The visit to the fishing village of La Boquilla will convince you to stay one more day in Cartagena de Indias. I did this activity with Cathy.
In November 2021, I decided to stay more than a month in the most famous city in Colombia. My goal is to show you the experiences off the beaten track, the worthwhile ones.
Follow me on this adventure in the middle of mangroves and the sound of drums.
👉 Want to know everything about Cartagena? To learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Cartagena de Indias.
La Boquilla is an easy day trip from Cartagena
The cab is already here.
Aleja runs everywhere to get ready.
Camera? Ok! Mask? Ok! Sunscreen? Ok!
Here we go to discover La Boquilla, a humble fishing village located between the cíenagas (swamp) and the enormous buildings of Cartagena de Indias.
In 20 minutes, we go from the yellow of the city walls to the grey of the steel and then to the brown of roofs made with dried palms.
The last part of the drive ends at the beach. The buses use it as a road, honking to inform the inhabitants.
As you can see, the trip itself is an adventure, and you will arrive at the Boquilla in less time than Aleja took to get ready.
Mangrove Tour in La Boquilla, Cartagena
Ronny welcomes us with his green hair. Tomorrow is Cartagena’s independence day, and all the boys change their hairstyle.
He introduces us to our local guide of the day.
We follow him on the wooden pontoon to get in a canoe of 1m width. Luis stands upright, a long wooden pole in his hand. The motors are forbidden in the Cienega of the Boquilla.
We slowly move away in the direction of the mangroves until we reach the entrance of the Chago tunnel.
The inhabitants have given nicknames to the different sections of the Cienaga — no need to search on Google Map ;).
Chago comes from the sound of fishermen’s footsteps walking in the water. A little further on, there is the Túnel del Amor (love tunnel). A Novela TV production used it for several weeks, and the inhabitants often heard the word “love.”
I listen to Luis’ explanations and try to understand this particular ecosystem. When the tide rises, the seawater fills the Cienaga de la Boquilla.
Only mangroves can withstand the salinity of the water. Their roots, branches, and foliage form a green universe where everyone coexists. Seafish spawn their eggs, birds eat, and tourists are happy to escape the heat.
The relaxed attitude of these birds impresses me. They jump from branch to branch without being scared by our canoe.
In a few minutes, I observe seagulls, plovers, southern lapwings, herons, great-tailed grackles.
Suddenly, a light dazzles me. I am on the other side of the tunnel.
The second part of our activity begins.
Crab fishing in La Boquilla, Cartagena
You’ll eat what you catch!
Ronny’s last sentence flashes in my memory. He was probably joking. I hope.
We arrive in the middle of a lagoon, still surrounded by mangroves. The sky is mirrored in the stagnant water. Only the diving of the seagulls and the movement of our boat disturb the reflection.
Luis gets off the boat, and I realize that there is no more than 30cm of depth.
The most prized delicacy in La Boquilla is the crab. In the past, the inhabitants only had to bend down to pick them up. Then, the invasive constructions of the city of Cartagena have affected a large part of the ecosystem.
The inhabitants have since designed crab traps.
1 – You must fish sardines
You throw a net and bring it back to catch those famous sardines.
The theory is easy. The practice is quite different.
I step forward confidently, with my net in hand. I anchor my two feet in the mud, and I execute a rotation of the hips to project my net.
This one hardly opens up.
I need to improve my hip rotation. I’ve heard that Shakira bought a new home in Cartagena. Let’s see.
Everyone tries a few times until we catch enough sardines (thanks, Luis).
2- You put pieces of sardines in cages and you wait
Crabs love sardines. Once the cages are deposited at the bottom of the water, they rush for a free meal. Thanks to an ingenious system, they can hardly get out.
Our only task is to retrieve the cages.
Ok, now that we have crabs, It’s time to eat!
Lunch with a local family in La Boquilla
It’s your turn.
Luis hands me the pole to maneuver the boat. I go left, right, make half turns. I pass the bar back to Luis. Decidedly, I will not be a good fisherman of La Boquilla.
After 10 min, I see Daniel’s house. We will have lunch there. It is a peaceful place, with a terrace and an outdoor kitchen covered by a dry palm roof.
Daniel’s family is already cooking. His aunt, who comes from San Basilio de Palenque, is scraping coconuts to make cocodas and alegrías. Meanwhile, fish is simmering in a pot.
In La Boquilla, the majority of the inhabitants cook with wood fire. Between two bricks of earth, they add pieces of dried mangrove to feed the fireplace.
With a cold beer in my hand, I admire the scene that seems far from the luxurious tourism of Cartagena.
On a simple wooden table, the dishes are arranged. On the menu of the day, fish, coconut rice, patacones, and crabs!
Drumming class in La Boquilla, Cartagena
There is another experience in La Boquilla I want to show you.
About ten years ago, a committee of young people decided to create a music school to preserve the culture of La Boquilla and change its reputation.
They were given a piece of land by the beach and progressively invested in this project.
Their style of music, costumes, and dances is a mixture of African and indigenous culture.
The musicians use mainly 4 instruments: la gaita, the drum, the maracas, and el guache. This allows them to play several exciting music rhythms such as cumbia ou mapale.
To finance themselves, they organize percussion and dance workshops.
With my feet in the sand, I tried to follow the frenetic rhythm of the dancers with their colorful costumes and smiling faces. It’s even more complicated than throwing nets in the cíenaga! 🙂
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How to book your tours in La Boquilla
If you have the time and speak good Spanish, you can try to organize it by yourself. Cab and Uber can take you to La Boquilla and back to Cartagena.
For more comfort, you can otherwise contact Cathy. She will take care of the organization of the tours in La Boquilla (transportation included) and will find you a translator (if needed).
- Take a look at Cathy’s experiences
- Then click on “Contact Cathy”
- Tell her what you like
- Cathy will contact you within 24h
Tips for La Boquilla
- The beach of La Boquilla is not pleasant.
- If you’re going on the fishing tour, take pants that can get wet.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat.
- It would be best to get there early to avoid the heat and observe more birds.
La Boquilla: The bottom line
The visit to La Boquilla is an excellent way to discover another facet of Cartagena. The inhabitants are simple fishermen who live on the edge of the mangroves. Because of Cartagena’s expansion, they have more difficulty preserving their culture and way of life.
The fishing, music, cooking, and mangrove tours are a way for travelers to support their efforts. And I assure you that you won’t regret it!
👉 Cathy will help you to visit La Boquilla. Find out about her local agency.
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