That is the small and idyllic fishermen's village Rincon del Mar, perfectly located on a white-sand beach and next to the sublime San Bernando islands, one of Colombia's treasures. In the department of Sucre, a short bus and moto-taxi ride south from the magical city of Cartagena, awaits Rincon and the staff of hostel Mamallena, who will welcome you with open arms to stay with them for a couple of relaxing days (or longer if you feel so...). Wake up with the sun rising over the Caribbean Sea. Take a day-trip to a nearby island. Go kayaking, snorkelling or paddle-boarding in the turquoise water. Spend a lazy afternoon tanning and reading a book in a hammock. Be sportive and go horseback riding around the town with a local guide. Admire the sunset on the terrace with your new Mamallena friends. Enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach, and fill your stomach with delicious and affordable shrimps, lobster and coconut rice. And then, just have a good night of sleep. Sounds tempting? It does, I know.
First of all, points for my friend A who came up with this perfect weekend trip destination. Rincon is not as touristic as Santa Marta and its surroundings, or the Rosarios islands - at least not yet. For some peace and calm, Rincon is the place to be. Also, it is very close to Cartagena if you are based there. Getting to Rincon del Mar was surprisingly easy and just enough adventurous. We ubered to the bus station - terminal de transporte - in Cartagena, from where there are busses almost every hour to a town called San Onofre (20 000 COP/6.5€). We hopped off there and made the rest of the journey on moto-taxis (10 000 COP/3€, which we negotiated to 9000, which I negotiated to 7000 by giving the driver my WhatsApp that he - for the whole 20-minute ride - so persistently asked for). I personally love riding motorcycles but if you don't fancy that, don't worry. In May/June, Mamallena will be starting a shuttle bus from Cartagena direct to Rincon del Mar. Don't forget to ask for that, when booking! Getting back from Rincon to Cartagena was even more effortless since the owner of Mamallena, extremely friendly S from Tasmania, gave us a free ride. Thank you!
S who has lived for many years in Panama and then in Colombia, has three Mamallena hostels: in Panama City, in Cartagena, and the newest one in Rincon del Mar. Make sure to check them all out if they are on your route. At Mamallena you instantly feel at home - the staff treats you as a friend, and the atmosphere is laid-back, fun and just very enjoyable.
Me and A arrived late afternoon and were hungry. They don't sell food at Mamallena (thought there is a nice kitchen if you want to cook your own meals) but instead encourage their guests to support the local community by trying out the large choice of restaurants on the beach around the hostel. If you too often find yourself complaining about how expensive fish and seafood are in restaurants in Europe, the US or elsewhere, Rincon del Mar will be a culinary heaven for you. You will enjoy different kind of grilled fish and delicious shrimps and lobster, for an average price of 20 000 pesos (6.5€). Everything is served with vegetables and coconut rice, which I can't stand but everyone I know adores. We picked one of the nearby places and asked the waiter if we could eat on the beach. He took a table and two chairs, and carried them literally to the beach, as close to the water as possible. Dinner at sunset with this view, not bad.
Our activities after dinner included a short walk around the village and reading a book in a hammock on the Mamallena terrace. We had paid 5000 COP/1.5€ extra per night for air-conditioning, and that turned out to be a wise move in order to have a whole dorm for ourselves. We were already sound asleep when around midnight we suddenly got three roommates (still no idea how they managed to get to Rincon at that time). Anyhow, we woke up early next morning and left for an island trip to the nearby Islas San Bernando (and never saw our roommates again).
Our captain was a charming guy J from Mamallena and we got company of two other hostel guests. J let us decide what we wanted to see and do, and we opted for a short stop on Santa Cruz del Islote, a longer visit at Isla Tintípan, and a snorkelling session on our way back. We decided to skip the very touristic islands such as Isla Múcura, hoping that we would see some real Caribbean scenery. And that we got, the surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful. Early in the morning there were not too many visitors yet on the islands, and we were in heaven. Take a look at these pictures from Isla Tintípan: the color of the water, the beach, us happily posing...
With its significant population compared with its small size, Santa Cruz del Islote is the most densely populated island in the world. There are around 700 people living on the tiny island, most of them descendants to the same families, who have always lived there. The population can reach to even 1200 when the children who go to school on the mainland come back home to visit their families. As the locals say "Aqui todos somos primos", they live in a tight and warm community, where doors are always open, and where families gather every night to the small central square or go watch soap-operas in their neighbours' houses. A solar energy system has been built to provide electricity for at least a couple of hours per day, and the government supplies the island with drinking water. There is a health center and a couple of shops on the island, but for other activities, the inhabitants of Santa Cruz need to take a boat to a nearby island. For example to bury the dead, since there is no place for a cemetery.
