Travel Guide to the Rosario Island

When you planned a trip to Cartagena in Colombia’s Caribbean, did you perhaps have in mind any of the following:

Sunshine and white sand beaches?

Crystal clear waters?

Piña Coladas, margaritas, or mojitis with a side of Caribbean sea views?

Some time to kick back and relax?

The best place to find all this is without a doubt a visit to the nearby archipelago of the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. This gorgeous chain of islands is located just a short boat trip away and boasts amazing natural beauty.

In fact, the importance of the coral reef is why the entire area is a natural park.

Photo of chairs and umbrella on a beach on and Isla Rosario.
Read on to learn all about the Rosario Islands of Colombia!

The beaches in the islands are by far the best beaches near Cartagena and some of the best in all Colombia. They are all but a must do on any trip to Colombia and especially on any trip to Cartagena.

Read on for a complete guide to visiting the Rosario Islands of Colombia, including how to get there, the merits of a day trip vs staying overnight, the best tours, and the best resorts so you don’t miss this must see destination and are sure to enjoy them to their fullest and have an unforgettable time in the Rosario Islands.

Rosario Islands Guide – Contents

  • Are the Rosario Islands Worth it? – Why Visit the Islas del Rosario
  • Getting to the Rosario Islands
  • Best Ways to Visit the Rosario Islands
    • Doing a Private Boat Rental
    • Day Tours
    • Day Passes at Beach Clubs and Resorts
    • Spending the Night
  • Packing List for the Rosario Islands
  • Practical Tips for the Islas del Rosario
  • FAQs about the Rosario Islands

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Too long; can’t read it all quick overview

Want some help planning your trip to Cartagena and the Rosario Islands? I’m pleased to announce I’ve partnered with BnB Colombia Tours to help you plan your trip! You can fill out the form here, and we can go from there to plan a perfect trip. Tour packages start at $250 per person a day.

Planning your trip to Cartagena?  Get a free planning checklist here.

Photo of a boat in a bay in the Isla Rosario Cartagena.
Learn all about the best ways to visit the islands near Cartagena here!

Are the Rosario Islands Worth it? – Why Visit?

Yes, the Rosario Islands are absolutely worth a visit!

In fact, it is without a doubt one of the absolute must do things to do in Cartagena.

The Islas del Rosario aka Rosario Islands have gorgeous crystal clear waters you see in the movies and in your Caribbean dreams.

The little islands and reefs can make navigation a bit tricky if you’re sailing in Colombia, but they are absolutely gorgeous, and are easy to visit, whether it be as part of a day trip or staying overnight at one of the resorts or eco-lodges.

Photo of a man on a small canoe in the Cartagena Rosario Islands.
The Rosario Islands of Cartagena are really just so pretty and a must see in Cartagena!

So, whether you want to do an Islas del Rosario tour, a Rosario Islands day trip from Cartagena at a hotel or place like Bora Bora beach club, or spend a few nights in the one of the Rosario Island hotels, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss these gorgeous islands near Cartagena.

I’ve spent lots of time in the islands, and heading out there was always one of my favorite things to do during my 11 years living in Cartagena.

Here I’ll be sharing all my best tips for enjoying the Islas del Rosario so that you can plan your own perfect trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Photo of a beachfront house and shelters in the Rosario islands Colombia.
Whehter for a day trip on the beach, a boat cruise, or a night at a resort or eco-lodge, you have to visit the Rosario Islands of Colombia!

Getting from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands

The Rosario Islands of Colombia are located about 100 km southeast off the coast of Cartagena

The Islas del Rosario are part of the Corales del Rosario National Park, which also includes the San Bernardo Islands (another chain of islands off Cartagena located further to the south and also well worth a visit if you have the time), and the most visited of the islands near Cartagena.

There are 28 islands that make up the chain. Most of them are tiny (in fact there are people with their own private island), bu there are a few larger ones, the largest being Isla Grande.

Are Barú and Playa Blanca in the Rosario Islands?

One quick note, Playa Blanca and Barú are considered part of the Corales del Rosario National Park, although technically they are not part of the Rosario Island chain (Barú was a peninsula before a canal was cut across it by the Spanish).

However, you may see Barú and/or Playa Blanca lumped in with the Rosario Islands in lots of guides online. I think for most travelers doing the actual islands or one of the nicer resorts closer to the end of Barú is a better experience than Playa Blanca.

Playa Blanca is still a beautiful beach, but, in my opinion, has become a victim of its own success and is often overcrowded and full of pushy vendors.

