Practical Guide to Cartagena’s Gorgeous Rosario Islands

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

Sunshine and white sand beaches?

Crystal clear and turquoise waters?

Piña coladas, margaritas, or mojitos 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 Rosario Islands!

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

Girl in the water with arms open in the Rosario Islands with a small house on an island in background.
Read on to learn all about the Rosario Islands of Colombia!

In the decade plus I lived in Cartagena, I had the chance to visit the Rosario Islands many times. At least a couple times a year we did a bit of staycation or touristing in our home town.

They are just so pretty, we couldn’t help but keep going back, and the beaches here are so much nicer than those in the city.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Rosario Islands in various ways.

From private boat rentals (our favorite way when we could get a group together), to day passes at resorts, to shared tours, to overnight stays at several of the resorts and ecolodges, we’ve done it all.

Here, I’m going to use all that experience to help give you the best tips for visiting the Rosario Islands of Cartagena, Colombia for yourself.

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

A couple walking up a small stairway from a beach in the Rosario Islands in Colombia with water and boats in the background.
We’ve got to enjoy the Rosario Islands many times, and here I’m going to share my best tips so you can enjoy them too!

Ultimate Guide to the Rosario Islands – Contents

  • Overview and Quick Tips for Visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena
  • In Depth Guides to the Best Ways to Visit the Rosario Islands
    • Doing a Private Boat to Rosario Islands
    • Best Day Tours to the Rosario Islands
    • Day Passes at Beach Clubs and Resorts
    • Spending the Night in the Rosario Islands
  • Packing List for the Rosario Islands
  • Practical Tips for the Islas del Rosario
  • FAQs about the Rosario Islands

Last Updated: March 13, 2023

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Overview and Quick Tips for the Rosario Islands

I like to give as much detail as possible with in depth guides, especially for places like the Rosario Islands in Cartagena that I know so well.

However, I know that sometimes, you just want some quick tips and may not have time to read about all the details.

So, in this first section I’ll go over the most important information give some quick tips for planning a visit to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena and try not to be too long winded. This section will also be a good introduction for those looking to read on and get even more details about the Rosario Islands below.

Photo of a man in a small canoe paddling around a corner of a small Rosario Island with mangroves and trees in the background.
The Rosario Islands of Cartagena are really just so pretty and an absolute must see in Cartagena!

First off, what are, or maybe better ,where are the Rosario Islands?

The Rosario Islands are an island chain roughly an hour to an hour and a half off the coast of Cartagena. Called the Islas del Rosario in Spanish, they are a tiny chain of coral islands, some with barely more than a few square yards area. You can even see tiny little houses on their own private islands!

The waters here are really pretty and the entire area is actually a national park.

The islands are also fairly undeveloped. Originally settled by fisherman, there is one small community on Isla Grande plus a handful of hotels, eco-lodges, and private homes scatted around on the islands.

Photo of a small island in the Rosario Islands near Cartagena with some structures nestled among the trees.
Some of the islands are tiny, while some are a bit larger.

In my opinion, the best way to experience the islands is a private boat to the Rosario Islands. With a private charter, you have a lot of flexibility in how you spend your day and can stop at several stops for swimming, snorkeling, hanging on the beach.

Or you can just have a dance party on your boat all day!

Whatever you want, you can do. Plus you get to enjoy all the lovely scenery a lot more than on a shared tour or just going to one beach area and back.

While, yes, it’s the most costly way to visit the Rosario Islands, it’s surprisingly affordable, especially if you can get a group of 10 plus people together. Even if you can’t though, this is one of the things that is totally worth splurging a bit on.

You can check out prices for a private boat here.

A girl standing in a bikini on the bow of a boat to Rosario Islands from Cartagena with water, another boat, and a small island with some houses behind her.
Doing a private boat allows the most flexibility to enjoy the Rosario Islands at your own pace and in your own style!

You can also do shared boat tours to the island if you can’t put together a group or have the budget for a private boat. My top pick for this would be doing the catamaran tour of the Rosario Islands, which includes lunch and snorkeling.

There are also multi-island boat tours, that go on boats similar to the boats chartered for private rentals. While not quite as snazzy, they offer a good way to see multiple places at a much more affordable prices.

For those looking to snorkel at the reef and enjoy the neat scenery around the islands, one of these tours on boats from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands should be your top choice.

People swimming and snorkeling in Rosario Islands next to a boat.
You can also find shared tours on nice boats out to the Rosario Islands.

