Part of the allure of coming to Cartagena is the beautiful, crystal clear Caribbean and white sand beaches of the islands near Cartagena. You’ll find them in the Islas del Rosario, about an hour off the coast of Cartagena. Read on for a complete guide to visiting the Rosario Islands of Colombia, including choices for Rosario Island tours as well as other choices for how to get to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, what you’ll see, and where to stay in the Rosario Islands if you choose to spend a night (or three).
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*Islas de Rosario Cartagena Covid-19 Travel Info:
The Rosario Islands are currently open for day tours and boat rentals. Many of the Rosario Island hotels have also reopened and offer day pass options as well as overnight accommodations. In early January, 2021, the popular party spot of Cholón has also reopened.
Please keep in mind to follow all local guidelines, such as wearing masks in public, and be aware that rules and regulations are subject to change. I will do my best to keep this up to date and have verified that the Rosario Islands tours and Rosario Islands hotels listed below are operating as of the date of the last update listed below.
Last update: January 11, 2021. (Updated to include the reopening of Cholón)
Why Visit Cartagena’s Islas del Rosario?
They are undoubtedly the prettiest of the Cartagena islands to visit. That makes them one of the top destinations in all of Colombia. The Islas del Rosario aka Islas de Rosario aka Rosario Islands, near Cartagena really are a must include during your visit to Colombia and Cartagena.
The Islas de Rosario offer the crystal clear waters you see in the movies and in your Caribbean dreams. They are also easily visitable, whether you want to do an Islas del Rosario tour, a Rosario Islands day trip, 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.
So, read on to learn all about how to plan to get from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands, what options there are to do a tour to the Islas del Rosario, and what are the best Rosario Island, Colombia, hotels.
Where Are the Islas del Rosario in Colombia?
The Rosario Islands of Colombia are located about 100 km southeast off the coast of Cartagena. The Rosario Islands 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 the most visited of the Cartagena islands. 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 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).
Just to be clear, this is not a guide to Playa Blanca, which is the best budget beach destination from Cartagena.
How to Get to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena?
There are 4 main options for how best to tour the Rosario Islands:
- Take a Group Rosario Islands Day Trip Tour
- Rent a Private Boat to the Rosario Islands
- Do a Day Pass at One of the Rosario Islands Hotels
- Spend the Night at One of the Hotels in the Rosario Islands
I think option 2 is the best option if you can get together a group large enough to make it cost effective. Learn more about the pros and cons and what to expect for each option below.
Option 1 – Standard Tour Rosario Islands Day Trip
Ok, let’s get this out there, this is the cheapest way to visit the Rosario Islands and the easiest way to do a Rosario Island day trip or organized Isla del Rosario tour. And 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. 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 day tours to the Rosario Islands follow a pretty standard route. You’ll board small speed boats, shuttled off the islands for a quick ride around the islands, allowing you to catch a good glimpse the natural beauty of these coral islands off Cartagena. 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 a lot of of up-selling goes on, from drinks to food to snacks to goggle to go snorkeling. You’ll either have lunch at a spot in the Rosario Islands themselves or at Playa Blanca. Regardless, you will usually be shuttled to Playa Blanca for the afternoon where you will get some more relaxed beach time.
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 better options for tours to the Islas del Rosario. You spend more time on these standard tours to the Rosario Islands in Cartagena packed onto the boat itself than on the beach.
However, if you’re on a tighter budget or you really want to see the Aquarium, this can still be a good Rosario Island tour option. 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.
If you do want a day trip that isn’t just going direct to a Rosario Island resort, I recommend you check out this neat Catamaran Rosario Island Day Trip through the island that includes lunch and has great reviews (via GetYourGuide).
The more standard day long tour of the Islas del Rosario can be bought from street tour vendors, tour agencies, many hotels and hostels, or even at the Muelle de la Bodeguita docks themselves.
Option 2 – Private Boat to the Rosario Islands – Top Choice
*Note that as mentioned at the top, Cholón is now reopened with a limit of 60 boats a day and only until 3 pm. Its reopening makes this my top choice for how to see the Cartagena Rosario Islands again.
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 tours on a private boat to the Rosario Islands 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.
*Learn more about and see more photos of Cholón at my complete guide to Cholón here.
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 rentals of private boats 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. Be sure to work that out with your captain in the morning when starting your private Islas de Rosario tour.
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)
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 with open bar (via GetYourGuide). This makes for a great option if you are flying solo, are a couple, or have a smaller group that makes a private boat rental to the Rosario Islands cost prohibitive.
If you want a truly unique experience, check out this multi-day sailing trip through the Rosario Islands and Barú, surely a remarkable experience.
Option 3 – Book a Day Pass at a Rosario Island Resort
If you can’t get a group or the budget together for the private boat to the Islas del Rosario option, then hanging out at one of the best hotels in the Rosario Islands for the day is another good way to see the Rosario Islands from 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, especially considering which Isla del Rosario you stay on. However, a day pass at one of the resorts in the Rosario Islands is still 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 Rosario Island hotel where you do your day pass.
Day passes at the Islas de Rosario hotels 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, 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.
Where to Stay in the Rosario Islands? – Top Rosario Islands Hotels
Hotel Isla del Sol – Luxury All Inclusive Bungalows
Located on Isla Grande of the Rosario Islands, 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, making this the top option among the Rosario Islands luxury hotels.
Coralina Island – Great Luxury Rosario Island Resort
Hotel Coralina Island is located on Isla del Pirata, one of the the smaller, more exclusive Isla Rosario. 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. The more exclusive atmosphere makes it another terrific luxury resort in the Rosario Islands.
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.
Gente de Mar – Newest Rosario Island Resort
This is one of the newest Isla de Rosario hotels. Gente de Mar has a beautiful property with a perfect mix of modern luxury and relaxed beach vibes. It would make a great option for a Rosario Island hotel to spend a few nights.
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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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