Imagine a place hidden away on a Caribbean Island. A secret place, once home to the Emerald Narcos; a place lost to the jungle for years; a place where time slows almost to a stop. Secreto Hostel is that place and now it offers guests the most unique of hostel stays.
An hour by speedboat off the coast of Cartagena, Secreto Hostel let’s you experience this for yourself, find out what we thought.
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Before we dive in, have a look at this short video. It will help you to fully imagine what it’s going to be like once you reach Rosario Islands.
Hint: Pure heaven.
Secreto Hostel is a 5 Star Hostel in Colombia because…
From Cartagena, it takes an hour by speedboat to reach the island.
Head to Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita (the boat port) and find the Mary Cruz agent who will arrange a ticket for 50,000 pesos per person, each way, plus a mandatory tax of 18,500 pesos.
As you bounce across the waves the breeze hits your face along with the cooling spray from the sea and Cartagena fades into the distance.
The day-trippers and suitcase travellers staying at the island’s pricey hotels get dropped at various locations and soon it is just us and one other couple left heading for the secret hideaway.
We look at each other and smile, not saying a word. Smug in the fact we are the only ones who seem to know about this place, like a secret club for a select few.
All the previous stops had long formal jetties. For us, the boat glides into a small beach thick with trees from the mangroves, which cover much of the island. The boat glides to a halt and barefoot we jump into the ankle deep warm water.
A small sign tells us we are in the right place.
We collect our bags and follow the walkway cut through the mangrove. Grand looking iron gates once locked tight to keep people out (and possibly in) stand open.
We see the reception and the smiling faces of the staff. We have arrived.
Live like a Narco
Like all good stories of secret places, the versions differ. The truth, lost or changed perhaps for some reason.
The most common one you will hear, tells how the seven mansion houses, pool, bar and other buildings here, were originally built as a hideaway retreat for an Emerald ‘businessman’ – businessman used in the loosest possible term.
The nature of the legitimacy of his business is unknown but he used this as a getaway from family and friends.
He eventually left at some point in the 90s when the Narcos got out of control.
The story goes that they would take over the site, post guards on the door and it was ‘no one in, no one out’ for days whilst the party occurred. You can only begin to imagine what happened here.
Eventually, the place was abandoned.
For five years the jungle was left to invade and overrun the buildings.
In 2015 a group of individuals reclaimed the buildings from Mother Nature and the mansions were converted into individual hostels.
There is also the story of Pablo Escobar’s Villa on the island Rosario. Some people say this is just a legend, made up to make tourists come over.
Personally, I cannot say if it is true or not. Either way, the building itself is worth to visit. Once you enter, some residents will come and ask for an entrance fee. You can just negotiate.
The 6 buildings used to act as separately operated hostels, but now it is just a single hostel with 6 cute, colourful houses.
All communal areas including the bar, pool, lounge, dining area, reception and activity booking desk are for all guests to enjoy.
The bar offers soft drinks, beers and cocktails to drink and food is available throughout the day.
With little alternative options on the island, the prices aren’t the cheapest and the quality is average, so you may want to bring some provisions of your own.
Cheaper food can be bought in the village – which is definitely worth a stroll through the mangroves to reach.
La Pola, a small and basic family run restaurant offers fabulous seafood and stunning beachside views, but again isn’t cheap by Colombian standards.
Each of the six buildings are built in the same style and size; a French chalet style, with strong wooden frames. High ceilings are ornately crafted from quality wood and all is built to a high standard.
The buildings have character and a unique identity of their own.
Vibrant exteriors compliment the unique colour scheme, styling and furnishings inside each house.
Attention to detail is common throughout. Decorative touches dot the tables and decks, whilst inspirational quotes and beautiful paintings and murals cover the walls.
Leaving your shoes at the door, the stairs to the first floor lead you to a stunning lounge and decking area.
Dark wood seating set in a horseshoe surrounds a low chunky wood table, whilst a day bed and hammock are found in another section.
The shared bathroom, as with the whole of the entrance-way has a fabulous patterned tiled floor with a shower.
Two private rooms complete the lower floor. Comfortable double beds with mosquito nets and fans and generous storage space have windows on two sides looking into the grounds.
Upstairs an 8-bed dorm and 4-bed option flank the sides of the high vaulted ceiling giving plenty of floor space and an airy feel when the breeze picks up.
Explore the coastline or the mangroves by kayak or paddleboard. Rent bikes to cycle round the island. Boat trips out to great snorkelling spots or simply to see the island can be arranged as well.
If you only do one thing though make sure it is the night time plankton tour. At 40,000 pesos per person, it was a great and unique experience that we will never forget.
A group of 8 of us (minimum 5 required) headed out onto the dark sea at about 7.30 pm and slowly made our way under the guides expert navigational skills along the coast to a small bay.
Stopping at a jetty under the shade of the mangroves, we were encouraged to jump into the dark water.
As soon as you do you are immersed into a truly magical world.
The plankton glows a bright white in the water and comes to life even more with every stroke of your arms or legs. Trails of sparkling white dots like fairy dust from Tinkerbell in Peter Pan surround you.
Put on a snorkel mask and the show is even more amazing underwater. The constant, ‘oooohs’, ‘aaaahs’ and ‘wows’ that echoed over the water was a bit like watching a New Years Eve firework display.
Important: This experience depends completely on the weather. Some nights you cannot see anything and you will need to pay nevertheless. I found this was disappointing. I wish they would offer this tour when they know there is no plankton to see today. It might be not easy for them to know this beforehand…?! I don’t know. Just keep this mind.
Best idea: Ask fellow travellers if they join the tour and if they have seen the Plankton or not. I would make my final choice based on this information.
Secreto Hostel is located on Isla Grande the largest of the Rosario Island chain. It sleeps a maximum of 16 people which makes it an intimate experience.
There are no ATMs on the island so you must bring plenty of cash for your stay, though the reception and the bar do take card payments, all excursions and activities must be paid for with cash.
As with many places in Colombia and typically on a small island like this, there is no hot water either. This was not a problem since it is warm anyways. They ask you to take quick showers so that there is water for everybody.
Food in the complex isn’t overly cheap with all dishes being a set 25,000 pesos for dinner and 20,000 pesos for breakfast and lunch.
The small town – which is more like a very rural village, has a few small local stores where basic provisions can be purchased.
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