The Many Varieties of Islands

So far on our trip we’ve visited three islands, each different from one another and each revealing a different aspect of Colombia.

Islas Del Rosario

From Cartagena we take a speedboat to the Islas Del Rosario.  The boat zips out of Cartagena Harbor, it’s double engines screaming.  We pass out of the inner harbor and along Boca Grande, the sandbar that protects the harbor, and which is referred to by the locals as “Cartagena’s Miami Beach”.  It’s lined with high-rise hotels and nightclubs.

cartagena harbor / colombia

fast boat / cartagena, colombia

Another half hour and we leave the lagoon that is the approach to Cartagena’s harbor, passing through the Boca Chica (‘Small Mouth’).  You can enter the lagoon through both Boca Grande or Boca Chica, but Boca Grande is too shallow for most ships.

Because Boca Chica was the standard approach for pirates attaching the city of Cartagena, it was protected by the Fuerte San Fernando de Bocachica, a large stone fortress.  From the Fuerte, a chain ran across the boca to the other side.  This chain was raised to block ship traffic while the fortress fired upon the stopped ships.

fuerte san fernando de bocachica / cartagena, colombia

flag over fuerte san fernando de bocachica / cartagena, colombia

We safely shoot past the Fuerte San Fernando de Bocachica and enter the Caribbean Sea.  An hour after leaving Cartagena, we’re curving around the Islas Del Rosario.  These consist of a few larger islands and numerous small islands, all surrounded by shallow coral reefs.

moored / islas del rosario, colombia

fuerte / islas del rosario, colombia

isla privada / islas del rosario, colombia

We land on one of the larger islands and are outfitted for diving by a budget resort. Almost immediately we’re put onto a boat and sent our to a dive spot. After our first dive, we return to the island for 20 minutes, and then back out on the same boat.

boat house / islas del rosario, colombia

Underwater is surprisingly beautiful.  Everywhere there are huge (and perfect) heads of brain coral and a good mixture of both hard and soft corals.  We encounter many fish that none of us have seen before, and some of the biggest lion fish I’d ever seen.

Our ride back is uneventful, and everyone is tired from the diving and snorkeling.  It’s raining slightly, and as we approached Cartagena, a rainbow appears, touching down on Convento de la Popa, a convent that sits on a 450′ hill, the highest point in Cartagena.

returning / islas del rosario, colombia

rainbow over la popa / cartagena, colombia

Tolú & the Archipiélago de San Bernardo

We board our truck for the beach town of Tolú, about 4 hours from Cartagena.  It’s the rainy season now, so Tolú isn’t very active.   Many of the storefronts and restaurants are closed, and not much is happening.  We stay at Kevin’s Hotel, which thankfully has a pool and beer, two things we desperately need after our long hot ride.

kevin's hotel / tolú, colombia

cerveza! / tolú, colombia

wet on arrival / tolú, colombia

The next day we all take pedicabs to the harbor, where our tour boat for the Archipiélago de San Bernardo is waiting.  We load up, and I manag to grab the bow of the boat.  (I sit right on the warning that says “no step”.)

boarding / tolú, colombia

We slowly cruise out of the harbor passing fishermen mending their nets.

the net menders / tolú, colombia

Once out of the harbor, the boat speeds up.  Up front, I am constantly finding myself dropping with the boat and then slamming down against the water.  The captain does a decent job of avoiding the worse swells, but it seems that every time I relax, I’d find myself in free fall followed by a sudden stop.  My neck and back are hurting from the sudden stops, but I am having an amazing time.  I adopt a rodeo pose, one hand holding onto the prow of the boat, the other riding free behind me, lifting when I fall to take up some of the inertia.

Towards the back of the boat the ride is smoother, but the passengers are constantly soaked with waves coming over the bow.  Every time a big wave hits our small boat, the folks in the back get a face full of water.  And every time Dan gets a face full of water, his expression reflects the eventual revenge he is planning on whomever is responsible.

Eventually he settles on a solution…

prepared for the worst / isla san bernado, colombia

The ride out took takes hours.  Two long hours.  Eventually we get to the San Bernardo islands.  The first island we stop at belongs to a hotel.  Our boat pulls up alongside an oceanside pool.  When we arrive, a hot guy appears and proceeds to give us a dolphin show.  This leaves me feeling very conflicted. First of all, they’re beautiful animals, and I loved being able to see them so closely.  But they’re also intelligent creatures being kept in a cage.  But then, nothing would change if I looked away.  So I take photos and admired the dolphin’s beauty, and wished that they were free…

on deck / isla san bernado, colombia

hoop / isla san bernado, colombia

high jump / isla san bernado, colombia

Our next stop is a rough beach that looks more like a shipwreck camp than a resort.  There are some rough huts on a narrow sand bar between the ocean and a dirty lagoon.  We immediately sit under some huts near the water, but are told that those huts were 10,000 pesos per table. We can sit at ‘the restaurant’, another hut that is a little way back from the beach.

Okay, so we do.  Then we’re told that we can go snorkeling, but the best snorkeling was over there, and we can go there by boat.  Which will cost 10,000 pesos a person.  Some of us want to go, but others didn’t.  And that’s when they start using a chainsaw right next to the ‘restaurant’.  Muy tranquillo!

weight / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombiacards / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombia

chainsaw / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombia


We boat out to do some fairly mediocre snorkeling.  (ProTip: Snorkeling without fins sucks!)  When we return our lunches are waiting, fried fish, rice, and fried plantains.  When I poked my head into the kitchen, I realized that we’re eating parrot fish.

the kitchen / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombia

parrot fish / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombia

pescado frito / archipiélago de san bernardo, colombia

On the way back we stop at Santa Cruz del Islote (Coordinates: 9.785882,-75.85903).  This small island started out a while back with one fishing family living upon it.  Over time they had children, and their children had children, and they brought in spouses to join them on the island.  Today, there is no island left… all that is visible is the village, sitting on the waves.

The entire village sits literally at sea level.  It’s a place both depressing and amazing.  And every day, the men go out to fish, the women do their work of keeping the village clean, and the children (about 50% of the population) go to school and do their chores.  They know of climate change, and the threat to their village, but they also know there is nothing that they can do… so they continue to fish, clean, and do chores, and to love their island home.

santa cruz del islote / colombia

waterside / santa cruz del islote, colombia

boats / santa cruz del islote, colombia

family / santa cruz del islote, colombia

hammock / santa cruz del islote, colombia

smiles / santa cruz del islote, colombia

the smiling shy boy / santa cruz del islote, colombia

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