Cruising the Coast of Colombia
by Lourae and Randy Kenoffel
We, the crew of Pizazz, are pleased to provide this three-part "guide", a collection of our personal experiences, to fill in the blanks between Bonaire (which is in Doyle's Sailors Guide to Venezuela & Bonaire) and Panama (which is in Zydler's The Panama Guide).
The information that follows is our opinion only. We provide the essentials of cruising: where to find what you need. The information is sorted by category and we'll give you data by location.
Pizazz (a Beneteau 500) has daysailed along the Colombia coast three times (twice going west and once, doing the "impossible", going east). But everyone says "you shouldn't stop along that coast!" - including some guides which say your chances of survival aren't good. We believe there is a far greater risk off-shore. This guide describes safe anchorages to enjoy, rest, wait for weather and make repairs, if needed. You can see some interesting areas along the coast and meet some very friendly people or you can by-pass all these wonderful anchorages by going direct from the ABCs to San Blas. You make your choice.
Notes Of Caution (a.k.a. "CYA")
All GPS readings vary slightly depending on your equipment, availability of satellites, and input error. The GPS waypoints given are listed in degrees and minutes with hundredths of minutes (not seconds). These are waypoints for places to head towards or near anchoring spots; they are not designed to for you to connect-the-dots (do not go from waypoint to waypoint without checking your charts). People, USE YOUR CHARTS AND USE YOUR EYES.
A few important points to remember: First, don't be unrealistic in setting a schedule you can't meet. Second, watch for the right weather windows (see Weather section below). Third, PREPARE YOUR BOAT AND YOURSELF for downwind sailing in heavy seas - tacking downwind is easier on the rig, helps prevent accidental jibes, broken booms and poles, and is often faster and more comfortable.
The key to cruising the Colombia coast safely and comfortably is weather. This is especially important if you plan an off-shore passage, but is also important for coastal cruising. The entire Caribbean has two seasons: Wet Season - generally June through November, and Dry Season - generally December through May. If you travel in the "transition" months - late March through mid-June, or mid-October through mid-December - you are likely to have calmer conditions. Generally, the farther south you go, the lighter the winds.
The 400 miles between Aruba and Cartagena is known for the worst weather conditions in the Caribbean, and ranks among the top five worst passages around the world. So plan ahead and watch for calm predictions. The "weather gurus" almost always say to stay at least 200 miles off-shore (they base this not on weather but upon a fear of the coast). We have found that off-shore the conditions are stronger. By staying close to shore (within 5 to 10 miles) you may experience some land effect on the weather, often beneficial for your cruising; at times it is possible to use the currents and counter-currents. And, as mentioned above, you can always stop for needed rest or repairs.
Here is a list of various anchorages along this route. All are pleasant; some are excellent, others are just a rest stop. Check your pilot charts for currents. You will experience about a 1-knot westerly current until you get to the Colombian coast. At times, you may see a 1/2 knot easterly current along the coast to Cartagena. Beyond Cartagena, there is a slight westerly current again, but sometimes an easterly current. There is some great fishing along the entire route, so put your lines out.
NOTE: When at anchor, use your anchor light.
You cannot anchor in Bonaire as the entire island is a marine park. Respect their guidelines and save the reefs. Moorings are available for rent; contact Harbor Village Marina on VHF 17.
Spanish Waters is a large, almost land-locked, lagoon. This area is approximately 35 miles from Bonaire, a nice downwind daysail. To enter Spanish Waters, stay close to the beach (which is still 90 feet deep) and you will easily see the shallow reef edge to the north; then zig-zag through the channel. This channel is not lit or marked so you must arrive in good light and well before sundown. When you are ready to depart, take a sail along Curaçao's west coast; the water is deep close-in, the current is favorable, and there's great sightseeing - interesting cliffs, big fancy homes, and pretty beaches. We have gone to Santa Kruz Baai at 12°18'55N & 069°08'77W which is about 25 miles northwest of Spanish Waters, an easy daysail. You anchor in 10 to 12 feet of sand and coral at the mouth of the bay (avoid coral patches); it's a great area for snorkeling along the cliffs and an easy place to depart from in the dark. Aruba is now only 45 miles away, with wind and current behind you. There are also several other areas on Curaçao's northwest coast that are pleasant stops - Santa Marta (unsurveyed on the chart, but 11 feet deep at entrance and mostly 10-plus on into bay), Knip Baai and Westpunt.
There are several anchorages along the lee coast.
The first is Rogers Beach, just south of refinery in Sint Nicolas Baai. Enter between the buoys at 12°25'34N & 069°53'96W (GREEN buoy on STARBOARD), head due east to the next green buoy at 12°25'38N & 069°53'51W, then head 115 magnetic to anchor wherever you wish in 10 to 12 feet the sand and grass. This is a little rolly in southeast winds, and eerie at night with the lights and flames of the refinery (but you are upwind of the smoke and smells).
