Diving in the San Bernado Islands
Bitten, bruised and about to be burnt…
Given that we suffered a few bites and bruises on the trek, it was time to get some rest and relaxation. Besides just chilling out on the beach, I also wanted to get in a few days of diving in the Caribbean.
We jumped on a boat from Cartagena out to the San Bernardo Islands, a set of nine coastal coral islands and one artificial island, Santa Cruz del Islote. These islands tend to be known mostly by the locals, so it is the perfect off-the-beaten path Caribbean getaway, and once you get there, you’ll see it really feels like it is a million miles from anywhere.
As it turns out, there isn’t a ton of diving in these islands – many people learn to dive near Santa Marta, but these islands tend to be more local. Fortunately, I managed to find Juan Rios Buceo & Mar, who I had messaged with in advance to arrange a few days of diving. The shop is located on Tintipan, but they were happy to pick up divers from neighbouring islands. The water was calm and warm, so warm that I didn’t even need a wetsuit! And the diving was fun – Alejandro and the team was very helpful and friendly, and it was clear waters with a lot of coral.
In terms of accommodations, most tend to be on Mucura, Tintipan or Isla Palma, but there are a couple of hostels that are just floating out there on their own – the most well known is Casa en El Agua, which is literally a hostel floating in the sea, and is basically the place to party. While it sounded fun, it is known to be packed and it was unclear if sleeping was an option at all (plus some reviews had bed bugs in question). So we opted for Isla Roots, a neighboring floating hostel, technically located on Tintipan.
Isla Roots has a great story, making it an even more special place to have selected. Isla Roots was once a summer house and Tuto, Hugo, and Jessica rented the house and have now turned it into a hostel. It’s fairly new, opening just six months ago. They currently employee 7 people from Islote and have 5 volunteers on site as well. Their goal is to create a space where traveller can come and feel like family – they goal is to adapt the same culture as Islote has, and give travels who may be away from home for months, a feeling of home.
What is this culture of Islote? Santa Cruz del Islote is a manmade, concrete island and tends to be where most of the local workers live. It is one of the most densely populated islands on earth. While there is no beach, swimming pools or hotels, there are 540 people residing here, 94 houses, 4 stores, 1 hospital and 1 school. The island is known to be a peaceful village with no locks on the doors, and in fact, the doors are left open – at night, dozens of people gather into each others homes like family. They hug, they care about each other, and when you ask them, most of the locals say they enjoy living there.
Overall, it was a nice getaway – we spent the three days swimming, beaching, diving, visiting neighbouring islands, and just hanging out at Isla Roots. Our last evening was a bonfire on the back beach, which was a perfect way to end our island getaway.