Rosario Islands National Park may be among the most beautiful places of which you have never heard. I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! Due primarily to the narcotics-funded civil war against the rebel FARCs, American tourists generally shy away from Colombia. Albeit, a half century of internal sparring and almost 250,000 deaths and disappearances (80% of whom were civilians) are sure to put a dent in tourism. But the FARCs have been pushed into the country's interior jungle and a peace agreement is eminent (up for vote in July 2016). I predict Cartagena is going to BOOM in the coming years and Rosario Islands will be a huge pull! I feel so fortunate to have experienced it now.
Our AirBNB host from Hotel Playa Manglares, Olga, arranged this excursion for us (about US$30 per family). We joined two Belgian girls for a day of boating, snorkeling, and lunch on a private beach in Rosario Islands. After a half hour boat ride through the bay, we passed through an inlet (or outlet?) and village on the edge of Isla Baru that opened up to a sparkling, shallow coral sea dotted with tiny private islands. Oh shimmering greens and blues! How I love thee!!
Our local guides spoke zero English (at least to us). At our first stop, we linked up with another small boat. A guy held up a giant lobster and said something in Spanish. After a bit of back and forth coupled with much gesticulation, we determined he was saying "hey, this is lunch. do you want it or not?" We did and we ordered (roughly $25 per person).
Our boat sped off, but halted a short distance later. Our guides handed us some snorkeling gear. That was our clue to jump in and feast on the underwater visual delight of the coral reef below. Once I got the hang of it (hint: blow-spit OUT when your mouth fills with salt water), I finally relaxed and enjoyed the multi-colored fish and magnificent reef just a few feet below the water's surface.
After about an hour of snorkeling, our guides took us to a private beach for lunch -- and shopping, apparently. We were immediately accosted by a local artist named Ronaldo who proceeded to dispense his entire showcase on the sand. His work was actually quite good and my man C (eventually) negotiated him down to US$40 for three figurines, a turquoise necklace and matching earrings. He left with a salute to C, saying "good negotiating, man." #winning
We enjoyed about a half hour of sun-bathing and swimming, all the while watching a huge black cloud encroach upon our sunny beach. Our guides set up a table and chairs on the beach - we were the only people on this beach. Our freshly-grilled lobsters, along with plantain cakes, rice, and tomato salad, arrived promptly. All were delicious! Again, our Colombian guides were attentive and accommodating. One of our Belgian friends did not eat lobster, so they went the extra mile(s) to get her grilled chicken. Just as her food arrived, the guides told us to grab everything and run up the stairs. The storm broke just as we took cover in an empty house, wherein we finished eating, drinking, and discussing the world as the storm raged outside.
Once the skies finally cleared, we gathered again in the boat and headed back to Olga's Hotel Playa Maglares, finishing off the day with another round of mojitos!