Why You Should Visit the Rosario Islands at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Isla Grande, Rosario Islands, offer gorgeous scenery and laid-back fun
Isla Grande, Rosario Islands, offer gorgeous scenery and laid-back fun | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Chris Bell
3 September 2021

The Rosario Islands form an archipelago on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Think beach days, snorkeling adventures and cocktail sunsets. And all just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena. That’s reason enough for most to visit. But if you need a little more, here’s why you should make the journey to this magical destination.

They form one of Colombia’s most important national parks

As part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, the Rosario Islands are integral to one of the most important areas of natural beauty in Colombia. As a result, the islands and surrounding waters are remarkably well preserved and protected, meaning you can enjoy their wonders as nature intended.

They are easy to visit from Cartagena

Around 62mi (100km) from Cartagena, the archipelago is easy to visit. Most of the islands can be reached in about an hour from the Cartagena docks, so even if your trip to Colombia is short, you don’t need to worry about missing out on the Rosario Islands. Fancy a slice of this tropical paradise? A day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena is included as part of Culture Trip’s epic eight-day Colombian Caribbean adventure, led by our local insider.

You can hop on a boat from Cartagena to reach the islands | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

They are a nice contrast to the city

Though close to the city, the islands provide a nice contrast to the tourists, heat and pace of Cartagena. The cool breezes, beautiful nature and laid-back attitude here make it the perfect weekend getaway.

You can stay at the Secret Paradise hostels

Among the coolest backpacker hostels in Colombia, Secret Paradise is a unique hostel collective on Isla Grande. It’s formed of seven outposts, all opened within the former mansions of emerald barons. With great swimming pools, airy terraces and well-appointed rooms – as well as a privileged location right on the seafront – the Secret Paradise might not be that secret these days, but it remains a paradise.

The Secret Paradise hostels were opened in the mansions of emerald barons | Courtesy of Secret Paradise Hostel / Hostelworld

You can spend all day on white-sand Caribbean beaches

Although some of the islands are rocky or surrounded by mangroves, many are home to picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, with white sand, sparkling blue waters, a few palm trees and not much else.

The food is delicious

The seafood available on the islands is about as fresh as any you’re likely to find in Colombia. And it’s so plentiful, you even get fisherman anchoring their boats alongside yours to sell you fresh-out-of-the-sea lobster or shellfish.

There’s something for everybody

The beauty of visiting the Rosario Islands is that there’s an activity for everyone. Adventure lover? Grab a kayak to explore the Caribbean Sea or journey through the mangroves before snorkeling coral reefs or grabbing a rod to go sport fishing. Looking to chill? The beach offers relaxed days, hammocks and cocktails.

Active adventurers can take a kayak onto the Caribbean Sea | © PJPHOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

You can see stunning sunsets

As you’d expect from a Caribbean archipelago, the sunsets here are spectacular. Any westward-facing hotel or beach offers front-row seats. Every night is different, so expect to see some memorable sunsets during your visit.

You can scuba dive

Whether you fancy learning to dive or are already an expert, you will certainly enjoy scuba diving in the protected waters here. There are well-preserved coral reefs, and even a few wrecks, to explore. To keep things simple, many arrange dive trips while in Cartagena, which could include transportation and hotel pick up and drop off.

You can sleep in luxury accommodation

While there are budget-friendly hostels and hammocks here, there are also more exclusive and upmarket options available. Resort hotels such as Isla del Pirata Hotel, Hotel San Pedro de Majagua or Gente de Mar offer luxury rooms, private beaches and quality food.

You can visit Pirate Island

The Isla del Pirata is one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, but also one of the prettiest. While most tour boats head straight for Baru and Playa Blanca, Pirate Island is more tranquil and a generally fantastic place to spend a few days in the Caribbean.

Pirate Island is one of the more laid-back destinations in the archipelago | © RGB Ventures / SuperStock / Alamy Stock Photo

You can take a private yacht tour

If you want to experience the magic of the Rosario Islands in true luxury, arrange a tour of them in a private yacht or catamaran. There are many tour agencies in Cartagena that offer these luxury packages, so if you have a group of friends and some money to spend, you can enjoy the azure waters around the islands aboard a lovely yacht.

You can witness phosphorescent plankton at the Enchanted Lagoon

The brackish water lake at the heart of Isla Grande is home to the surreal spectacle of phosphorescent plankton, which, on a dark, star-free night, glow and oscillate with every touch of the water. Swimming in the lake at night while watching tiny green lights dance around your body is one of the most memorable experiences you can have on the islands.

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