10 Things to Know Before You Go to Playa Blanca
Ah Playa Blanca…yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a white sand beach. Which is unique in Cartagena, Colombia given that most beaches are a dark grey sand. So, the draw to visit Playa Blanca is great. However, one must be educated and forewarned before heading to this popular beach destination.
Playa Blanca is located about 45 minutes to 1 hour southwest of Cartagena, Colombia by vehicle on the peninsula of Barú. It's simply down the street from the Aviario Nacional de Colombia. Another popular way to get there is to hitch a boat ride to the beach from Cartagena and skip the drive.
If you do plan to drive to the beach, get ready, because you're in for an experience! On the road approaching the entrance to the beach (just after passing the entrance to the Aviario) the fun starts. You will be accosted by numerous barefoot young men who will try to get you to pull over. Don't. Even so, as you drive past them, several will jump on your car and hang on the running boards as you drive about 1/2 mile down a dirt road to the beach parking lot. Speaking of parking lots, there are two. Park in the second lot which is the largest and closet to the beach, don't let them direct you into the first lot. When you finally arrive at the parking lot, if you still have people hanging on your car, they will now be joined by many others as they surround your car and offer their services.
These young men will be happy to direct you to a parking spot, carry your beach paraphernalia to the beach for you…whatever you desire, but always for a price. As you gather your belongings inside your vehicle, expect that they will linger outside your car until they can offer any and all of their services. Whether you employ any or none of them, is completely up to you. If you make it clear that you’re not interested, they may leave you alone, or they may just shadow you all the way down the beach offering you beach chair after beach chair to sit in, which of course they really have no claim to.
The cost of parking in the lot for a vehicle is $10mil Colombian pesos (about $3 American dollars), payable to the onerous man sitting under a pop-up tent collecting the cash. The area surrounding the lot is chaos as there are buses, taxis, and cars parked askew everywhere.
As you descend the meandering stone path down to the beach you enter a grimy village of sorts filled with vendors hawking various food stuffs and trinkets. When you make it past all of this chaos, you enter into rows of tents and beach chairs with umbrellas. They line the beach in both directions, 2 to 3 rows deep. And you are welcome to sit in any of them, for a price. Behind many of them are restaurants or bars or hostels who will be glad to come out and offer you drinks and food.
The water and sand are beautiful. Breathtaking blue water actually. But, the water is full of people, jet skis for rent, and boats for hire. Please be vigilant watching the jet skis around your children, they are constantly coming into the area where people are swimming and get very, very close. Sometimes it’s the owner of the jet ski trying to convince someone to rent it, and sometimes it’s an unskilled tourist riding a jet ski for the first time. Both are equally dangerous.
You are also CONSTANTLY approached by various vendors as you attempt to sit and enjoy the view. We visited the beach on a Saturday. We have been told that weekdays are quieter than weekends, but I’m not truly convinced because the rows of people stretched both directions down the beach.
We mistakenly sat down under a cute palapa-type cover that included 3 chairs (two of them broken). The young man who shadowed us down the beach quickly ran up to make sure we were comfortable and offered us food and drinks from the nearby bar and restaurant. We declined, but about 30 minutes later were met by the apparent of owner of said palapa and chairs who claimed we owed him $260mil Colombian peso (equivalent to nearly $100 American dollars) for the use of his items. Let me state this clearly to anyone considering visiting this beach…$260mil for a tent and chairs is ROBBERY. Most can be rented for $20 to $30mil ($7 to 10 American dollars). After some choice words exchanged with the claimed owner informing him that that was outrageous, we gathered up our beach gear and left his area. The beaches in Colombia are all public, there are no private beaches in Colombia, and do not let anyone tell you differently. Use of chairs and tents come with a price, but not an outrageous one, no matter if you’re a tourist or not.
On the plus side, the sand is soft and white. The water is warm. The kids enjoyed diving for various shells and coral. Is it a secluded, tranquil beach? No. Will we go back? Maybe. Would we do it differently next time? Yes, and here’s how:
1. Consider taking a boat rather than drive. We haven’t done that yet, so I can’t tell you the pros and cons just yet. But a boat ride would allow you to bypass the young men in the road and the grimy vendor village. However, I did see the boats leave the beach and they were crammed full of passengers, so if you’re leery about boarding a boat that could potentially capsize, that could be an issue. And, I have been told the ride on the boat can be rough. Plus, taking a boat costs some money, and there is a tax at the ports in Cartagena too.
2. If you drive in, do not stop at or talk with the young men lingering on the road. It’s not safe, nor is it required.
3. Park in the second parking lot.
4. FIRMLY and CONSISTENTLY decline all of the help offered by any of the young men who are surrounding you and your car. (Unless you decide to employ one of them, then do so and be clear about who and what you want him to do.)
5. If you want to sit under an umbrella and use the available chairs, then do so after you find the owner and agree on a price BEFORE you sit down. And, sometimes they will even agree to provide them to you for free if you purchase something at the bar. Also remember, the young man who is shadowing you down the beach is not the owner of the umbrella and chairs, so he will give you a price higher than what the owner requests because he will be taking a cut.
6. Walk towards the "quieter" area of the beach which is the northeast end. So, as you are looking at the ocean from the sand, head to your right.
7. Consider simply laying a blanket or towels directly down on the sand, and skip the umbrella. Again, the beaches in Colombia are all public.
8. Ignore the vendors and try to enjoy the sand and water, and maybe even a cocktail or two.
9. Keep a keen eye on your children as the jet skis approach.
10. Keep an eye on your belongings, they've been known to walk off this beach.
Location: 45 minutes to 1 hour southwest of Cartagena, Colombia by vehicle on the peninsula of Barú. Slightly faster by a boat leaving from Cartagena.
Money: Bring cash, most, if not all, transactions are done in cash.
Tips to do it right: See the 10-point list above.