If you’re more interested in having lots of time relaxing on a beach, then you could opt for a day pass at a beach club or hotel, many of which also have overnight accommodations.

There are some great little eco-resorts and lodges out in the Rosario Islands. It’s worth keeping in mind there isn’t much else out here and you are an hour plus boat ride away.

So, I only recommend staying in the islands if you have 4 or more nights in Cartagena. Doing so is terrific if you have the time though!

Most of the hotels and beach clubs in the Rosario Islands are located on the largest island, appropriately named Isla Grande, or the smaller islands clustered around it like Isleta.

In fact, Isleta is where our favorite place IslaBela is located, It has lovely bungalows and one of the best beach areas in the islands.

You can also buy a day pass there (use the discount code ExploreColombia10 for a discount!). Those first two photos at the very top of the post is at IslaBela’s main beach area, which I think is the best overall beach area in the Islas del Rosario.

Girl smiling and laughing in front of a pair of beach chairs under an umbrella on a beach in the Rosario Islands.
IslaBela is our favorite place for beach day passes and overnight stays in the Rosario Islands.

There are a number of other places around this general area to stay as well, many of which also offer day passes.

I’m going to discuss some more ideas in the more detailed sections below but you can also take a glance at some other options on Isla Grande and the vicinity.

There are also options, including some more luxurious options in Barú. Isla Barú, or Barú Island in English, is often included as part of the Rosario Islands.

That’s sort of incorrect, as technically Barú was a peninsula that only became an island after the Spanish cut the narrow Canal del Dique across it, separating it from the mainland.

However, parts of Barú are included in the protected area of the national park and there are some gorgeous beaches here.

Two people in a small canoe in the foreground with other small boats and canoes in the background in the Rosario Islands of Colombia.
The scenery in the Rosario Islands is tough to beat!

Perhaps the most well known of these is Playa Blanca. I have a guide to Playa Blanca, and you can click that link to read more about it.

However, due to overcrowding, I don’t recommend it anymore and I would consider it a different type (and not as nice) of an experience as what you get in the Rosario Islands.

Now, there are some less crowded beaches and a few lovely resorts near the tip of Barú that I would categorize as more like the idyllic islands.

Hotel Las Islas and the new Sofitel Calablanca offer great luxury style resorts in this area of Barú.

So does the Isla del Encanto, which we loved when we stayed there and also offers day passes. Since they are closer to the mainland, these are definitely the best choices for those looking for nicer places to stay with A/C and amenities like pools.

Couple on beach in Rosario Islands near Cartagena with kayak on water in background.
The beaches at the far end of Barú are also very nice (this is at Isla del Encanto).

That about covers the basics in this overview with the most important information you need to know to visit the Rosario Islands.

Below, I’ll discuss in more detail all those options mentioned above as well as discuss more in depth how you should determine if it’s worth spending the night or not, and even share a few more insider tips based on our many visits.

If you’d like even more extra expert assistance and would like to plan a customized trip with an agent, fill out this form, and my partner agency BnB Colombia Tours will contact you about planning an all inclusive, tailor made itinerary for your Colombia trip starting at $200 a day per person.

Photo of a girl in a bathing suit sitting on the top of a short white stairwell in the water in the Rosario Islands with a tiny island with a house in the background.
Read on for more in depth information on the best ways to do the Rosario Islands.

In Depth Guides to the Best Ways to Do the Rosario Islands

If you’ve made it this far, first thanks for reading! Second, let’s get into some more nitty gritty details of the Rosario Islands.

The way I see it there are four main ways to do the Rosario Islands. They are:

  1. Rent a Private Boat and See the Rosario Islands in Class – The 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

Susana and I have done all of these.

While we have not done every single tour or been to every hotel and beach club, we have been to enough to where I feel confident our experience can help you get the most out of the Rosario Islands.

Hopefully you’ll find some tips or gleam some information here that you won’t find in the cookie cutter travel advice websites out there or the same parroted advice in Facebook groups and travel forums.

Photo of a group of people in the water in the Cartagena Rosario Islands posing for a photo with a palm roof behind them.
You’ve learned the basics for visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, now learn more about the best ways to do it.

For each option mentioned above, I’m going to discuss why it’s a good way to do the Rosario Islands, give you some suggestions for the best ways to do it, and give you an idea of what to expect.

Now just to be clear, that list above should not necessarily be seen as a ranking.

Well, doing the private boat is absolutely the best way if you can swing it.

