TRAVEL TIPS: Cartagena Off the Beaten Path, Explore the Rosario Islands

Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia. The city itself has much to explore and discover, but just off the coast (roughly 21 miles) lie 27 small coral islands. Only three of the islands are public, Isla San Martin de Pajarales, Isla Grande and Isla del Pirata, and have facilities like hotels and restaurants. The entire archipelago is a protected national park.
The trip from Cartagena takes under an hour by boat. You can book a day tour through many reputable companies or hotels. Another option is to speak directly to boat captains in the harbor and arrange a smaller, more private boat. If you decide to go this route, make sure you go as early as possible, and agree on a time to return back to the city.
Tours usually stop on Isla Rosario at the aquarium. This is one stop you can skip if given the option as it’s small and overpriced. Instead, hang around the docks where fisherman bring in their freshest catches. You’ll find everything from lobster to calamari to shrimp, and the locals serve it up right there with cocktail sauce. Spoiler alert – you don’t need it! It’s that fresh!
Isla Grande is the largest of the Rosario Islands. It’s a great, quiet spot to wander around and interact with locals. Fewer tourists visit so you’ll have plenty of space to yourself. The island isn’t very built up and aside from a few eco-hotels, it’s mostly tropical forrest, without paved roads or vehicles. Take it as a rare opportunity to explore 200 acres of lush vegetation. There’s a private bird sanctuary that’s free to visit, and if you wander far enough, you may find Pablo Escobar’s old home, which was confiscated during his arrest. It’s in ruins now unfortunately, but definitely a unique and strange sight to come across while exploring this hidden gem of an island.
Depending on which tour you book, you may end up spending the day at a hotel or resort, where you can kayak, sunbath, or snorkel. There’s plenty to do in Cartagena, but if you’ve visited before, or are craving a day at the beach, check out the Rosario Islands.

     Travel tips from smart travelers like you.