Me (brunette Woman) swimming in crystal clear, beautiful blue Caribbean waters off the coast of Isla Grande, part of the Archipelago of Rosario Islands

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From City to Tropical Escape in an Hour

You’ve salsa’d, ceviche’d, shopped, explored and drank some exceptional coffee. So what next? Don’t head over to Medellín just yet. It seems that many are not familiar with the archipelago of the Rosario Islands. Just an hour away from Cartagena by boat, you’ll discover surprise and delight. Yes, a tropical atmosphere and warm, clear, stunning blue Caribbean waters await. The best part? These islands are a great way to experience the Caribbean sans crowds or exorbitant price tags. In other words, you simply must visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

Approaching Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands. The Waters are clear, bright blue and the island is surrounded by trees. Traveling to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.
The Caribbean waters surrounding Isla Grande are clear, bright turquoise blue, warm and lovely to swim in

Day Trip or Getaway to the Rosario Islands From Cartagena?

If you’re pressed for time, there is always an option to do a day trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. However, many travelers have shared that they felt a day trip wasn’t long enough to really take in all there is to do at the island or get the full experience.

Does sunbathing, ocean swimming and lunch for a few hours sound like a perfect day to you? The boats tend to arrive around 9:30am daily and leave right around 3:00pm. If you want to keep your tropical quest brief, then simply do a quick jaunt to Isla Grande for the day to enjoy some fun in the sun.

Bright turquoise blue waters surround a small private island in the Caribbean, part of the Rosario Islands
Here is one of the “Private Islands” that’s part of the Rosario Island archipelago, neighboring Isla Grande

Which Island Should I Visit?

The Rosario Archipelago is comprised of 27 islands, although, some of the islands are uninhabited. Isla Grande is often regarded as the most beautiful island of the lot. True to its name, it’s the biggest island of the archipelago. If your pockets are of the deeper sort and you’re looking for the ultimate off the grid, away from it all, celebrity-esq holiday, you can in fact rent a private island for your vacation. There are several rental broker sites that showcase different private islands and villas you can reserve when you visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.

We passed by a couple of these private islands when we were cruising the area by boat for the day. The water surrounding the ones I saw were not very deep. So when you’re living your best life on the island you have all to yourself, you can also just dive right in the ocean for a swim. Sweet.

Where to Stay?

There are several accommodations on Isla Grande to choose from, ranging from low cost hostel to high end resort. One of the best things about Isla Grande and the Rosario Islands is the affordability. Lodging, food and excursions that would normally be priced astronomically higher in the Caribbean are very reasonable.

We stayed at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, which some consider the nicest accommodation on Isla Grande. After perusing the coastline of Isla Grande by boat for a few hours, it seemed that there were several other nice (looking, anyway) hotels on the island.

In any case, I was super pleased with my selection of Hotel San Pedro de Majagua and would happily stay there again in the future.

The patio of our bungalow at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, when we visited the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. An outdoor couch is surrounded by hammocks, a thatch roof, palm trees and beautiful greenery hanging down from a tree.
Our private bungalow at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua – my favorite part was the huge outdoor patio with hammocks!

What is There to Do?

For many, the goal when enjoying an island getaway is not to do much. But if you’re like me, and have trouble laying around for too long, don’t fret. Despite being remote and uncrowded, I was pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do on Isla Grande.

You can:

Go snorkeling

Scuba dive or get Dive certified through PADI

Book a boat for a private charter

Take a canoe tour through the mangroves

Take a Group Boat Tour of the Island

Go kayaking

Do some ocean swimming

Go on a walking tour of the Island

Swim with bioluminescent Plankton on Laguna Encantada

Me (brunette woman) swimming in the clear, blue, Caribbean Sea, right off the beach at our resort.
Swimming in the warm Caribbean waters on the shore of our hotel in Isla Grande. We had the whole section of beach to ourselves!

Canoe Ride through the Mangroves

This activity should not be missed! At Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, there is both a PADI and Eco Tours information desk on the property. We just kind of mosey’d over to the Eco Tours information desk and inquired about the various excursions. Apparently, the canoe tour through the mangroves around Isla Grande is very popular.

View from our canoe tour. POV from me sitting at the front of our light blue canoe, floating through the clear Caribbean waters. Views of green leaves from the mangrove and what looks like it could resemble a private ship lie ahead.
On the canoe tour through the mangroves of Isla Grande – absolutely gorgeous a must do!