However, as I mentioned above, if you have more than 4 nights total in Cartagena, spending the night in the Islas del Rosario is totally worth it and I think you should absolutely do it!

Photo of a house with a thatch roof with a deck over the water in the Rosario Islands with a small beach and trees in the background.
I’d encourage only doing a day trip if you have 4 or fewer nights in Cartagena, but if you have more than that, staying in the Rosario Islands for a night or two is also a great choice.

If you only have 4 or fewer nights, I’d recommend staying in town the whole trip and doing one of options 1-3.

By the way, if you still need to make your Cartagena hotel reservations, check out my guide to the best boutique hotels and luxury hotels in town or my in depth guide to the best areas to stay. Those on a tighter budget might also want to check out my picks for the best Cartagena hostels.

But, I digress.

Let’s dive into the pros and cons of each of these best ways for how to get to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Option 1: Why You Should Do a Private Boat to the Rosario Islands

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

Really and truthfully, you should try your best to figure a way to do a private boat to the Rosario Islands.

Even if you have the time and want to spend the night, do this and have them leave you where you’ll stay and get the best of all worlds.

Photo of a group of people in swimsuits posing for a photo, some with their hands up, on a boat ride from Cartagena to Rosario Islands in Colombia.
If you can put together a group, renting your own private boat is by far the most fun way to visit the Islas del Rosario!

We’ve done this a bunch of times, and it is surprisingly affordable.

Of course that’s 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.

In all honesty, the per person price will probably be cheaper than a day pass or shared tour.

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

Well, you’re on your own boat, duh!

People dancing on board a boat in the Rosario Islands with a beach in the background.
A private boat to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena really is the most fun way to do the islands!

Obviousness aside, 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 do a full day booze cruise rocking your favorite jams cranked up on the stereo? No problema!

I would actually recommend doing some combination of the above.

Most rentals have a sort of preset suggested itinerary but will also let you customize the day to your liking, usually including 3 or 4 stops.

We have done private boat rentals a bunch of times with friends. During that time, we sort of settled on a nice route that has a little bit of everything.

Usually what we do is head out to the area known as La Piscinita first.

Here you can swim out and snorkel over the nearby reef.

Underwater photo of coral and two blue fish seen when snorkeling in Rosario Islands.
One of the best things about a private boat rental to the Rosario Islands is you can stop to swim or snorkel whenever and wherever you want. The best snorkeling is at the reef near La Piscinita.

I’ll be honest, the snorkeling in the Rosario Islands is good, not amazing.

The reefs here are unfortunately dying, but you can often see some colorful fish hanging out.

Nearby there is another good swimming and snorkeling spot where there is an underwater plane that works well as an alternative first top or a second stop.

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

That is completely made up.

The plane was actually put there by a marine biologist as part of a doctoral thesis.

I had heard this was the true story a while back and went in search of evidence to be mostly frustrated at the lack of it. I did manage to track down a listing for the thesis but unfortunately the text is not published online. It is cited near the bottom of page 35 in this thesis as well.

Greenish tinted underwater photo of a submerged plane in the Rosario Islands.
The submerged plane that many guides erroneously claim belonged to Pablo Escobar.

Now, there is a variation that claims that the plane may have been owned by Escobar because the Colombian government did sink some planes used for drug trafficking off the coast that had been seized, including at least one in the Rosarios. You can read about that in this article.

However, that was 1998, 4 years after the thesis was published, so that story doesn’t add up either.

Speaking of Escobar myths and the islands, there is another older myth that Escobar had a giant mansion in the islands where he would have massive parties and live the good life.

This is also entirely false.

The supposed Escobar estate belonged (and as far as I know still does) to Antonio Turbay, cousin of a former president. At some point they built out a big, swanky hotel.

However, the hotel was shut down by the authorities due to its environmental impact and has basically become an abandoned ruin. If you want some evidence for that, this article discusses a visit by authorities to the property (known as Casa Blanca) in 2013, clearly identifying Turbay as the owner. This video also has an interview with a native of the islands that states the same.

Photo of a large white house with archways in the Rosario Islands seen from a distance across the water.
The abandoned hotel ruins many falsely claim belonged to Escobar.

Unfortunately, both of these myths have been perpetuated by tour guides taking some creative liberties. Then they get repeated by bloggers and youtubers. Even some larger publications like Business Insider and The Daily Mail have published articles repeating them. Even Discovery Channel did a bit on it. Ughh, you’d think maybe these outfits would do their homework, but I guess this is the brave new world we are in.

