White sandy beaches, calm, turquoise blue waters, a strawberry daiquiri in hand. Yes, I’m probably describing everyone’s dream, because who doesn’t love a beautiful beach?
When I visited Colombia in March of this year, I landed in Cartagena with the intention that I had to visit the beautiful Rosario Islands that everyone boasts.
About the Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario) is an archipelago located off the coat of Colombia, and it’s one of the 46 Natural National Parks in the country. The area was declared a national park in 1988 to protect one of the most important coral reefs of the Caribbean coast.
There are several different options for visiting the 27 islands, with tons of tour operators offering similar tours to different islands, or island hopping in the area. Cartagena itself isn’t known for its beaches, so taking a day trip or two to some of the islands is a great option to really see what this area has to offer. A popular option for many people is Playa Blanca, because it’s public, and easy to get to from Cartagena. However, it’s also incredibly busy, and you’ll be harassed by beach vendors all day. But if you’re looking for the most budget friendly option to sit on a beach all day, this is it.
We visited a local tour operator, and she convinced us Bendita Beach was the best option, and her favourite. Some of the other popular options are:
- Isla Grande
- Isla Fuerte
- Isla del Pirata
- Isla Majagua
- Isla San Martin de Pajarales
If you have multiple days in the area, you can opt for a different island each day, or opt to spend the night on one (note: not all of them have overnight accommodations). You’ll need to pay the tour fee to get there via boat, but many of the operators include lunch with you get there. You’ll also need to pay $17,000 pesos as an entrance fee for the national park. This is required by everyone and is more than likely not included in your tour price.
Bendita Beach has been a private island to visit in the Rosario Islands since 2005. To get to Bendita Beach, you’ll hop on a boat which takes about 45-60 minutes. Note the ride can be rough, and you’ll likely get a bit wet. The island and beach is completely natural, and not manmade.
On this private island their were three white sand beaches surrounded by the beautiful calm waters, making it a perfect, and safe spot to swim. It also had several lounge chairs available, and day beds, that were perfect for a day soaking in the sun.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the staff who gave us the rundown of where everything was, and then we went and claimed a spot on the island to set up camp for the day. Since the island is private, there were only a couple boats full of tourists (maybe around 60-120 people) that came for the day, and it hardly felt busy.
There was a cash bar, with beachside service, as well as a fully included lunch in our tour fee ($165,000 pesos). The lunch was actually way more delicious than you’d expect in this sort of scenario. You had a choice before getting to the island between fish, chicken or vegetable. I select fish since it seemed like the most authentic option! We were given a whole fish, served with salad, plantains, rice, as well as water or pop.
The island also has a snorkel tour they run for an additional fee, and you can take out their kayaks for free. There were public bathrooms with flush toilets, and we truly felt like we were being whisked away to our private retreat for the day.
- I read a ton about island hopping tours in the area that weren’t that great and you didn’t spend much time actually enjoying the beaches, so I ensured when I booked this trip that it wasn’t a tour, more just the boat to get to the island, and lunch.
- If you decide to go to Playa Blanca, not that Isla Beru is essentially the same thing, and the tours that go to Beru are really going to Playa Blanca.
- If visiting Playa Blanca, opt to stay the night so you get on the beach before anyone else, and you can stay beyond 3 or 4pm (the boats can’t navigate at night).
- There are several other islands like Isla Grande that it’s recommended you stay overnight at to get the most out of your visit.
- If there’s a group of you, renting a private yacht/boat may be a more economically friendly option. Companies rent them for around $500-$700 USD, which can actually end up being a better deal if you can get a group of 5-7 people together.
- There is no ATM on the islands – bring cash!
Visiting the Rosario Islands are a must when visiting Cartagena. Even if you’re short on time, at least pick an island to do a day trip to in order to really soak in the Colombian sun, squish the white sand between your toes, and float in some of the most beautiful, crystal clear water you’ll find.