When you think of vacation, what generally comes to mind are white sandy beaches and lounging next to crashing waves in a hammock, most definitely with some kind of alcoholic concoction in a coconut, topped off with a colourful umbrella (and a lot of high quality rum).
Rest. Relaxation. Peace and quiet.
Not so much for me. I do NOT believe in a lounge-by-the-pool-of-an-all-inclusive-resort kind of vacation. It’s not a holiday unless I’m doing some reckless activity that I can’t tell my parents about.
My neutral speed is breakneck, the voice of caution being drowned out by a flurry of activity. I usually return to Toronto more exhausted than when I left but oddly refreshed, having chased the restlessness out of my bones, at least for the time being.
My trip to Colombia was no different.
By the time we got to Playa Manglares on Isla Baru (read about our stay here), we had eaten our weight in fried Colombian street food, salsa danced in a tiny, sweaty bar till 4:30am, ridden horseback through a national park, and flopped around in a mud volcano (just to name a few).
Despite the nonstop pace of the trip to this point, we couldn’t wait to explore! Playa Manglares is perfectly situated for several excursions that would normally be more of a headache to get to from the heart of the city. You’d be able to have a gloriously full day of adventure and be back in your open-air room, sitting in a hammock and watching the sunset, contentedly sipping the best mojito you’ve ever had in your life.
Here’s some inspiration for how you can wile your days away on Isla Baru:
ISLAS DEL ROSARIO
While there were numerous day trips departing from Cartagena to sail around to beaches around one of Colombia’s Natural National Parks, Islas del Rosario, we chose the more convenient option of being picked up by private boat right from the beach beside Playa Manglares, arranged by the proprietress.
The boat picked us up around 10am and we embarked on an hour-long ride through a little lagoon that opened into the clear turquoise waters that Islas del Rosario is famous for. You can visit the Aquarium that is only accessible by boat, and watch the shark feeding or pose with a dolphin. I detest dolphins (if you know me, you know why!) so my friend and I opted to snorkel the coral reefs instead.
After exploring the various sea life, you can continue on to one of the many private beaches. Our little group was treated to the most amazing grilled lobster meal, complete with a cooler of beers with an idyllic view of the waters. By far one of the best days (and meals) we had!
NATIONAL AVIARY OF COLOMBIA
This sounds very geeky, spending some of your precious vacation time looking at what is essentially a bird zoo. It came highly recommended on Trip Advisor and was declared as a “must visit” by Olga, the owner of Playa Manglares so we gave it a shot.
Instead of a tiny, run down, indoor spot like I had been expecting, the National Aviary is a sprawling outdoor facility that you hike through, with varying, specifically landscaped ecosystems that each type of bird is accustomed to in the wild! A lot of the birds weren’t even confined within an enclosure so they could fly right up to you and perch on your shoulder if they so chose.
It was an awe-inspiring experience to be immersed in nature versus staring at the fowl from behind glass.
Not too far from the National Aviary is the most popular beach at one of the most popular seaside destinations in Colombia, Playa Blanca. Being as favoured as it is, the real estate is PACKED. While the waters are as beautiful and clear blues as Islas de Rosario, it is full of people swimming, zooming around on jet skis and getting rides on banana boats.
Stop by Maria's Kiosk and ask for the catch of the day and she'll bring over a huge tray of freshly caught seafood! I had the best grilled fish of my life, seasoned with roasted garlic, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime with a side of fried plantain and coco rice (see here).
I'm also obsessed with Latin chicken soup since my trip to Peru so when I spotted some masseurs with bowls of the thick yellow broth, swimming with thick chunks of potato and carrot, I HAD to have it. We washed our meals down with fruity cocktails, served in coconuts and pineapples then indulged in full body massages right on the beach for only $10!