Baru Island Tour with Taroa Adventures – Life in the Cartagena Islands

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Sitting southwest of the city, Baru Island is one of the most interesting Cartagena islands on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There are beautiful beaches, dense mangrove forests and plenty of flora and fauna on each Cartagena island. Yet Baru Island has something other Cartagena islands don’t have.

Sure, there are tourists and beach bums at Playa Blanca, the Rosario Islands, and other Cartagena Island destinations. Yet what sets Baru Island apart is that it has a community and a culture all its own. In fact, many of the people working those Cartagena boat trips and Cartagena island tours live on Baru Island. We teamed up with Taroa Adventures to visit the island they call home.

cover Baru island tour with Taroa Adventures

People of the Cartagena Islands – A Baru Island Tour with Taroa Adventures

With its Caribbean breezes and Spanish colonial past, Colombia’s Cartagena islands are great travel destinations. People come to Cartagena from around the world to kitesurf, wander the colorful streets, and take selfies on old Spanish fortresses. Many also take Cartagena island tours to Islas Rosario or Tierra Bomba for the day. For these kinds of Cartagena island tours, the goal is to swim and chill on white sands, cocktail in hand. We thought about this too, but with the time we had allotted, we chose instead to go behind the scenes of the usual Cartagena boat trips and take Taroa Adventures’ Baru Island day trip.

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with Taroa Adventures Cartagena Islands PIN 3

Why This Cartagena Island Tour?

cartagena island tour village

cartagena boat trips

Why visit Baru Island? And why take this particular Cartagena Island tour with Taroa Adventures? Sure, there are other boat trips in Cartagena that take you to beautiful places. Yet for us, we wanted to pull back the curtain and learn a little more about the people who live here. 

Authentic Cartagena Island Experience

Together with Taroa Adventures, our guide took us to where the people of Baru Island live and work. We snacked, met locals, heard stories and played music. By the time we left, we felt like we had a better understanding of a small sliver of Colombian society. Even better, we still had good food and a few dips in the azure waves of the Caribbean. Here are a few tips and highlights from our Baru Island tour in Cartagena Colombia.

Touring Baru Island colombia

cartagena baru island tour

making friends on Baru Island

Pickup & Introduction to Taroa Adventures

Our guide was Olinto Angarita, or “Oli” for short. We quickly learned that this is what everyone called him as we got closer to the village. Born and raised in Cartagena, Oli worked for a natural gas company. He was stationed on Baru Island, where he got to know a lot of the locals, who treated him like part of the village. Eventually, Oli decided to leave his job and bring travelers like us to experience Baru Island culture. Taroa Adventures was the result.

Oli picked us up at our hotel at 8 am sharp. After a brief explanation of the day’s itinerary, we settled into his 4-wheeler. Then we drove south, past Cartagena city, the port and the industrial center. The last 25 minutes are on a rocky unpaved road to the village. As we drew closer, people waved and shouted Oli’s name. He was obviously a popular guy around here.

snack during Taroa Adventures tour

local games on Baru Island

Arrival at Baru Island, Colombia

Once in the village, it was snack time. Oli walked us to a nearby table where he handed us egg and seafood arepas still hot from the kitchen. We gobbled these up and met Elio, who would be our village guide. Elio spoke mostly Spanish, which Oli interpreted in real time. Also joining our group was Mauro, a local 8-year-old who had recently taken an interest in Oli and the people he brings to the village. Mauro ended up hanging out with us for most of the day.

As we walked through the village, Elio pointed out different architectural elements to the houses and their meaning. Then we went to one of the local wells. Here we heard a little about the history of the village and local lore, such as legends of how witches helped the village find water in days past. Then we played a local game called Bate de Tapitas. Think of it like baseball, but instead of ball and bat they play with a broomstick and bottle caps.

Cartagena Islands Music

drum lesson with Taroa adventures 3

drum lesson

Afterward, we went to Casa Amarilla, a small community center where locals play music and display their art. The walls were covered floor to ceiling with paintings and sculptures. Oli told us a little about some of the local artists on Baru Island, most of them under twenty years old. Then we met a group of local drummers, all in their teens. They introduced themselves one at a time, with Oli interpreting for them. Some had been studying percussion for only a few months, while others for nearly a decade.

