creative boom for the city.  Sky scrapers, urban buildings and public walls are now the canvas space for street artists to express themselves and share their political viewpoints.  Everywhere you look, the city is an incredible mix of colors, patterns and murals.

Cultural Cartagena.

A World Heritage UNESCO Site, Cartagena is a colonial gem with cobbled streets, colourful houses, pretty plazas and a rich cultural offering of museums, churches and galleries.

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Diversity of Adventures.

Whatever type of adventure you like Colombia offers it all.  From sleeping in river-side lodges on Amazon excursions, climbing mountains in the Andes, trekking to the ancient Lost City or exploring one of the many National Parks, Colombia’s excitement and adventure comes in many forms.

Music & Dancing on Every Street Corner.

No matter where we were in Colombia there was always music booming from speaker systems and locals dancing together and having fun.  The energy for life is contagious and it’s one of the reasons why I love South America.

Have you ever traveled in Colombia? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below…

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