Photo of a couple at Playa Blanca near the Rosario Islands Cartagena.
Playa Blanca is a pretty beach, but in my opinion, has become overcrowded, making the Rosario Islands the better destination for most travelers.

For overnight stays, accommodations are also quite basic. The Rosario Islands or the tip of Barú make for much better experiences for both day trippers or overnight stays.

So, while I will touch on some of those nicer spots in Barú here, I will not be covering Playa Blanca. I do, however, have a complete guide to Playa Blanca if you want to compare (and see why in my opinion, you’re much better off going to an Isla del Rosario).

How long does it take to get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands?

While you can arrive to Barú by land, the rest of the islands are only reachable by boat.

The boat ride is usually pretty calm and pleasant, but occasionally currents can get rougher in the afternoon. So expect a bit of bouncing around.

Planning your trip to Cartagena? Get a free planning checklist here.

Photo of a boat going from Cartagena to Rosario Islands.
You do have to take a boat to get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands.

Best Ways to Visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena

There are 4 main options for how best to tour the Rosario Islands:

  1. Rent a Private Boat and See the Rosario Islands in Class – Best Way!
  2. Do a Shared Boat Day Tour to the Rosario Islands
  3. Do a Day Pass at One of the Rosario Islands Hotels
  4. Spend the Night at One of the Hotels in the Rosario Islands

If you can do the private boat to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, you should absolutely do it! It is, of course, most cost effective if you can put together a group to share the cost, but it is totally worth it.

Likewise, spending a couple nights is great. Seeing the sunset after the day trippers have left, waking up to the calm beaches surrounded by mangroves, and just being able to feel away from it all makes spending at least one night around the islands totally worth it. However, if you have less than 5 nights total in Cartagena, I would not recommend staying in the islands.

If you can’t swing the private boat or spending a few nights, options 2 and 3 are also great ways to enjoy a visit to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Learn more about the pros and cons and what to expect for each option below.

Photo of chairs on a beach in a Isla Rosario.
Learn about each of the best ways to visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena below.

Option 1 – Rent a Private Boat to Tour the Rosario Islands

This is hands down the best way to do the islands!

We’ve done this a bunch of times, and it is surprisingly affordable, of course with the catch that you do probably need to put together a group to make it cost effective.

Generally, you want a group of 7+ to get a good value here, and if you can get 15-20 people together, you can get a really nice boat for not too much per person.

Why is this the best way to do the Rosario Islands?

Well, you’re on your own boat, duh!

Photo of a boat going to the Rosario Islands Cartagena.
Renting your own private boat is by far the most fun way to visit the Islas del Rosario!

Besides just being on a boat, what’s nice about doing it this way is you have a lot of flexibility.

Want to go snorkeling all day?

Perfect!

Want to head to beaches where there are fewer people?

You got it!

Want to just head to party island Cholón and have dance parties and shots starting at 8 am?

You can do that too.

I would actually recommend doing some combination of the above. Most rentals give you the choice of 3-4 stops.

Usually what we do is head out to the area known as La Piscinita first where you can swim and snorkel off the reef.

The area known is La Piscinita is a popular stop for snorkeling.

Maybe from there you can do some more snorkeling and swimming where there is an underwater plane.

By the way, there is a popular myth, propped up by lots of tour agencies that says this plane was one that belonged to Pablo Escobar and went down in the islands while running drugs.

My understanding is that is completely made up.

Pablo Escobar did supposedly have a piece of property and mansion known as the Hacienda Napoles i on Isla Grande that is now an abandoned ruin. However, the plane was put there by a group of marine biologists as part of a study.

It is a cool little snorkeling site though.

Photo of a girl on the front of a boat in the Isla Rosario.
Doing a private boat allows the most flexibility to enjoy the Rosario Islands at your own pace and in your own style!

But I digress.

As I mentioned above, party spot Cholón is another popular spot to include as a stop on a private boat tour. Here, you’ll find lots of other boats pulled up and a big party. It can get very crowded though. (see more about what to expect at Cholón here).

If you’re looking for a bit more chill spot, you could just hang out on your boat nearby hopping in the water and swimming when you want.

The island known as Agua Azul is also a good stop to stop and enjoy the beach and get lunch. We have made this our lunch spot of choice the last few trips out to the Rosario Islands.

Finally, you can also head to Playa Blanca for lunch and chilling in the afternoon. I would strongly recommend heading to the far end of the beach where it’s less crowded though.

