The first morning I woke up at Playa Manglares, it was with the sunrise. Not voluntarily as I'm neither crazy nor masochistic but because the sun was in my eyes. After running around nonstop in Colombia for a week and a half, devouring everything in sight and salsa dancing until the wee hours, I was overdue for a bit of a lie-in. I know, poor me.
I cracked my eyes open to narrow slits, just enough to see the fine mesh mosquito netting that covered our beds swaying slightly in the breeze. Kelly and I felt so safe that we rarely closed any of the windows or doors to our second-floor room.
From beyond the canopy of netting, the bright Colombian sun was climbing the horizon, rays of light blazing into my eyes making me squint and swear. I stumbled out of the mass of fabric surrounding my bed on sleep-clumsy legs, phone in hand, and tottered past the 2 white canvas hammocks at the end of our bed and onto the balcony that overlooked flowering greenery and a mangrove-lined bay. The early morning sky was awash with gold and blushing shades of pink, gradually lighting up our glamorously rustic room.
At this point, I still hadn't managed to fully open my eyes but never one to miss a golden moment, I lifted my phone, snapped a picture, then returned to my pest-protected haven of a bed.
From the moment that we arrived on Isla Baru and drove past the gate down the dusty path to Playa Manglares, a mere 45-minute drive from Cartagena, it was a slice of paradise. The wild yet manicured landscape was covered in lush foliage, creeping vines, and prickly agave plants. It wasn't chance or good fortune that we happened upon this tucked away bed and breakfast, but it came highly recommended by the founder of Room + Wild, a landscape-enhanced accommodations company, who arranged our 3-night stay.
We were picked up straight from our hostel in the Centro Historico district of Cartagena by a blessedly air-conditioned car that delivered us straight to the doorstep of the jungle-entrenched lodging. The minute we emerged into the reception area, we were engulfed in the warmth of the proprietress, Olga, a dynamic, strong-willed woman who’s infectious energy made her seem ageless. She was so welcoming that the stay felt more like staying with a favourite auntie than someone you just met.
After spending the previous 3 days in a cramped hut on a beach in Santa Marta, being ushered into our spacious room on the second floor of the main building, I nearly lost my mind. It was GORGEOUS. All of the windows and the doors to the balcony were thrown open, filling the airy space with light. I was having Pinterest-spasms of pleasure at the white and wood decor, the furniture, art and other little touches that were clearly chosen with a discerning, artistic eye (Olga is a photographer). The sturdy, canvas hammocks proved to be perfect for catching up with our Instagram (they have wifi!) and downing the BEST mojitos I’ve ever tasted that they thoughtfully sent up as we were settling in.
My ABSOLUTE favourite part of the entire place was the bathroom. Guys, it was outdoors! Beyond the little thatched door was a deep “tub” done up with stunning tiles creating a little wall just high enough for modesty, and low enough that you could practically reach out and grab a coconut from the surrounding palm trees. There was even some vine creeping along the wide shower head! If I could’ve slept in there without getting eaten alive by the bugs, I would have. Needless to say, I found as many opportunities as possible to take a shower.
On my way to dinner, I explored our surroundings as the sun started to descend below the ocean. I found another 1-storey structure a little ways away from ours that could house 2 sets of guests, similarly decorated, and the reception building was having more living quarters added upon it.
Meals were a family affair where we would chat with the other guests at a communal table under a little gazebo in a copse of trees, not too far from a lonely stretch of beach. The food was delicious and fresh, usually eggs and an arepa, with a side of fruit for breakfast. Dinner was something hearty like a pesto fusilli pasta or another night we had a vegetable chicken wrap and some kind of Colombian albondigas (meatballs), all amazing. Usually we were joined at some point by Olga herself who regaled us with her charmingly told tale of how Playa Manglares came to be.
I believe in the 80s, her husband brought her out to Isla Baru, in the middle of the wild, snake-ridden jungle, accessible only by boat (at the time) with dreams of building a home. Over time and with heaping amounts of determination, she turned a place that didn’t even exist into a beautiful oasis. They couldn’t even afford to install windows until a couple years prior which is a testament to Olga’s strength of character. Further proof was that she could also drink us under the table, pouring Aguardiente (Colombian Fire Water) straight from the bottle into her mouth from high up like a champ! So all around, she’s a pretty impressive woman.
Due to the intimate size of the bed and breakfast, it’s also a really good spot to meet people from other parts of the world. While Kelly and I turned out to be really good travel buddies, we still welcomed the infusion of new energy into our twosome. The morning after we arrived, we bonded with the loveliest pair of guys over breakfast who became our companions in exploring the Rosario Islands, braving the bustling Playa Blanca, and marvelling at the national aviary. We chatted away over huge platters or grilled lobster and patacones (fried, pressed plantains) in a mix of English and Spanish, someone always not understanding at least half of the conversation (my Spanish is really bad).
At the end, we didn’t want to leave paradise (who does?). I was so sad to say goodbye to our gracious hostess and our beautiful room! Currently I’m trying to figure out how to install a hammock into my room and when the soonest possible moment I can return to Playa Manglares for a perfectly mixed mojito!
Arranged through Playa Manglares from anywhere in Cartagena ($80.000 COP, approx $27 CAD) for ride so if you split between 4 people, the cost is divisible.
Lunch: COP$35,000-$40,000 (approx. $11 - $13 CAD)
Dinner: COP$ 30,000 - $35,000 (approx. $10 - $12 CAD)
*I’ll cover this more in detail later on
- Private boat tour of Islas del Rosario
- Beach day at Playa Blanca (10 minutes away)
- Visit the National Aviary (up the road from Playa Blanca)
- Snorkel the colourful reefs of Islas del Rosario
- Take a trip to the Aquarium by boat
- Bring cash! You won’t find an ATM on Isla Baru so calculate how much you’ll need for activities, food, and drinks.
- Bring a lot of sunscreen and bug repellent. Especially for night, the bugs are ravenous!
- Arrange a car service with Olga beforehand. Access by boat is difficult and takes longer.