With Oli narrating, they demonstrated each drum type they use as well as various musical styles. We heard cumbia, merengue, and many others. The more experienced boys were showmen in the making, while younger ones were still achingly shy. But once the drumming began, each was in his element. Then it was our turn to try. Oli helped lead us through a variety of different beats. We would lay down the foundation, and then the boys would improvise over the top. It was lots of fun.

Into the Mangroves: Cartagena Island Waterways

mangrove boat trip cartagena

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After the hot and breezeless cultural center, we were ready to cool off, so we stopped by a local bodega and had a cold drink. Then it was time to jump on the boat and head into the mangroves. The Baru village sits on the edge of a lagoon. As we approached, we saw loads of white, egret-like waterbirds in the distance. Then we plunged into mangrove pathways, some almost like a tunnel.

Soon after, we stopped at three beaches. The first was obviously a local party spot, with music blaring and shaded palapas halfway submerged in the water. This was a brief stop — basically just to pick up ceviche samples for everyone. Then we were on our way to the next destination, a local beach with almost no one around. The beach didn’t even have a name yet. Oli told us we were free to go for a dip or relax on the sand as we liked, while he and the boat captain would wait for us.

Baru Island Beaches

baru island beach

lunch on the playa during cartagena island tour

Our final destination was Playa Agua Azul, a more developed Cartagena island beach where we would have our lunch. We sat under a shaded tent on plastic chairs while the kids took a quick dip in the waves in front of us. Then it was time to eat. We each had our own fish (grilled or fried) along with coconut rice, patacones (plantain fritters) and a beverage. Good stuff. As we ate, various locals came by to talk to Oli and to sell their wares. Some sold necklaces and other jewelry, while others sold everything from fresh oysters to sliced mango. We chilled here for a while longer to digest, then went for a final dip.

Eventually, it was time to start heading back. After one last roam through the mangroves, we arrived back at the village, where we changed out of our wet clothes and climbed back into Oli’s truck. After saying our farewells, we rode back to Cartagena tired and happy.

Baru Island Tour Tips

drum lesson wit Taroa adventures

art on Baru island

Thinking of taking Taroa Adventures’ Baru Island Tour or some other Cartagena Island Tour? Keep these things in mind.

Prepare for the Heat

Cartagena is hot. The Cartagena islands are hotter. Make sure to lather up with sunscreen if you need it, and bring a sun hat. Most importantly, bring water. Lots of it. At the time of writing, the Taroa Adventures tour of Baru Island includes snacks and lunch but not water. We brought several 2-liter bottles and finished them all.

Buying Opportunities

During any Cartagena Islands tour, you’ll likely be approached by someone selling snacks, souvenirs and the like. It could be sun hats or fresh-cut fruit. The same thing happens on the beaches of this Baru Island tour. Many of the sellers know Oli, and so they stop by to talk. Of course, they’re going to see if you’re interested in their wares. If interested, go for it. Just make sure to have small bills because they may not have change. That said, you’re not obligated to buy anything, so a polite “No” will be accepted as well.

Bring Dry Clothes

Any Cartagena island tour will involve some swimming opportunities, so make sure you have something dry to put on afterward. Heck, even if I didn’t swim at all, I would have wanted to put on clean shirt free of sweat and sand after a day exploring.

Our Verdict: Taroa Adventures 

local pets on Baru island tour

Baru Island Colombia Tour comp 3

We greatly enjoyed our village tour and Cartagena boat trip with Taroa Adventures. It was both fun and educational. Olinto obviously is passionate about introducing the community to the world and helping those who live there. There were a good variety of activities — from village drums to mangroves and beaches — and the food was delicious and filling. We felt safe and taken care of the entire time. The main issue is heat and staying hydrated. We hope you enjoy this Cartagena tour as much as we did!

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Baru Island Tour with Taroa Adventures Cartagena Islands PIN 1

with Taroa Adventures Cartagena Islands PIN 3

with Taroa Adventures Cartagena Islands PIN 2

Disclaimer: Our Baru Island tour and Cartagena Boat Trip were sponsored by Taroa Adventures, but my views are my own and recommend this with sincerity. Also, this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something or book a hotel in Cartagena using one of the links here, we might get a small commission. You pay nothing extra, so don’t worry. Also, everything you see here is just my personal opinion. I only recommend places, activities, and gear that I believe will genuinely help you get most out of Colombia travel.