Complete Guide to Visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, Colombia

Part of the allure of coming to Cartagena is the beautiful, crystal clear Caribbean and white sand beaches.  Unfortunately, in the city proper, the beaches are ok but are not the picturesque beaches you are looking for.  Where are those beaches?  In the Rosario Islands, about an hour off the coast of Cartagena.  Read on for a complete guide to visiting the Rosario Islands, including the different ways to get to the Rosario Islands, what you’ll see, and places to stay in the Rosario Islands if you choose to spend a night (or three).

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Photo of a group of people in the water in the Rosario Islands.
Seeing the Rosario Islands is a must during your time in Cartagena, read on for a complete guide to how to see the Rosario Islands.

Where Are the Rosario Islands?

The Rosario Islands are located about 100 km southeast off the coast of Cartagena.  They are part of the National Park of the Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo (another chain of islands located further to the south).  There are 28 islands that make up the chain, most quite small with a few larger ones.

One quick note, Playa Blanca and Barú are considered part of the national park, although technically they are not part of the island chain (Barú was a peninsula before a canal was cut across it by the Spanish).  Just to be clear, this is not a guide to Playa Blanca, which is the best budget beach destination from Cartagena.  (Guide to visiting Playa Blanca coming soon).

How to Get to the Rosario Islands?

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

  1. Take a Group Day Tour
  2. Take a Private Boat/Booze Cruise
  3. Do a Day Pass at One of the Hotels in the Islands
  4. Spend the Night at One of the Hotels in the Islands

Option 1 – Standard Tour to the Rosario Islands – Not Recommended

Ok, let’s get this out there, this is the cheapest way to visit the Rosario Islands.  And in full disclosure, I’ve never actually done this tour myself, because all I’ve heard is that it’s not worth it.  Susana has done it and agreed.  There’s a good write up from Sarepa on her experience with it too, also agreeing it’s not worth it.

All of these standard tours to the Rosario Islands follow a pretty standard route.  You’ll be packed on to small speed boats, shuttled off the islands for a quick ride around.  Then you’ll stop at the Aquarium, where you’ll have to pay a mandatory dock fee and to enter the Aquarium itself an additional entrance fee.  Or you can hang out at a beach, where there is lots of upselling going on, from drinks, food, snacks, to snorkeling goggles.  You’ll either have lunch at a spot in the islands or at Playa Blanca.  Regardless, you will be shuttled to Playa Blanca for the afternoon where you will get some more relaxed beach time.

Again, I recommend that you follow Sarepa’s advice, and just head to Playa Blanca if you don’t have the pesos to do one of the following options.  You spend more time on these standard tours to the Rosario Islands in Cartagena packed onto the boat itself than on the beach.

If you do decide you just have to do this, then you can get the tour from street tour vendors, tour agencies, many hotels and hostels, or from the docks themselves.  I think it’s possible to still enjoy this, and you will get to see the islands’ beauty, but just be clear what the tour is before you go.

Photo of a house on an island
You will still get to enjoy the gorgeous views of the Rosario Islands with the standard tour, but the other options are much better.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Option 2 – Private Boat to the Rosario Islands

This is in my opinion the very best way to go to the Rosario Islands in Cartagena.  Because we all know life is better on your own boat, if you are traveling with a group or can put a group together, a private rental is by far the best way to see the Rosario Islands.

Most of the private boat tours also follow a fairly standard route.  They will take you out to the islands first and stop for some swimming and snorkeling at a spot known as La Piscina.

Then you’ll head to the party spot Cholón.  A little beach with shallow water with covered areas, basically what happens at Cholón is everyone pulls up their boats and has a crazy dance party on the boat with pauses to swim (the photo at the top of this post is also at Cholón).  It is the perfect place for a booze cruise and/or pretending you’re in a music video.

Photo of 3 girls standing in the water at Cholón in the Rosario Islands.
Another shot of the party spot at Cholón in the Rosario Islands.

You then usually have the option to stay in Cholón and have lunch there and continue the party or head to Playa Blanca for lunch and a more chillaxed afternoon.

Most private boat tours to the Rosario Islands include up to 3 stops and there are a few other more secluded beaches you can visit if you’d prefer to go there rather than the party at Cholón or the more crowded Playa Blanca.  Work that out with your captain in the morning.

Besides being just cooler, this really is the option that will give you the best and most customizable experience, and the one I would hands down recommend if you can afford to do it.  We’ve done the trip with Botes de la Bahía several times and have been pleased every time.  You can book with them through Viator here.

You can check out the following options to book a private boat tour to the Rosario Islands:

If you want to do the boat trip but are on a tighter budget, you can also do it as part of a shared small group tour through the following options:

You can also try contacting Botes de la Bahía or Boating Cartagena directly to negotiate prices, boat sizes, etc.

Photo of a girl taking a selfie with others on a boat to the Rosario Islands behind her.
Taking a private boat is undoubtedly the most stylish way to see the Rosario Islands.

Option 3 – Book a Day Pass at a Hotel in the Rosario Islands

If you can’t get a group or the budget together for the private boat option, then hanging out at a hotel in the islands all day is another decent way to see the Rosario Islands in Cartagena.

The one caveat I’d say here is that while the water and the islands themselves are beautiful, the beaches are on the smaller side.  Again I’d recommend considering Playa Blanca if you can’t do the private boat.  However, a day pass at one of the hotels in the Rosario Islands is a good way to see the islands and spend a day relaxing, and you should have access not only to the beach but to the pool and common areas at the hotels.

Day passes usually include transportation by boat, lunch, and a welcome drink.

Here are some good day pass options for hotels in the Rosario Islands:

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

Finally, if you want to go all out on your visit to the Rosario Islands, why not spend a couple nights at one of the hotels?  They are all on the pricier side, and I’d actually recommend going to the San Bernardo Islands a bit further south if you want to escape the city completely (see our review of staying at Isla Roots Hostel there here), staying at one of the hotels in the Rosario Islands is still a chance to enjoy the islands more exclusively.

Where to Stay in the Rosario Islands? – Top 3 Hotels

Hotel Isla del Sol – Luxury All Inclusive Bungalows

Located on Isla Grande, Hotel Isla del Sol offers pretty bungalows right in front of the beach.  There is a private beach area as well as an outdoor pool on site.  All standard meals are included in the price.

Check it Out and Book Here via Booking.com

Hotel Coralina Island – Great for Families

Hotel Coralina Island is located on Isla del Pirata, the smaller more exclusive island.  It offers family and group rooms in addition to standards.  Staying here also includes all meals and there is a private beach area and solarium.

Check it Out and Book Here via Booking.com

Eco Hotel Islabela – Romantic Bungalows in the Rosario Islands

Eco Hotel Islabela offers pretty private bungalows that would be a great option for where to stay in the Rosario Islands for couples.  There is a private beach area and shared lounge on site as well.  Here breakfast is included.

Check it Out and Book Here via Booking.com

Packing List and Tips for a Visit to the Rosario Islands

Accessories to Pack:

And Don’t Forget Your Beach Gear:

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

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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You may also be interested in the following posts:
Isla Roots Hostel in Colombia’s San Bernardo Islands – A Review
Top 10 Places to Get Sunset Drinks in Cartagena, Colombia
Sibarita Sunset Cruise Review – Great Cartagena Sunset Harbor Tour

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

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