What happens when dreamy TV commercials come to life? We sent contributing editor Kerri Allen on a preview trip to Corona Island to find out.
CORONA ISLAND, Colombia - You know the Corona commercial: chair in sand, beer in hand, ocean for miles. You know it because the Mexican beer company has been airing iterations of that TV spot for more than 30 years. Its enduring allure is the type of getaway it flaunts — a sun-drenched island where there's absolutely nothing to do.
This year, in the kind of fantasy come-to-life move that’s the stuff of brand-extension fantasies, the company turned that dream into a reality by creating Corona Island on a tiny speck of land in the Caribbean Sea, 45 minutes off of the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.
While the destination has been created by a consumer brand and bears its name, this is no Margaritaville Island or Disney’s Castaway Cay, to name two examples of islands created as brand extensions by corporations. Corona Island is also not a party place (nor a place to quarantine coronavirus patients, which the unfortunate timing of its name could evoke). In a delightful turn, it’s actually a sustainably-minded, beachy-chic getaway that, well, just so happens to be owned by a beer company.
My fiancé and I recently spent four days there for a sneak peek of what awaits guests when the one-and-a-half acre island officially opens in summer 2023. Our hour-long ride from Cartagena was exciting, anticipation mounting as we spotted thatched-roof bungalows in the distance. As our boat approached the shore, the smiling staff in matching attire dotting the water’s edge waved their hands and Corona bottles at us. (Yes — very White Lotus.) We immediately kicked off our sandals, gratefully accepted the beer foisted into our palms, and began living the island dream that those commercials promise.
A Rustic Luxe Escape
Architectural firm James & Mau and Colombian architect Jairo Márquez created the vibe that might be called elevated rustic or island chic. Sometimes the lights go out. Sometimes the water doesn’t work. The meals take a while to prepare and arrive. The truth is that you’re on an incredibly small island with very little infrastructure, and that’s a treasure in my book, not an inconvenience. These natural quirks helped reinforce that I was on Mother Nature’s turf, and not the other way around.
One side of the island is the beach, a narrow sandy patch where blue and white day beds perch along the calm, bathwater-warm Caribbean. A two-minute walk to the other side of the island finds you at the Sun Club, a great place for morning yoga, an afternoon nap in a massive hammock, or an evening DJ set.
With only ten bungalows, the idea is that no more than twenty guests are there at a time in order to space out and reconnect. Each 96-square-foot bungalow is named after a sun ritual or story from an indigenous culture; a wooden surfboard placed in the sand outside each building bears the name of the deity or rite along with its meaning. Inside the wooden structure, ceilings soar to 26 feet, beaded curtains lead to an outdoor shower, and private ocean-facing decks have a cold-water Jacuzzi for two.
A Modern, Plastic-Free Paradise
Corona Island claims to be the world’s first island that is entirely free of single-use plastics. (In the modern era, obviously. The entire earth was plastic-free for a few billion years.) This is relatively manageable when you only have 20 guests at a time, instead of hundreds or thousands as many hotels do, but the point is greater. The beer brand is aiming to drive sustainability on a global scale and is betting that this unique immersion into nature will create a new generation of climate-forward fans.
And if those fans happen to be beer lovers lured by a happy-go-lucky, chill-on-the-beach island fantasy who leave that fantasy island with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the climate emergency, well, all the better.
I was initially a little skeptical about the whole initiative, but I left with the sense that the people behind the scenes are sincerely using their corporate positions to do good in the world.
Corona Island was most recently known as Isla Arena, one of the 27 Rosario Islands that are part of the Natural National Parks of Colombia. Corona is contracting eco-tourism services from the island’s original tenant, who leases the island from the Colombian government.
The international NGO Oceanic Global synced up with Corona to create educational eco-experiences that immerse travelers in protecting the local ecosystem. Slathered in reef-safe sunblock, I spent a morning snorkeling around a nearby reef to see the active restoration work to bring it back to vibrant life. Another day, our group canoed out with local islanders for a half-day of planting mangrove seedlings among damaged groves. Back on Corona Island, we centered ourselves with sunrise yoga and evening stargazing through a professional-grade telescope. Staying as unplugged as possible, I finally made headway into Gabriel García Márquez’s iconic Love in the Time of Cholera.
The island is a wonderland of local wildlife that are unfazed by people. Rescued sea turtles paddle around a protected pool, while parrots, toucans, and monkeys freely roam the grounds, perch on your bungalow door, or boldly steal your food.
Can you blame them? The sustainable food program was designed by Chilean chef Christopher Carpentier and uses locally-sourced ingredients. Desserts are creatively made from leftover food scraps, and an island herb garden helps spice up dishes. Our dinner menus ranged from steaming pans of Spanish paella to a typical Colombian dish of fried plantains and the freshly-caught red snapper I watched fishermen haul in from the sea early one morning.
No surprise, Coronas in twelve- and seven-ounce sizes were plentiful and available 24-7, as was an array of Corona hard seltzers, which bartenders mixed with fresh juices into refreshing cocktails each evening. These were were handed directly to guests across the island, and small beer fridges stayed fully stocked in the common areas and in every bungalow. Somewhat surprisingly, chef Christopher’s menu was not reliant on the brew, and alternative (plastic-free) non-alcoholic drinks were offered at every meal.
Corona’s tagline is “this is living.” But no one can expect to live life to its fullest unless corporations, governments and every individual traveler does their part to protect all life here on our beautiful planet.
Let’s raise a recyclable glass to that.
Plan Your Trip
Corona Island is a private island run by AB InBev’s Corona Global, and as such has specific rules and regulations. Because Corona U.S. operates under a different parent brand, Constellation Brands, the island experience is not yet available to citizens of the United States or its territories. If you’re a citizen of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, and South Africa, pre-booking is open now for stays beginning starting July 17, 2023. Day passes from 9 a.m.–3 p.m. will also be offered.
The closest airport to Corona Island is Rafael Núñez International Airport in Cartagena, a hub for Avianca.