You absolutely cannot come to Cartagena and not enjoy at least a Rosario Island day trip!
This small chain of tiny coral islands is out of the movies pretty, with crystal clear water and the best beaches near Cartagena. Doing a Rosario Islands tour or day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena is all but an obligatory inclusion on any trip to Colombia’s Caribbean. They are without a doubt the best place to go for Cartagena island tours.
Being so close to this natural paradise is one of the things I miss most about living in Cartagena.
After a decade there, we have had the great fortune to get to know the islands well, on everything from private Rosario Island boat tours, to shared tours, to doing Rosario Islands day trips and overnight stays at a number of the resorts and eco-lodges.
I’ll be sharing all that knowledge with you here with my picks for the best Rosario Islands day trips, so you can decide which of these Rosario Islands tours is best for you!
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Best Rosario Islands Day Trips – Contents
- Why Plan a Rosario Islands Day Trip from Cartagena
- Rosario Island Tour vs Spending the Night – What to Consider
- 11 Best Rosario Islands Day Trips and Tours
- What to Take on a Rosario Island Tour
Too long; can’t read it all quick tips
If you’re looking to do a Cartagena island tour in style and have some flexibility on budget or traveling with a group, a private boat rental is by far the coolest way to do a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. If you can’t quite swing the price for a private boat tour to the islands, this catamaran tour is my top choice among the shared Cartagena island tours.
If you’re looking to enjoy some time on a beach, a day pass at IslaBela is my top pick for a relaxed day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. For a party vibe, I’d recommend checking out the very popular Bora Bora Beach Club for your Rosario Islands day trip.
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Why Plan a Day Trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena
Let’s see. Year-round beach weather?
Crystal clear water?
Smaller crowds and fewer vendors than the other beaches in Cartagena?
Check and check.
So, really, the question is why wouldn’t you plan a day trip to the Rosario Islands during your time in Cartagena?
There are other beaches closer to Cartagena and a bit easier to reach. You can see my complete guide to the Cartagena beaches here to compare, but if I’m being honest, you’re wasting your time.
Some of those other beaches are better than others and do make for good beach days. I compare most of them to the beaches of Charleston in my home state of South Carolina. So, good, but not exactly Caribbean paradise level quality.
That’s what you’ll find in the Rosario Islands.
Playa Blanca used to give them a run for their money and cost you less money, but it just has become way, way too overrun with people and vendors. While it can still be an ok option if you are on a tighter budget (read all about Playa Blanca here), I generally discourage people from going out there anymore.
Really and truthfully, you’re better off skimping somewhere else on your trip and putting some extra pesos towards a Rosario Islands tour.
It is totally worth it!
Do a Rosario Islands Tour or Spend the Night?
So, first let me get this out of the way, if you are planning a trip to Cartagena and have the time, I can’t recommend spending a night or two out in the Rosario Islands enough.
However, if you’re on a bit of a tighter budget or only have a few nights in Cartagena, doing a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena is a great way to enjoy them.
I would generally say that if you have fewer than 5 nights total between Cartagena and the islands (so 4 nights minimum in the city), you’re better off staying your whole time in the city and doing one of the Cartagena island tours or Rosario Islands day trips listed below. That will give you the proper time to see all there is to do in Cartagena.
If you do have the time for an overnight stay, you can check out my picks for the 11 best Rosario Islands hotels or see my full guide to the Rosario Islands for more on deciding if that’s your best option.
If you don’t have that much time, please, please do yourself a favor and do not skip the islands entirely. Even if you only have 2 days in Cartagena, I’d highly encourage you to take one of those days to do a Rosario Islands tour.
11 Best Rosario Islands Tours and Day Trips
Ok, with all that out of the way, let’s get to this list of the best Rosario Island tours and day trips!
This is a top 11 because, well, everyone does top 10s, 11 has a special significance for Cartagena since it declared its independence on November 11, 1811 (11/11/11), and I think you deserve just a bit more.