Photo of a group partying on a boat in the Rosario Islands Cartagena.
Doing a private party boat is the way to do the Rosario Islands if you can manage to put together a group!

This is just good fun all the way around, and if you have the budget and/or can get a group together, you should do it.

If you can’t, there are shared Cholón party boats which aren’t a bad deal considering they include an open bar and lunch.

Generally private boats will include a cooler full of ice, sometimes with some courtesy waters or beers thrown in. Be sure to take along some water along with your booze and try to get the earliest start time you can so you can take full advantage of the day!

Photo of a group of people in the water in the isla rosario.
Doing the private boat with a fun group is always a fun day!

Option 2: Shared Boat Day Tours to the Rosario Islands

Ok, let’s get this out of the way to start. You should avoid like the plague the guys selling shared day tours in town on the street!

These tours are the cheapest way to do the islands, but generally, they consist of lots of people being packed on to tight little boats, with lots of upsells during the day, in a experience that isn’t ideal.

In full disclosure, I’ve never actually done this standard Rosario Islands tour myself, because all I’ve heard is that it’s not the best way for how to get to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Susana has done it and agreed, it’s not that good.

However, there are some other good options for doing day tours that are better options than these standard, not so good tours.

Go Sailing on a Catamaran

Photo of a catamaran in the Isla del Rosario Cartagena.
The Bona Vida Catamaran is a great way to do the Rosario Islands as a day trip.

This is the best way to do the islands in a shared boat tour.

The Bona Vida Catamaran offers a nice day tour to the Rosario Islands that includes snorkeling gear and lunch. We’ve done their sunset tour and loved it.

The boat is great and has lots of space. Plus, you get to sail and enjoy a bit of a unique way to get out of the islands and enjoy all the scenic views on the way to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

I’d definitely recommend doing this tour if you want a day trip to the islands on a boat and can’t swing the private.

Other Shared Boat Tours to the Rosario Islands

See more day tour options at my post on the top day tours to the islands (also includes some of the beach resort day passes mentioned below).

Photo of a boat with people swimming nearby in the Isla del Rosario.
While not quite as sweet as a private rental, some shared boat tours are still pretty sweet.

Option 3 – Day Pass at a Rosario Island Resort or Beach Club

If you would prefer to spend less time on a boat and more time with your toes in a sandy beach, then doing a day pass at a beach club or resort out in the islands is another great way to do a day in the Rosario Islands.

Generally, day passes include the boat transportation there and back and your lunch.

Some may include a welcome drink or the option for an all inclusive package. There are places that offer more relaxed atmospheres as well as more party atmospheres.

Below, I’ll go over a few of the best options for day passes out in the Rosario Islands.

Best Place for a Relaxed Beach Day: Islabela

If you’re looking for a nice relaxed beach to spend the day, I suggest Islabela.

They have a great beach area that’s good for swimming and snorkeling and it’s usually not as crowded as other popular beaches.

It’s also one of my top picks for staying the night (more on that below), but you can book a relaxed day pass with our partners BnB Colombia (use the code ExploreColombia10 for a discount!).

Other Relaxed Beach Day Pass Spots:

  • Isla del Encanto: With a nice pool and gorgeous beach area, Isla del Encanto is also great for a day pass.
  • Isla del Sol: This is another good spot that has a nice little pool and beach area, plus you can do a tour of the mangroves nearby.
  • Bendita Beach: A nice spot with a large beach area, this makes for another nice place for a day trip.

Best Place for a Party Atmosphere: Bora Bora Beach Club

Photo of a couple's fee on a beach bed in the Islas del Rosario Colombia
Photo credits to Ryan de Seixas (@ryzone).

Bora Bora has long been a popular spot for those looking for a hip atmosphere for a day in the Rosario Islands.

They have gorgeous beach beds, a nice area for swimming, and always have a DJ and fun vibe.

It can get crowded, so it’s best to make reservations ahead of time. You can also check out their smaller and more exclusive new place at Pao Pao Beach Club.

See more good day pass ideas at my post on the best day tours to the Rosario Islands (which includes these plus some of the options mentioned above).

Photo of a stairway with a margarita on top and an island in the background in the Isla Rosario Cartagena.
Stairway to heaven?

Option 4:  Stay at One of the Hotels in the Rosario Islands

Finally, if you want to go all out on your visit, why not spend a couple nights at one of the hotels of the Rosario Islands?

They do tend to be on the pricier side, and I’d actually recommend considering going a bit further to the San Bernardo Islands if you want to escape the city completely.