The truth is, these myths are so commonly parroted that I had to kind of go down a rabbit hole to try to disprove them, and well, now I’ve taken you down that rabbit hole too.

So please, don’t perpetuate this myth!

Ok, out of the rabbit hole and back to discussing the islands.

The plane is neat to see it in the water below. So, if it interests you, be sure to include it. The area around here is also pretty and has some neat scenery.

In fact, that is one of the things I really like about doing the private boat to the Rosario Islands. Since you get several stops, you get to see more of the islands and really enjoy the scenery.

It’s so neat seeing some of the tiny private islands that have nothing but one little house on them, all surrounded by the gorgeous waters.

Photo of a tall, skinny house, with a gazebo behind it on a tiny rocky island in the Rosario Islands of Colombia.
Seeing all the tiny little islands as you go by is a nice added bonus of doing a private boat.

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.

If you want to have dance parties on your boat between dips in shallow waters, it’s the perfect spot for it. We used to go here a lot and a handful of Susana’s girlfriends and gay guy friends absolutely love it. Like, if it was only up to them, we would just go here all day.

It is fun, and the truth is it is a cool little spot with the covered areas in the water that is about waist deep and all the boats pulled up around it. I always thought this would be a sweet spot for a reggae concert, although you’ll mostly hear reggaeton.

I feel like we’ve kind of outgrown it or maybe just done it too many times though. Or maybe we’ve just seen other people puking in the water one too many times.

Also, like getting here at 10 am usually leads to a day of a bit too much imbibing because well, there’s not a whole lot else to do. Just to be clear, I’ve never puked in the water!

We started coming here after stopping for swimming, staying for a while, and then heading somewhere for lunch, and actually the last time or two we did the islands we skipped it entirely, opting to just have the dance parties on the boat in a less crowded spot where we weren’t competing with other tunes.

It does get crowded during high season and weekends. Similar to Playa Blanca, I think it’s become a bit of a victim of its own success.

Also, it’s worth noting that there have been a few accidents where the mix of booze, along with lots of swimmers, boats, and jet skis in close proximity have combined for tragic consequences. So, do be extra careful swimming outside the central circle area of boats.

You can learn more about what to expect at this Rosario Islands party spot in my full post on Cholón.

Photo of many boats parked on the water around some covered areas at Cholón in the Rosario Islands.
Do exercise caution and keep your eyes out for other boats and jet skis when swimming at Cholón, or really anywhere in the Rosario Islands.

Just to be clear, don’t let me deter you from partying at Cholón all day! Like I said, we enjoyed it many times, and especially if you can avoid busy days, it is neat. I would suggest at least stopping by even if you’re not that interested.

Plus, another big advantage of doing the private rental is if it is too crowded or you’re not really feeling it, you can just head somewhere else!

The island known as Agua Azul is a good stop to enjoy the beach and get lunch.

We have made this our lunch spot of choice on our last few trips out to the Rosario Islands. Just make sure you double check prices for lunch as it has become a more popular stop and I’ve heard of prices going up.

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 if you do though.

We used to do this a lot because it was cheaper, but with ever increasing crowds (not to mention prices), I actually generally recommend just avoiding Playa Blanca all together now.

Girl sitting and smiling on the front of a boat with another boat in the water ahead in Cartagena Rosario Islands Colombia.
Doing a private party rental is the way to do the Rosario Islands if you can manage to put together a group!

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!

You’ll generally meet the boats at the marina in Manga (a short taxi ride from the Walled City), the docks by the Walled City, or at small docks in Bocagrande.

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 Rosario Islands, but generally, they consist of lots of people being packed onto little boats, with lots of upsells during the day, in an 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 worth it.

However, Susana has done it and agreed, it’s not worth it.

Besides being packed into the boat, at the first stop they had the choice of paying an additional entrance fee to enter the oceanarium or hang out on a tiny mediocre beach. There they could pay for chairs if they wanted them or they could pay more to go snorkeling.

Photo of clear blue waters seen through tree branches with a small empty boat, and a small island house in the background.
Many of the cheaper tours pack lots of people on boats like the one seen here and have lots of upsells and time waiting around, so I don’t recommend them. I do love this photo though!

This was how the whole day went. They did go to other, nicer places, but overall it was a lot of waiting around and a subpar experience.

So, I don’t recommend these tours. You’re so much better off just spending a bit more and doing a nicer tour.

However, there are some other good options for doing day tours that are better options than these standard, not so good tours. If you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend skimping somewhere else and opt for either one of these tours or a day pass at a decent hotel or beach club.