Understandably so. This is an excursion not to miss! Your guide paddles and steers while you and whoever is on the canoe tour with you sits back and enjoys outstanding views. You’ll explore quite a bit of the island by sea, and of course, the mangroves.

FYI: Our guide was Spanish speaking. We both speak and understand basic Spanish, but are not fluent. However, the canoe tour is not one that really requires narration. The beautiful scenery speaks for itself.

You’ll also float through Laguna Encantada, or the “Enchanted Lagoon.” Doesn’t a lagoon with a name like that intrigue you? Laguna Encantada has become well known with those familiar with Isla Grande as the place where you can see or swim with bioluminescent Plankton!

Tip: The canoe tour we took can be booked at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, through the tour company they partner with. The canoe tour was 100,000 COP (Colombian Pesos) or roughly $25 USD for an hour tour. We also tipped our guide.

About the Bioluminescent Plankton

This was an activity I really wanted to do. Especially because there are only a few places in the world you can swim surrounded by this glittering blue glow. Unfortunately, this is an activity that is contingent on the moon. While I’ve not yet met anyone that plans their travels around the lunar calendar, if you really want to do this excursion, you’ll want to visit during a new moon. The darker the sky, the better you can see the bioluminescent beauty. The moon was shining a bit too bright during our visit, so we had to shelve this for another time.

Long, covered boat with many benches for seating sitting in the harbor of Hotel San Pedro de Majagua.
Our private charter from Hotel San Pedro de Majagua. You can rent this boat by the hour, or even by the day through the hotel. Don’t worry, the fee and boat rental come with an experienced boat captain!

Book a Private Charter

We inquired about going on a boat tour of the Islands, but there didn’t seem to be any available at the time. But! We were presented with an even better option. Book a private charter! Heriberto, our boat captain has been chartering boats for travelers at Isla Grande for over 20 years. We were in good hands.

This was another highlight of our Rosario Islands adventure. Similar to the canoe tour, Heriberto is a Spanish speaker, but made an effort to highlight anything noteworthy to us. He really customizes your boat charter to your personal interests.

Tip: The private charter was about 260,000 COP or roughly $65 USD for the entire boat, inclusive of Heriberto’s services as boat captain. We extended our charter for an additional hour to go swimming near the coral reefs. For an additional hour it was 100, 000 COP or $25 USD. We also tipped our boat captain.

View of our private charter boat and the sky from half underwater. You can see lots of coral from the underwater perspective
Our private charter boat captain, Heriberto took us to a great spot for swimming. The water was warm and so clear!

Know Before You Go

I’m a firm advocate for packing light – and this is an instance where you will need to. Most all boats that transport Guests from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands allow one suitcase to be stowed and one personal bag or item to be kept at your foot or lap at your seat.

Stay a couple days. If time and budget allow, I highly recommend staying on Isla Grande for two or three nights. We stayed for two nights, and I honestly would’ve liked to stay an additional day and night. The nice part is, there is plenty to do if you’re the sort that might get bored. If you like to zen out, this is one of the most perfect destinations for doing so.

Plan accordingly. Remember, unless you book a private charter, the boats that transport travelers back to Cartagena from Isla Grande and all of the Rosario Islands generally depart around 3:00pm. Make sure you plan any other travels, flights or plans accordingly as the only way off the island is by boat. Our boat transportation was provided by our hotel, for about 140,000 COP or $35 USD per person, each way.

Brunette Woman (me) wistfully gazing out at the bright blue Caribbean Sea at Isla Grande, Rosario Islands from Cartagena
Me wistfully gazing at the breathtaking Caribbean waters the day we had to leave Isla Grande

Don’t Forget These Things

Download WhatsApp. If you don’t already have this app, you’ll need it. There are no phones in any of the Guest rooms and majority of the island. In lieu of trekking across the island every time you need to speak with someone, WhatsApp is the preferred mode of communication.

Bring plenty of cash with you. We were able to use a credit card for our accommodation and all our food and beverages consumed while there, but excursions are all hosted by third party companies and must be paid in COP.

Don’t Forget Insect Repellant. Not going to lie, I left here with a million bug bites. Don’t forget the bug spray!

Rosario Islands from Cartagena, Don’t Miss It!

The Rosario Islands and Isla Grande are truly hidden gem getaways. They encompass a perfect symphony of nature activity, adventure, being off the grid and tranquillity. In addition, it is much higher on the affordability scale than many of its similar tropical counterparts. Have you ever been to the Rosario Islands or are you interested in going?

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