This past weekend we headed over to the closest island to Cartagena, Isla Tierra Bomba. It was one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Colombia.
Tierra Bomba is a small island right across the bay from Cartagena. It is known for its white sand beaches and relaxed environment. There are far fewer beach vendors, and they are definitely not as pushy as the vendors in Cartagena, which is one of the main reason people opt for the island’s beaches.
The only way to get to the island is by boat. The boats are near the hospital in Castillogrande. To get there, you can take any bus marked “Castillogrande” or “Bocagrande” because the hospital is at the intersection of the two neighborhoods.
If you book ahead of time, your hotel or club will most likely give you a complimentary boat ride over. If not, you’ll have to haggle for one yourself.
We did not book ahead of time, so we were on our own. We declined all of the guys trying to sell us packages and headed straight for the boats. After asking around, we found that most of the boats wanted $20,000 each way. We talked one guy down to $15,000 each way. From what I’ve read, this is pretty much the lowest you will get.
The boat ride is only about 10 minutes, so there’s not even really time to get seasick. And, as is always the case in Cartagena, it is not cold in the slightest.
Hotels and hostels
There are three or four “towns” on the island of Tierra Bomba. Through online research, I found that Punta Arena was safe for tourists and had the best beaches.
Punta Arena is on the side of the island that faces Cartagena. From the beach, you can see the beautiful El Laguito/Castillogrande skyline. Look to your right, and you can see the ships and cranes in Manga.
If you’ve read my other posts, you know that I generally tell you NOT to book activities online in Cartagena, because you can get them much cheaper in person and by paying in pesos instead of USD, euros, pounds, etc. We did not book online ahead of time, and I actually think that was the wrong choice here for three reasons:
1. We had to pay for the boat across. Our hotel would have taken us over for free (I think this is the case with many of the hotels, so make sure you confirm with them.) We did end up taking the hotel’s complimentary shuttle back, so we were only out $15,000 instead of $30,000.
2. We paid more. Booking.com showed a price of $276,000, but we paid $308,000. So, not a lot more, but still…
3. We thought we could talk the restaurants down to $8,000 each for meals, just like we did on Playa Blanca (they are the same exact meal, afterall!). This was one of the MOST disappointing parts of Tierra Bomba. For the same meal – fish or chicken with rice and salad – they were charging $25,000-30,000!!! We had to tuck our tails between our legs and upgrade our hotel package to include meals. It ended up being $19,500 per meal instead of $30,000.
We had expected to go around to all of the hotels in the area and ask prices. Booking.com had about 8 hotels for the whole island, so we figured there were probably at least 3 times more than that because Colombian businesses just don’t use the internet very much.
But that was not the case. There were only two hostels and two hotels where they dropped us off.
We asked a guy about other hotels that I had seen online, and he pointed across a small cove to two other hotels, which were only accessible by boat from where we were. So make sure you tell your boat captain which hotel you are staying at, or which you want to check out, so he can drop you off at the right place.
We stayed at the Hotel Isla Arena Plaza. It was alright. They had a pool and pretty nice rooms for Colombia, plus we got the free boat ride and cabana. I would definitely recommend this option over its next door neighbor, Hotel Tropical Inn, which was twice as expensive and didn’t look very impressive.
Our room did have this cute little Colombian patio, which I liked.
You may not want to book online if you just want to go for the day. I’m assuming it’s probably cheaper if you DIY this one:
1. $15,000 for the boat ride to Tierra Bomba (for two)
2. $20,000 for chairs and a cabana
3. $50,000 for lunch for two
4. $15,000 for the boat ride back to Cartagena
If you can find a pasadia ticket that includes all of this for less than $100,000 (for two) or $75,000 (for one) than it’s worth it. Otherwise, just do it yourself.
Punta Arena has white sand beaches, which would have been really beautiful if not for the usual trash in the water that you find everywhere here. And the water was very cloudy. I’m not sure if the white sand is so fine that it just gets mixed in the water, but that was kind of disappointing.
That being said, I would still definitely recommend making a trip to Tierra Bomba. If you are an avid beach goer like we are, it’s a great place to sit and read a book in a fairly tranquil environment.
This was pretty much our home for the 48 hours we were on Tierra Bomba.
Here’s how to make your trip to Tierra Bomba great:
- Book online and arrange your boat ride with the hotel by phone or email.
- Try to get a hotel plan or pasadia ticket with meals included.
- Bring lots of snacks for in between meals. We did not see a single tiendita in our area, so grocery shopping is out.
- Bring lots of water. I don’t even know where we would have gotten water if we hadn’t brought a big jug. Our hotel had a water cooler, but the water was really gross, no doubt just from the tap (which is not safe to drink on this island, from what we’ve read).
- Try to get a cabana that is the furthest away from the hotels or bars. You’re in Colombia, so they are definitely going to blast music.
- Watch out for mototaxis speeding down the sand, and jetskis driven by novices.
- Enjoy the lack of pushy beach vendors!