As you sail up this coast, watch for stronger winds coming off-shore.
Oranjestad Harbor is well lit if it gets dark before you get there (GREEN on STARBOARD). See notes in Part Two under Customs. After clearing in, go anchor. The airport anchorage is 12 to 16 feet deep either northwest of the runway or in the lagoon south of the runway. It's good holding and close to downtown, but noisy.
The alternative anchorage is about 3 miles north of Oranjestad near the high-rise hotels. Go to the red buoy, which has a white light at night, (since Hurricane Lenny there is an unlit white float) at 12°34'87N & 070°03'34W; leave the buoy to port and head approximately 090 course-over-ground towards the Mariott Hotel/Condos (the left two buildings along this stretch). Do not let the wind/current set you north. You anchor in 7 to 8 feet of sand and grass. This is away from downtown shopping but offers lots of beach sports and access to hotel services - casinos, expensive shops, and expensive restaurants. There is easy access to buses (US$2 round trip) to downtown for anything you need.
After all this civilization, you are ready for some out-of-way coastal cruising.
MONJES DEL SUR
Next stop is about 53 miles downwind. A waypoint just to the northeast of the island is 12°21'75N & 070°52'75W. Charts show the southern two islands as separate; however, they have been joined together by a large rock dam. This rock is part of Venezuela (get your courtesy flag out), so call the Guardia Costa on VHF 16 for permission to anchor; "no problema" is the answer. In fact, they will probably contact you first, asking you to identify yourself and state your intentions.
The anchorage to the left of center, facing the rock dam in front of you, is over 65 feet deep. There's a huge dock with tires which maybe you can tie to - ask. In 2000 they added a rope between the dock and their center-peninsula headquarters to tie to (there is room for about six boats along the rope and we heard about a fishing tournament when there were 36 boats on the rope). This is a good rest stop; we stayed a few days and enjoyed fabulous snorkeling all around the "rock" (crowds of barracuda and large lobsters). The guys stationed there are extremely friendly and they love to have visitors. They'll want to see your passports and boat papers and serve you a cold drink. This is also a very easy departure point in the dark, which you'll do as the next leg is 80 miles.
CABO DE VELA
The next waypoint is 45 miles to Punta Gallinas at 12°28'80N & 071°40'00W in 50 feet of water about 2 miles off shore. It's usually not rough, as you are going downwind with favorable current. Bahia Honda (another 12 miles) is a possible stop but not recommended. Continue on to Cabo de Vela to waypoint 12°14'00N & 072°10'00W to view the anchorage.
There's an island to go around or between (it's 15 feet deep between coast and island) then to 12°12'27N & 072°10'69W to anchor in 20 feet good holding sand. This is an open bay with plenty of wind (Cabo de Vela means "Cape of Sail") but you are out of the swell and it is a good comfortable anchorage even with the wind blowing. If the winds are strong from the southeast, you'll get wind chop and you might want to move 1.5 miles to the southeast, closer to the village (although the holding is not as good). No one will bother you, although fishermen will come by to stare at "the big sailboat". You may even see some tourists hiking to the light tower and sheep searching for shrubs. Relax and rest up as the next leg is 120 miles - we left before sunset and arrived before noon.
As you head to the next waypoint at 11°22'00N & 074°03'50W, sail downwind as comfortably as possible - tacking downwind is recommended. You may experience some counter-current along this stretch. There are no obstructions along the coast (just an oil rig near Riohacha). Look for the snow-covered mountains as you approach - the only time you'll see snow while sailing in the Caribbean! These bays have been compared to the fjords of Norway. You can spot the various bays (easy eyeball navigation) as you get close to the area. This waypoint gets you northeast of Bahia Cinto, the first of five wonderful little bays that are great stops. Good holding in 30-plus feet of water. If there is a northerly swell, Bahia Cinto can get rolly with the strong southeasterly willy-waw winds off the Santa Marta mountains.
Two bays to the west is Bahia Guayraca (at 074°07'00W longitude) with more swell protection, 25 feet of water in good sand, okay shore exploring, and good snorkeling.
The fifth bay is Ancon Chica which has the most protection from swell, deeper water, and nice people on shore. These bays are on DMA chart 24493A (which is no longer in print). Stay as long as you want.
When you are ready to move on to civilization (about 15 miles away), go through the cut between mainland and Aguja Island - go between the southern, jagged tip of island and the exposed rocks in the middle between the mainland and the island. It's over 45 feet deep at 11°18'46N & 074°11'60W. The current and waves from the east may seem scary but once in the middle and then west of the cut it is flat calm. Continue south along the coast past the commercial port of Santa Marta (okay to go between El Morro Grande and El Morro Chico) to Rodadero (shows as Gaira on charts).