I’ve put this in roughly the order I would choose to do each of these Islas del Rosario day trips. I’ve also tried to include a little something for everyone, so the best Rosario Island day trip for you might vary a bit from the order I’ve chosen.
Really and truthfully though, you can’t go wrong with any of these Rosario Islands tours!
1. Private Boat – Coolest Way to Do an Island Tour in Cartagena
This is hands down the best way to do a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena!
How relatively affordable it is to rent a private boat for the day to take you on a Cartagena islands tour is one of the things I’ll miss the most about living in Cartagena and it’s something we have done many a times.
It’s always a fun day, and we’ve made lots of memories doing day trips to the Rosario Islands on private boat rentals.
The reason I think this is the best way to tour the Cartagena islands is having a private boat will give you the most freedom to enjoy your Rosario Island tour from Cartagena however you like.
You could have dance parties all day at party spot Cholón, spend lots of time snorkeling out by the reefs or the submerged airplane, or check out the lesser known islands and beaches of the islands.
We usually do some combination of all of the above.
Usually, private boat rentals will include several stops and you can customize it how ever you like.
Private Rosario Islands boat tours usually include a cooler of ice to byob and some rentals throw in some courtesy beers or waters.
It is a ton of fun to do a Rosario Islands day trip this way!
However, if you are solo, only a couple, or a small group it can be pretty pricey to do the private Rosario Islands boat tour. I do have some shared boat options below in that case.
However if you can swing it by putting a group together or have the budget to do it on your own, you will not be disappointed!
If you are looking to save a few pesos to help make up for the higher cost of this option, consider taking along plenty of snacks and maybe even sandwiches or something else for lunch on the boat. It is pretty hard not to enjoy a fresh fish lunch out in the island though.
If you do buy lunch, drinks, or anything else out in the islands, do be sure to check prices before hand and keep a running tally. It’s a good idea to take a photo of the menu as some unscrupulous vendors will try to overcharge at the end. This is especially true at Cholón, Agua Azul, and Playa Blanca, so be extra aware at those places.
But don’t let that deter you from booking a private boat if it works for your budget. It’s just a ton of fun!
2. Catamaran Sailing Trip – Best of the Shared Cartagena Island Tours
This is my top choice among the options for shared Cartagena island tours, and it is the best Rosario Island boat trip for those who don’t have the budget and/or group size for a private boat.
The boat is awesome!
There’s a lot of space, so you won’t feel cramped or like you’ve been packed in like sardines, which is the case on some shared boat tours to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.
There are also these neat nets you can sit on over the water. They would be perfect for tanning or doing some posing for photos.
This Rosario Islands day tour includes a stop for snorkeling and swimming as well as lunch. It’s also one of the most consistently highly rated Rosario Islands tours from Cartagena.
Plus, well, you are on a sweet sail boat all day. It’s plenty big for calm sailing unlike the smaller speed boats that other Rosario Islands tours or day passes to most of the resorts use.
The slower speed also lets you fully enjoy all the gorgeous scenery of the islands!
That makes it an easy second choice for on this list of Cartagena island tours, although for those looking for a more relaxed day in a chair with some sand between your toes, the next choice might be an even better option.
3. Day Pass at IslaBela – Best Relaxed Rosario Island Day Trip
Islabela is our favorite overall beach resort and lodge in the islands.
In fact, you can read our review of our stay there to learn about the terrific beach bungalows they have. I think it’s a terrific value for an overnight stay.
However, it’s also a great spot for a Rosario Islands day trip!
The beach area here is one of the largest in the islands. There are kayaks you can use for no additional a charge, and the location in a lovely little bay is just perfect. There’s also some neat photo ops with the old staircase and little island house out front. A number of the photos in the introduction to this post are from there That’s how much we like it!
Oh, and they also have terrific margaritas!
