“Don’t move!” said the pilot of the lancha, which seemed an odd request to make in a boat that hadn’t even made it past the beach. Already, the water was pouring in past our feet and the woman behind me was screaming about her camera.
“Turn around, turn AROUND!” Her husband repeated the request in Spanish. “I have a one thousand dollar camera in here,” she said, holding the bag over her head, which was still dripping from the first wave that washed over us.
The pilot grimaced and tried to calm people’s nerves for a moment, then began bailing the water from around his feet. I think that’s when he decided it was hopeless and turned us back toward the beach.
We went over the side in knee deep water and had another operator on us shortly. “I have a bigger boat over here,” he told us. “Better for the waves.”
On the beach behind the Nuevo Hospital de Bocagrande on the western tip of Cartagena, several lanchas (small, single engine boats that take multiple passengers on short trips) ply their trade. Some of them are larger than others, and when the wind picks up, you wonder how the small ones even stay upright.
The hospital is a short cab ride from the Old City, and as soon as you’re out of your cab you will likely have someone attempting to interest you in a particular boat. Nobody’s pushy about it, but if the waves are up you’re going to want to go check out the boats for yourself. It’s a short walk down the beach to the landing zone where you pick your ideal boat to ferry you to your destination. Our destination was Punta Arenas, a small beach community on an island whose name literally means “Bomb Land.”
A lancha loads up in rough seas.
Isla Tierra Bomba’s beaches may not be as pristine as the ones at Playa Blanca, but they do have the advantage of being in an area that feels very far away from the city life in Cartagena. Punta Arenas is a small fishing village that only just started working in a tourist trade, with a hotel and a few beachfront restaurant operations where they will pick a table and chairs out of the back and set them in the sand for you under one of the thatched roofs.
The beach itself is quite pretty, though you’ll have to keep an eye out for dirt bikes and four wheelers running up and down along the surf. The riders are all sharp, though. You never get the feeling anyone is about to get hit. The real draw, however, is the ability to sit on a beach and eat a meal of fish right out of the sea and drink a beer with your toes in the sand while staring across the water at the glitzy high rises of Bocagrande.
The menu at these places is about as simple as it gets. A waiter brings out a plate with four or five different types of fish on it, and you point at the one you want. They cook it up, throw on a couple sides, and serve it to you whole with an ice cold beer (should you want one).
The return trip is usually arranged beforehand with the pilot of your lancha. Let them know what time you want to come back, and they’ll be there to pick you up (if you do this, you pay for the return trip in advance). Or, if you only want to pay one way, you can negotiate your return with whomever you want at whatever time you are done. Just be aware you might get stuck with a small boat in rough seas, as happened to a few people I saw trying to get off the beach in the late afternoon.
Once back on the other side, next to the Bocagrande Hospital, you make your way back to wherever you are staying.
HEADS UP: If you wearing wet clothes or have sandy shoes, taxis WILL NOT pick you up, because taxis in Cartagena are apparently not waterproof. Several cabs refused to stop for us and the three that did all refused us because we were too wet. One cabbie even felt our shorts like he wanted to check the material, then drove off. I knew I should have worn velvet.
So if you want a cab ride, bring a change of clothes for after the trip. Otherwise, be prepared for the walk back to town, which is about four kilometers and perfectly pleasant. We fell in line with several hundred other people making their way home, and it was actually a pretty nice way to go once we settled into the inevitability of it. It made it feel like a citywide beach outing, which considering it was a Sunday on a holiday weekend, it probably was.
The Nuevo Hospital de Bocagrande is located at Calle 5a, #6-49 in the Bocagrande section. Any cab driver in the city will know what you mean when you say Hospital Bocagrande. The boats are lined up on the beach behind it. You can’t miss them.