Suddenly there are tall buildings, condos, and beaches (almost a small version of Puerto La Cruz); this is a resort area for Colombians. Anchor at 11°12'10N & 074°13'75W in 30 to 40 feet, or go in closer to swim buoys in 20 feet. Good restaurants are along the beach, and visit Olympica supermarket for fresh supplies. Sometimes the Port Captain will come by and limit your stay but otherwise, no problems. The agent here wants US$100 to clear Customs and Immigration but you still have to pay US$60 to an agent in Cartagena to do it again or even get your zarpe later. So, save your money and get clearance in Cartagena.
Good to see civilization again but get prepared for the dreaded Rio Magdelena.
Rodadero is an easy spot to exit (or enter) in the dark. You may want to leave there at "oh dark-thirty" to cross the Rio Magdelena (about 40 miles) before mid-day, before the winds get stronger and kick up the seas against the outgoing river current - mostly the last 5 or so miles east of the river mouth. This area can be very rough in strong winds. It's okay to stay in close (we were 2 miles out) but farther out is a little less rough. The conditions get smoother once you cross the outflow of the river. Watch for river debris - lily pads and logs - for the next 10-plus miles to the west. The water is muddy, smells earthy and looks ugly.
There's a good rest stop near Punta Hermosa (another 10 miles) which the charts don't show well, or at all; but we've been there and it's easy to get to with waypoints - but USE YOUR CHARTS AND EYES. Go to 10°56'50N & 075°02'35W, then to 10°56'38N & 075°02'30W (30 feet deep), then to 10°56'74N & 075°01'73W (12 feet deep).
You can anchor farther north behind the reef lagoon if you want, but you are out of swell almost as soon as you reach the south reef edge. Enjoy the calm and the friendly people. The locals have renamed this anchorage Puerto Velero ("Port Sailboat") after all the sailboats that stop here.
Only 50 miles to Cartagena!
Depart Punta Hermosa anchorage and go west-southwest towards Zamba Bank (it's okay to go over bank) then towards Punta Canoas then to the Boca Grande entrance to Cartagena. You will usually experience a slight counter-current and less wind along this stretch. Use waypoint 10°23'45N & 075°34'47W (you'll be in 20 feet of water the last several miles) which is about 100 yards out, and you will easily spot the entrance markers for an 11-foot depth.
NOTE: In January 2001, only the green marker remains but it is still okay to use this entrance; leave the green marker about 50 feet to your port.
Watch your chart and stay out a way from the hotel beaches towards the monument (Madonna and Child); follow red-right-returning buoys on either side and you'll see Club Náutico with anchored boats.
If you don't like the 11-foot depth entrance, go on to the Boca Chica main shipping channel entrance and follow the channel markers. There are many more buoys than show on charts; the basic bearings are the same. (The easiest route is to follow the green buoys towards the monument.) The Boca Grande entrance, however, saves about 2 hours.
NOTE: Do not anchor near Boca Chica entrance; you will be robbed.
This group of islands is about 18 miles from Cartagena. Use them as a "get away" from Cartagena in between the fun times and/or work. Go there to clean the boat bottom; the barnacles are fast-growing in Cartagena. Use a waypoint of 10°11'18N & 075°44'45W, where you'll spot a guard tower on shore and a cement post to the south of the reefs. Get there around noon for good light. Leave this post to your starboard and turn right towards two more cement posts which you go between. Then swing left.
Anchor anywhere along the shore in 15 to 20 foot water. Our favorite is the farthest "cove" to the east, away from another cement post. Use your dinghy to explore other areas. There is a good aquarium at the west end of the island group; go by dinghy. There will be local traffic, mostly on Sundays.
We strongly suggest that you buy an old but detailed chart of the Rosarios from Club Náutico in Cartagena; it does not show waypoints or lat/long figures, but does show depths, reefs, and is the most detailed chart available for these islands.
ISLAS SAN BERNARDOS
This island group is 25 miles south of Rosarios. Anchor to the south of Isla Tintipan. You can exit this island group to the south through a cut in the reef at 09°43'45N & 075°50'19W in 20 feet of water.
SAN BLAS ISLANDS
This is generally a fast passage with current pushing you, so time your passage carefully for daylight arrival. Follow the instructions in the green Zydler guide and only enter the San Blas at one of the three entrance channels. There are many uncharted reefs off-shore, making other entrances dangerous without local knowledge.
Customs & Immigration
The Customs building is on the waterfront; it is the blue-green building south of Karel's Bar and the Venezuelan fruit/veggy stand. The officials are very friendly and helpful. Ask for directions to Immigration (in September 2000 they were located above the cinema). No costs. For clearing out, go to Immigration first, then Customs. Your zarpe to wherever will cost you 25 florin (14 cents US).
