Rosario Islands: A True Caribbean Paradise Near Cartagena

Rosario Islands day trip from Cartagena

When it comes to idyllic beach destinations, the Rosario Islands off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia deserve serious consideration.

This breathtaking archipelago offers pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, and a blissfully tranquil atmosphere – the epitome of a tropical island paradise.

Located roughly an hour to ninety minutes by boat from the historic port city of Cartagena, the Rosario Islands are comprised of dozens of small coral islands and islets.

Despite their proximity to the Colombian mainland, these islands have managed to retain an unspoiled, secluded ambiance that immediately transports visitors to a world of relaxation.

A beach on Rosario Islands
Image credit: Jorge Láscar

A National Park Teeming With Natural Beauty

The Rosario Islands fall within the boundaries of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, ensuring the preservation of the region’s remarkable biodiversity.

The islands themselves offer diverse landscapes, ranging from lush mangrove forests to rocky outcroppings adorned with swaying palm trees.

While some of the larger islands like Isla Grande and Barú feature limited development in the form of quaint fishing villages and eco-lodges, many of the smaller islands remain virtually untouched.

It is not uncommon to spot tiny private islands boasting just a solitary beach house – an idyllic setting that exemplifies the Rosario Islands’ remote, secluded allure.

Let’s dive into two of the most renowned islands within the Rosarios: Isla Baru and Isla Grande.

Private resort in Rosario Islands archipelago
Image credit: Ben Bowes

Isla Baru: The Gateway To Island Bliss

As the largest and most accessible island, Isla Baru serves as the perfect introduction to the Rosario archipelago.

This island’s crown jewel, Playa Blanca, captivates visitors with its enticing white sands and alluring turquoise waters, reminiscent of a postcard-perfect paradise.

While Isla Baru’s natural splendor is undeniable, it’s important to note that its popularity has led to some overcrowding, especially at Playa Blanca.

However, by exploring quieter sections like Playa Tranquila or venturing during the early morning hours, you can still find pockets of tranquility amidst the island’s beauty.

Playa Blanca
Image credit: Jorge Láscar

Isla Grande: The Serene Escape

If you’re seeking a truly serene and authentic island experience, look no further than Isla Grande.

Spanning over 200 hectares, this verdant oasis is renowned for its laid-back atmosphere and untouched natural wonders.

One of the highlights of Isla Grande is its network of shaded walking paths, inviting you to lose yourself in the island’s lush greenery.

The island’s clear waters and vibrant coral reefs make it a haven for snorkelers and divers alike, while its secluded beaches offer the perfect spot for quiet relaxation.

Pro-Traveler Tip: To fully immerse yourself in Isla Grande’s enchanting ambiance, consider staying for a few nights.

This will allow you to escape the day-tripper crowds and experience the island’s tranquil rhythm at your own pace.

Somewhere on Isla Grande
Image credit: Joe Ross

Unforgettable Experiences Await

No visit to the Rosario Islands would be complete without indulging in some of the unique experiences this archipelago has to offer.

Embark on a mangrove tour and witness the mesmerizing sight of bioluminescent plankton illuminating the waters at night.

Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the island’s hidden coves and inlets, or simply bask in the sun on a secluded beach, cocktail in hand.

For those seeking a truly exclusive escape, consider renting a private island.

Yes, you read that correctly – the Rosarios offer the opportunity to have an entire island all to yourself and your loved ones, complete with luxurious accommodations and personalized services.

Private island in Islas del Rosario archipelago
Image credit: Jorge Láscar

A Showcase Of Colombia’s Ecotourism

In recent years, the Rosario Islands have emerged as a premier ecotourism destination on Colombia travel itineraries.

Numerous eco-lodges and sustainable resorts have popped up across the islands, offering visitors an opportunity to experience the region’s natural wonders while minimizing their environmental impact.

One standout property is IslaBela, an eco-resort located on the petite island of Isleta.

This serene oasis features charming bungalows nestled amid lush tropical vegetation, and its pristine beach area is widely regarded as one of the best in the Rosario archipelago.

For those seeking a more upscale experience, the exclusive Las Islas resort offers a luxurious yet sustainable approach to island living.

Situated on the remote Barú island (formerly peninsula), this high-end property features sumptuous overwater bungalows and villas immersed in the region’s natural splendor.

Resort on Isla Baru
Image credit: Joe Ross

Getting To The Rosario Islands

The first step in your island adventure is reaching the coastal city of Cartagena.

This vibrant destination is easily accessible by air from major cities across Latin America and the United States. You can also journey there by land from other regions of Colombia.

Once in Cartagena, you’ll need to arrange transportation to the islands themselves.

The most popular and comfortable option is taking a speedboat from one of the tourist piers in Cartagena’s historic center, such as La Bodeguita Pier or Los Pegasos Tourist Pier.

Boat services run daily, with departures between 8:30 and 9:00 am and return trips scheduled for 3:30 to 4:00 pm.

Advance booking, at least a day prior, is highly recommended due to limited availability.

Ticket prices range from approximately 60,000 COP (around $20 USD) for a basic trip to upwards of 200,000 COP (roughly $70 USD) for an all-inclusive experience with access to private beaches and luxury island resorts.

A ferry bound to Islas del Rosario
Image credit: Joe Ross

Alternative Transportation Options

In addition to the popular speedboat services from Cartagena, visitors can also choose to reach the Rosario Islands via regular 1-hour boat services that run daily between the city’s ports and the islands.

