Wondering if you should book a boat tour in Cartagena?
The answer is probably yes. Who doesn’t like drinking cocktails on a beach paradise?
But choosing the suitable activity is challenging because you must answer several questions first.
Which islands would you like to visit? Are you scared of the ocean? Do you want to party or avoid people? Do you love staying at the beach?
I have been traveling regularly to Cartagena since 2015 and have experienced these popular boat tours several times.
In this guide, you will find a detailed analysis of the boat tours available in Cartagena and all the information you need to know before booking your adventure.
Grab your duck-shaped buoy, and let’s go.
|For Who||The ideal Cartagena Boat Tour|
|💎 Winner overall||Rent your private boat|
|🏃 To join a group||Catamaran Tour|
|💰 For saving money||Sunset cruise Cartagena|
|🤿 For fish lovers||Diving Planet|
|🏴☠️ To go to Panama||Blue Sailing|
This post is part of our exciting serie on the best things to do in Cartagena. Read it to find out all our little exciting secrets.
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Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Every year, I spend thousands of euros to find the best experiences and allow you to contact these agencies directly! Our analysis and feedback will teach you how to travel smartly in Colombia (no more silly mistakes)!
Map of the Rosario Islands
Compare the boat tours in Cartagena de Indias.
If you love boat tours, Cartagena has so many options that it’ll make your head spin! We have done all of the hard work for you, however. Following is a list of the 11 – in my opinion – best options for taking a boat trip from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands and other special destinations:
👉 Want to know everything about Cartagena? To learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Cartagena de Indias.
#1 Private Cartagena boat tour: the best option
If you can afford it, talking to our friend Aymeric is the best option. I have done this twice and can vouch that booking your own private boat this way is best.
He works directly with all the best seagoing craft owners in the Cartagena area, whom he knows personally. He can get you into a yacht, a speed boat, or a sail-powered vessel of varying sizes depending on your needs and budget. These tours can be tailor-made to be perfect for friends, families, or even couples.
The best part about this arrangement is that you will be in control of your itinerary!
That means that you can choose where to go and where to skip at any time. This is why this is the #1 option for us!
✋This trip is recommended for anybody who likes the privacy of renting their ship. Also, it’s ideal for those who wish to control their vacations as long as they have the budget for it.
- Max Pers: It depends on the boat size.
- Price: Approx. 1,300,000 to 10,000,000 COP / boat
- Starting time: 9 am (for most plans)
- Islands: Isla Grande, Isla Cholón, Isla Barú, anywhere else you choose to go
- Duration: 8 hours to 3 days (including up to 4 hours of transportation)
- What’s included: The captains, dock fees.
Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.
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#2 Catamaran Rosario Islands: excellent value
An experienced captain will navigate you to various destinations on and around the Rosario Islands. You will spend your time on a beautiful and comfortable 40-foot vessel.
Everything is completely included in the price here. The only real exception is alcoholic drinks. If you plan on purchasing these, please have a credit or debit card ready. They are not able to accept cash on the catamaran.
The only downside of riding in a catamaran is that these vessels are very sensitive to bad weather. Conditions must be fair for this excursion to take place. Otherwise, it may be delayed or even canceled.
Also, beach lovers, please note: this tour does not stop at any of the area’s beaches!
✋ Therefore, I recommend this boat trip for people who want to live the good life off the Caribbean coast and check out the coral reefs and marine life up close.
- Large and beautiful catamaran
- Lots of perks
- Max Pers: 80-100
- Price: around 350,000 COP per person.
- Starting time: around 9 am
- Islands: the route passes near Isla Grande and Isla Barú but doesn’t dock in either place
- Duration: 7.5 hours (including up to 4 hours of transportation)
- What’s included: all fees, snacks, lunch, snorkel equipment, and non-alcoholic drinks
#3: 5-island tour: classic boat tour
The tour departs daily from the Pegasus Pier and takes the entire day to visit 4 of the Rosario Islands.
If you’re reading this with caution, you probably noticed we said 4 and not 5. This is because the first stop is actually still within the Cartagena city area.
After this, you will go to a private area of Isla Grande, where snorkeling is possible. Following this, the excursion takes you to one of the private islands in the Rosario Islands chain and a short stop at the party island of Cholón.
