Casa en el Agua has quickly become one of the most famous hostels in the world. It’s an eco hostel, completely surrounded by water in the middle of the Caribbean sea.
Two hours from Cartagena by boat are the ever beautiful San Bernardo Islands, an archipelago of 9 coastal coral and one artificial island, with the hostel floating next to Isla Titipan. The hostel is so popular that they strictly only take bookings 60 days in advance and by day 59, most of the beds are already full up. The hostel organises a boat daily, back & forth to the main port in Cartagena, which is the easiest, and in the end probably most cost effective way to arrive, (unless you’re very good at haggling with local boats.)
It’s a backpacker paradise, multi coloured green & blue water surrounding the hostel, complete with donut and unicorn floaties. (Instagram shot anyone?) If you’re a keen seasoned traveller you’ll find like minded people here, with everyone exchanging stories about sailing over from Panama, or terrifying night bus tales from Ecuador.
It’s worth noting that for those who desperately need their home comforts the Casa may not be an ideal choice, as it’s low key and casual, with only a couple of charging points for phones in one spot on the lower level; meaning no hairdryers, no laptop charging points, and not a mirror in sight for anyone worrying about their appearance. For most people, this is part of the attraction, getting away from it all and back to basics; fresh food, conversation, and swimming. There are two toilets which require a step to reach, both compost toilets complete with slightly amusing diagrams as to how to use them properly. There is technically a shower area, and everyone is allowed one bucket of fresh water a day to clean themselves, but with the sea all around most people just opted for a quick rinse in the water.
All accommodation is on the second level; there are a couple of double/twin rooms which book up immediately, a dorm room and then numerous hammocks spread around the upper deck. The hammocks are comfortable and make for a good nights sleep with the breeze rocking you to sleep, but it can get a little chilly in the night so take a towel or sheet for some warmth. There are lockers to put your valuables in, but the hostel asks you not to bring large rucksacks with you as there is limited space, and instead leave them at your hostel on the mainland. In reality though you don’t need much with you, you’ll spend all day in swimwear, with a vest and shorts thrown over it in the evening.
Meal times are a social thing, with the conch (as in Lord of the Flies style) blown to alert everyone that it’s time to eat. It’s around 30,000 for the set meal, usually some kind of seafood/fish with rice and vegetables, a soup, and fruit juices, with a vegetarian option as well. There’s also specials, including freshly caught lobster, crab, and mixed seafood platters. There’s plenty of food, and it can’t be beaten on freshness, although once again perhaps not ideal for any fussy eaters.
In terms of activities, it’s mainly swimming, floating on the floaties, reading and drinking. They do however offer a number of mini tours including the evening trip to see the incredible plankton, glittering in the water. It’s a short tour but one that people came back from grinning ear to ear and talking about it being a highlight of their time.
Other tours include a short boat ride to the nearby Santa Cruz del Islote famously known as one of the most densely populated islands in the world. It’s a self policing community, a very tight knit group of people both physically and emotionally. The tour took place at the end of the day and the lively islanders had already had a few drinks when we arrived which cultivated in a enthusiastic dance off between them to Paul Simon’s ‘Call me Al’, but I can’t guarantee this will happen on every visit! The island has the only nearby shop, so if you’re desperate for your daily supply of Oreos then this is the only chance you’ll have to get any.
Evenings are a fun affair, with the staff tailoring the vibe of the night depending on how raucous the guests are feeling. Sometimes the hostel turns into a club, with guests & staff from the few nearby hostels coming by boat to join in the dancing. There’s a bar serving up tasty cocktails and reasonably priced beer. Of the two nights I stayed the first one was wild and into the early morning, with loud Spanish hits pumped out to the dancing crowd. The second evening was much more laid back; a few drinks and card games before a midnight bedtime.
For most visitors, Casa en el Agua is a highlight of their Colombia trip, it’s ridiculously photogenic, unique and the stuff that backpacker dreams are made of.