Lounger on the beach of Islabela in the Rosario Islands, a perfect day trip from Cartagena, Colombia

Best Day Trip from Cartagena: Rosario Islands

The Rosario Islands are the perfect day trip from Cartagena. This archipelago is made up of 28 islands and reefs that are protected as part of the only underwater National Parks in Colombia. A short boat ride away from the city, there is plenty to do in the Rosario Islands to keep you busy. Relax by the warm Caribbean Sea, go snorkeling, and enjoy the local Colombian cuisine.

There are many options to explore the Rosario Islands, I visited the Islabela private resort and it was perfect for a day of relaxing and snorkeling. I wanted something that wasn’t swarming with beachgoers so spending a little bit more money to have some space was worth it. It was the perfect way to cap off two weeks in Colombia.

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Rosario Islands Day Trip

Are the Rosario Islands Worth Visiting?

Absolutely, yes. The Rosario Islands are worth visiting even if you only have a day or two in Cartagena. It was easily the highlight of my time in Cartagena and one of the most memorable destinations on my vacation in Colombia. I highly recommend at least a day trip to the Rosario Islands. If you have time in your itinerary it would also be worth staying a couple of nights in the Rosario Islands.

Private Resort vs Playa Blanca on Baru

I knew that a visit to the Rosario Islands was a must while in Cartagena. When I first started looking at how to visit the Rosario Islands, Playa Blanca came up a lot as the classic recommendation.

Playa Blanca certainly looks like a beautiful beach. However, because of its popularity, it also has a reputation for becoming crowded and having a lot of vendors. I wanted to snorkel and swim and Playa Blanca didn’t seem like a good option for either as I would have nowhere to safely store my belongings while swimming. Because of this, I started looking at day trips from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands where snorkeling was an option. The only two options I could come up with were to visit a resort on the islands or to take a catamaran tour.

On a future trip, I would love to take this catamaran tour as it visits several locations and has a couple of options for snorkeling. However, I’m quite happy I went to a private resort as it was great to be on the beach and the snorkeling location nearby was absolutely fantastic.

Beach with loungers on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, on the Rosario Islands. This is one of the best places to visit in Colombia and so easy to add to an itinerary
The beach at Islabela in the Rosario Islands

Book Your Day Trip From Cartagena In Advance

I highly recommend booking your tour to the Rosario Islands in advance. Most importantly because they do sell out, especially if you are going to a resort. Secondly, while walking around Cartagena you will be bombarded with advertisements and vendors trying to sell you on a Rosario Islands trip. It’s nice to have it already booked so you aren’t distracted while trying to enjoy Cartagena.

Choosing Which Rosario Islands Resort to Visit

There are many options to choose from when picking a resort in the Rosario Islands. The packages tend to include the same things, transportation, lunch, access to kayaks, and options to snorkel for an extra fee. I ended up picking Islabela as the vibe for this one seemed to be very relaxed and chill. If you are looking for more of a party vibe, then Bora Bora Beach Club could be a good option as they have a DJ on the beach.

Getting to the Rosario Islands

The only way to visit Islabela is by boat. Luckily, the boat docks in Cartagena are just a short walk outside of the city walls. At the docks, you need to walk all the way down to the furthest end at Dock 1 to find the boat for Islabela. You do need to pay a port fee in cash only to get admitted to the dock area. At the time of writing, the fee was 20,000 pesos each.

Because of having to travel over open water, the boat schedule is quite strict and you do have to arrive early. I arrived at the dock at 7:30 am to sign in and the boat left at about 8:30 am. The boat ride to Islabela took 1 hour. It was quite a calm trip to the island (spoiler: it won’t be on the way back!).

Arriving to Islabela

On arrival to Islabela, you are greeted with a coconut-pineapple juice and shown your assigned lounger. The lounger was really nice and I was lucky enough to have one that was right in front of the water. I was really pleased by the assigned lounger and that it was shaded as I honestly did not realize that was included. Only the welcome drink and lunch are included but it is easy to order extra drinks and snacks.

The swimming area is really nice. There are quite a few photo opportunities they have set up here including a staircase above the water and a photo frame. The water is so nice and calm and warm and perfect for relaxing in.

A swing in the teal Caribbean Sea in the Rosario Islands of Colombia. This is the best place to visit from Cartagena as a day trip.