Finally, you will go to Playa Blanca on Barú, where you can explore the area and get some swimming in. For many, this may be the least fun part of the voyage, as this beach is often teeming with touts and generally overcrowded.
Keep in mind that you will have a maximum of one hour in any given location on this journey, and then you will have to be quickly on your way to the next destination. The amount of moving around on this excursion makes for a very full day.
✋ Because of the above, this excursion is ideal for those who are pressed for time but want to see a bit of everything. It’s also an excellent way to get a quick look at each part of the Rosario Islands and then return to the parts they liked best.
- Several stops on the beach
- Not very organized
- Max Pers: 25
- Price: Approx. 625,000 COP per person
- Starting time: 7 am or 8 am
- Islands: Isla Grande, private island, Isla Barú, Isla Cholón
- Duration: 9 hours, approximately 4 of them in the boat
- What’s included: guides, a snack, bottled water, lunch (via voucher), snorkeling gear, all other fees/insurance
#4: Plankton tour to Isla Barú
This journey is unique among these 11 experiences. This is because most of it takes place by car—to get to Isla Barú. A watercraft will then take you to the relevant areas.
It’s worth noting that, in addition to the luminescent plankton, you will also get to see mangrove forest areas up close. The Rosario Islands are famous for being one of the best spots in the world to explore these unique and enchanting ecosystems.
I don’t want to ruin anybody’s expectations of this voyage or say it isn’t worth doing. However, the plankton itself may not be the experience you hoped for. It glows in the dark when you move your limbs about in the water. Basically, you shouldn’t expect it to look like something out of a Hollywood movie. As long as you keep that in mind and avoid “plankton Paris syndrome,” you will have a good time.
On a more positive note, this excursion also stops at a nice beach club at Playa Blanca.
✋ This tour is good for the real nature lovers out there. It is also recommended for people who want to go to the Rosario Islands without spending so much time on the water.
- Beach club, mangroves & glowing plankton
- Not very well organized & It's exhausting
- Max Pers: 15
- Price: Approx. 625,000 COP per person
- Starting time: 6:00 am
- Islands: Barú
- Duration: 15 hours – approximately half of them will be in transit
- What’s included: use of private beach facilities, 30,000 COP lunch voucher, guides, goggles, insurance, one cocktail, traveler pickup
#5: Sunset Tour in Cartagena’s bay
There are many sunset cruises in the Cartagena area, but this particular sunset cruise is the one I recommend.
This is also, by far, the lowest-priced experience on the whole list and won’t break the bank for anybody. Of course, it’s also the shortest and doesn’t actually arrive at any of the Rosario Islands.
You will be on a large catamaran, and there are usually over 100 people on board this craft. Most of them will be Colombian, and most will be dancing. Feel free to join them!
You will receive a complimentary appetizer and a non-alcoholic cocktail or soft drink – no open bar here, unfortunately!
This excursion is definitely a good fit for couples who want to spend a romantic evening in style and want a great view of the city skyline as the sun goes down, giving a perfect ending to a perfect day.
- Fun and stunning catamaran
- Beautiful sunset and city views
- Many people
- Max Pers: about 150
- Price: Approx. 90,000 COP per person
- Starting time: 5 pm
- Islands: none
- Duration: 2 hours
- What’s included: a drink and a snack, boarding fees
#6: Pirate ship boat tour to Tierra Bomba
This cruise aims to take you back in time to the age of piracy and epic naval battles on the world’s seas. You will sail to Isla Tierra Bomba, the closest point on the Rosario Islands to Cartagena.
The tour guides are dressed as pirates. They will spend your time in transit running around filling up your cups. Yes, alcoholic beverages are included on one of these excursions. The crew will also fill you in on the historical details of your trip.
You will stop in Fort San Fernando de Boca Chica, now a museum. The guides will fill you in on the historical details of the battles fought here. Admission is also included in the package.
The food on this tour might even exceed your expectations. However, beach lovers may be disappointed by the overall experience. Tierra Bomba’s sand is mediocre at best, unlike the much finer sand of Playa Blanca. Also, the water is slightly brackish since it’s so close to the mouth of the nearby river.
✋However, this experience is an excellent choice for lovers of history. Also, anybody who prefers sailing will probably love this experience.
