Tolu, Covenas and the Islas San Bernardo
Little parcels of paradise on the Colombian Caribbean that – close enough to be reached in a few hours from Cartagena – should be on every traveller’s itinerary.
While tourists visiting Colombia are happy to while away days wandering the colourful and historic streets of colonial Cartagena and then head on a careening bus further up the coast to Santa Marta to seek out the beaches of Rodadero, Taganga and then Parque Tayrona, very few know to head in the other direction to the beaches and islands that are found to the West of Cartagena.
Tolu and Covenas
These two towns – some 30 minutes apart by a decent highway – are little more than functional Colombian Caribbean cities. Functional in that they have ATMs, pharmacies, hotels, restaurants and everything you might need but are far from scenic. Tolu would be better referred to as a port than a tourist destination as its beaches leave a little to be desired. However, the beaches in the vicinity of Covenas are far better, complimented by warm waters, wide stretches of sand and decent hotels in which to spend a few days.
Tourist Attractions in Tolu and Covenas
Tour guides and companies scour the beaches around and about these parts eagerly interrupting holidaymakers lathering themselves in high factor sun-block informing them of the other opportunities in the region. Trips can be made into the Cienaga in the early morning to watch the egrets rising up from the swamps and hunting their next meal. Not far from here there is a mud volcano where one can make a full body immersion into the healing sludge and perhaps taking the edge off that previous days’ burn. While these trips are fun and of course worthwhile the real day trip is out far into the outer reaches of the Gulf of Morrosquillo to spend some time on the San Bernardo Islands.
Islas San Bernardo
For those not lucky enough to be staying on the Decameron 5 star resort on Isla Palma then the trip begins from Tolu. From here you speed out for more or less an hour until the tiny dots become larger forms and then finally can be distinguished as islands. Some are private, others are uninhabited natural reserves and then others are frankly anomalies. La Islote is the latter – imagine if you will an island measuring 600m in diameter that is home to almost 1000 inhabitants and therefore is the most populated island in the world for its size. Most tours take in Isla Palma to see the Aquarium which hosts a variety of endangered marine turtles in cramped conditions and other curiosities. From here you make another short boat ride to either Isla MucuraTintipan to have a lunch of fried fish and work on that burn on a pristine beach. or
What to bring
- Lots of high factor sun block and a hat.
- Water – drinks on the islands are expensive.
How to get here
From Cartagena there are buses more or less every half an hour (3-4 hours)
From Mompox one can make connections in Magangue or El Banco.
From Medellin there are frequent buses.
Where to Stay
Between Tolu and Covenas there are literally hundreds of hotels of all qualities. High season (any long weekend, Semana Santa and the run up to Christmas from December 15) will herald the arrival of hundreds of people from Medellin and places book up fast. In low season one can negotiate prices right down.