Although everything in Bonaire is within walking distance, this is not so in Curaçao. From Spanish Waters, the main anchorage for cruisers, it's a 20-minute bus ride to Wilhemsted. You catch the bus (ask at Sarifundy's for a schedule) outside the fishermen's marina or outside Kee's Place. Cost in September 2000 was 1.50naf (US$1). From the bus station in town, walk along the river edge to the north; the Customs building is on the corner past all the Venezuelan veggy boats.
As in Bonaire, the officials are very friendly and helpful. Easy paperwork; no cost. Ask them for directions to Immigration as they move occasionally. Immigration will ask you for your intended length of stay (90 days maximum); at times, they may ask you to go to Post Office after the first 14 days to get an extension. For clearing out, go to Customs and then Immigration. No cost. We suggest clearing for Cartagena, whether you intend to go to Aruba or not.
This is where it gets a little frustrating. The hardest part is that Aruba Port Authority (on VHF 11) requires you to tie your vessel to the dock to clear in. They will not let you anchor and go by dinghy. They know how to deal with cruiseships with lots of passengers and crew, but not cruising yachts with two crew and no passengers. The cruiseship dock has big black tires that leave smudge marks on your topsides, so use lots of fenders and try to get to the north part of the dock which is sheltered behind the terminal building. They have no one to help take your lines so have someone ready to jump to the dock with a spring line and stern line.
Once you've made it to the dock, Customs and Immigration will come to you. No cost. Complete their forms or provide a crewlist. They will not stamp your passports unless you ask them to. The drawback here is that they want you to return your vessel to the dock to clear out. Again, you cannot walk into their offices to clear out. NOTE: Since they did not stamp you in (nor did they take your zarpe for Cartagena), why check out? Just leave. If you plan to stop in Aruba for one or two nights, avoid the clear in/out; it shouldn't be a problem. But, don't let the checking in/out hassle keep you from visiting this fun island. [Editor's note: As cruisers, this sounds like commonsense advice to us, but as publishers we feel obliged to say that Compass Publishing takes no responsibility for the suggestion that cruisers circumvent the law!]
Although you may cruise along the coast and stop several times for few or many days, we are not aware of any problems regarding waiting until arrival in Cartagena to clear in. Do not stop in Santa Marta commercial port. Colombia requires an agent to process papers; you cannot do this by yourself. The cost is US$60 which includes both clear in and out. "As de Guia" is an agent that has an office one long block east of Club Náutico; they are very professional, speak English, and helpful for any other assistance you may need. They will take you to Immigration for that part of the shuffle. "Manfred" is another agent that is usually around Club Náutico. Just return to your agent a day or two before departure.
Most cruisers desire to cruise the San Blas islands before passing through the Canal or heading to the Northwest Caribbean. When you clear out of Cartagena ask for your next port (Panama or Honduras) with puntas intermedios. We are not aware of anyone having problems with the length of time between clearing out and into the next country. Many cruisers stay in the San Blas anywhere from a few days to 3 or 4 months before clearing into next port. Porvenir, the westernmost of the San Blas islands, is an official port where you can obtain your cruising permit for US$70. However, it is not clear whether Immigration here is official or not. Some people clear in with Immigration, then fly to Panama City to fly out of the country with no problems. Yet when you enter Colon with the boat, you must clear with Customs again (no additional charge if you already have cruising permit) and with Immigration, where you need to buy the tourist visa (90 days) for US$10. In Porvenir, there is also a Kuna chief's fee, as well as an anchoring fee and a US$10 to $25 per passport charge. Our advice: avoid Porvenir, and clear into Colon whenever you get there.
Check with other cruisers for current security situations. Lower your anxiety level by setting up radio contacts or buddy boats. When you are at anchor, use your anchor light, not only because the law requires that you do so, but because it is also helpful for the buddy boats in watching out for each other.
There is the typical petty theft, and sometimes theft of dinghies. (The bulk of the problem is break-ins into rental cars.)
Spanish Waters has been a hot spot for dinghy thefts for more than two years. Raise and lock it! There have also been muggings and pickpockets in town. Be very careful with your valuables.
As so few vessels stay very long (although we've stayed for one or two weeks), we are not aware of problems. But when in doubt, lock it.
Cruisers are now stopping at various anchorages, but because these are secluded from populous cities, generally there have been no problems. We heard of one dinghy that was stolen in Cabo de Vela (not locked; the line was cut). The Colombian Coast Guard is "out there", they are extremely helpful, very friendly, speak some English, and tell us to call VHF 16 if we encounter any problems at all. Do not hesitate to call them - they are great.
As in all populated areas, there is petty theft. Occasionally there are dinghy thefts, so lock it and put things away. If you enter Cartagena Bay through Boca Chica (the main shipping channel), do not stop just inside the Bay although it looks like the first quiet spot (particularly if you've had a long hard passage), as here you're almost guaranteed to have a break-in or theft. You should continue to the north end of the Bay and anchor off Club Náutico.