I’ve actually put together an entire post on the best day tours to the Islas del Rosario, which you can check out at that link. However, here I’ll run down a handful of the top options I’d encourage you to consider, starting with what I think is the very best option for a shared tour on a boat to the Rosario Islands.

Best Shared Boat Tour – Sailing on a Catamaran

The Bona Vida Catamaran offers a nice day tour to the Rosario Islands that includes snorkeling gear and lunch.

In my opinion, sailing on the catamaran is the best way to do the islands in a shared boat tour.

We’ve done their sunset tour and loved it. You can read about it and see some more photos of the boat in my review.

Photo of a Catamaran with lettering saying Bona Vida seen across the water.
The Bona Vida Catamaran is a great way to do the Rosario Islands as a day trip.

The boat is great and has lots of space, so no worries about being crammed in or having a bumpy ride.

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.

The only downside to choosing this tour as your way to get to the Rosario Islands is it does not stop at any beaches. So, if you need to feel some sand between your toes, you’ll want to consider one of the other shared tours mentioned below or a day pass at a hotel or beach club.

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 and can live without laying on a beach. You can book ahead of time on GetYourGuide or on Viator.

Some Other Ideas for Shared Tours on Boats to the Rosario Islands

I think the catamaran is the best choice for a shared day trip , but here are some other decent options for shared tours on boats from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands. Keep in mind that there are more options for day passes at specific beaches discussed in option 3 below.

  • La Fantástica Pirate Ship: On this tour, instead of sailing on a catamaran, you get to sail on a mock pirate ship. It looks like a really fun and unique experience. It might be a particularly good fit for families with children who will enjoy the pirate vibes, and also grownups too.
  • Shared 4 Islands Tour: This is a good choice for those that want to be on a boat, see several spots in the islands, and need that fix of sandy beach. These tours stop at several stops and include lunch. They mimic the traditional standard tours but are on nicer, larger boats and with smaller groups.
  • Shared Cholón Boat Party Boat: If you want the party experience at Cholón but can’t put together your own group, these shared party boats that include lunch and an open bar could be a good option and will let you have a fun time with other travelers.
Photo of a boat approaching a dock by a beach in the Rosario Islands Colombia.
One of the advantages of doing a boat tour rather than a day pass at a beach club is you get to enjoy more scenery in different parts of the islands.

Option 3: Day Pass at a Rosario Island Hotel 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 trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Generally, day passes include the ride on the boat to the Rosario Islands and back, lunch, and either chairs with an umbrella or a beach bed.

Some may include a welcome drink or the option for an all inclusive package with open bar or additional snacks.

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, starting with my top recommendation at our favorite place we’ve been to in the islands.

Photo of a margarita with a lime on the top of white stairs with the ocean and a house on a tiny island in the background.
A day pass at a hotel or beach club is a great way to do a day trip to the Rosario Islands form Cartagena.

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, one of the very best in the islands. It’s fairly large and there aren’t a lot of rocks. There is a bit of seaweed, but it’s not too bad, and the sand is softer to the left hand side of the beach.

The water here is good for swimming and snorkeling. I saw lots of fish by their dock. It’s also usually not as crowded as other popular beach clubs.

There are kayaks you can use, and the place is nestled up in a tiny bay that is just gorgeous (all the photos here with that blue roofed house on its own little island are from IslaBela’s main beach area).

Photo of two beach chairs under an umbrella on a sandy beach in the Rosario Islands with a small island house with a boat parked in front in the background.
IslaBela is my top recommendation for a relaxed beach day in the Rosario Islands, and they have one of the few truly sandy beaches and a great view.

I think they hit the right mix of having some music playing and some tasty drinks (we loved their margaritas) but also maintaining a mellow atmosphere.

I think this is without a doubt the top choice for those looking for a relaxing beach day. While there aren’t a lot of activities for little kids or indoor areas with A/C, I would consider it overall very family friendly while also being a good spot for couples and adults too.

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!).

Some Other Relaxed Beach Day Pass Spots

Here are a few more good options for a more relaxed day at the beaches in the Rosario Islands.