Still, staying at one of the hotels in the Rosario Islands is a nice chance to enjoy a more exclusive Isla de Rosario experience without going so far from Cartagena.

I would generally suggest only spending a night or nights at a Rosario Islands hotel if you have at least 4 or more full days in Cartagena, otherwise you are better off doing one of the day tour options above and having time to see everything in town.

Here are my picks for where to stay in the Rosario Islands if you do have the time and want to spend the night.

Las Islas – Best Rosario Islands Luxury Resort

Las Islas is located in Barú nestled up in the mangroves in an exclusive and private beach area.

It has gorgeous bungalows both on the water and up in the mangroves, many of which have their own little private pools.

It’s very pricey, but is really an amazing place and if you can afford to spend a night or two here, you should absolutely do it.

Isla del Encanto – Luxury Value Option

Isla del Encanto is also a terrific spot in Barú.

We have stayed here (read about our experience here) and loved it. It’s also very family friendly and has a kids pool as well as a terrific guests only pool plus an incredible beach area.

It’s super nice and a better value than Las Islas, so I highly recommend it if you want a few nights in luxury with a gorgeous beach.

Islabela – Best Value for Beach Escape in the Rosario Islands

Islabela is my personal top choice for staying the night in the Rosario Islands.

There are pretty little beach bungalows that are plenty comfortable, and there is a gorgeous beach area. I also like that they have a model that benefits the locals, not to mention its location is in a usually lesser crowded part of the Rosario Islands.

While not as nice as the two places above, it’s plenty comfortable at a much more comfortable price.

Secreto Hostel – Best Cheap Place to Stay in the Rosario Islands

Secreto Hostel is the best of the handful of cheaper hostels in the Rosario Islands.

There’s a nice pool and it’s just a short walk from the beach. They have privates as well as dorms.

If you are on a tighter budget and want to spend a few nights in the islands near Cartagena, I’d probably just splurge for one the options above and book a cheaper place to stay in town but if you want a cheap option for the islands, this is the best one.

See more ideas for where to stay in the islands at my complete list of the best Rosario Islands hotels.

Packing List for the Rosario Islands

Obviously you’ll want your beach gear, but I’ll also share some useful accessories to have for your tirp to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Beach Gear

  • This leaf print bikini would go great in the Caribbean vibes of the Rosario Islands.
  • So would this cute one-piece.
  • Susana has this coverup dress and loves it, and it’s perfect for the Islas del Rosario of Cartagna.
  • This bag would also be great for both a day trip and could probably even work as an overnighter.
  • For the guys, these palm tree board shorts are perfect for the Islas de Rosario.

Good Accessories for the Islands

  • Having some good snorkeling gear will come in handy regardless of which of the ways to visit the Rosario Islands of Colombia above.
  • Having a good dry bag for the boat ride to and from the Islas del Rosario and Cartagena will keep any valuables from getting wet and that one comes with a nice phone pouch to let you take some great photos swimming at the beaches of the Rosario Islands.
  • The Rosario Islands are coral islands, which means they can be quite rocky. If you have sensitive feet, you might appreciate a good pair of water shoes.
  • I love my pair of bamboo sunglasses with green lenses that fit in perfectly for a day in the Caribbean.
  • Finally, you’ll want a good beach towel. These microfiber towels dry quick, making them perfect for travel.
Photo of the sunset in the Islas del Rosario Colombia.
The sunset at Islabela in the Rosario Islands, a bonus when you spend the night!

Practical Tips for the Islas del Rosario of Colombia

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your trip:

  • Be sure to take some cash. Some places for lunch and stuff might be able to take cards, but most still can’t. Hotels and resorts usually can but it may be worth verifying before going just to be sure. There are no ATMs in the islands.
  • The islands are 60-90 minutes away by boat and there is little real development out there. Be sure to take along any medications or other necessities you might need.
  • Like most everywhere else in Cartagena, if you are buying something from a vendor on the beach or from a boat, be sure to negotiate and agree on price before.
  • There have been some accidents, especially at Cholón where lots of drinking goes on, so be sure to listen to your boat captain and watch out for other boats, doubly so if you’re doing a booze cruise.
Photo of the sunset over a beach in the Rosario Islands with people playing in the water.
Sunsets in the Rosario Islands really are just hard to beat!

FAQs on the Rosario Islands

Here are some other common questions about the Islas del Rosario that aren’t covered directly somewhere above.

What is the Rosario Islands known for?

