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Just off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia you’ll find paradise. Think teal blue waters, soft white sand, and endless sunshine. Sounds like a dream, right?! And what better way to end a trip than by experiencing your own island paradise? Whether you’re just visiting Cartagena for a long weekend or exploring more of Colombia, the Rosario Islands are an absolute must-visit when in Cartagena! You can reach the islands in less than an hour by boat, leaving the bustling city behind for the sound of waves gently lapping the shore. You can choose to stay on the islands at a luxurious resort or just take a day trip to the Rosario Islands. No matter what amount of time you have, you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful national park.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the Rosario Islands, when to visit, how long to visit, what to expect on a day trip to the Rosario Islands, and what to pack.
About the Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands, or Islas del Rosario, are a chain of–you guessed it–islands that form an archipelago just off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. The islands are one of 46 national parks in Colombia. It was made a national park in 1988 in an effort to preserve the coral reef around this area. While some of the restrictions from it being a national park limit some activity, don’t be fooled thinking it’s difficult to visit! The Rosario Islands pull in thousands and thousands of visitors each year that want to explore the beautiful land and glistening Caribbean sea just a 45 minute boat ride from Cartagena!
There are many islands from larger ones that serve big resorts to teeny tiny ones that you can rent (yes, the whole island!) for yourself and your family or friends.
When to visit the Rosario Islands
Cartagena and the Rosario Islands are located in the northeast corner of Colombia right on the Caribbean sea. Its location allows it to have a rather moderate, tropical climate year-round. Which is great because it allows you to enjoy the sun and sand no matter what time of year you visit! While there are some months that have slightly more rain than others, you’re almost guaranteed to have wonderful weather at any time you choose to visit Cartagena and the islands.
The average temperature in Cartagena is between 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit with lows in the 70s at night. The temperature is just about perfect but don’t forget about the humidity. The average humidity is about 1 billion %. Okay, I exaggerate… But not much! Humidity ranges between 70-80% throughout the year with *slightly* lower humidity levels in the drier months. The summer tends to be a bit more rainy but only 11 days of rain on average. We visited in June and experienced short afternoon thunderstorms but that was pretty much all!
Because of the beautiful weather and scenic islands, the Rosario Islands are pretty busy all year. Tourists flock to the islands to escape winter or enjoy themselves while on summer vacation. But have no fear… you’re sure to enjoy it even with some crowds! There are plenty of islands to choose from 😉
You can read more about the best time to visit Cartagena in this post.
How long to visit the Rosario Islands
When visiting the Rosario Islands, you may wonder how long is enough time to visit? Well, there are over 20 different islands so if you want to hit every one…… like a month?! Obviously, that isn’t an option for everyone so what’s a more realistic amount of time?
If you are coming to Cartagena for just a quick long weekend or on the heels of a longer trip around Colombia, you may only have one day to explore the islands. One day is the perfect amount of time to see the beautiful area and explore 2-3 different islands on a day trip. This is how we explored the Rosario Islands and I’m happy with that amount of time given that we were on the end of a 2 week trip.
If you have a full week in Cartagena, I recommend taking 3-4 days to stay within Cartagena and then using 3 days to soak in the island paradise! Check into a resort and let your worries wash away into the Caribbean.
Here are some resorts to check out if you want to stay on the Rosario Islands:
- Hotel Las Islas
- Coralina Island
- Hotel Isla del Encanto
How to take a day trip to the Rosario Islands
Luckily, visiting the Rosario Islands for a day trip is relatively easy! Due to their proximity to Cartagena and undeniable beauty, there’s no shortage of tour companies ready to whisk you away to island paradise. You can either book a private tour ($$$) or a group tour.
You can also DIY a day trip to the Rosario Islands! There is a bridge connecting the mainland of Cartagena to Isla Barú. Ubers or taxis will drive you about an hour outside of Cartagena, over the bridge, and down an unpaved, bumpy road to bring you right to the popular Playa Blanca. If you choose this open, bring cash and arrange your ride back to the city before you leave. There’s no cell service at Playa Blanca so you can’t easily call an Uber.
We selected to take a day tour with *** and enjoyed hopping on a boat and seeing 3 different islands within the Rosario chain. If you want a similar experience, keep reading to see what you can expect!
What to expect
Many day tours operate in the Rosario Islands giving tourists a way to see some of the best all in one day. Most of the tours meet at or near the Parque Centenario, which is a small park in between the walled city and Getsemani. It’s also where the docks are so you can meet your group and hop on the boat! Most of the tours leave early so don’t forget to set your alarm! You’ll often select a lunch choice, grab a bottle of water, and be off.