  • Isla del Encanto: With a nice pool and gorgeous beach area, Isla del Encanto is also great for a relaxed day in the islands. We spent a couple nights here and loved it. It is also very family friendly. Book a day pass here.
  • Isla del Sol: This is another good spot that has a nice pool. The beach area is decent but a bit rocky. When we went here, we were able to do a very cool tour of the mangroves nearby. Book a day pass here.
  • San Pedro Majagua: We’ve never been here but their beach area looks spectacular every time we pass it on a boat.
  • Gente del Mar: Another place we have not been, but they have a neat location right on a little point on Isla Grande and photos look very nice.
  • Luxury Island: Another place we haven’t been. We have gone by it on boats though, and they have a large beach area on Isla Grande. It’s one of the larger beach clubs.
A beachfront in the Rosario Islands in Colombia with chairs and some people swimming in blue turquoise waters.
Isla del Encanto also has a great beach area.

Check out Bora Bora Beach Club for a Party Atmosphere

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.

We have not actually ever been here, but you can read a review of Bora Bora Beach Club here by someone who has. We have gone by it on boats and seen it from a distance at IslaBela. They do have a great looking beach area and a large space.

It looks like a lot of fun. A few Colombian celebrities have even been spotted here, and it’s definitely a popular Instagram spot.

Photo of a couple's feet on a beach bed in the Islas del Rosario Colombia with clear blue water in the background.
Bora Bora has a great view and a party style atmosphere. Photo credits to Ryan de Seixas (@ryzone).

The only caveat I’d say is I have heard some people disappointed by Bora Bora.

My understanding is you have to pay extra to reserve a first row bed overlooking the beach and that there is a special VIP area that you also have to pay more for, but that isn’t always clear to people. So, is the disappointment from unrealistic expectations and not reading the fine print or is it from false advertising? I’d say it’s probably a little bit of both, and I’ve heard even more people rave that they loved it.

So, I’d just advise making sure you are clear on what is and is not included when booking so you don’t have any false expectations. Do that and you should have plenty of fun at this famous Rosario Islands beach club!

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

See more good day pass ideas both for shared tours and day passes at hotels and beach clubs at my post on the best day tours to the Rosario Islands.

Option 4: Stay at a Hotel in the Rosario Islands

Finally, if you want to go all out and really enjoy some nice rest and relaxation on your visit, why not spend a couple nights at one of the hotels in the Rosario Islands?

Besides being able to escape and disconnect a bit, you’ll have fewer people at the beach after the day pass visitors go home.

Plus, it’s tough to beat Caribbean island sunsets!

Photo of people swimming in water, some people on a small boat with the sun setting behind trees and a orange sky.
Sunsets in the Rosario Islands really are just hard to beat! (This was from our visit to Isla del Encanto).

As mentioned above, I would only suggest spending the night in the Rosario Islands if you have more than 4 nights total in Cartagena.

Keep in mind, you’re a hour plus boat ride away. So, staying in the islands means you’re relaxing in the islands and not much else. You can’t head into town for the day or for dinner or to go dancing.

I would also recommend against spending your first or last night in the islands.

While it’s possible to hire private boat transportation, it is quite pricey. So, you’re better off getting the shared boats that depart in the morning and head back in the afternoon.

Therefore, unless you have a very early arrival or very late departure, I wouldn’t risk trying to get from the airport to the islands or vice versa. It’s way to much hassle for what is supposed to be some relaxed island time!

Photo of the sun rising over the water in the Rosario Islands with a man on a small boat and an orange sky.
The sunrise from Isla del Encanto was also spectacular!

If you have 4 nights or fewer in Cartagena, it’s best to stick to doing one of the day tour options above so you have time to see everything in town and avoid all that hassle.

However, if you have more time, read on for some options for where to spend the night in the Rosario Islands.

Luxury Options

If you’re looking for nicer resort style properties in the Rosario Islands, there are three good options.

Las Islas has gorgeous private bungalows nestled in the mangroves here on the tip of Barú offer a amazing mix of rustic luxury. It’s on the pricey side but is arguably Cartagena’s most luxurious and most unique beach resort. Check prices and availability at Las Islas here.

Isla del Encanto also makes for a nice higher end option at a bit more affordable price. They have really nice rooms in townhouse style bungalows. We really enjoyed staying here and thought the service was great, the food and drinks were very good, and the room was gorgeous. The beach area is also really large and very nice.

You can read our review of it here or check prices and availability at Isla del Encanto here.

Photo of two queen beds in a hotel room with an Air Conditioner and wooden walls.
We thought our room at Isla del Encanto was pretty luxurious, and both Las Islas and the new Sofitel offer even nicer looking rooms.

The new Sofitel Calablanca is also on Barú and looks very nice. It is actually probably the most like a large resort style hotel like what you would find in town. You can check prices and availability at the Sofitel Calablanca here.

