Back to the Blas
15 January 2018 | Yansalidup, San Blas, Kuna Yala, Panama
We had a wonderful visit with Lisa and enjoyed seeing Cartagena through her eyes. She accommodated herself right back into the boat routine so that hasn’t left her even after all these years. We wandered the city, museums, and boutiques. We went to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, one of the largest Spanish forts in the Indies and the only one to have never been captured. It is high on a hill above El Centro and commands great views. We also went to the Conventa de la Popa even higher on a hill overlooking the city, where you could see all the way to the Rosarios on a clear day. We sought out several rooftop bars for sundowners and enjoyed that wonderful perspective over this beautiful city and we enjoyed the cuisine of the many restaurants.
The neighborhood where the marina is located is Manga, an upscale place for the upper middle class, and interspersed with the high rise apartments are old traditional homes with beautiful courtyards. Walking along the waterfront for a couple of blocks brings you to Club Nautico, and a block up from there is Carullas, a wonderful, although expensive, grocery store. Walking in that direction for another mile or so brings you to the Plaza de Caribe, a very upscale mall, with a home center, grocery/ department store (a la Target) and many small shops and restaurants. Going the other way from Club de Pesca you cross a bridge over the lagoon and then you are in a neighborhood called Getsemani, full of restaurants, hostels and street art, and passing through there and past the convention center you see the walls of El Centro, the old city. From there to the left is a point of land covered with high rise apartments and hotels called Boca Grande. We found another very upscale mall there with a movie theater showing the new Star Wars film in English with Spanish subtitles, which we enjoyed very much.
The time flew by and Lisa had to go back to the cold on the 29th and we were leaving on the 30th. Unfortunately Lisa’s flight was delayed and she missed her connection in Ft. Lauderdale, but she was able to stay with brother Denny and Shannon after they kindly scooped her up and whisked her home with them. She was able to get home the next day, although to very cold temps after being in the tropical heat of Cartagena. We left on the 30th and went out to the Rosario Islands and anchored in a quiet spot in the Canal de Raton, between Isla Grande and Isla Naval. We sailed out of Bahia de Cartagena through the Boca Chica and passed the forts there. I spent a day cleaning the bottom of the boat and we had a relaxed New Years Eve there at anchor. From there we headed back over to the San Blas and cleared in at Porvinir. The politics of the area make checking in a frustrating, convoluted, and expensive process. We cleared immigration at Porvinir, and then had to go to Linton to get our cruising permit and then come back to the islands. The cost was a record for us, the most expensive check in the history of our travels. We paid $20 apiece and $20 for the boat to the Kuna Congresso as a tax, $100 per passport for immigration and $185 for the cruising permit for a total of $445, not counting the fuel and aggravation of having to go all the way to Linton and back. While in Linton we caught a chicken bus to Sabanitas to get to an ATM and replenish our cash supply and buy groceries.
Now we are relaxing in one of our favorite anchorages and decompressing after all the hubbub of the last couple of months. We will probably hang here in the islands for the next month or two and then look for windows to go back north.
For those who have found this and are thinking of visiting Cartagena by boat, here are some final thoughts. Cartagena is a magical place and definitely worth a visit, but there are some downsides to be aware of. You must by law use an agent to check in, and its expensive, $340.00 for us. The anchorage at Club Nautico is often crowded and is very rough when the pangas are running, usually in the morning and late afternoon. There are occasional thunderstorms locally called, culo de pollo, which have a lot of wind and rain and can cause boats to drag around a bit. The water is foul, we had an inch of weeds growing on our anchor chain after a week, and had our bottom cleaned twice while we were there. There is a lot of air pollution as well, the decks and rigging get covered with a black soot after a few days and need to be washed down. The marina at Club Nautico is a rough place. It’s all med moor and the fairways are very narrow. The harbor is rough enough that boats really rock and roll in the marina. They were working on the docks so this may improve in the future. Boats at anchor can use the showers and heads for a few dollars a day and the people there are very friendly. We liked Club de Pesca and the folks were very kind to us in letting us stay, but it is expensive. We stayed a month for $1450.00, but for that you get floating docks, good showers and heads, excellent security, and a convenient location. Finally knowing Spanish is a huge advantage, as English speakers are few a far between. For us all these were small problems and the city and its people made up for them by many times.
I would probably recommend a shorter stay, and maybe timing your visit when you need a haul out to paint, as there are good facilities there and you would have a clean bottom to leave.