So, if spending all day on a Cartagena boat trip to the Rosario Islands is less your fancy, and you’d rather have a shorter boat ride in and out with a gorgeous beach on the dry, sandy land to enjoy all day, this might just be your choice for the best Rosario Island day trip.
The place has the perfect balance of relaxed beach vibes with some good tunes playing, perfect for a relaxed Rosario Islands day trip. It’s also pretty family and kid friendly, although there are no pools or air conditioned facilities. (Don’t worry party animals, I have a few spots with groovy, party vibes below too!).
For a relaxing day trip to the Rosario Islands where you can beach and chill, this is the best spot for it!
4. Isla del Encanto – Best Upscale Day Trip to the Rosario Islands
This is also a terrific resort in the Rosario Islands and another fine choice for a Cartagena islands day trip.
In fact, this is probably one of the nicest hotels we have every stayed in, period! (read about our stay here). It is nicer, but also a good bit pricier than Islabela.
It’s also a great spot for a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. Their day passes are actually priced fairly reasonably considering the cost of spending the night.
Technically, Isla del Encanto is located on Barú, but it’s just a short boat ride from the islands and is part of the national park. One thing I appreciate is that they offer additional tours of the islands themselves that can take you snorkeling or to the Aquarium where you can see dolphins. They have an additional cost but are not outrageous, and can be a good way to spend some time snorkeling and seeing the islands while also having some time at a good, private beach.
The beach here is also really spectacular!
It’s sandy with calm, shallow water to wade out and swim. There are kayaks and paddle boards available to sue free of charge too. The beach area is huge with plenty of chairs and umbrellas. They also have great service, and there is even a spa on site, and day pass visitors can use one of the two pools.
I’d say it’s probably the most kid friendly place to do a Rosario Islands day trip too since there is that pool and just more space in general.
If you’re looking for a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena that offers a bit more of a luxury experience than the more rustic feel at Islabela and has some additional amenities and things to do, this is a great choice.
5. Barú’s Mangroves – Most Unique Cartagena Island Tour
This is a relatively new tour to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, and by far the most unique and cultural. In fact, I think it’s one of the more unique day trips you can do in Cartagena, period.
It is a private tour, so it’s a bit pricier than most of the other Rosario Islands day trips here, but for those who want a slice of nature and culture without sacrificing their slice of the beach, it’s a really good way to have a number of experiences that are a tad more authentic than simply partying on a boat or sipping drinks on the beach.
It does allow for some customization too.
However, the general itinerary for the tour includes a village to the small town of Barú, near the tip of Barú Island, where you’ll have breakfast and get to tour this town, which has been the home of Afro-Colombian fisherman for generations, many of them the descendants of former slaves.
You’ll then take a boat out to the islands, where you’ll be able to tour a mangrove swamp and do some snorkeling at the reef. Then you’ll get some time to relax on a beach before having lunch in a local’s home. Finally, you’ll get to check out some of the villagers’ artisan handicrafts.
It’s a unique tour and by far the least “traditional” Rosario Islands tour on this list. If you’re looking for something a bit more cultural that also offers some beach time, I think it’s a good option.
6. Multi-Stop Cartagena Island Tours to the Rosario Islands
If you want to do a Rosario Islands boat tour, and see several spots like you can with a private rental without shelling out the full cost of a private boat, one of the shared tours that stop at multiple spots is another great way to do a Rosario Islands day trip from Cartagena.
There are a handful of variations of these Cartagena island tours, often called 4 islands tour or 5 islands tour.
Usually, all of them go to a one or two beaches in the islands, stop for snorkeling, go to Cholón, and go to Playa Blanca. Some include lunch and some may include chairs at the beaches. It’s a great way to get a lot into one day and is one of the more affordable ways to do a Rosario Islands day tour.
The one caveat I’d give is to be very careful if you book this from a vendor on the street.
In fact, I’d just avoid it all together. Many of these Rosario Islands boat tours have a bad reputation for being unorganized and including lots of upsells along the way like renting snorkeling gear or beach chairs.
