Visitors to Cartagena, Colombia may find themselves seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city. For the discerning traveler, the beaches of Cartagena leave something to be desired. Those looking for turquoise waters, lush mangroves, and white sand beaches can head to the nearby Rosario Islands, or Islas del Rosario, a beautiful archipelago of 28 islands. Not sure how to get there or even what to do once you arrive? Keep reading. TN‘s guide to Colombia’s Rosario Islands will help you plan your ideal getaway!

1. How To Get To The Rosario Islands

Photo credit: Jess Loiterton

The Rosario Islands are located southwest of Cartagena, just a short 45 to 60-minute boat ride from the city. Some of the islands have hotels in which you may opt to stay overnight. However, many people simply visit for the day, via a group or private boat ride.

There are many tour companies offering group day trips that visit several of the islands and include lunch and drinks. This is, of course, a more affordable option than booking private transport.

Even if you don’t decide to stay overnight, you can still enjoy the activities and amenities hotels offer by booking a day pass. Some tour companies, such as Juan Bellena, offer packages that include property access for the day, transportation, a welcome drink, and lunch altogether.

2. What To Do In The Rosario Islands

Guide To Colombia's Rosario Islands
Photo credit: Hung Tran

Visitors to the Rosario Islands can enjoy a variety of fun and exciting activities. Having been declared a national park to preserve the amazing reefs and ecosystem home to a variety of marine life, the islands offer great opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling.

The Oceanarium is a marine aquarium and conservation center housing over 1,400 animals from 140 different local marine species. It offers dolphin shows and other exciting experiences with animals like turtles and sharks.

Like San Basilio de Palenque, the  Rosario Island of Barú was one of the places enslaved Afro-Colombians escaped to. Today it is still home to this community of Black Colombians. You can tour the town of Santa Ana to learn more about their culture and history.

Be sure to spend some time out on the water swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding, or just simply sunbathe on the beach and enjoy the tropical breeze and warm temperatures.

Relaxing, serene vibes can be found at places like the Coralina Island, Gente del Mar, and Isla Del Encanto.

Those looking for the turn up can visit Isla Cholón, where boats full of tourists and locals alike gather for some of the best day parties in the islands. There are also numerous beach clubs, such as Bora Bora, Rosario Beach Club, and Pao Pao, offering fresh seafood, great drinks, and music by the area’s top DJs.

3. Things To Know Before You Go

Guide To Colombia's Rosario Islands
Photo credit: Bruce Yuanyue Bi
  • From around December to April, it can get quite windy, making the waters choppy and rough. Returning to the mainland in the afternoon, you could be in for a very bumpy boat ride. If you’re visiting on a day trip, your captain may require an early return depending on weather conditions.
  • There are no ATMs in the Rosario Islands, so be sure to have cash on hand.
  • On some of the larger islands, you’ll encounter a lot of vendors approaching you selling everything from live lobsters to jewelry. They can be quite persistent. Do not accept their “free” samples unless you are planning to make a purchase.
  • If planning to stay overnight in a hotel, book early. Accommodations fill up quickly and there may not be much available at the last minute.
  • If possible, avoid visiting the Rosario Islands on weekends and Colombian holidays, as it tends to get quite crowded.

4. Where To Stay In The Rosario Islands

Guide To Colombia's Rosario Islands
Photo credit: Alexander Kuanas

Wondering where to book your overnight accommodations? These are some of the best hotels in the Rosario Islands:

  • Hotel Las Islas (Isla Barú) – This hotel offers a private beach, swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, bar, and garden. Free Wi-Fi is available and guests can enjoy a buffet breakfast. Hotel Las Islas also offers an ATM and currency exchange exclusively for guests.
  • Hotel IslaBela (Isla Grande) – This rustic eco-hotel offers bungalows, a private beach, a restaurant, bar, garden, free Wi-Fi, and room service. Guests can opt for a continental or à la carte breakfast.
  • Hotel Playa Manglares (Isla Barú) – This eco-lodge is located on Barbacoa Beach and just a 10-minute drive from Playa Blanca. It has a private beach and restaurant, and offers guests hammocks, open terraces, free Wi-Fi, and a variety of excursions. Breakfast is served daily and includes regional tropical fruits.
  • Coralina Island (Isla Marina) – Coralina Island has its own private beach, restaurant, and solarium. Three free meals are available for guests, with additional gourmet dishes available. Snorkeling, diving, boat tours, and additional activities can be arranged by the hotel.