Snorkeling in the Rosario Islands

After some swimming, they do a call to see if anyone wants to go snorkeling. You should definitely say yes to this. The snorkeling trip did cost extra, at the time I visited it was 50,000 pesos per person. Anything extra can be paid by credit card so you don’t have to have cash on you. It was well worth the extra cost.

The snorkeling trip will take you on a short boat ride to the reef near Isla Grande where you will have plenty of time to snorkel. The guide was fantastic, diving down to show us interesting fish and crabs. After spending a decent amount of time snorkeling over the reef, it’s back in the boat. I thought this would be the end of snorkeling but after pointing out Pablo Escobar’s now abandoned island mansion we stopped for one quick snorkel. Not far from this mansion is a sunken former drug-running plane. You get to snorkel over it and you can dive down to it if you feel like it. This plane was intentionally sunk by the Colombian government after it was seized from Escobar. A very unique spot to snorkel and something that was totally unexpected to me on this excursion.

My only regret with snorkeling here was not having an underwater camera.

Lunch at Islabela

After snorkeling, it will be time for lunch. Lunch is included with your ticket and when you signed in this morning you should have picked a meal type. The vegetarian option was iced tea and buttered noodles with vegetables, which was good, but I was jealous of the plantains I saw other people have. The seafood option looked really good, snapper with coconut rice, plantains, and a salad. This seems to be quite a traditional Colombian meal for the Caribbean Coast. After lunch, there should be some time to relax and swim in the water before heading back to Cartagena.

Returning back to Cartagena From the Rosario Islands

The boats departing from the Rosario Islands to Cartagena have to head back fairly early as the water starts to get very choppy. It’s bad enough that I was warned by the manager at the hotel that the ride home would be rough. Indeed, we left by 3 pm and at some points, the boat felt more like a rollercoaster as it went over quite large waves.

A boat at a dock on Islabela, in the Rosario Islands, the perfect day trip from Cartagena and a must visit in Colombia.
The boat that takes you to and from Islabela in the Rosario Islands

After a great day trip to the Rosario Islands, you should be back in Cartagena with time to explore the city a bit and head off to dinner. This day trip to the Rosario Islands was a highlight of my two weeks in Colombia and was a great break from the hustle and heat of Cartagena. You can see my full-guide to Cartagena here.

With More Time in the Rosario Islands

Even though you can visit the Rosario Islands as a day trip, if your schedule permits it, you can stay for a night or two. You can also stay there overnight at Islabela in one of the rooms or charming seafront bungalows if you want a bit more time to relax and explore the area.

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The best day trip from Cartagena is to the nearby Rosario Islands to spend the day on the beach, swim in the Caribbean, and snorkel over beautiful reefs and downed drug planes. This guide has the best way to visit the Rosario Islands in Colombia, South America.

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  1. This sounds like paradise! I love including day trips in my travels and these islands sound like the perfect choice. What could be better than a reserved lounger, some shade, and a lunch?!

  2. Thanks for the “heads up” about the ride back. I have a tendency to get seasick so I would definitely need to bring something to help with that. It sounds like a fun day trip.

  3. The island of Islabela looks phenomenal! What a gorgeous place to visit. Sounds like paradise!

  4. Hi Brianna, I realized that you posted this like a year ago and we are now January 2024 but because I get sea sick easily I would like to ask you how was the snorkeling? Was it rough when you went in the morning? Also, which company did you used. We are in Medellín right now and will be in Cartagena after Bogotá and Salento. I thank you in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Francine, in regards to sea sickness I found the boat to the Rosario Islands in the morning was quite calm. In the afternoon, returning to Cartagena is extremely rough, and my understanding is that it is the typical experience. For snorkeling, the boat used for that was also on very calm waters and the boat ride wasn’t very long. I went to Islabela Resort, which I have linked in the article above, and snorkeling was available from the resort. You don’t have to book the snorkeling in advance as you can just join the tour when you get to the resort and pay when you leave. Enjoy your time in Colombia!

  5. What island and where you would recommend a family with kids going? We are adventurous but also love beautiful water, beaches, and relaxing!

    1. Hi Christa, I would recommend the island I went to, Islabela, as suitable for kids. The beach here isn’t really a sandy beach as there is broken coral in it so I would also recommend watershoes for swimming here. The sandy beaches that are closer to Cartagena, like Isla Baru, I wouldn’t really recommend because of the amount of harassment you will get from vendors.

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