Our trip to Colombia this summer was truly magical. After spending months planning the perfect family vacation, we had built it up in our minds to be the trip of a lifetime. We planned to spend about 4 days in the walled city of Cartagena, followed by some time spend on an island two hours by speedboat in the San Bernardo islands. The San Bernardo Islands are lesser known islands off the coast of Cartagena, behind the much talked about Rosario Islands. We really wanted to go somewhere most people didn’t know about and couldn’t find a resort that really seemed worth visiting in the Rosario Islands. I randomly stumbled upon Isla Mucara and Punta Faro Resort through my travel contacts and knew we needed to book it immediately.
Isla Mucara is not easy to get to. A trip to the dock in Cartagena is an experience unto itself. Big crowds, tons of people trying to sell you things and very little English spoken. If it wasn’t for the help of our guide from This is Cartagena, we truly would not have known that we needed to pay cash to get on a boat to Isla Mucara. Our guide told us it was a tax. We later found out from the knowledgeable staff at Punta Faro that it is for the islands of San Bernardo and Rosario, which are in a protected national park area. And then there is the boat. It’s not big. I would say it held about 25 people. Then there is the ride. It’s a good two-hour boat ride into the middle of the Caribbean Sea. For the last hour, we saw nothing around us but blue water and sunshine. Not one tiny bit of land.
But man oh man is that crazy boat trip worth it. Speeding up to the island took us by the main part of the resort, revealing a white sand beach, towering, thin palm trees, some thatch huts for shade, a big over-water trampoline and a gorgeous dock with swings, tables and chairs and amazing views. The water was blindingly bright clear-blue and there was barely anyone on the beach. The kids were honestly speechless. When we pulled up to the boat dock, we were greeted by a friendly Colombian man named Sergio, who handed us coconuts with straws in them, sat us down and got us checked in and told us all about the San Bernardo Islands and the resort. His main points? Punta Faro is completely self-sustainable. They desalinate their own water, they generate their own electricity and they limit waste as much as possible. We were asked to keep the lights off as much as possible and not let the water run unnecessarily. In addition, no flushing of toilet paper. We had experienced this before in other countries so we weren’t too bothered. Most importantly? Punta Faro wants you to feel like family and totally at home. Rooms don’t even have keys, in keeping with an open, family feel (there are safes in the room for those concerned about valuables).
Isla Mucara and Punta Faro Resort include all meals and non-alcoholic drinks, so we were fed lunch in one of the outdoor bar/restaurant areas right after Sergio introduced us to the resort. Shortly thereafter, we were shown to our room and the staff helpfully wheeled our luggage to the room for us. The rooms are spread throughout the island and truly one with the environment….rather than a perfectly landscaped path, you walk over short green grass, surrounded by majestic palm trees and random, fallen coconuts to get to your room. The rooms are pleasantly air-conditioned and have everything a guest needs. King beds (they added two twins in ours for the kids), bathrooms with soaps and shampoos, an outdoor shower and water closets. There are also flat screen TVs, although if you prefer to watch TV in this resort, there is something seriously wrong with you. The resort keeps rooms basic for a reason – they want people outside, enjoying the weather, playing on the beach, socializing with the guests and staff. If you are looking for luxurious rooms with outdoor showers containing a rain shower shower-head and surround-sound flat screen TVs and wi-fi or a pillow selection menu and Westin-like “heavenly beds”, this is the wrong resort. I would not qualify Punta Faro as an ultra luxury resort, but I would qualify it as a luxury eco-resort.
Shortly after arriving in our room, we wanted to get to the beach as soon as possible, so we practically ran over there. The kids were amazed. The main beach area is a small area, but perfectly adequate for a large number of guests. The sand is pure white. The water clear as bath water. To the right side are cabanas with tables and chairs, to the left are huge palm trees and the watersports rental hut. In the middle? Numerous beds shaded by thatch roofs for the guests. In the water? A single thatch hut for people to sit under for conversation. Two over water hammocks. A huge over water trampoline a little bit of a swimming distance from shore. The kids and I swam out to the trampoline immediately and had an amazing time climbing the ladder, jumping for a bit and then jumping into the Caribbean Sea. Repeat. Then we sat on hammocks over blue water. Then Keith and I had a Pina Coloda. Then we sat under the thatch huts. Max became friends with 5 other Colombian boys and shared a paddleboard. Max doesn’t speak Spanish. Only one of them spoke English. It didn’t matter. Fun was had by all and fun doesn’t need translation. It was an amazing day and I give the credit completely to Punta Faro.
Every evening, the resort sets up a buffet dinner for the guests in a different area of the resort. After a quick shower, we headed over for some truly good food. Again, if you’re looking for lobster and champagne, this might not be the right place. But the food is cooked on site every night by the Punta Faro Resort staff (more on the staff later), and the food is so good that even our picky kids weren’t complaining (at least not much….they ate well). Wine is available upon request and the guests actually talk to each other. Find me a Four Seasons where the guests are chatting and laughing together! After dinner, most guests either retreated to their rooms after a long sun-filled day or filled the cabanas located throughout the resort and played cards, looked at the water and just enjoyed silence. This is one of the few resorts we’ve been to where there is no music constantly playing and we loved it. There is something about listening to waves, swaying palm trees and quiet conversation. We were fortunate enough on our first night to meet one of the owners, Alexandra (her family owns the resort). Unbelievably, she spent time studying at University of Colorado, so we immediately had something in common with her. She, along with the entire staff, was so friendly and we are so glad we got to meet her. I am Facebook friends and connected to her via Instagram now. Again, find me another resort where you become Facebook friends with one of the owners! This is the magic of Punta Faro.
Our second day started with a great buffet breakfast, followed by SCUBA for Keith and a fantastic day at the beach for the whole family. The resort offered to take us around the entire island via boat. We declined in favor of over water hammocks and trampolines but heard from other guests that it was amazing! The kids had a great time building sand castles and Max actually went snorkeling by himself with another boy who was from Colombia. I couldn’t believe it, considering Max is scared of his own shadow….he went snorkeling by himself.
Our evening on the second night on Isla Mucara consisted of an exciting game of Uno, another spectacular buffet dinner served near the water, and truly one of the best experiences we have ever had as a family. The “luminesence”. A boat trip only occurring on nights where there is no moon. Owner Alexandra joined us on the boat trip from the island over to the mangroves (in pitch black with only flashlights and expert boat drivers), where we all jumped in the water to discover the water “glowing” with the movement of our swimming. It was one of the coolest things we have ever seen. I had heard of bioluminescence in certain seas and oceans but had never experienced it firsthand. We felt very special to have to have one of the owners of the resort join us.
Our visit to Punta Faro ended the next day with a two-hour boat ride back to Cartagena and we were so sad to leave! The experience of a remote island, the people we met, the nature we saw all contributed to the resort being one of the best we have ever stayed with. We plan to go back one day and hope it hasn’t changed a bit!