Unfortunately, some stuff you’ll find online discourages doing Cartagena island tours for precisely this reason. It’s a lot of time spent cramped on a small boat, bouncing around, and then when you do get off, you have to pay more to actually properly enjoy the beach.
That’s why, I strongly recommend vetting and asking for all the details before booking a standard island tour in Cartagena. Whether that’s from a vendor on the street, a tour agency, at the docks, or having your hotel or hostel help you out booking, be clear what is and what is not included.
I’d especially make sure you’re aware whether it includes lunch and beach chairs and shade, since these can be pricey to pay for on your own. If you do need to pay for those things, be sure to be clear on price before hand and exercise special caution at Cholón, Playa Blanca, and Agua Azul, where some vendors have earned a reputation for exhorbitant prices.
And depending on how you feel about boats, asking for a photo of the type of boat you’ll be on is also a good idea. I’d try very hard to get on a proper speed boat and not the little ones like in the photo above as they will bounce around a lot on the return trip when currents are rougher.
My honest recommendation is to avoid the tours that go to the aquarium (unless of course you want to do the aquarium, where you can see dolphins).
If they stop there, that means you will either be paying more to enter or be stuck on a tiny beach, where you can pay to rent chairs or snorkeling equipment or just be bored during the stop.
Now, if you do want to do the aquarium, this is actually the best and probably most cost effective way to do it (other options are a private boat rental or going to a place like Isla del Encanto that offers it as an add on).
The links I’ve included below has lots of good reviews, so you should feel good about them being well organized and a good value.
7. Bora Bora Beach Club
As I mentioned above, I promised to include a few more party spots on this list of best Cartagena islands day trips.
Bora Bora is known for having a fun atmosphere with a DJ and a hip vibe.
Colombian celebrities like models and actors are known to make this their Rosario Islands tour of choice, and you’ve likely seen photos of people enjoying Bora Bora on Instagram. Honestly, it feels like one of those places that was just made to blow up on Insta.
That means, it’s one of the most popular places for a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.
There’s a nice beach area here and a cool set up with beach beds. It can sell out, so book in advance to make sure you get a prime beach bed.
I’d also recommend paying close attention to the details of your reservation, as the front row beach beds and the “VIP” area that is often seen in those impressive Instagram photos have additional costs.
So, just be aware of that, as I have heard of people disappointed that they didn’t get what they expected. If you want those things, know you might need to pay a bit more and make sure you get that hammered out when you reserve.
If you can’t put together a group for a private rental and do your own boat party and booze cruise, or maybe you prefer having a beach all day rather than an all day Rosario Islands boat tour, then this makes for a more than acceptable compromise, and you have the beach right in front of you to enjoy as well!
8. Do a Shared Party Boat to Cholón
If dancing on the dry land between dips in the Caribbean isn’t enough for you, and you want that dance party on a boat tour to the Rosario Island, you could opt to do a shared party boat to Cholón.
This also makes a great and more affordable alternative to the private rental if you’re looking for a fun booze cruise kind of experience.
A great thing about doing a Rosario Islands boat trip from Cartagena like this if you don’t have a large group for a private is you get a chance to meet and party with other travelers.
These tours almost always include lunch and an open bar, so all you have to do is come ready for the sun, sand, and party!
9. Pao Pao Beach Club
This is the newest beach club for a Rosario Islands day trip from Cartagena.
Pao Pao Beach Club is operated by the same management as Bora Bora and offers a similar fun, hip, party atmosphere.
However, it’s a bit smaller, giving it a more intimate experience. It also has a great little beach area nestled among the mangroves and even a sweet little pool.
It makes for an excellent Rosario Islands day trip for those looking for a nice balance between a hip atmosphere without being too crowded.
10. Day Pass at Isla del Sol
This beach resort on Isla Grande also has a good day pass. We’ve been here for a day pass, and we enjoyed it. You can read about our experience doing a Rosario Islands tour for the day here in my review of Isla del Sol.
