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

Photo of Chris Bell
4 June 2021

The Rosario Islands are an archipelago located within a national park on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, about an hour from the popular tourist city of Cartagena. They are beautiful, diverse and well worth a visit. Here are some of the top reasons why you should visit the Rosario Islands at least once in your lifetime.

They are one of Colombia's most important national parks

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

They are easy to visit from Cartagena

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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At approximately 100km (62mi) from Cartagena, it’s also really easy to pay the islands a visit. Anyone can enjoy a trip to the islands, even if it’s just for a day. Most of the islands can be reached in an hour or less from Cartagena’s docks, so even if your trip to Colombia is short, you don’t need to worry about missing out on the Rosario Islands.

They are a nice contrast to the city

As well as being satisfyingly close to the city, the Rosario Islands also provide a nice contrast in landscape and pace. While Cartagena is undoubtedly beautiful, it can get very touristy and hot and after a few days, leaving many looking for a break from the urban environment. Enter the Rosario Islands, with cool breezes, beautiful nature and a laid-back attitude – they make the perfect weekend getaway.

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  • The Secret Paradise Hostel

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    Screenshot 2021-05-26 at 22.27.22
    Courtesy of Paradiso Secreto / Hostel world

    One of Colombia’s coolest backpacker hostels, Secret Paradise is a unique hostel collective located on Isla Grande. The seven different hostels are all located in the former luxurious mansions of Emerald barons, and are as opulent as that fact suggests. 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.

    Stunning Caribbean beaches

    The beaches of Isla Grande are some of the best in the Rosario Islands and anywhere in Colombia | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

    Although some of the islands are rocky or surrounded by mangroves, many of them are home to stunning, picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, complete 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 that you even get fisherman anchoring their boats alongside yours to sell you some fresh-out-of-the-sea lobster or shellfish.

    There’s something for everybody

    The beauty of visiting the Rosario Islands is that there truly is something on offer for all different tastes – more adventurous travellers can take a kayak out onto the sea, go diving, or sport-fishing. Not for you? Relaxed visitors can easily idle away a day on the beach, chilling in a hammock, or sipping a cocktail while watching the sunset.

    You can kayak in mangroves

    One of the coolest activities you can enjoy on a visit to the Rosario Islands is a kayaking trip among the majestic mangrove tunnels of Isla Grande. This unique ecosystem is common on the islands and there are not many more fun things to do when you visit than jump in a kayak and set out to explore the surreal tunnels formed by the mangroves.

    The Oceanarium

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    Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Oceanarium, San Martin de Pajarales island, Rosario Islands, Cartagena de Indias, Bolivar, Colombia, South
    © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

    The natural aquarium on Isla de Pajarales is also known as the Oceanarium and is a great place to visit if you’re travelling with children, or are interested in learning more about the underwater wonders of the region. With dolphins, nurse sharks, and many more amazing species, all housed in natural, saltwater pools, the Oceanarium might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fun and interesting way to spend an hour.

    Stunning sunsets

    As you’d expect from an archipelago of Caribbean islands, the sunsets at the Rosario Islands are some of the most spectacular in the Caribbean. Any westward-facing hotel or beach offers front-row seats to this wonderful spectacle and every night is different, so expect to see some truly 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 surrounding the Rosario Islands. With many well-preserved coral reefs and even a few wreck-dives to enjoy, you can sign up for a day’s diving or a course easily in Cartagena.

    Luxury accommodation

    Courtesy of Hotel Pedro Majagua / Expedia

    While there are hostels and hammocks available for accommodation on the Rosario Islands, there are also more exclusive and upmarket options available if you fancy making your visit a little more luxurious and special. Resort hotels like Isla del Pirata Hotel, Hotel Pedro Majagua or Gente de Mar all offer combinations of luxury rooms, private beaches, and quality food.

    More info

    Pirate Island

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    Aerial view of Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario) off the coast of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
    2AJXY68 Aerial view of Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario) off the coast of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. | © R.M. Nunes / Alamy Stock Photo

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

    Private yacht tours

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

    Phosphorescent plankton at the 'Enchanted Lagoon'

    Natural Feature
    Map View
    This brackish water lake at the heart of Isla Grande is famous for the stunning and surreal spectacle of phosphorescent plankton which, on a dark, star-free night, seem to glow and oscillate with light at every touch of the water. Swimming in the lake at night, watching tiny green lights dance around your body is one of the most unique and memorable reasons to visit the Rosario Islands.
    These recommendations were updated on June 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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