One of the highlights of my recent trip to Colombia was the visit to the National Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo. A natural reservation of choral reefs in the warm waters of the Caribbean and a collection of little islands with beautiful beaches, lagoons, and vegetation. We stayed in one of these islands, the one called Isla Grande, for a few days and had a wonderful time swimming, scuba diving, walking, and riding bicycles.
Getting to the Isla Grande is very easy. From Cartagena de Indias it takes approximately 45 minutes to get there. “Lanchas” (speed boats) depart from the Marina Santa Cruz and the Muelle de los Pegasos every morning. We took the lancha in the Marina that is close to the industrial port with mountains of containers and huge cranes. After a jumpy journey towards the south-west we disembarked at one of the beaches of the Isla grande, called “Cocotetera.” Near this beach there is a sort of hostal where it is possible to camp with a tent or to hang out hammocks in trees.
Inside Isla Grande there is a community of afro-colombians who have been living there for many years. They have built a little town in the middle of the island and have created paths for exploring the territory. The town is called Orica and as the following picture shows it is composed of a few houses.
After talking to some of the islanders we realized that it was possible to rent bicycles from them. We made some arrangements and had access to mountain bikes for a day. For our surprise, the island was smaller than we imagined and after a couple of hours we have covered most of the trails. Those trails revealed how the economy of the island depends on the beaches, the hostels, hotels, and, of course, the fishing. The following is the geo-drawing of our ride:
I was fascinated by differences between the interior of the island and the borders of it, with the wild vegetation that surrounded the trails and the calm and sandy beaches of the coast, with the local community and the tourist infrastructure. This image reveals the kind of thick vegetation that surrounds the trails.
The native islanders have encountered a great way to re-use plastic bottles as a sort of material for building walls and fences for their houses.
All of them seem pretty friendly and enjoy a calm life that is not isolated from technology. For instance, we have an encounter with an “ice-seller” who was hanging out under a mango tree, sat in a plastic chair, and using a cellphone in what it seemed an engaged conversation.
Although the most colorful vegetation and varied fauna is underwater in this National Park, the manglares (mangroove) are amazing trees that surround the lagoons that are formed with the sea water. These trees create a lively ecosystem that is very rich in nutrients for fish.
Visiting the lagoon “Laguna Encantada” at night can reveal some of the powerful nutrients that grow in the mangrove ecosystem. If you enter the lagoon and swim, your movement will cause many micro-organisms (called dinoflagellates) to produce phosphorescent light in the water. The experience is very unique and although it could be a little bit scary due to the darkness of the night it is definitely worth it and I recommend it to every visitor of the island. Interacting with these organisms and their light, while you swim in a very dark water is a moment of happiness. I couldn’t take any picture of the lagoon at night nor of the phosphorescent organisms but here is one of the Laguna Encantada during the day.
Of course, exploring the underwater is also fantastic in this Park. All of the beaches that we visited in the Isla Grande are available for swimming and snorkeling. The temperature of the water is 20 to 30 centigrade degrees so it is really pleasant to swim. We did both, snorkeling near the beaches and also scuba diving near some choral reefs that you can reach renting a boat. Both experiences are great. We saw star fish, sea urchins, lobsters, calamaris, a variety of chorals and many species of colorful little fish.
I almost forgot to mention one of the most attractive things to do in this National Park, relaxing. Isla Grande is a wonderful location for unplugging oneself from the routine and the city life. It is great place to experience wilderness, to exercise, to listen to unknown sounds, and see new things. This was my second time in the island after almost 5 years. I am sure I will come back.