Theres a lot to love about Casa en el Agua. The obvious answer being that its a hostel. On an island. Surrounded by the extraordinary colors of the Caribbean. Scratch that. The hostel is its own island. Like the water is quite literally right freakin there. Like roll out of bed with a hangover— inevitable— into the ocean right there.
Located two hours by boat from Cartagena, among the gems of the San Bernardo Islands, the hostel is a hidden secret, spread through the good word of Facebook, Buzzfeed-like lists, and Instagram. It opened in late 2015 so has yet to reach the guidebooks but that doesn’t mean its reputation remains silent. Most gringos upon arrival in the coastal region of Colombia eventually hear of its legacy. What’s that? An island paradise occupied by drunken travelers in skimpy swimwear? Count me in. Just make sure to book 30 days ahead of time, on the dot. Like at midnight. Or else you’re shit out of luck.
The actual structure itself has been around for over 20 years, bought by a rich Colombian who quickly grew tired of it. Unlike what a lot of the pictures show, its not the only stranded island out there. Besides Islote (the most populated island on earth), a few private islands are within swimming distance though remain largely unoccupied. My favorite was the Barbie Dreamhouse supposedly owned by a famous singer. Casa en el Agua remained, abandoned, for almost 10 years, until some ex-girlfriend’s friend’s cousin bought it up and decided it would be the perfect setting for hostel to end all hostels. And it is, despite the cost— $29 per night for a dorm bed, 20,000 pesos for a cocktail. It has those classic hostel necessities: communal family power— meals are shared at a large table—, on island bar complete with two happy hours, and hipster touches like a slack line. They also arrange various tours in case you get stir crazy, albeit they usually don’t run on time (#Colombia)… more on this soon.
The hostel also works hard as an eco-resort of sorts: recycling its trash, using solar power an bucket showers, and composting their toilets. It prides itself in their local staff, whom boat over from nearby throughout the day. The food is also quite local– think farm to table in like two seconds.
—So much TIME—
I am Type A and have problems with days off. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told to relax here in Colombia, the land of mas o menos and glacial transactions. Therefore, the idea of spending an entire day on the confines of a tiny island hostel with no computer or place to run was less than appealing. But I somehow managed to tranquilo, even after dealing with management (see below). So what do you do with your time? Let’s discuss everyone but me: you drink to excess. Before we first jot down our names for the initial happy hour at 16:00, the tally sheet for the rest of the community was. Well. Full. So it seems, upon observation, that most people are satisfied acquiring skin cancer and liver cancer. To each their own. Then there was us. We read. We impatiently awaited meal time. We acquired slight skin cancer. But mostly we just talked, with each other and with the other travelers. We even brought two Swedish guys back to Barranquilla back with us and let them crash for a night, because we liked them so much.
We took a boat ride over to Islote, an obviously crammed and colorful community far away from the mainland. I regretted the seemingly mandatory tour instantly and hated being paraded around in our gringo glory. I also despised their “aquarium,” a tiny ass space enclosing poor sharks and turtles for tourist pleasure. Luckily, the aquarium has improved since before as park officials demanded the release of two other sharks that were crowded in.
Robbie and I were immediately entranced with the idea of the Subwing, an apparatus that was introduced upon tour of the Casa. The Subwing is a water board that can be maneuvered throughout the water, so much so that you can spin 360 degrees underwater like a magical dolphin. Needless to say, my inner dolphin was satiated (see video below for what the experience feels like):
Finally, perhaps even more magical that a becoming a magical dolphin was watching the ocean do its thing for two days. Sunsets. Sunrises. FIREFLY SQUID. So long as the moon is not too full, these creatures soar through the water in a spectacular show every night.
For a proper visual:
—How NOT to f*&$ up (aka tips)—
*Take a shit ton of cash with you. Though it says somewhere on the website that the hostel only takes cash, I and about 10 other people must have missed the memo. As in, upon arrival there ain’t no flashing sign that discriminates against plastic. Yes, I realize that, no shit, it’s a hostel on an island that uses solar power, so of course they don’t accept credit. But in the rush to get there, none of us boneheads pondered the state of our near empty wallets.
*For the love of god, don’t arrive or leave on a Sunday with the goal of Cartagena in mind. Again, though the website says “boats run to and from Cartagena every Monday through Saturday,” there’s not a big warning sign that speaks of Sunday. We all just made the assumption that a group of us could pay someone to take us there, or could find an equally fast alternative route or. WRONG. The hostel quoted us at 1,700,000 for a boat to Cartagena on a Sunday… even with 8 people that works to double the Mon-Sat version. So we decided to take the alternative route. While this is great for someone who wants to go to Tulo, the road all the way to Cartagena is paved with misfortune. We left the Casa at 10am (after a one-hour delay, naturally) and arrived in Cartagena at 16:00, via 1). A boat to Rincon del Mar, 2). A car or motorbike to San Onofre, 3). A bus to the outskirts of Cartagena which magically appeared despite being told at the bus station that no buses were running on Sundays, 4). A taxi to non-sketchy Cartagena. **Note that said bus was stuck for 2 hours since police shut down a bridge and was punctuated by the sounds of smuggled roosters and Jesus praises.
*If you hammock, avoid hammocks #14-16. When there is wind, which seemed to be a nightly spectacle, these unfortunate select hammocks face the threat of dumping their occupants into the water below.
*We cannot attest to the bed bugs or sick tummies as the three of us miraculously dodged these maladies. I understand that the Casa staff steam cleans the beds for sanitary reasons, mostly due to the tourists carrying along these pesty critters. So maybe just avoid being a gross human? As for tummy troubles, we ate the food almost every meal but also snacked on our own provisions. I found the food to be on par for being a hostel island. I may have brought my own alcohol (can’t use their fridge) though since our alcohol bill was the majority of the bill… which was about a third of most others.