Cartagena, Colombia, is a vibrant destination full of flavor, history, and charm. On the cobblestone streets of Old Town, at the buoyant beaches, and from the vivacious city squares, locals spread the colorful gospel of corncakes, fresh fruit, and Aguardiente. On a recent trip there, we found ourselves indulging in that and more before embarking on a boat journey to Isla de Tierra Bomba.
About 30 minutes away from the mainland, the small island is the closest to the city, with just a few lodging options. One of those immersive properties is Blue Apple. Connected to its natural surroundings, the main structure was first constructed as a family home in 2006. Nearly 10 years later, it was transformed into a luxury boutique hotel, when in 2016 Portia Hart founded Blue Apple on the property.
Previously a Monaco-based yacht broker for nearly a decade, Hart moved to Cartagena and immediately wondered why more yachts weren’t docking at the city. Overall, the feedback was that the Caribbean city lacked leisure activities. Prior to Blue Apple, her first endeavor in creating more beach infrastructure and activity was opening a restaurant, El Pescador de Colores, followed by three beach clubs, a hotel in the city center, and a charity. A client of hers at El Pescador de Colores owned the family home on Isla de Tierra Bomba, and immediately loved her concept of what she envisioned Blue Apple to be. So, it began.
Today, guests arrive by boat to private beachfront access. First, they see the main house with an enormous palm frond–thatched roof, tucked behind a beach volleyball court and an infinity pool, and surrounded by hanging hammocks, massage stations, and a collection of private cabaña cottages. Originally created as one main building and one cabaña with only six rooms available, the property has since grown to include four more cabañas with ten rooms available. Hart has also expanded the property’s event programming to include a scuba diving center (with Paraiso Dive, Cartagena’s top-rated school), six horses for riding excursions, an Artist in Residency program, and a sustainability project called Green Apple.
The Artist in Residency program houses artists who aim to create works inspired by their time on the island. In turn, the pieces are added to the Blue Apple collection. “I love the fact that it’s business interacting with art in a way that’s completely non-monetary. You have two people on the side of a transaction who both get what they want to give. I love the process of watching art be made. If you’re a painter, a writer, a photographer, a musician, a yoga teacher, a vegan chef . . . leave something behind in exchange for lodging,” said Hart. “We get people coming because they just need a couple of weeks in the sun; because they’ve had a horrific couple of months and need a break; because they’re looking for a different kind of light. It’s really interesting to learn about art from that perspective and that viewpoint, and it’s fascinating to see how different artists value their work.”
And from the residency program came Green Apple. “We welcomed a Canadian girl responsible for Toronto’s municipal recycling scheme. She said, ‘I can help you guys be more sustainable’ and stayed for a year instead of three months. She helped us analyze what and how we were throwing things away, and how to reduce it responsibly,” said Hart. “The process was mind-blowing.”
Today, run by volunteer-turned-director Jenny Teasdale, Green Apple is a non-government organization working with nine businesses (with a waiting list of 20 more). In exchange for assessments or assistance, it accepts donations to remain sustainable. At Blue Apple, the entity also has a composting system to receive organic waste and is the only glass-recycling center on the entire coast of Colombia. For other recyclables (like cardboard, tin, and plastic), there are organized collection carts that travel around the city every day to collect from their business partners. Green Apple also sends oil to a Colombian company that turns old cooking oil into biofuel, and just penned a deal with Diageo—the largest beverage company in the world.
“It’s become a real passion project,” said Hart. “What I would very much like in the future is to see little Green Apples all over Colombia—anywhere that’s rural, has a recycling problem and an unemployment issue, to prove that taking care of waste can actually generate really meaningful income for families that otherwise don’t have anything. We really just want the three Rs: reduce what we are using, reuse where we can, and recycle.”