Barú And Cartagena Guide

Hotel Las Islas’ General Manager Carlos Diago Shares His Favorite Places On The Island Of Barú And In Cartagena

Carlos Diago

General Manager Hotel Las Islas

“I’ve been working as a general manager for the last ten years, but I started in housekeeping and worked my way up to general manager. I have had every single position you can have,” says Carlos Diago, who joined Hotel Las Islas as general manager two days after its official opening. Carlos is from Barranquilla, the capital of Colombia’s Atlántico department, but moved to Miami to study and has since lived in eleven countries around the world.

Carlos lives in Cartagena and commutes to Barú every day for work. As soon as he arrives on property, he goes to check the breakfast buffet and talk to his guests. He explains that because the hotel is not very big, he gets to know all the guests, adding, “I usually help everybody with their plans for the day.” After a bit of administrative work, he goes to see how things are going at the beach and supervises the restaurants and other departments of the hotel.

Carlos Diago is the general manager at Hotel Las Islas.

Sugerencias locales

From the best places to scuba dive, to Cartagena's best restaurants and nightlife experiences, explore Barú and Cartagena, Colombia with Hotel Las Islas general manager, Carlos Diago.

Snorkeling And Diving In Barú

According to Carlos, most guests come to Hotel Las Islas to relax and unplug—and everyone spends plenty of time at the beach. Some people like to sunbathe and swim all day, but if you want a more active adventure, you’ll find great diving and snorkeling. “The best place to go snorkeling is Rosario Island, twenty minutes away from here,” Carlos says, explaining that the hotel arranges snorkeling tours with local guides who take the guests there by boat and show them the best places to spot coral reefs, barracudas, and other fish. Carlos loves to go scuba diving around the Rosario Islands because the visibility is very good. “It’s very quiet and peaceful and it’s a very fun thing to do, especially if you go with friends,” he says. Guests who want do go diving can sign up for a tour with Diving Planet (5 Calle Estanco del Aguardiente, Cartagena; +57-5-660-0450), a PADI-certified outfitter. Guests can also experience the magic of bioluminescence if the moon isn’t too bright. The hotel offers complimentary tours just five minutes away.

Barú And Cartagena Restaurants

Since the resort is located on a remote part of the island without access to other restaurants, all guests typically eat on the property. For breakfast, the local specialty of arepas de huevo—cornmeal pancakes with a fried egg—is a must at Tía Coco, where a generous buffet is served every morning. Of the hotel’s six restaurants and bars, Carlos’s favorite is Choco Bar & Restaurant, which is right on the beach. He recommends the grilled lobster or the red snapper, which can either be fried or cooked in the oven, and comes with fried plantains and coconut rice, which is typical for this area, according to Carlos. He also loves the ceviche, which is different from Peruvian ceviche. While in Peru, ceviche is made with leche de tigre, in Colombia it’s prepared with coconut milk. “On the weekends we have a seafood grill,” he adds. “All the seafood that we offer isfresh from the Barú area so it’s very nice.”

Guests who want to learn how to prepare traditional Colombian specialties can join a daily cooking lesson at Choco Restaurant. “We teach how to cook arepas de huevo and ceviche,” Carlos says. When he wants to have a nice dinner in Cartagena, he goes to Restaurante Don Juan (#34-60 Calle de Colegio, Cartagena; +57-317-501-1415), one of the most famous restaurants in the city, or La Cocina de Socorro (24-38 Carrera 8B, Cartagena; +57-5-660-2044), which serves traditional Colombian cuisine.

Nightlife And Dancing

“The club house is a great place to be when the sun sets every day,” Carlos says. Many guests who spend the day at the beach head to their bungalows to freshen up and then enjoy a drink on the third-floor bar, which has fantastic views of the sunset. And since music and dancing are an integral part of Colombian culture, the hotel offers dance lessons. Aside from salsa, guests can learn champeta, a style of dance particular to this region. Naturally, Cartagena has a lot more nightlife options than the island. “In Cartagena the most popular place to go is a place called Mister Babilla ( 8B-137 Avenida de Arsena, Cartagena; +57-311-251-6751). You find champeta, you find vallenato,” Carlos says. “It’s one of the places where you can dance to all the rhythms of the area. They have live music on weekends.”

Where To Shop In Barú

You certainly won’t find designer boutiques or shopping malls on the island of Barú—shopping here has a much more local flavor. “We have a gift shop inside the hotel where you can find local handmade stuff from the area,” says Carlos. Guests can pick up handmade bags, pareos, and jewelry from Mompox, a town famous for its delicate filigree work. The pareos are a project of the Fundación Aviatur, which empowers single mothers to make handcrafts sold in the hotel’s shop. “If you take a tour of Barú, then you visit the workshop. They also do a lot of things carved from wood,” Carlos explains.

Sightseeing In Cartagena

For nature lovers, Carlos recommends a visit to the Aviario Nacional de Colombia ( Km 14.5 Vía Cartagena-Barú; +57-322-552-9134), a bird sanctuary with 190 different species, including flamingos, peacocks, and parrots. People typically spend two-and-a-half to three hours walking on the trails and observing the birds. For a deeper cultural experience, Carlos suggests walking around Cartagena’s old town center with its brightly painted colonial buildings. If you decide to spend some time exploring the city, you can visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (Av. Pedro de Heredia at Carrera 17; +57-5-642-1293), a 17th century fortress built by the Spaniards.

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