The San Blas islands are generally theft free; however, there have been reports of clothing taken off lines or things disappearing from dinghies while on some islands. (Usually the takers are kids). Colon is a big city, and another story - you should have no real problems while anchored on the Flats (except the rare dinghy theft) or docked at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. But in town, be very careful at all times and always use taxi at night. Taxis cost US$1. Ask others for current crime situations.
Fuel & Water
(Diesel, gasoline/petrol, propane and water, with prices in US$ per US gallon, as of late 2000.)
You won't find cheaper prices for diesel and gas than in Venezuela, so load up! Pizazz has a watermaker, therefore we only can comment on availability, not price; and you can always catch some rain. For those with watermakers, do not make water in Cartagena (it is filthy). In Colon, there is a lot of fresh water coming out of the canal, so lower your pressure.
Everything is available at Harbor Village Marina. Diesel $1.45; gas $3.10; propane $9.00 for a 10-pound bottle; water at the dock.
Spanish Waters is the primary anchorage. Sarifundy's can arrange for propane and there is a water hose at their dock. The Curaçao Yacht Club has a fuel dock: diesel $1.06; gas $2.45.
We don't have prices but diesel, gas, and water are available at SeaPort Marina. Also, if you are anchored near the hotels, you can get water at the fishermen's dock. If you have access to a car, diesel and gas can be jugged from gas stations. We do not know about propane.
If there is an urgent need for fuel, call the Colombia Coast Guard on VHF 16. We also found that you can get diesel and gas in the Rodadero anchorage (just south of Santa Marta); you will have to jug from the gas station two blocks away from the small fishermen's marina.
Club Náutico is the cruiser hangout; you pay a daily fee which covers showers, water, dinghy dock, etcetera. Coordinate with other vessels (collect money and bottles) to get Fernando at Club Náutico to do a trip to purchase propane which costs $3 for a 10-pound tank or $4 for a 20-pound tank - but the taxi costs about $10, no matter if there is one bottle or 15. There are several fuel docks with diesel $.90-$1.00 and gas $1.43. Top off your fuel and propane tanks and jugs here as everything is expensive in San Blas.
In the San Blas Islands, diesel is available in Rio Diablo at $1.80 and gas is $3.10. Propane ($10) is available but you must rig up some sort of adapter to gravity-flow into your bottle, or else purchase a Panamanian 25-pound bottle ($75) to use with an adapter - so fill your propane bottles in Cartagena! Water comes from the sky. Most people collect rainwater if close to the coast; the outer islands get less rain. Also, fresh water can be found farther up some rivers.
In Colon, go to the Panama Canal Yacht Club. You can get propane at $10 for 10 pounds, water is free, diesel $1.85, and gas from the fuel station is $1.50 (plus cab fare).
Your provisioning will depend upon your cruising time between Trinidad and Panama. Trinidad is best for tins, dry goods, spicy foods, etcetera. Margarita, Venezuela is good place with good prices to re-stock, as the prices in the ABC islands are high (although the selection is better). The prices are reasonable in Cartagena but selection is limited. The San Blas has very limited supplies of everything. In Colon the prices and selections are excellent.
There is the Cultimara market and its associated "warehouse" for selection and availability. The veggy/fruit ship arrives Thursday afternoon and most fresh stuff is gone by Monday. Also, there are a few other local markets around. And, the Venezuelan veggy stand always has the basics. Plenty of Dutch foods, particularly Dutch cheeses, and US goods.
Sarifundy's Marina provides a bus 6 days a week to various supermarkets. There is also a Cost-U-Less on the island if you have a rental car. The Venezuelan boats are northwest of the bus station, as is the local veggy market next to the bus station. Curaçao is the next best place after Margarita or Puerto La Cruz to re-stock with most of your favorite items.
There are four markets just north of Orangestad, easily accessible by bus from the hotel anchorage. There is a good selection, but you pay US-plus prices (as Aruba is an "holiday island" catering to American tourists).
The convenient Magali Paris supermarket is one block from Club Náutico and a small Carulla market about a block from Club de Pesca. The Olympica store is next to Home Mart (a taxi ride). Also, market chains have locations all around town, in the Old City or in Boca Grande. Prices are good but selection is mostly limited to Colombian items or over-priced imported goods.
For the San Blas, you need to bring anything you normally use. Some villages have small tiendas selling rice, flour, butter, some tinned goods, and basic veggies such as potatoes, onions, cabbage and sometimes tomatoes; availability depends upon the arrival of the local veggy boat. In a few anchorages, some Kunas paddle out from their village to sell some veggies. If you need special items or have guests visiting, call Julie in Panama City (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) with your specific list of wants; she will buy them, box them (frozen stuff in coolers), and fly them to an island near you for you to collect. Of course, there is a cost for this - expect to pay approximately US prices plus 50 percent to cover her costs and shipping. In Colon or Panama City there are big, well stocked markets with good prices.
