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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 national parks, and the only park in the country that is primarily underwater. As such, the islands and surrounding waters are remarkably well preserved and protected, meaning that you can enjoy their wonders as nature intended.
At approximately 100 kilometres from Cartagena, it’s also really easy to pay the islands a visit from the ‘Jewel of the Indies’, meaning that 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.
As well as being satisfyingly close to the city, the Rosario Islands are also a nice contrast to the city. While Cartagena is undoubtedly beautiful, it can get very touristy and hot, and after a few days, many people are looking for a break from the urban environment. Enter the Rosario Islands, with its cool breezes, beautiful nature, and laid-back attitude – the perfect weekend getaway.
One of Colombia’s coolest backpacker hostels, Paraiso Secreto 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.
Although some of the islands are rocky or surrounded by mangroves, many of them are home to stunning, picture-perfect Caribbean beaches: the kind of beaches that you want to experience in the Caribbean – white sand, sparkling blue waters, a few palm trees, and not much else!
The seafood available on the islands is about as good and 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.
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, while the more relaxed visitors can easily idle away a day on the beach, chilling in a hammock, or sipping a cocktail while watching the sunset.
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 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.
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 these wonderful spectacles, and every night is different, so expect to see some truly memorable sunsets during your visit.
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.
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.
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.
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 who 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 off the islands on board a very lovely yacht.
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.