- The pirate captain tells excellent stories
- The lunch is delicious
- Only Tierra Bomba
- Max Pers: 40
- Price: Approx. 500,000 COP per person
- Starting time: 8:30
- Islands: Isla Tierra Bomba
- Duration: 7-8 hours
- What’s included: Free drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), lunch, guides
#7: Dinner cruise in Cartagena’s bay
You will board a nicely decked-out 85-foot catamaran called the “Sibarita Master” from the Bodeguita dock. The craft goes near Isla Tierra Bomba but doesn’t actually arrive there before turning around. Honestly, I think that 2 hours is too short for a romantic dinner.
The food itself has also gotten mixed reviews from people. The food is OK but not life-changing or anything. Also, this cruise is roughly 4 times more expensive than the sunset tour described above, so I feel that the price doesn’t justify the dinner.
Finally, since the cruise leaves at 7 pm, you don’t get to catch the sun setting from over the water. The evening views of Cartagena are still gorgeous, but this is worth pointing out.
✋ This package is recommended for those of you who want to catch the beautiful views of the city from the water and combine it with a meal.
- Romantic ambiance with beautiful views
- Excellent service
- Little time to enjoy the boat after dinner
- Max Pers: 150 or more
- Price: Approx. 350,000 per person
- Starting time: 7:00 pm
- Islands: none
- Duration: 2 hours
- What’s included: dinner (two menu choices), a bottle of wine per 2 persons
#8: Party boat tour to Isla Cholón
The pickup point for this excursion is the entrance to the Todomar CHL Marina Bocagrande. Unfortunately, no pickup service is offered here.
Also, remember that, since this is a private boat, you will need a minimum of 4 people at your party. Otherwise, the captain may suspend or cancel the voyage or combine you with another party.
You will get on a small and agile private boat (a speed boat), and around 45 minutes later, the craft will pull up to one of the world’s unique hotspots, Isla Cholón.
Cholón is the Rosario Islands’ big open-air nightclub. You will spend several hours here taking advantage of the open bar before heading back to the mainland.
If you go on this craft, be prepared for non-stop partying. This means loud music all the time, with absolutely no breaks. People around you will be dancing and drinking heavily.
Also, it’s important to note that while the bar is open, some food and beverage items are not included in the price.
✋ This excursion isn’t for everybody, but those who like this party atmosphere will absolutely love it. In a few words, this is a voyage for people who want to “take a walk on the wild side” and party. This is especially a good package for those readers who are “single and ready to mingle.”
- Party & Fun with your group
- Open bar (with specific drinks)
- Cholón is usually crowded and "dirty"
- Max Pers: 4 MINIMUM
- Price: Approx. 750,000 COP per person
- Starting time: variable
- Islands: Isla Cholón
- Duration: 7 hours, approx. 90 minutes transit time
- What’s included: Captains, lunch, drinks
#9: Diving in the Rosario Islands
There are many packages for going diving in the Rosario Islands area. This one is, by far, our favorite of all of them.
The dive points vary depending on conditions and will all occur in the San Bernardo/Corales del Rosario areas. Depending on the dive, you may even see a shipwreck!
The crew and the equipment are top-notch.
The people at Diving Planet also have a strong social conscience. As such, they dedicate a part of their revenue to pro-environment causes and funds for vulnerable local populations.
✋ Keep in mind that this is a diving excursion, and it’s for certified divers only. Diving Planet does, however, offer other packages for people with little or no diving experience.
- Price: Approx. 625,000 COP per person.
- Starting time: 8 am
- Duration: approx. 8 hours, approx. 2 hours transit
- What’s included: All taxes, insurance, equipment, 2 dives with supervision by a certified (PADI) instructor., lunch
The waters bordering Cartagena are an angler’s paradise. For this experience, I recommend the people at Get Tight Fishing for an optimum Cartagena fishing excursion.
You will be doing your thing on a gorgeous and well-maintained 28′ Bertram vessel. This private charter excursion can accommodate up to 6 guests on board.
One big plus to go with Get Tight Fishing is that they take their fishing gear seriously. Avid anglers will probably already know that the gear is often not up to the usual standards in Colombia. You won’t have that problem here!
If you want, you can target certain types of fish species. Common to the area are Mahi Mahi, Snapper, Barracuda, Marlin, Tuna, and many others, too numerous to mention. Also, not only do you keep what you catch, the crew can process and cook the fish for you right on board.
