Looking for beaches off the beaten path I came upon the town of Tolu.
It’s a sleepy little tourist town 3 hours south of Cartagena on the Caribbean Gulf of Morrosquillo.
It’s a $50 plane ride from Medellin, or an 8 hour bus ride from Medellin and/or Bogota. The town caters to middle class Colombian tourists during holidays and the weekends and it seems they want to keep this place to themselves.
The Town of Tolu
If it’s peace and tranquility you’re looking for then it’s probably best to visit during the weekdays when the town is relatively quiet.
Because on the weekends Tolu is bustling boom-boom town with music blaring from every bar, restaurant and bicycle taxi ambling along the malecon boardwalk – jut the way the Colombian tourists like it. Everyone travels in bicycle rickshaws or what they call bicitaxis, outfitted with boom boxes and accommodating anywhere from 3-10 people. It’s a nice place to unwind in a town with everything you need.
Tolu has plenty of good, inexpensive hotels (a quaint hotel facing the sea with a double bed, private bathroom, t.v. with 70 channels -3 in English, air conditioning and a ceiling fan – $18 a night) and numerous seaside restaurants (steak dinner of carne asada or red snapper for $8).
If you want to get off the gringo trail this is the place to go – I didn’t see another foreigner the whole time I was there.
The beaches in Tolu are narrow, sandy and crowded during the weekend but catching a local bus south 10 minutes from town will take you to Playa Blanca. Here large, sandy beaches with seaside bars, cabanas, hotels and palm trees run for 5 kilometers all the way to the town of Convenas which is the terminal of the oil pipeline from the oilfields of Venezuela.
From Convenas one can catch another bus to Lorica and get a collective taxi to San Bernardino del Viento. The whole trip from Tolu is an hour and the beaches in town are not much to look at. The best beach in town was a few miles outside of town. For $3 a guy took me out to the docks on the back of his motorcycle. Here a nice long dock stretches out to the sea with numerous bars and restaurants along a beautiful sandy beach lined with palm trees and scattered driftwood. It’s a good place to spend the day.
Islands of San Bernardo
Day trips from Tolu include daily tours to the Islands of San Bernardo which is a national coral park called ‘Il Parque Nacionale Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo’. It protects 72 percent of the coral reefs in Colombia and has numerous beaches, lagoons and mangroves.
The tours depart from the dock of the Club Nautico Mundo Marino at the south of Tolu at 8:30 in the morning. The tour is $20 round trip and it’s a 7 hour tour to the islands of Mangle, Isolote, Toripan, Mucura, Manavill, Palma, Pianda and Santa Cruz. The tours include lunch at Mucura which has a number of shacks along the white sand beaches serving seafood lunches. There’s a 3-4 hour lunch and beach break at Mucura.
Another local trip from Tolu is a guided trip in a mangrove swamp
Take a local bus from Tolu, a quick 15 minute trip, and get off at the bridge going over the mouth of the river Cienega. There are huts and canoes parked on the banks where for $8 per person they will arrange a hour and a half canoe tour of the mangrove swamp. Here the salt and fresh water mix and red mangrove trees with their spaghetti roots reach out into the water. There are barracuda and lots of birds, turtles and fish in the swamp. Locals say the best fishing occurs when it rains and a lot of fresh water floods the swamp. The salt water fish try to escape downriver back to sea – that’s when the fishing is optimal and also the price of fish on the market goes down.
(For more on the beaches of Colombia see the following articles:)
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