This option is particularly convenient for groups or those traveling with a significant amount of luggage, as it offers ample space for comfortable transport.

Alternatively, you can arrange a private boat rental or book an excursion through one of the many local tour agencies catering to island visitors.

Private sailboat near Rosario Islands
Image credit: Joe Ross

A Perfect Island-Hopping Day Trip From Cartagena

If you’re visiting the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena, Colombia for 3 days or longer, an absolute must-do is a day trip island-hopping through the nearby Rosario Islands.

This stunning archipelago sits just an hour away by boat and offers a tropical paradise escape.

To make the most of your time, consider booking the highly-rated Islas del Rosario Tour with a company like Backpackers Colombia.

At around $95 per person, this comprehensive tour includes:

  1. Round-trip transportation from your Cartagena hotel
  2. Guided boat tour visiting 4 different islands
  3. Use of snorkeling gear during a dedicated snorkeling stop
  4. Breakfast snacks like fresh fruit and water
  5. Traditional Colombian snack like octopus or fish ceviche
  6. Lunch served on one of the beautiful island beaches
  7. Entrance fees to the Rosario Islands National Park

With transportation, meals, gear, and park fees covered, you can simply enjoy the islands without the hassle of planning logistics yourself.

Prepare for an early start with a 6:30am hotel pickup to maximize your day in the islands.

You’ll travel by air-conditioned bus for about an hour to the town of Baru, where you’ll transfer to a boat for a 20-minute ride to your first island stop.

  1. Isla de Pirata (Pirate Island): Named for 19th-century pirate artifacts discovered here, spend your first hour snorkeling above the island’s vibrant coral reefs. The clear, shallow waters provide excellent visibility to spot colorful tropical fish.
  2. Cholon Island: Next, you’ll visit Cholon, known as the area’s “party island”. You can sip cocktails from casual beach bars and swim in the refreshingly cool Caribbean waters. Just note that drinks tend to be pricier at these lively beach clubs.
  3. Playa Agua Azul: The highlight for many is Playa Agua Azul, boasting an incredible bright blue water hue you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll have time to simply relax on the pristine sandy beach, which is often delightfully free of crowds. This is also where you’ll be treated to a fresh Colombian snack like octopus or fish ceviche.
  4. Baru Island: For the final stop, you’ll visit the beaches of the Isla Baru, the former peninsula that was adjoining the Rosario Islands. Take in the eccentric, colorful restaurants and hotels lining the shore as you enjoy a traditional Colombian seafood lunch. Baru offers a laid-back, Caribbean atmosphere reminiscent of Tulum, Mexico.

You’ll depart Baru around 3pm to head back to Cartagena, arriving at your hotel around 4:15pm after dropping off other guests.

With incredible snorkeling, beach time, sightseeing, and authentic Colombian cuisine, this island-hopping tour truly offers a perfect day experiencing the natural beauty surrounding Cartagena.

Just be sure to book your tour in advance and be ready for an early wakeup call to make the most of your day in paradise!

Food on Rosario Islands day trip
Image credit: Joe Ross

Practical Tips For Your Visit

To ensure a seamless and enjoyable experience in the Rosario Islands, here are some practical tips to keep in mind:

  1. Getting There: You can reach the islands by booking a group tour, renting a private boat, or, for a more budget-friendly option, taking public transportation from Cartagena.
  2. Where to Stay: While Isla Baru offers a range of accommodations from luxury resorts to budget-friendly bungalows, consider splurging on a stay at one of Isla Grande’s eco-friendly or high-end properties for a truly immersive experience.
  3. Packing Essentials: Don’t forget to pack reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of cash (credit cards aren’t widely accepted on the islands).
  4. Respect the Environment: As a Natural National Park, it’s crucial to respect the delicate ecosystem of the Rosario Islands. Refrain from touching or damaging coral reefs, and properly dispose of any waste.

If you choose to build a DIY Rosario Islands getaway, follow these tips to ensure your trip is stress-free:

  • Book reputable tours in advance. Thoroughly research tour companies and read reviews. Look for companies with clear policies on costs, safety protocols and professional conduct.
  • Consider a private boat charter. For more flexibility and to avoid overcrowded group tours, look into chartering a private boat to take you island-hopping.
  • Pack a cooler for the boat. Bring your own drinks, snacks and picnic lunch to enjoy at your leisure on the islands rather than being confined to set meal schedules.
  • Identify your ideal beach spot. The Rosarios have both lively, amenity-filled beaches and more secluded, tranquil coves. Research to pick the vibe that suits your group best.
  • Build in buffer time. Leave some open time in your schedule in case you need to adjust for delays due to weather, boat schedules or crowds at certain islands.
  • Ask about taxes and fees upfront. Confirm any docking, national park or other fees are included so you aren’t surprised by extra costs.

With some savvy pre-planning, you can craft your perfect chilled-out beach escape in this island paradise. A little preparation goes a long way in avoiding hiccups.

Mangrove forest on Islas del Rosario
Image credit: Joe Ross

Plan Your Rosario Islands Escape Today

Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, the Rosario Islands offer an unforgettable Caribbean experience just a stone’s throw from the Colombian mainland.

With pristine beaches, vibrant marine life, and a dedication to sustainable tourism, this archipelago paradise is poised to become a must-visit destination for discerning travelers from around the world.

So start planning your Rosario Islands escape today – a true tropical utopia awaits!

Featured image credit: Rosalba Tarazona

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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