The one downside here is that, since this is a private excursion, it won’t be cheap if you are alone or with just one other person.
✋ This package is, naturally, recommended for any lovers of fishing out there, from total beginners to the most experienced anglers. This includes even small children!
- Max Pers: 6
- Price: varies widely, depending on package
- Starting time: negotiable
- Islands: negotiable
- Duration: negotiable
- What’s included: top-flight fishing gear, bait (all live) sometimes lunch/snacks, snorkeling stuff
#11: Boat tour to Panama (San Blas Islands)
These packages are offered by the people at Blue Sailing. It’s worth mentioning that I couldn’t find any reviews of this excursion that were less than glowing.
Hotel pickup is included in these packages, as are docking fees and what their website calls “standard immigration fees.” You will, however, have to pay a $20 tax to enter the Kuna Yala area and entry fees to Panama.
It’s also important to mention that this is a 5-night, 6-day journey and ends in Panama. Also, this is an old-school voyage; therefore, times are very approximate. The vessels are all equipped with engines, although the idea is to avoid using them as much as possible.
Blue Sailing’s website also mentions that this is not a luxury voyage and that it is appreciated if passengers help out occasionally with things such as food preparation, cleaning, and even night watch. They also recommend that passengers purchase travel insurance, which is not included.
✋ This option is included for people with the time and money to do it – such an extensive voyage has a hefty price tag. Also, you will be almost 2 whole days on the open sea before reaching the first of the islands. Therefore, book one of these packages only if you are amenable to long journeys on the water and like the adventure element involved.
- Max Pers: varies with vessel
- Price: varies with itinerary, generally 3-4 million COP ($600-700USD) per person
- Starting time: variable (but almost always late afternoon)
- Islands: San Blas Islands
- Duration: 5 nights, 6 days What’s included: some fees and taxes, food, beverages(water, tea, coffee), snorkels, fishing equipment (on most boats)
Booking guide: How to pick the best Cartagena boat trips
While I have narrowed it down to 11 good options for these packages in Cartagena, you may still need help deciding.
Why book a Cartagena boat tour?
There are several reasons to book one of these excursions.
This is a very popular reason to take one of these voyages. The Cartagena and Rosario Islands areas are home to shipwrecks from naval battles that took place centuries ago! Unfortunately, the coral you will see is often in bad condition due to all the decades of heavy tourist traffic.
If this is a core reason to go on a trip, make sure you either bring your equipment or select an option where this equipment is included (most relevant packages have this).
Also, consider going on a private boat if this is the main reason for your excursion. This will allow you to go to the best areas, avoiding the regular crowds.
If you’re looking for a party, Isla Cholón is our best recommendation, although it is definitely not cheap! The fact that you can only get there on an ocean-going vessel acts as a great filter, so I feel it’s worth it.
Playa Blanca also has a party atmosphere, but I can’t recommend it at this time. The main reason for this is the overcrowding and the incessant stream of touts you will have to deal with at this location.
Once again, a private boat is the best way to do this. If you can get at least 6 people together, this is a way better option because you will be on your own schedule instead of someone else’s.
For those budget-conscious readers, the catamaran excursion is also a pretty good option. The pirate ship option is also popular because of the included alcoholic beverages on board.
Romantic Cartagena boat tour
My best recommendation is the short excursion to watch the sunset over Cartagena. The dinner option is also OK, although the food could be better and the total time on the water could be longer. This is especially true given the high price they charge.
For the top option, you can also rent a private boat for around USD 350 per day. There are packages where you can stay 2-3 nights on the ocean and then return.
The San Blas Islands package is also a good option if you and your partner are adventurous.
Family Cartagena boat tour
If there are 4 or more people in your family unit, strongly consider going for the private boat option. It will be way more comfortable and not even more expensive than other options.
I don’t recommend this journey with babies and small children because of the strong sun and the potentially choppy seas you may encounter.
Resting on the beach
A lot of people don’t realize this, but you don’t really need to visit one if you are on a private boat. You have plenty of opportunities to swim in the right areas during your journey.
If you still want a beach, I recommend avoiding Playa Blanca and Playa Tranquila because of the crowds/touts. Especially avoid Agua Azul, as we and others we know have had bad experiences there with severe overcharging.
