A fantastically exuberant festival, a walled city steeped in history and a tropical island paradise miles from the mainland — talk about an eclectic itinerary. I was off to Colombia, a country known for its vitality, history and beauty, and I was ready to experience all three.
The Carnaval de Barranquilla is the second-biggest in the world and, as I quickly found out, not an event to be taken lightly. Even as I entered the airport, I felt the electric energy. Musicians played hot music while scantily dressed Barranquilla beauties offered incoming passengers cold beers, Cokes and paper Carnaval hats. The entire town was in party mode.
I went to street parties, attended two enormous parades full of elaborate floats and hundreds of costumed dancers, drank my fair share of local beer and generally soaked up the atmosphere. It was great, but after a few days of non-stop action, it was time to leave the party and head for the next stop on my itinerary: the historic port city of Cartagena.
Founded in the 14th century, the colonial walled part of the city and the fortress became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. I sipped rich Colombian coffee and local wine alfresco in broad, cobblestone plazas while local musicians serenaded visitors. I explored an early-morning fish and produce market, checked out original art in tiny boutiques and took a historic walking tour of the old city. It was a wonderful interval and I hated to leave, but I had one more stop to make before leaving Colombia — an island in the middle of the Caribbean for a couple of days of complete veg time.
Two strapping guys manning a sleek, modern speedboat met me at the Cartagena harbor. They stowed my luggage and, as I climbed in, handed me a life jacket and safety instructions. I settled into a cushy seat, and we shot off across the water with no destination in sight.
It was a two-hour trip, but unlike Gilligan and his friends, the tropical isle we were headed for was inhabited. Isla Múcura lies in the middle of the Caribbean in the district of Bolívar off the northern coast of Colombia. One of the 10 islands that make up the San Bernardo Archipelago, it is surrounded by the country’s only underwater park, Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo National Natural Park.
After just under two hours on the open sea, we skimmed up to the Punta Faro Resort’s dock. The only resort on the island, Punta Faro occupies an idyllic setting. Lush tropical foliage and flowers surround thatch-roofed buildings that face the sparkling turquoise Caribbean Sea.
Members of the staff welcomed arriving guests and sorted out the luggage. I checked in at the thatch-roofed, open-sided lobby and reception area, enjoying the traditional fruity welcome drink. Almost immediately I felt relaxed in the friendly, inviting and casual vibe — right up my alley.
Though Punta Faro has all the comforts, don’t expect a lavish resort with designer linens and a huge staff. Rather, it’s a laid-back place where you can just let go and chill. The rooms are comfortable with fun, locally done murals; life-sized sea turtles adorned the wall of my bathroom. There is no hot water, but thanks to the tropical temperatures, it’s not necessary. Hammocks on the covered patios provide a perfect place for a siesta or a summer beach read.
After a buffet lunch of fresh fish and fruit, I strolled over to the reception area to book a spa treatment for the next morning.
Late afternoon, I met with one of the hotel staff and a few other guests for a walk to the fishing village on the other side of the island. As sunset approached, we wandered through the village and watched the fishermen pulling their boats out of the water and mending their nets. The local kids found our visit most entertaining and happily posed for photos.
I have to say by the time I got to the spa the next morning, I was already pretty relaxed. Nohelia, my therapist, met me at the door of the spa, housed in a small, thatched-roof cottage at the water’s edge. She explained that the facial would be done inside, while my massage would take place on a wooden deck overhanging the sea.
I hopped up on a spa table in the little wooden cottage and waited to be pampered and restored. After a facial steam, Nohelia showed me the machine she would use next. While the language barrier discouraged too much technical detail, from what I could glean, it would stimulate circulation. Whatever — it felt lovely as it gently hummed over the surface of my face. Next, her light-as-air fingers massaged my face and neck and applied wonderfully fresh-smelling lotions.
Just before I became too relaxed to move, we headed to the outside deck for the massage. What a treat! My muscles responded to Nohelia’s healing hands, and the ocean breezes cooled my skin. The only music was the sound of the lapping waves and bird songs. It was blissful.
I was close to comatose by the time I exited the spa cottage. However, I managed to make it back to my room, get into a bathing suit and ensconce myself on a beach bed within a few steps of the delicious sea, where I spent the rest of the day sleeping, reading, swimming and reveling in complete relaxation.
As I drifted in and out of sleep, I reflected on my stay in Colombia. It started out in high gear with the Barranquilla Carnaval, then segued into a more relaxed pace in historic Cartagena and ended with a total chill-out on a tropical beach. Could there be a more perfect itinerary?
Punta Faro Resort
San Bernardo Archipelago
tel 57 8 317 435 9583
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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