Liquor, Wine & Beer
We have a few specifics and some general comments. Load up in the duty-free port of Margarita, Venezuela. Prices are higher everywhere else, except Panama. Fill up the bilges! Margarita's price for beer is $7 per case; wines for $3; rum was $2; vodka for $9.
Amstel and Heineken beer is $20 per case; wines are $7 per bottle.
About the same as Bonaire.
Romar Trading (two blocks behind Kong Hing market) is a distributor. We got Chilean wines by the case for $3.50/bottle; these are mostly $4.50 in markets. Beer prices were the same as Bonaire and Curaçao.
Aguila beer is $11 to $13 per case. Wines and liquors are cheaper in the "contrabando district", yet wines were $6 and vodka was $9.
You can buy Balboa beer in Rio Diablo for $11 per case. However, the place to re-stock all alcoholic beverages is in Colon. The markets have decent prices (the same or cheaper than Margarita) but the best prices are in the Free Zone. We have purchased a case of beer for $8, wines for $2.50; rum for $3; and vodka for $5.
Marinas / Haulout Facilities / Dinghy Docks
Harbor Village Marina is safe with 15-plus feet of water. But beware of the mosquitoes! Plaza Resort has some slips and dock space but mostly is only 9 feet deep. The dock at Karel's Beach Bar is the main dinghy dock for getting into town. Or you can use the dock at Harbor Village Marina and walk north from there.
Curaçao is a popular place to leave your boat to travel, as there are good airline connections to almost anywhere. Seru Boca Marina has slips for storage. For haulout, contact Antillean Slipway in Willemstad for work and their associated Curaçao Boat Yard for storage on the hard. Curaçao Yacht Club is mostly for local boats. Dinghies can be tied to a dock at Sarifundy's, Kees' Place or the fishermen's marina.
SeaPort Marina has slips for rent. Leave your dinghy in the marina or use the fishermen's marina near the hotels.
Club Náutico has docks for about 50 boats, Med-moor style. Club de Pesca is a local club/marina which has some finger slips available for visiting cruisers. There are three haulout facilities in Cartagena. The Navy yard takes care of big boats, catamarans are lifted out by cables, and there is a 40-ton travelift at the other yards - all good facilities. Club Náutico has the dinghy dock for boats at anchor.
José Probe Marina, to the west of the San Blas, has moorings available for storage - make reservations. Panama Canal Yacht Club in Colón has slips and a Med-moor dock on a first-come basis; they have a railway for basic work. Balboa Yacht Club on the Pacific side has moorings (no marina) and a railway. Pedro Miguel Boat Club, within the canal, has a small marina with a crane if you want to drop your mast. When in Colon, you can anchor in the Flats and leave your dinghy at the dock in Panama Canal Yacht Club.
As almost everyone knows, Trinidad is the place to have marine parts shipped in. The next places to ship parts to are Curaçao and Panama. In between, shipping in is more difficult or costly, but there are some places to buy parts locally.
There is a marine store at Harbor Village Marina (not cheap). There is a Napa auto parts store and, if you check around town, you can find a few miscellaneous items. There are a couple of hardware-type stores.
If you look, you can find a few stores for basics, although most cruisers get things shipped in. There is a Napa store on the island.
Very limited selection. This is not really a cruiser hangout.
There are a few marine parts stores and an unlimited supply of auto parts (12 volt) stores. The Home Mart or ServiStar are places to visit if you need tools, garden items, household goods, lamps, etcetera. MultiElectrico (on the side street, across the street, from Home Mart) can take care of alternator repairs and parts, bulb replacements, wires, etcetera - anything electrical. Ignacio Sierra (just over the bridge from Club de Pesca on Calle Larga on the right) is the place for nuts, bolts, screws, cutlasses, plumbing pieces, etcetera; if they don't have it, they will make it. There are many cruisers in Cartagena who have been there many years; they can direct you where to go for whatever you need.
The currency here is NAf (Netherlands Antillean florin) which exchanges to 1.75 NAf per US$1. Here you can use US dollars or your credit card (with no problems) and you get change in US$ and NAf coins. The official exchange rate varies, of course, but ATM withdrawals or VISA advances from the bank give you a better rate than stores or restaurants. It's a small island with several ATMs around.
The same situation as on Bonaire. Use all of your NAfs here as there is nowhere else to the west to use them.
Although part of The Netherlands, Aruba is no longer associated with the Netherlands Antilles. They have their own Aruban paper and coin florins and won't accept NAfs from Bonaire or Curaçao. However, the exchange rate is the same: 1.75 per US$1. As we mentioned before, Aruba is a tourist island, so ATMs are everywhere and all those tourists use credit cards (there's been no known fraud).
