Isla Roots Hostel in Colombia’s San Bernardo Islands – A Review

Isla Roots Hostel is located on Tintipán Island in Colombia’s San Bernardo Island Chain.  Surrounded by crystal clear water, mangrove swamps, and great vibes, it is a true backpacker’s paradise in the middle of the Caribbean.  My wife and I visited in July 2019 and loved it.  Read on for a complete review of Isla Roots Hostel and why you should consider visiting.

Disclosure:  My wife and I were given courtesy accommodation, standard meals, and some activities by Isla Roots in exchange for sharing our experience.  The opinions expressed here are still my own honest thoughts and do not reflect those of Isla Roots, its employees, or its management.  Please feel free to consult my Disclosure Policy.

Photo of a couple standing with the Isla Roots Hostel in the background
Susana and I at Isla Roots Hostel.

Where is Isla Roots Hostel?

Isla Roots is located on Tintipán Island, one of the 10 islands that make up the San Bernardo Archipelago off of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.  The islands are located about 80 km or 59 miles to the south of Cartagena.

They can be reached by an approximately 2 hour boat ride from Cartagena or a 45 minute boat ride from the town of Tolú about 4 hours south of Cartagena.  (More on the logistics of getting to Isla Roots at the end).

There is a growing tourist industry in the islands, and the nearby beaches have become a popular day trip destination.  However, the islands are still much lesser known than the Rosario Islands closer to Cartagena.  And few choose to actually stay in the islands beyond a day trip.

That makes it a perfect Caribbean escape destination for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Cartagena or Medellín and enjoy some chill island vibes for a few days.

Here I will give you a full run down of Isla Roots Hostel and our experience staying there.  You are also welcome to check out my video review of the hostel.

Accommodations at Isla Roots

Isla Roots offers private rooms, dorms, and hammocks.

We stayed in a private room.  It was pretty, clean, and cozy with a plenty comfortable bed.  There was a ceiling fan as well as A/C.  We did run the A/C a bit in the evenings to cool the room down but cut it off before falling asleep.  We were plenty cool as the breeze keeps the night time temperature comfortable.

Photo of our room at Isla Roots Hostel showing a bed with wooden walls
Our room at Isla Roots.

We were on the first floor, so I imagine in the rooms and dorms on the second floor or in the hammocks on the open air third floor you should be able to sleep comfortably even without the air-con.

The hostel has quite a bit of space.  During our 3 nights, there was one night where a large group came in and the 2 other nights it was quite chill with just a couple other couples.  The day we left a group of friends also came in.

We were mostly on a chill out plan, but the space also would lend itself to a more lively, party vibe as well, while not disturbing those who want to just chill out.  That makes Isla Roots a great hostel for everyone.

Collage of photos of different rooms at Isla Roots Hostel
Another private, the dorms, and the hammock area at Isla Roots.

Common Areas at Isla Roots

There’s a lot of space for hanging out at Isla Roots!

Downstairs, there’s a swimming area by the dock as well as a table and chairs and lounge chairs.  The slack line over the swimming area reminded me of my college roommate Jono setting his up in Marion Square in Charleston.  I was never any good then, and hitting my early 30s hasn’t helped much.  The hostel also has a net to set up there for the perfect water volleyball court.

The hostel has a nice little bar that runs 2×1 cocktails every afternoon and had at least 2 other specials going in the 3 nights we were there.

Collage showing some of the front grounds at Isla Roots Hostel
Some of the grounds at the front of Isla Roots Hostel.

There’s also a table, chill out area with a sofa, and a pool table in addition to a collection of card and board games available at the hostel.  Upstairs, there’s a deck with several lounge chairs, and there are hammocks scattered around to chill out or take a nice afternoon nap.

Food at Isla Roots

We thought the food was great.  Breakfast is your basic, but tasty, eggs, fruit, and bread or arepa.  There’s also complementary coffee, much appreciated by a coffee nut like me (and in my opinion the mark of a good hostel).

For lunch and dinner, there were standard chicken, fish, or veggie plates, but you could also splurge a bit on lobster or crab. 

They showed us when we arrived the little cage in the water where they keep the lobster and crab and they were humongous, so naturally we had to get the crab one night for dinner.  It was great and I have no doubt that the lobster would be too (we splurged on it one day at the beach so didn’t try it at the hostel).

I also appreciated that the plates varied slightly.  One day the chicken was breast, one day bone in, one day fried.  One day we had lentils and white rice, one day rice with some vegetables and sauce almost like a risotto.  One night there was even a special crab and lobster lasagna!  It’s not like there’s anywhere else you can go, so it’s nice that the chefs mix it up a little bit.

The Facilities at Isla Roots

There are only common bathrooms and showers at Isla Roots, but they were all very clean.

There’s one caveat here.  The hostel is on a practically unpopulated island an hour away from the nearest major population center.  There is no running water, and water for the showers is only available from 6 to 10 pm. 