The ride from Cartagena to the islands is between 45-60 minutes. You’ll get to see the big buildings and hotels of Bocagrande before getting near the Fuerte de San Fernando Bocachica. This is an old military fort built by the Spanish in the 17th century. Most day tours don’t stop here, but you can specifically search for a tour that will if you’re into history.
The ride is pretty easy on the way out and you’ll get to see many of the different islands and boats along the way. The tours stop at some similar islands–usually two of the most popular and then a smaller, quieter island. Below, you can read about some of the bigger stops the tours will take.
Many day tours will make a stop at Cholon Island and once you get here, you’ll see why. It’s truly unique in that there are tons of palapas or cabanas set up IN the water. People are surrounding tables in and out of shade while standing in waist deep, warm, Caribbean water. Cholon Island is known as “party island” and it is easy to see why. There are waiters coming up to your table to offer you beverages, vendors floating around with oysters and other foods on kayaks, and music blaring to get you in the party vibe. It is certainly a special vibe but jump in and enjoy it. I recommend getting a huge drink in a pineapple… what’s more tropical than that?!
Isla Baru is one of the more popular islands for a stop during a day tour because it is where many people snorkel! It’s located within the Corales Islas del Rosario which, you guessed it, is where much of the coral is. You’ll stop off the coast of the island and hop in. To be honest, the coral was a little disappointing. It’s not quite as bleached as some other parts of the world I’ve seen, but because of the lax laws regarding wakes and boating, it gets a lot of traffic. The fish weren’t extremely varied and the coral reef area is pretty small. Be very, very careful because as I mentioned, the boating laws are a bit lax, so you’ll have boats coming by closer than you are comfortable with.
After snorkeling, you’ll take a quick boat ride to Isla Grande, where there are numerous resorts. The day tour operators have agreements with the resorts that allow you to relax on the beach and sidle up to the bar for a tropical drink for a few hours! This was my favorite stop–much quieter and calmer than our other stops!
Another popular option, many tours stop here to enjoy lunch and the beach. In addition, you may see people who have come directly here just to spend the day! It’s easily the most popular beach (and said to be one of the most beautiful… not sure I agree) because it can be reached by both boat and car. There’s a bridge connecting Isla Barú to the mainland, so tourists will just drive over to spend the day on the beach. If you want a quiet, secluded beach day… this isn’t it. Don’t get me wrong: the beach is beautiful and the water warm, but it’s crowded with tourists and vendors trying to sell you stuff. Just be warned!
Alternatively, you can pick tours that will go to just one resort or island and hang there for the day. There are dedicated Cholon Island trips if you want to party, Playa Blanca trips if you want to be in the action, or trips to just a resort to hang out and sip coladas in a beach chair all afternoon!
What to pack for the Rosario Islands
You’re island hopping, so think tropical vacay! Don’t forget your swimsuit, obviously. You may want a cover up to wear if your shoulders get too much sun or to wear while you’re eating lunch. Pack easy slip-on flip flops to wear walking around the islands. While the sand is soft, some of the islands have a lot of brush and trees with roots sticking out. There’s also a big party vibe in the islands and I’ve seen glass on a couple of the islands we stopped at! Don’t forget sunscreen and a big hat to protect your face, as well as sunglasses. You may want to pack a small backpack for towels, a change of clothes, and extra water, like we did. We also liked being able to tuck our phones away in the back pack as well.
A quick note: keep a close eye on your stuff when you’re on the islands. We sat our backpack on a beach chair and Michael was keeping a close eye on it (luckily). A group of guys came right in front of our chairs and blocked our view with a huge banner advertising a DJ or something and another guy definitely tried to rummage through our stuff. I’ve never seen Michael run out of the ocean so fast! With a few drinks and large crowds, thieves can be very opportunistic.
Final thoughts/recommendations on a Rosario Island Day Trip
The Rosario Islands are a MUST SEE when you are visiting Cartagena, Colombia. Whether you want to relax for a few days or only have time for a quick day trip, seeing the islands is something you won’t want to miss. There are several different islands and each has a different vibe–you just have to find what you’re looking for! There are several tour companies that offer day trips to the Rosario Islands that offer just partying, snorkeling, relaxing, or a mix of all of the above! When you visit the islands, there is certainly something for everyone. No matter why you go, you’ll love the soft white sand and clear blue water! You can stay at a resort for a couple of days or just take a quick Rosario Island day trip. You deserve at least a day in island paradise while visiting the beautiful city of Cartagena.
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