The official currency is the Colombian Peso, which was over 2100 per US$1 in November 2000. Some stores take US dollars but give you a lower exchange rate; most places use 2000 per US$1. Your best deal is ATM withdrawal, and they are everywhere. If you have the time to wait in line, you can go inside the bank for VISA advances. Cruisers have used credit cards here with no bad experiences that we know of. When you are ready to leave, spend most of your pesos, but save a few for Rosarios - aquarium admission is 10,000 Ps per person (see Restaurants and Shoreside Activities, below), and locals there have fish, lobster and necklaces for sale.
The official currency is the US dollar, although prices get quoted as "Balboa". The paper money is US dollars, and coins are the Panamanian Balboa which are exactly the same size and value as US coins. Have lots of small denomination US dollars for the San Blas; you'll need lots of cash to buy molas. There are no ATMs, no credit card usage, no cash advances in the San Blas. However, those services are available in Colon and Panama City.
Phone / Fax / Internet / Mail
For all locations, the best bet for out-going mail is someone flying back home.
There are phones along the waterfront and at TELBO, the phone company, that require phone cards. There is one phone inside the phone company that is an ATT direct phone. The office at Harbor Village Marina will send or receive your faxes, as will the phone company. The internet cafe is upstairs next to the karate school near Cultimara market; the cost is US$9/hour, or you can purchase weekly or monthly time. The Marina Store has a computer for access but is more expensive. Flat mail can be sent through Harbor Village Marina; use FedEx. Incoming packages will go through Rocargo and you will pay some charges, and possibly 30 percent Customs duties unless you depart immediately.
There is a phone available at Sarifundy's, one at Kees' Place and one at Seru Boca Marina. You can dial ATT and pay a minimal charge to the bartender. Get your faxes sent to Sarifundy's. There is internet access at the one computer at Sarifundy's or the two computers at Kees' Place for US$8/hour. There are several internet cafes in Willemstad at US$12/hour or only US$2/hour at the library. Cruisers either get their mail quickly or have long delays; there is no rhyme or reason why. Packages and flat mail are duty-free. We recommend FedEx.
Phones are very difficult unless you use a phone card. We had no success getting through to ATT and had to make a credit card call. Use the hotels or phone company for faxes. Internet cafés are located in a few shopping malls at US$15/hour. We've had no experience with mail.
There is a phone at Club Náutico with direct ATT access; this is on the wall at the left end of the bar. The only problem is that the electrical power to the phone is wired with the stereo at the bar, so there is lots of noise. The phone card phone is at the right of the dinghy dock. You can use the phone companies in town for phones and faxes. Club Náutico will send/receive faxes. There are several internet cafés around town; one is two blocks from Club Náutico. Cost is $3/hour. FedEx is best for flat mail to Club Náutico. If you have packages sent to you, they may never show up; apparently the Customs officials like to hold them for ransom, or they get "stuck" in Bogota.
Surprisingly, there are phones in most villages in the San Blas. However, there are often long lines to make calls and it is difficult to get past the busy signal. Some phones are coin, some are phone card; and you can access ATT. There are several phones at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. There are no fax machines in the San Blas but the PCYC will send/receive your faxes. The internet has not yet reached the San Blas, however there is an air-conditioned café in Colon, or the office at PCYC, for US$3/hour. You cannot get mail in the San Blas unless you make special arrangements through Julie Arias to have it flown in (for a price). In Colon, the US Postal Service International Express Mail takes 2 or 3 days to get to a nearby post office. FedEx and DHL will deliver to the yacht club. Packages can be sent to the yacht club with no duty owing as long as they are marked "yacht in transit". Great place to have all those marine parts sent in! You may pay a small delivery or Customs clearing fee.
Laundry & Garbage
Remember that you can always do laundry by hand. You should separate your garbage - paper, plastics, tins, bottles, biodegradable items.
Harbor Village Marina office collects laundry daily before 9:30AM and it is returned the next day after 10AM; it is not cheap because the water is desalinated. You can take your laundry to the laundromat near the stadium to do yourself, but it's not much cheaper. There are some garbage bins behind the fuel dock, or take your garbage to the dinghy dock and drop it in the bins behind the Harborside Mall.
Laundry machines are available at Sarifundy's and Kees' Place for small cost. Garbage bins are behind both these places.
We found machines on the 7th floor of the Holiday Inn (south tower) for $1 wash and $1 dry. These are for hotel guests so act like a hotel guest. Use the garbage bins to keep the waters clean.
You will have to do your own laundry here - the next machines are in Cartagena. For your garbage, when at sea (not at anchor!) you can break your bottles, punch holes in tins so they sink, and toss foodstuffs. Or, store garbage until you see proper bins.
There are some friendly ladies at Club Náutico who'll do your laundry for you - 2800 pesos for wash and 3000 pesos for dry. Club Náutico also has a garbage collection area.