If that’s a deal breaker for you, then I guess you should look for somewhere else to stay.  While, sure it’s a bit inconvenient, it seems like a fair trade off to be in a secluded paradise away from it all.  Plus, you’re on island time here, who cares about being well-kempt?  There is running water for washing your hands or brushing your teeth 24/7.

The toilets are also flushed by bucket so don’t be that person that leaves a floater without pouring it down.

But Our Favorite Part of Isla Roots….

Photo of a girl standing in the crystal clear water of Isla Roots Hostel back swimming area.
Susana in the back swimming area of Isla Roots, our favorite part.

…was undoubtedly the swimming and chill area in the back!

Around the back of the hostel, after following a short path through the mangroves, you come to a shallow area with a huge deck wrapped around it.  The water is about thigh high and crystal clear, you can even see little fish swimming around.

If that doesn’t sound cool enough, there is a swing set and hammocks in the water just at the edge of the area!  It really is the ultimate chilled out Caribbean paradise!

Plus to top it off, you have an awesome front row seat to the gorgeous sunset!  Even with it being cloudy all three afternoons we were there, all the sunsets were absolutely gorgeous!  The 2×1 cocktails were also a great added bonus with the amazing view.

Photos taken in the back area of Isla Roots Hostel
The paradise that is Isla Roots’s back area (Susana’s a much better model than me).

Honestly, hanging out here in the afternoon and watching the sunset was the highlight of Isla Roots for us.

During the day, there isn’t a ton of shade, but it’s a prime late afternoon wading, sunbathing, chill, and sunset watching spot!

Activities and Tours Offered at Isla Roots Hostel

The hostel offers a number of other activities and tours to nearby areas.  The hostel has its own boat to provide transportation, which makes it easy and convenient to set them up.  Here I will give you a run down of the tours Isla Roots offers.

Beach Day at Tintipán or Mucura

Perhaps the only real downside to Isla Roots is the hostel doesn’t have its own proper beach.  But that’s no problem since it lies about a 10 minute boat ride from two spectacular beaches.  We visited both Tintipán Beach, located just around the corner from the inlet where Isla Roots is located, and Mucura, another nearby island.

We liked both beaches, but liked Tintipán a bit more.  There’s a little more beach, and the calm water was perfect for swimming.

That’s not to say Mucura wasn’t very nice as well.  You could actually swim out a bit further there and the water was still pretty calm. 

At both beaches the water was crystal clear and the crowds were not too bad.

Food and drink prices were also more or less the same at both beaches.  Expect to spend 20-30,000 pesos for fish depending on size and type and about 50,000 for lobster.  We shared one lobster and fish plate both days.  Beers were 5,000 and a Coco Loco was 15-20,000.

You should definitely spend at least one day at one of the beaches.  One of the cool things about staying at Isla Roots, is we were among the first people at the beach and the last to leave both days as most people just come for day trips.

Collage of photos at the beaches near Isla Roots.
Some photos from the beaches we visited during our stay at Isla Roots Hostel.

Tour of Santa Cruz del Islote

The island of Santa Cruz del Islote is the most densely inhabited island in the world.  Over 500 people live in an area of roughly two football fields side by side.

The island has been inhabited for over 300 years, when a few fisherman first settled it.  Over time it has been expanded and now holds a bustling population.  However, they have largely been neglected by the Colombian government.

There is no running water on the island, electricity is provided only by solar panels donated by Europeans, there is only a primary school, and just one nurse permanently on the island.  Unfortunately, this is in my experience too often the reality in rural Afro-Colombian communities, a situation that is compounded by the fact that Islote is an island and even more isolated.

One of the things I appreciated about Isla Roots is they do have a commitment to try to make an impact on Islote and the locals.  They employ a majority workforce from the community, sponsor the soccer team of local kids with their backyard serving as their de facto practice grounds, have supported local musicians, and have participated in the revitalization of the mangrove swamps, an important part of an ecosystem where many people make a living as fisherman. 

There is a donation box at the hostel for the soccer team if you’d like to help them out in raising funds for a dedicated coach and to participate in tournaments on the mainland.

Learn more about Isla Roots Hostel’s Community Service

Collage of photos showing images of our visit to Islote and the soccer team playing at Isla Roots Hostel.
Some photos of Islote and of the soccer team sponsored by Isla Roots.

Going on the tour is a way to help out the community.  In addition to showing you around and teaching you about the island’s history, the last stop on the tour is at the aquarium.  Ok, the aquarium is little more than a few concrete pens in the water on the edge of the island, but it is kind of neat.

Inside one of the pens are not only a lot of fish but also a handful of nurse sharks, including several big ones, one at least 2 meters long.  Nurse sharks are basically giant bottom feeder sucker fish and harmless, so you’re able to jump in with them.