On our way from Santa Cruz to Tintípan, we sailed through the mangroves and saw some fancy private islands and luxurious hotels. I wouldn't mind spending my holidays for example here:
We all loved snorkelling/floating in the crystal-clear water, and J made the most of the break by taking a nap on our lancha.
The whole trip took some 6 hours, enough to get a nice tan and to enjoy the sea breeze (without getting seasick). And the best part of doing the island trip from Rincon del Mar: getting back meant only getting back from the islands, but staying on the beach and far from real life and big city hustle. So much nicer than going to Islas de Rosarios from Cartagena! (Which I like too, don't get me wrong.)
After late lunch (huge plates of cheap sea food again) we went swimming, and then kayaking when the sun started to set. For sunset lovers (like me), this is your place. Evening program pretty much the same: reading a book in a hammock, chilling, listening to music, cooking at the hostel, and making new travel friends. Perfect holidays.
On the third day we didn't do much. Swimming, long walks along the beach, and A kept improving her kayaking skills. We already started having routines, and I felt that I could stay in Rincon for many more days.
On the fourth day, before heading back to Cartagena, I decided to try out one last activity organized by the hostel; horseback riding (50 000 COP/16€). There was some unsureness about if only me wanting to ride a horse was worth the guide's time, but in the end he decided to come even if no one else wanted to join. Colombian time though, I was ready at 9am as planned but it wasn't until 9.40 that my guide and our horses were finally ready to go. It was amazing though, this local guy A took me for a tour on the beach, around the village and to nearby forests. It was all so peaceful and relaxing, just riding in the sun and not thinking of anything. I totally recommend!
We savoured our last moments on the beach with A, and then it was time to head back to Cartagena. Sad, but since Cartagena is my favorite place in the world, I assure you I fast got used to being back.
Rincon del Mar was great, nothing luxurious but just the ideal place for a somewhat active beach holiday. You choose if you want to go around and explore, or just stay on the beach and take it easy. With A we though first about staying one night on Isla Mucúra but in the end opted for the day trip around the San Bernando islands. This because we instantly liked Rincon and Mamallena, and figured it would be too much trouble to move us an our things to another place. After all, it doesn't really matter if you spend the evening on an island or on the mainland, as long as you get to enjoy the sunset on the beach. If you stay longer and want to see more of the San Bernando islands, you can do like our new friend J, who also stayed at Mamallena - make two day trips. Depending on the guide, the route is a bit different and can be adapted according to what you want to see and do. Whatever you choose to do, with perfect weather and the divine Caribbean scenery you can't go wrong.
I think I said the same thing last year when we traveled with my Cartagena bestie S to Palomino: you really feel on holidays when everything you do is on the beach, and two steps from where you are staying. You wake up and the sea is there, you go to sleep it is there. You step out from your room and you are on the sand. No need to dress up, a bikini and a summer-dress are fine all day long. No real roads, almost no cars to be seen. For food and drinks, everything is on the beach as well. It is so easy and stressless. And then you realize that people really live there and that their life is like that everyday, so uncomplicated. Talking with the locals you understand that they don't have to know or care about what is happening in the rest of the world. They are happy where they are, and appreciate their life as it is.
Here are some facts and tips to help you plan your stay at Mamallena and Rincon del Mar:
- For information and bookings, you may contact their Cartagena office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to specify that you want to book in Rincon del Mar, so they don't get confused.
- A bed in a dorm with fan is 25 000 COP/8.2€, with AC 30 000 COP/10€, and private rooms from 80 000 - 100 000 COP/26 - 33€.
- To get there from Cartagena: bus to San Onofre (20 000 COP/6.3€), then moto taxi (10 000 COP/3.2€). Coming soon (May 2017): direct shuttle bus between Cartagena and Rincon (45 000 COP/14€ one way, 80 000COP/25€ return ticket). If you are coming from or heading to Medellin, ask the Mamallena staff if they can organise a ride for you.
- Have enough cash with you, there are no ATMs in Rincon. The hostel staff can put your money and passport in a locker if you prefer.
- There is a small grocery store right next to the hostel, where you can buy food to cook. But all the restaurants are great!
- For all kinds of activities (island trips, snorkelling, diving, horse riding etc.) just ask at Mamallena. If for some things you need a bigger group, don't hesitate to team up with guests from the neighbour hostel Rincon del Francés.
And then, just pack your swimming suit and sun screen, and get ready to go. Rincon and Mamallena are waiting for you.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!