Our Favorite Place (and Best Value): IslaBela

IslaBela is our favorite place in the islands and my pick for the best value for an overnight stay in the Rosario Islands.

Located on Isleta in the islands proper, not Barú, it has one of the best beach areas of any of the hotels in the islands and overlooks that gorgeous little bay.

The bungalows are very pretty and comfortable and feel very private.

They are actually located a short walk from the main beach area, and each has their own little private ocean view. While more rustic than the more luxury style resorts above, the room was still very comfortable and cozy.

You can read our review of it here or check prices and availability at IslaBela here.

Photo of a small cabin with glass doors and a beach chair, table, and hammock in front at a Rosario Islands hotel.
We loved out little bungalow at IslaBela too!

A Few Other Ideas

Here are a few more idea for places to stay in the Rosario Islands.

Gente del Mar looks really good. I think they are a bit on the pricier side, but all photos of the place looks very nice.

Coralina Island has a neat area nestled up in the mangroves near IslaBela on Isleta. The only downside is there is not really a true beach here.

San Pedro de Majuagua has a gorgeous beach area, and the rooms and bungalows look very nice. I would like to stay here sometime.

Isla del Pirata basically has an island all to itself.

Finally, the fairly new and neat looking Centro Ubuntu offers a similar rustic but nice look like IslaBela.

Secreto Hostel is the best choice for those looking for dorms or more budget friendly accommodations in the Rosario Islands. El Hamaquero Hostal also has pretty favorable reviews.

You can see some photos and learn a bit more about all these options in my writeup on the best hotels in the Rosario Islands.

Photo of a girl sitting on a wooden deck in the Rosario Islands of Cartagena, Colombia.
Spending the night in the islands is a great way to get plenty of rest and relaxation while enjoying the view!

Packing List for the Rosario Islands

Obviously, you’ll want your beach gear for the Rosario Islands. Here, I’ll also share some ideas for what to take for your trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

  • Ladies will want a fun bathing suit. 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 Cartagena. 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 snorkeling gear will come in handy. My dad always tells me he loves these full face snorkels.
  • I definitely recommend taking along a a good dry bag for the boat from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands.
  • The Rosario Islands are coral islands and can be quite rocky. If you have sensitive feet, you might appreciate a good pair of water shoes. I like that the ones linked there are not goofy looking.
  • I love my pair of bamboo sunglasses 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. Plus they have a cool, retro look.
Photo of a couple smiling at each other on a small wooden staircase in front of a beach in the Cartagena Rosario Islands of Colombia.
You’ll obviously want all your best beach gear for the Rosario Islands!

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 Rosario 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 passing boat, be sure to negotiate and agree on price before. Remember there are no true free samples.
  • 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.

Rosario Islands FAQs

Still have some outstanding questions about the Rosario Islands?

See if you can find the answers in the frequently asked questions below.

I’ve tried to include some additional info that isn’t covered somewhere above. As an added bonus, I’ve put in some of my favorite photos in the Rosario Islands that didn’t fit somewhere above too.

Are the Rosario Islands worth it?

Yes, the Rosario Islands are absolutely worth a visit! They have the prettiest clear waters and nicest beaches near Cartagena.

The only downside is they can be a bit pricey.

Still, they are worth spending a bit more to see and should be considered one of the must do activities in Cartagena.

What are 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 day trips for their crystal clear waters.

Girl sitting and looking out at the water of the Rosario Islands with a small catamaran in distance.
The Rosario Islands are known for their pretty waters and scenery.

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 day or 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.

Is there good snorkeling in the Rosario Islands?

The snorkeling in the Rosario Islands is good, not spectacular.

The waters are very clear and you can see some sea life. However, due to the decay of the reef, you won’t see tons of sea life.

Some good Rosario Islands snorkeling spots include the reef near La Piscinita and the submerged airplane. These are sometimes included on shared boat tours and make for good stops on a private boat rental.

Photo of some boats and kayaks around a tiny shack on a rocky island in the Rosario Islands.
The area known as La Piscinita and the submerged airplane are two of the best snorkeling spots in the Rosario Islands.

How many islands are there in the Rosario Islands?

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

How far away from Cartagena are the Rosario Islands?

The Rosario Islands of Colombia are located about 100 km southeast off the coast of Cartagena. They take roughly an hour to an hour and a half to reach via boat.

How do I get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands?