When we went, I jumped in and one of the guys tried to get a shark to come up and be friendly, but he was too busy trying to eat/nurse at the bottom.  Seriously, the shark was pulling the guy through the water when he tried to fish him out.  I decided it was better to leave the shark in peace than get a cool Instagram shot.

It was still neat seeing the fish swim around me.  Even though they are harmless, it was a bit freaky climbing up the latter in the corner where all the nurse sharks gather to feed at the bottom!

I do think it’s neat to visit places like Santa Cruz de Islote.  Too often we can forget that these amazingly beautiful places can also be very close to communities living in rough conditions.  I didn’t find any of the vendors in the islands to be too pushy, but it is something to keep in mind with them both here as well as elsewhere in Colombia.

Your 5,000 pesos entry to the aquarium and any additional donation you’d like to make to the tour guide goes to support community improvement projects like getting fresh drinking water and health care initiatives like bringing doctors to the island to perform checkups.

Bioluminescent Plankton Night Tour

This was very cool.  I had heard of plankton tours for a while off the coast of Cartagena, but had never actually done one.  We went one evening with a group from Isla Roots.

The tour takes you down further in the mangrove swamp inlet after nightfall.  Then you jump in to see the show.

To really see the plankton, you have to kick and splash up quite a stir.  They look like little, lit up bubbles around your feet and arms.  I like that the hostel gives you goggles to see them really well.  It’s quite neat and definitely worth doing!

Other Activities and Tours at Isla Roots

The hostel also offers a number of other activities and tours we didn’t do.

Snorkeling

There is snorkeling gear for rent to use around the hostel.  Additionally, you can do a tour to a former island that is now buried under the sea.  We were planning on doing this our last day, but we were both worn out and Susana came down with a bit of the sniffles.

Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

The hostel also has kayaks and paddle boards available.  Kayaking around the mangrove swamp or even out into the sea around the corner seems like a fun way to spend an afternoon.  We were also considering doing this our last day but decided to chill out instead.

There are also paddle boards, which neither of us has ever tried but looks like good fun.

Wakeboard and Subwing

There is also wake boarding available, which we saw another guy do while we were there.  It looks like good fun, but neither of us decided we were up for learning.

Subwing was something I had never heard of before.  It is basically like flying under water.  You hold onto a “wing” while being pulled by a boat letting you glide through the water.  I youtubed it and it seriously looks cool.  In fact, I kind of regret not doing it while we were there.

Photo a guy wake boarding at Isla Roots Hostel
Wake boarding is another one of the activities offered at Isla Roots.

Overall Experience at Isla Roots

We had a terrific time, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to Isla Roots Hostel to anyone.  The place is absolutely gorgeous, the accommodations comfortable, the food very good, and the activities offered lots of fun. 

For those looking for a couple nights escape outside of Cartagena, Isla Roots would make a great stop.

The only things I would say you should keep in mind are the points about the water mentioned above.  Also, taking a look at some reviews and comments on the hostel, I noticed some felt the prices were high.

I actually think Isla Roots prices are pretty reasonable.  Yes a dorm or hammock here costs more than one in a grungy hostel in town, but well, you are on an island in the middle of the Caribbean.  The logistics of getting food, drinks, etc there are complicated and the prices fairly reflect that and are frankly about the same as you will pay at most places in Cartagena.

At some point, you have to be willing to pay at least a little bit of a premium for paradise.  A quick comparison of other properties also shows Isla Roots is one of the best deals for places to stay in the San Bernardo Islands.

Sure, you could do a day trip cheaper, but you’ll be missing out.  Enjoying the beautiful sunset, chilled out vibes, and escaping it all feeling you’ll get at Isla Roots is well worth it!

Sunset at Isla Roots Hostel
That sunset at Isla Roots though. Well worth the visit!

Logistics of Planning a Visit to Isla Roots

Reservations

Isla Roots’s Website is currently undergoing a remodel.  I will update it here once it’s up.  In the meantime, you can contact them and make reservations through the mediums below:

How to Get to Isla Roots

  • You can get a boat daily from Cartagena’s tourist pier.  The boat is called Tranq It Easy and it leaves every day at 8:30 am from gate 5 at El Muelle del Bodeguita.  The cost is 100,000 pesos each way plus 17,000 pesos entrance to the national park of the islands payable when you go (price last updated July 2019).  It takes approximatley 2-2.5 hours.  You can make reservations using the Whatsapp number +57 312 626-1376 or check out their website here:  https://tranqiteasy.com/
  • You can also get boats from the town of Tolú.  There are a number of companies offering transportation.  Most are offering day trips, so make sure you make very clear to them the day they need to come pick you up (ours forgot us).  We paid the standard 40,000 both ways although you might be able to negotiate for a tad better.

There you have it, a complete review of our experience and guide to having your own experience at the paradise that is Isla Roots Hostel.  If you decide to visit yourself, I hope it helped you plan your visit, and most importantly, you have a great time!

Don’t forget to also check out my video review of the hostel!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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