The Rosario Islands are known for being a beautiful chain of islands off the coast of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. They feature a number of islands with resorts and ecolodges and are popular for overnight stays as well as boat day trips for their crystal clear waters.

Why are the Rosario Islands popular?

The Rosario Islands are popular for their crystal clear waters and relative lack of development. That makes them great for spending a few relaxing days at one of the ecolodges or resorts. Boat day trips are also popular. Finally, diving and snorkeling are fun activities in the Rosario Islands as well.

Photo of a small bird walking on the beach in the Rosario Islands of Colombia.
The Islas del Rosario of Colombia have gorgeous crystal clear waters and are relatively undeveloped.

How many islands does the Rosario Islands have?

The Rosario Islands has 27 islands, most of which are quite tiny. In fact, you’ll see some that have one small house and no more! The largest islands are Isla Grande, Isleta, Barú, and the islands that is home to Bendita Beach.

How long does it take to get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands?

It takes between 60 and 90 minutes to reach the Rosario Islands by boat. Currents are usually calm in the morning and can be a bit rougher in the afternoon, so most boats leave the islands by 3 pm to reach Cartagena no later than 5 pm.

Photo of a house on a islet in the Rosario Islands with some people kayaking next to it.
There are 27 total islands in the Rosario Islands, including some just large enough for a sweet house like this one.

Are the Rosario Islands safe?

Yes, they are very safe.

There are some small underdeveloped communities in the islands but crime is virtually unheard of.

There are some scams such as overcharging or adding on exorbitant “service charges” or tips. It’s best to always negotiate prices before hand for food, drinks, and other things.

At crowded places with lots of boats, like Cholón, use extra caution when swimming as there have been accidents where boats or jet skis have hit swimmers.

Which Rosario Island to Visit?

It depends.

The largest of the Rosario Islands is Isla Grande, where you’ll find most of the resorts and eco-lodges.

Nearby Isleta usually is less crowded.

Barú, which is technically a peninsula but often considered part of the Rosario Islands is another choice and can be reached over land and offers the well known Playa Blanca as well as some more exclusive resorts on the farther end of the peninsula.

See the above on my recommendations for actual places to go.

Photo of a girl in the water looking out at a house on a tiny island in the Isla Rosario Cartagena.
It’s tough to beat some time in the Rosario Islands during your trip to Cartagena. I hope you’ve learned everything you need to know to enjoy them to the fullest here!

Ready to Plan Your Trip to the Islas del Rosario of Cartagena?

There you have it, a complete guide to visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.  If you do go, I hope it helped you plan and, more importantly, I hop you have a wonderful time.

I’d love to know which option you chose and about your experience in the comments below!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

Did you like this post?

You may also be interested in the following posts:
Top 10 Places to Get Sunset Drinks in Cartagena, Colombia
Guide to San Andrés Island
Guide to Hip Beach Town Palomino
Guide to Tayrona National Park
Complete Guide to the Beaches of Cartagena

Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?

Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena

Get a free planning checklist here

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Aaron

    Do you need a yellow fever vaccine to go to the islands?

    1. Adam McConnaughhay

      Hi Aaron, no, it is not required, although it’s often recommended. You can actually get it at the Dadis Health Office in Cartagena or at the Bogotá airport or bus terminal for free. If you are unable to get it, I wouldn’t worry too much about it though.

  2. Alyssa

    Hey! Wondering what you think about going to bora bora beach club vs Cholon as a solo traveler. I’d want to party/dance and meet people.

    1. Adam McConnaughhay

      Hi Alyssa. Hmm, I think both are good options. If you can find a shared boat to Cholon, it might be better as you’ll be going as a group on the boat where as at Bora Bora, each reservation will have its own little beach bed so maybe a tad harder to mingle. Or, see if you can put a group together for either at a hostel or something.

  3. Toby

    So how do you get there one way to stay for a few days? Not mentioned in part 4.

    1. Adam McConnaughhay

      Hi Toby. Best to ask your hotel if they have boat transportation (some do, some don’t, some charge for it, some it’s included) or if they work with a boat that stops at several places.

  4. Lea

    Thanks for the info. I was looking into Coralina Island, which looks great, but from what I’m seeing, it is not located on Isla del Pirata. Is this correct?

    1. Adam McConnaughhay

      Hi Lea. Yes, this is a mistake in the article I need to fix in an update. It’s located on Isleta. We haven’t been there but have been to Islabela not far away and the spot where Coralina is has a gorgeous view of sunset.

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