In the San Blas, you must do your own laundry. If you need to collect water, anchor close to the mainland; it usually rains. Also, you can dinghy up some of the mainland rivers to get fresh water. Some islands have freshwater pools where you can bucket some water for laundry. If the island is inhabited, ask permission first. Take care of your own garbage; don't give it to local people for disposal, as they often just dump it in the water. Cruisers have organized "garbage burns" for their combustibles - if doing this on an inhabited island, ask permission. And anywhere, make sure everything is thoroughly burnt, the fire is really out and the ashes are well buried. In Colon, there are machines at PCYC for laundry and there is a small garbage collection area.
Restaurants and Shoreside Activities
The scuba diving, which is spectacular, is the primary reason to stop here. If you dive, you will love it. If you snorkel, you will love it. The Marine Park has well-marked mooring buoys all along the coast and around Klein Bonaire for diving/snorkeling. These are well maintained and offer a variety of sites, all within a dinghy ride. Since most tourists here are on "dive holidays", you will pay tourist prices at the many good restaurants. There are restaurants at most of the dive resorts as well as many in town, all within walking distance. If you need a movie fix, there is a cinema but it costs US$8/person per movie. A rental car ride around the island is fun, but the island is small and the drive only takes 2 or 3 hours.
The sightseeing downtown is very nice, with lots of colorful buildings. There are some dive sites just outside Spanish Water, within dinghy distance. Farther up the west coast there are a few dive sites with moorings. Anchor up that way or rent a car and do shore dives. There is a nice Seaquarium on Curaçao, but cruisers see those fish all the time. There are cinemas in Willemstad but they are not cheap. Rent a car to see the island and do some provisioning. Sarifundy's and Kees' Place in Spanish Water have small restaurants. In town, there are many eating places ranging from fancy to McDonalds.
A tourist island with many expensive shops and restaurants. All the hotels have casinos. Aruba has many condo/timeshare resorts for all those tourists. Take a few hours to listen through the "sales talk" and you'll get a rental car for two days or a US$100 dinner certificate; just don't buy a timeshare. With the rental car you can see the island and do some provisioning. If you need a burger fix, choose from Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonalds. Enjoy shopping galore! There is a cinema here that is expensive.
If you stop at Monjes, hike to the top for a tour of their radar station and view of "the rock". At other anchorages, walking the beach and snorkeling are the activities; these are places to relax and catch up on reading. You will find small beach restaurants in the five bays. Rodadero is a resort town with beach restaurants and water activities. Nothing else until Cartagena.
This is a great city. The Old Town (known as "Centro" to locals) is a fabulous place. The old buildings now house small shops, restaurants and museums. It is very busy during the day; people all around selling everything. Shopping is good in Cartagena; you can find almost anything you need. At night, take a taxi to see the sights and try all the wonderful restaurants. Try a tour of the city and beyond. If you'd like a mud bath, visit the volcano outside the city. Club Náutico has a small, very reasonably priced restaurant (daily specials are the best: US$1 for breakfast, $2.50 for lunch, $8 for dinner). There are many reasonably priced (US$10 for dinner; $5 for lunch) eating places within walking distance of Club Náutico. Check with other cruisers for their favorites. Some cruisers have spent three weeks in Cartagena and never cooked a meal on their boat.
The attraction here is the clear water for swimming and snorkeling, welcome after the filthy stuff in Cartagena. The aquarium at the west end of the island group is a must-see for 10,000 pesos (US$5). Get away from the big city and enjoy. There are a few small hotels that will serve you a beer and/or a meal.
ISLAS SAN BERNARDOS
Not much here except clear clean water for great swimming and snorkeling.
SAN BLAS ISLANDS
No restaurants or activities per se, but these islands are a wonder in themselves. The Kuna villages to the east are traditional, with only some outside influence. Each village will provide you with a different experience. These people are happy and friendly. Expect visitors to your boat, primarily to sell you molas, but the fishermen sell fish, crab and lobster. If you wish to have gifts for the people, bring candy for the kids; men always appreciate extra fishing hooks, etcetera; the women can use sewing needles, fabrics and reading glasses.
Now you have all the information you need for cruising the Colombian Coast. All you need to do is pull up that anchor. This is a great area to cruise, one that is still somewhat undeveloped and off the beaten path. We strongly recommend this coastal cruise before transiting the Panama Canal or heading to the northwest Caribbean.
We encourage everyone to pass on this "guide" to others behind you. If you are located in any of the popular cruiser spots, post this on a bulletin board. We welcome e-mail messages at email@example.com with your questions, comments or requests for copies of this guide. NOTE: We do not have e-mail on our boat but use local cyber cafés when and if we get to them.
All the best for a safe passage from Lourae and Randy on Pizazz!
Copyright© 2001 Compass Publishing