Weekend getaways in Colombia are often inexpensive and easy to do, especially last-minute. When a festivo hits on a Monday, you can bet much of the country is planning to travel, even if it’s just to the next municipio. Following the locals, I packed a bag early Saturday afternoon and boarded a Berlinas bus to Playa el Rodadero for the holiday fin de semana.
After an uneventful 2-hour ride, arriving to Carroll’s Hostel, with its security-camera front gate and sprawling, bright white facade, was a treat for bus-weary eyes. A chat with the proprietor Alan revealed that Carroll’s hostel was, until recently, a private home for a family of four.
Proving to have potential as a hostel, the large stone balconies stretched over a spacious patio, and a crystal-blue pool reflected the afternoon sun. Travelers relaxing on lounge chairs sipped chilled Club Colombias as a mature turtle greeted guests ascending the stone steps to reception.
Carroll’s optimum location is a short walk to the centro of Playa el Rodadero, where the evening included a treat of watching the sunset with locals and weekend vacationers. A ten-minute bus ride from historical Santa Marta, Rodadero is reminiscent of many classic beach towns, with a main avenue (and occasional chaotic traffic), reasonably priced souvenir shops and mid-priced restaurants serving local cuisine.
In the heart of centro is a beach-boardwalk area dotted with street food stands, vendors squeezing mouthwatering jugos, and artisans selling their wares, including several working their crafts in demonstration. By day, the beach of Rodadero is filled with sunbathers soaking in the Colombian heat and families enjoying plates of pescado frito and patacones.
At night the beach is a spectacle of sand-dredged fiestas – groups gathered and dancing to cumbia, salsa and champeta, with the occasional live Vallento group playing traditional songs for tips. The dark spaces and light reflecting off the Bahia de Gaira makes for a moody, lively atmosphere, like a outdoor discoteca, interrupted humorously by happy kids running around in shorts and sandals.
Playa Rodadero tends to be over-crowded on many festivo weekends; a quick getaway to nearby Playa Blanca is easily had for $10000 COP and a 15-minute, slightly bumpy ride in an open-air lancha.
One company, Casa Linda SAS, has well-dressed muchachos strolling the beach, offering tickets and ushering clients to the nearby shack, where a serviceperson will slowly write out a fractura for you to board the next lancha. As with most beach purchases, Casa Linda SAS accepts cash only, preferably (like most Colombia sales) in small bills.
Gringos, take note: the lines for the lanchas fill up fast at the shore’s edge. If you’ve ever waited in line in Colombia, you may already know most people ignore the queue, meaning you may have to stand your ground (in the sand) to avoid being passed up several times as the boat is being boarded. On this day, the Casa Linda staff putting people on the boat were not helpful, so be assertive and get on that next lancha!
Once in the lancha, wearing a life vest and getting the occasional face full of sea spray, you’ll notice the coast line is weathered and brown due to extremely low rainfall in the past year.
Rounding a stony corner, you’ll come to a beach bearing the same name as one near Cartagena: both Playa Blancas feature a small cove with crystal-clear warm water, bleached reefs of coral and soft, white sand.
On this festivo Sunday, the skies opened up and dumped rain on beach-goers, considerably strange having just passed the dry cliffs and terrain on the boat ride to Playa Blanca. “Húmedo sobre húmedo!” (wet-on-wet) a man was overheard shouting to his friend as he dove into the water. Clearly, the dark skies, which lasted about half an hour, didn’t shadow many spirits, and the beach continued to buzz with afternoon activity.
Waking to a picturesque morning on the patio of Carroll’s Hostel meant savoring an aromatic cup of rich Colombian coffee before a brisk walk to the Olimpica on Carerra 4, where a man out front offers traditional arepas asadas generously stuffed with cheese for $1500 COP (75 cents US).
Paired with a fresh-squeezed Maracuya juice ($3000 COP) from the boardwalk, this inexpensive breakfast was just enough fuel for the Berlinas return bus trip to Barranquilla. It should be noted that on festivo weekends, the ticket price jumps from $12000 COP ($6.00 US) to $18000 COP ($9.00 US), but don’t let this stop you from visiting Playa Rodadero: just one of many beautiful beach towns on Colombia’s gorgeous coast.