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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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 here).
How to Get to the Rosario Islands?
There are 4 main options for how to see the Rosario Islands:
- Take a Group Day Tour
- Take a Private Boat/Booze Cruise
- Do a Day Pass at One of the Hotels in the Islands
- 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.
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.
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:
- Private Boat Rosario Islands Tour (up to 10, via GetYourGuide)
- Private Boat Rosario Island Tours (up to 10, via Viator)
- Baller 60 ft Private Yacht for the High Rollers (via Viator)
- Gay Cartagena Private Boat to the Islands (via Viator)
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:
- Catamaran Day Tour to the Rosario Islands (via GetYourGuide)
- Cholón Party Boat with Open Bar by Hi Cartagena (book via GetYourGuide or via Viator)
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.
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.
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.
Packing List and Tips for a Visit to the Rosario Islands
Accessories to Pack:
- Don’t forget your sunscreen! I recommend Coppertone sport. Taking along some aloe isn’t a bad idea either in case you get burned. If you spend the night, do take along some bug spray as well. I recommend OFF! Deep Woods, which you can get in spray or toilette form.
- This 3 pack of waterproof bag, shoulder bag, and phone pouch would also be handy on the boat!
- While some boat companies may have them, and it’s usually easy to rent from guys out in the islands that will come up on little kayaks, your own snorkeling set isn’t a horrible idea to bring along either.
- This tote bag would also fit right in to the island vibes.
- Booze cruising or staying on a secluded island? This palm sized first aid kit will help with any cuts or scrapes you get along the way.
- These snazzy green lensed bamboo shades from RawWood would also fit right in to the island vibe. Plus they float! I have a pair and love them (see my review here). You could also opt for a cheap pair of shades if you worry you might break or lose them.
And Don’t Forget Your Beach Gear:
- For the ladies, this sporty leaf print bikini would be great for the islands, and Susana has one of these cute white coverups and loves it, or you could opt for a more sultry look with this skirt sarong.
- For the guys, check out these palm tree print board shorts.
- A good beach towel is also a must, and these cool retro designed microfibers from Dock and Bay are a great option. You could also opt for a plainer Rainleaf microfiber or the cool designs from Elite Trend.
- Finally, this packable Panama hat would look great on both the guys and the gals in the islands and on the boat!
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
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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