Cartagena: Casa en El Agua

After a further look at our itinerary, we decided to make some adjustments. We had initially planned to fly to Santa Marta and check out the jungle-like Tayrona National park for 3 nights. But after having being bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes in Holbox, we both agreed we couldn’t be bothered fighting them again in the Colombian jungle (and for Nick to take the risk to catch Dengue fever again), so we cancelled our plans to stay there and looked for a Plan B.

We decided to head to Casa en El Agua instead, a small hostel located 2 hours away by speed boat from Cartagena, deep in the Carribean Sea.

By changing our plan, we now had to figure out a way to go from Santa Marta (where we were flying in to) to Cartagena, over 4h30 away, as we still had our original Bogotá to Santa Marta flight. A company called Marsol was recommended to us, which apparently does the Santa Marta to Cartagena route quite often.

After dozens of WhatsApp messages exchanged, and some very confusing communication back and forth, we finally managed to book our trip from the airport rather than their office. We waited 1h30 at the airport (we’ve learnt that’s a Colombian ’10-minutes’), until they finally picked us up in a small, hot and overcrowded van.

After some more confusing discussions in Baranquilla, where we were told we needed to change van, we finally arrived in Cartagena for the night. We stayed at Selinas hostel, a clean up-market hostel just outside the old city walls and Getsemani.

The next morning we made our way to the ferry port to catch our fast boat, direction Casa en El Agua.

The ride luckily wasn’t too bumpy (nowhere near as bumpy as San Andres), though closer to the end one engine broke and delayed our arrival time by 30 min. Lucky we didn’t get stranded in the middle of the sea!

When we approached Casa en El Agua, we were greeted by a choreographed welcome dance undertaken by all of the staff and guests. To be honest, this put us off a bit. We wondered what we had let ourselves in for!

The hostel was very nice, with big communal areas, a bar, swimming areas etc.

We had booked the nicest room in the hostel, El Castillo, the only room with a sea view. Very cool. In fact most of the guests didn’t have beds/private rooms, but instead a dorm of hammocks. Sounded fun, but we heard mixed reviews from people trying to sleep and others drunkenly trying to find their hammock, eventually finding it but swinging in to their neighbours. I picture one of those old pendulum desk ornaments that swing in to each other.

Though the weather wasn’t amazing on the day we arrived, we still enjoyed chatting to fellow travellers and playing around in the water.

In the evening after a gorgeous sunset, we had decided to finally book a bioluminescence tour.

It is the plankton that live in the water amongst the Mangroves, when in contact with something or someone light up. We had the opportunity to do it twice during our trip. Once in Orlando, but the tour was miles away from our accommodation and very expensive, and once in Holbox. The latter option was no good either due to the moon phase (it requires a very dark environment), we would have needed to go at 4am so we decided against it.

It was awesome! Nothing like anything we’ve done before! It feels like swimming in glitter or in outer space. It was a surreal experience; we were all swimming in pitch black mangroves, with the most beautiful clear sky above us and lightening occasionally adding to the atmosphere on the horizon. Really cool!

When we got back all happy from our experience, we headed back to our bedroom and realised we had mates in the room: cockroaches. That brought us right down, as we chased them for a while trying to get rid of them.

We then had a chat to a very apologetic manager, who sprayed the bedroom and changed the bedsheets hoping to get rid of them, which apparently did the job. The hotel being full, that room was our only option.

We then headed to bed whilst the bar right below our room was still buzzing with loud music. We did our best to try to fall asleep by the time the music stopped at 2am. Then, music got replaced by a huge storm, which also kept us awake for a while with loud thunder and vibrating walls. Being in the middle of the sea, a massive storm around you is not reassuring to put you to sleep.

After a very short night, we woke up, had breakfast, and chilled until it was our turn to welcome the new guests. That little dance we found out is compulsory! They feed you rum to help.

Weather that day had greatly improved, and we enjoyed some sun before heading to a small island nearby, Santa Cruz del Islote, world record holder as the most densely populated island in the world.

There are 500 inhabitants on 1 hectare of island (over 700 with tourists). There is no health facility on the island, so pregnant women must leave when 8 months pregnant to give birth and return after 1 month. It’s very small and pretty incredible to check out.

They then took us to their ‘aquarium’, 3 small pools filled with massive fish, turtles and a huge nurse shark, there to recover from injury before being sent back to the sea. Nick and some of the guys on the tour swam in the pool, while one of the locals wrestled the shark to make it swim. I declined the swim.

After another beautiful sunset and dinner, we headed back to our castle and noticed the cockroaches were back! This time another room was available, so we decided to switch to avoid battling again. A much better night was had, as it was also a little further away from the pumping music.

On our last morning we enjoyed another nice Colombian breakfast, and chilled for a few hours in the sun before taking the boat back to Cartagena.

Overall a very cool experience and a great replacement from Tayrona.



  • Casa en El Agua is not for everyone. It is very much a hostel, meaning people are young and want to party so music is loud all day and especially at night. The toilets are dry toilets, and the ‘showers’ are a bucket of cold salt water per person per day. 2 nights was the perfect length of time to enjoy.
  • Breakfast is included, but lunch and dinner are extra at 30,000 pesos per person (about $14 AUD per person) for a set meal. We chose to bring snacks from the mainland to stay on budget and only bought 1 dinner.
  • Do the bioluminescence tour. It was amazing and such a different experience. It’s also super cheap (40,000 pesos) compared to any other bioluminescence tour we came across so far.

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