As Colombia becomes a safer place to travel, tourists are arriving in ever greater numbers, from cruise ship passengers to gap year backpackers. Consequently, it’s becoming harder to get away from the crowds, but there’s one place just a few hours along the coast from Cartagena that sees comparatively few foreign travellers – Tolú. It’s a seaside town popular with Colombians, but its rustic beaches make for a wonderful escape from the gringo trail.
Tolú is a laid back town with a pleasant sea front and an Afro Caribbean vibe. The best way of getting around is to walk or take a bicitaxi. These are similar to Asian rickshaws, but are uniquely Latin American, with salsa and cumbia music blaring out from their loudspeakers. About 20 kilometres away is Coveñas which also has good and less developed beaches. Between the two off the main road lie many beach front cabins, but I opted to make Tolú my base.
A short moto taxi ride away is the idyllic Playa del Francés, which was empty during the week. Most places were closed, but I had an amazing if pricey seafood casserole at the Camino Verde resort.
The next day I took a boat trip to the Islas de San Bernardo. Many agencies offer this excursion, but I found it a bit too touristy. It’s the only way to visit though. We passed Santa Cruz del Islote, the most densely populated island in the world, which basically looked like a floating slum, then had several hours to laze on the sands at Isla Múcura and eat fried fish. On the return journey in the speed boat the waves had picked up and sitting at the back like I was pretty much guarantees you’re in for a soaking. Given the heat, it was actually quite welcome.
Another great day out involved taking a canoe into the Ciénaga de Caimanera, a swampland where caimans can be found. However, the main attraction is to glide through narrow canals lined with mangroves along whose roots you can see crabs scuttling up and down. It lies midway between Tolú and Coveñas and afterwards I caught a mototaxi to Playa Blanca, another beautiful beach with incredibly warm waters.
On my last day I went to Palo Blanco where you can eat yet more fried fish right on the beach. Tolú’s popularity with foreigners is growing, but right now it’s a much cheaper destination than other places along the coast. You probably do need some Spanish to get by, however, particularly when bargaining with boatmen and motorbike taxi drivers.
Tolú has been the perfect ending to my time on the Caribbean and I know I’m going to miss the heat when I head to Medellín next week. Medellín was once terrorised by drug gangster Pablo Escobar and even five years after his death when I was last in Colombia, it was still too dangerous to visit. Now it’s firmly on the tourist map.