I didn’t think the beach area here is quite as nice as Islabela or Isla del Encanto. It is pretty rocky, and some sand and leaves get turned up in the waves.
However, there is a nice little pool, and we liked the food and drinks.
We also really enjoyed the additional tour of the little town on the island and the mangroves, provided by a local guide (if you do opt for this tour to the Rosario Islands, you absolutely should do that additional tour, it was completely worth it).
In sum, this makes for another good option for a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena without a doubt.
11. Day Pass at San Pedro de Majagua
To close out this list of best Rosario Islands tours day trips, we have San Pedro de Majagua.
We actually haven’t been here either, but we have passed by it many a time when doing other day trips to the Rosario Islands.
There’s a really large and nice looking beach area here, much larger than at most of the other resorts in the islands.
It also never looks crowded, so it might be a good choice for a Rosario Islands day trip for those looking to relax and get some nice R&R at the beach while avoiding the more party style atmosphere of a place like Bora Bora.
Now, you’ve got 11 great choices for for a Rosario Islands day trip. Honestly, I’d choose one of the top 4 if they are available and work for you. If you do want a bit more of a party vibe, Bora Bora or the shared boat to Cholón are also great options. If you’re looking to pack the most into one day, the multi-island tours are also a fine choice, and the other day pass options are sure to be enjoyable.
What to Pack for a Rosario Islands Tour or Day Trip
Here are some suggested items to pack on your day tour to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.
- You have to take a boat out to the islands for any Rosario Islands day trip, and sometimes boats splash. Having a good dry bag will protect your phone, camera, and anything else you don’t want to get wet.
- There’s great snorkeling in the islands. Bringing along your own snorkeling gear means you won’t have to worry about paying to rent one or end up with a lousy, beat up one on your Rosario Islands day tour.
- The Rosario Islands are coral islands, which means the beaches can be a bit rocky. Taking along a good pair of water shoes can be useful. Those don’t look quite as goofy as the traditional ones either.
- And of course, you’ll want some shades too. I love these bamboo shades! They are perfect for the Caribbean vibes and I always got lots of compliments on them.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen! Trust me!
- Finally, taking along this palm sized first aid kit will let you patch up any cuts or scrapes.
And of Course, Take Your Beach Gear
- This sporty leaf print bikini is perfect for those island vibes on a Rosario Islands day trip!
- Susana has this dress cover up and loves it and it’s just nice enough to be acceptable walking around town after your day tour to the Rosario Islands is over!
- For the guys, these palm tree board shorts are perfect for a day trip to the Rosario Islands.
- These microfiber beach towels are perfect for travel.
- Finally, a good foldable/rollable sun hat can be packed in a bag and not be ruined.
Ready to plan your Rosario Islands day trip from Cartagena?
So, now know just about everything you need to plan a terrific day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, including 11 great options for Rosario Islands tours, and some tips on whether spending the night is an option and what to take along.
I hope this guide was useful to you planning your own day trip to the Rosario Islands, and more importantly, that you have a blast no matter which you choose!
Cheers and Happy Beachin’ It!
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If you love the idea of doing a Rosario Islands tour and have a few extra nights, consider visiting the Rosario’s sister chain of islands, the San Bernardo Islands. Those who love a good time at the beach should also consider checking out the hip beach town Palomino up the coast. Nearby are the unspoiled beaches of Tayrona National Park as well as the relaxed vibes at Costeño Beach. True beach bums also might want to consider tacking on some time at San Andrés Island to their Colombia trip!
Planning a trip to Cartagena?
Be sure to check out the rest of the site to help you plan!
In particular, you might want to check out my guide to the best areas to stay, my list of over 75 things to do, my picks for the best Cartagena tours, the best day trips from Cartagena, my suggested packing list, my guide to the Rosario Islands, and my guide to all the beaches of Cartagena.