You will need to take a boat to get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands. It is possible to reach Barú island, technically not part of the archipelago but part of the national park that includes the Rosario Islands by traveling overland.

Is the boat to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena bumpy?

The boat to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena can be bumpy. Usually, in the morning, it is pretty calm with minimal bouncing. However, in the afternoon sea currents often make the ride bumpy. For this reason, most boats leave the islands to return to Cartagena by 3 pm.

Currents can get rough in the late afternoon, so sometimes the boat ride to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena can be a bit bumpy especially on the return trip.

Are there flights to the Rosario Islands?

No. There are no public flights to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena or elsewhere.

Is there a ferry from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands?

No. There is no ferry from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands. Most people travel either on private boat rentals, shared boat tours, or boats owned by hotels and beach clubs that provide transportation.

Are there public boats from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands?

I have seen suggested elsewhere it is possible to get public boats to the Rosario Islands from the Bazurto Market or possibly from the docks by Centro.

I have not tried this, nor do I have much desire to do so to be honest, and I would not recommend it. Now, I do know there are boats to Playa Blanca and Barú from Bazurto, but again, I wouldn’t recommend doing that. They are there primarily to carry supplies and people that work on the beach. You should expect being crowded on a small boat without a clear departure time that leaves when full.

Whether you can do this out to Isla Grande as well, I’m not sure. I would think that yes, there is a way for the residents of the island to get back and forth from Cartagena, but I just don’t know enough about it to recommend trying it.

Photo of some people dancing on a boat with others swimming in water beside it in the Cartagena Rosario Islands.
There may be ways to get out to the Rosarios cheaper, but it will likely be more time consuming and complicated than it’s worth for most tourists.

Can you sail in the Rosario Islands?

Yes. The little islands and reefs can make navigation a bit tricky if you’re sailing in Colombia, but you can certainly sail in the islands. There is not to my knowledge anywhere you can dock though, so keep that in mind.

Are the Rosario Islands safe?

Yes. The Rosario Islands are generally very safe to travel.

In the actual islands themselves, there is only a very small community of local residents, and they respect the privacy and safety of the hotels and resorts. Crime is virtually unheard of on the islands.

I would not recommend camping on the islands or walking around at night on your own due to the lack of public lighting and risk of trespassing, but you should not worry about robberies at the hotels and lodges on the islands.

The exception to this is at Playa Blanca, which I don’t consider part of the islands but some people do. Due to the large crowds and many non-native vendors, there have been robberies at Playa Blanca. If you spend the night at Playa Blanca, I’d suggest trying to keep valuables locked up, in Cartagena if possible.

The one other safety note is to be careful when swimming at crowded beaches, especially Cholón and Playa Blanca. Watch out for boats and jet skis. Also, never jump off a moving boat.

Finally, do be on the lookout for excessive charging by vendors.

This is especially the case at Cholón, Playa Blanca, Agua Azul, and from vendors on small canoes or boats selling things. Be aware there are no true free samples and be sure to always agree on price before consuming anything.

Photo of a green floating buoy in the Rosario Islands near Cartagena with houses on the shore behind it.
The Rosario Islands are quite safe, but do always keep an eye out for other boats when swimming and beware the mix of too much booze and boating.

Which is the best 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 in each.

Girl in bikini in water looking out at a tiny house on a tiny island in the Rosario Islands.
IslaBela is our personal favorite Rosario Island spot, just in case you haven’t noticed from all the photos there.

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 hope 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?

If you enjoyed reading about the Rosario Islands, you might also want to consider including a visit to their sister chain the San Bernardo Islands farther south. Likewise, San Andrés Island makes for a great addition to a Colombia itinerary for beach bums.

You’ll also want to make sure you check out the best sunset spots in Cartagena. You might want to head up the coast to the hip beach town of Palomino, the undeveloped beaches of Tayrona National Park, or get a break from the beach entirely and take in the fresh mountain air of Minca.

Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?

Do check out my guide to the best areas to stay in Cartagena. Not to mention, check out my list of 75+ things to do in Cartagena (spoiler: you’ll find the islands near the top!), see my picks for the best restaurants in Cartagena, and see my recommended Cartagena packing list.

And if you want some help planning your trip, do consider booking with my partner agency BnB Colombia Tours. They can design a perfect trip for you to Cartagena, the Rosario Islands, and everywhere else you want to see in Colombia. You can fill out the form here to start and inquiry and they’ll get back to you to plan the Colombia trip of your dreams.

Also, 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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