What are the islands you can visit?
The Rosario Islands are a chain of islands. Included in this chain are many small to tiny private islands. Here are the largest (main) islands in the chain:
This is my favorite Rosario island.
Most vessels, however, just stop at local restaurants, where they receive commissions for bringing in big groups of customers. As such, it’s not easy to explore without setting up a private excursion.
Many of the private Rosario Islands in the chain surround Isla Grande and are very close to it.
It takes about an hour to get to or from this island from Cartagena.
This island is effectively a big open-air nightclub where the party rages on and on. It’s about an hour away from Cartagena.
You have to get there on a seagoing vessel; there’s no other way to arrive at Isla Cholón. Food and drinks are expensive here; you may consider bringing your provisions.
Because of the traffic and the party atmosphere, things can get confusing or even dangerous at the docks. You can swim here but pay close attention to the designated swimming areas.
This place is deafening, with music from the island competing with the vessels’ sound systems! If you don’t like noise or parties, you can easily skip this island.
Isla Barú is known for its beautiful sand. However, it is also the biggest victim of mass tourism in the Rosarios.
I’ve previously mentioned Playa Blanca and Playa Tranquila as places to avoid.
In general, Barú is famous for the type of tourist price-gouging that has even made the Colombian news on occasion. You have to be constantly on the lookout for scams.
Tierra Bomba gets its name because of the naval battles that have taken place there throughout history, with lots of bombardment on both sides!
It’s a great island to visit for its historical significance, but the water is not clear here, and the sand is subpar.
The good news is that visiting Tierra Bomba from Cartagena can take as little as 10 minutes each way.
Best time of year for a Cartagena boat tour?
The first consideration for when to come to Cartagena for a bout tour is always, naturally, the weather.
Cartagena’s weather – and that of the islands – mostly stays the same throughout the year. It’s very close to the equator, so there are no seasons as such. The tropical climate is always hot and humid, going well up into the 30s (Centigrade) during the day. In the wee hours, it still stays in the high 20s. Humidity hangs out at 80 percent or higher most of the time.
The “dry season” in Cartagena is usually between December and March. However, even during the rest of the year, it usually doesn’t rain that much. You will get heavy convectional rain that will be over in 30 minutes or so, most of the time!
Also, the winds are higher, and the sea is choppier during the “dry season.” This makes for a rougher ride, which can be problematic for people not used to boating or sailing.
Finally, it’s highly recommended to avoid going to Cartagena in general during peak periods. The city and the islands around it can be extremely crowded and expensive during these times. These times are mid-December through mid-January, Holy Week, July, and August – both Colombians and Americans love Cartagena.
You can still go during these times and pay reasonable prices, if you remember to book well in advance. This is especially true if you are going with a group.
What is the average price for a Cartagena boat tour?
Expect to pay a minimum of USD 300 (around 1.4 to 1.5 million COP) for your private boat tour. Prices go up with the boat size.
Also, check to find out if the docking fee is included or not. This comes to 20,000 COP (about USD 4) per person. Most agencies, including Aymeric, will roll this into the price.
I can’t recommend booking your package on the street. These tours are often way cheaper. However, you will wind up paying in other ways, like safety, long wait times, etc. For this reason, I recommend booking online and in advance with a reputable entity.
On a seagoing tour, it takes at least an hour to reach the closest destination within the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. It can take up to 2 hours, depending on your destination and the type of craft you are on.
Boats are required to return from the islands by 5 pm every day. This means you must be on that vessel by 4 pm to return. There are two main exceptions to this rule.
The first is the Cartagena Bay cruise, where crafts are allowed out in the bay during the evening hours to allow people to watch the sunset etc.
The second is the Plankton tour described above. In this particular case, you will return to the bridge by car at night.
What to bring
The one thing you can’t forget on one of these voyages is sunscreen!
I can’t emphasize this enough. The sun is very strong on the coast of Colombia. Even if you are bringing a hat and wearing long sleeves, put sunscreen on your face and hands! A sunburn is guaranteed to ruin your fun on what should be a top-notch vacation!
Other things you should bring include:
- A good bathing suit
- Lip balm, also with sunscreen.
- Your beach towels
- A good pair of UV-blocking sunglasses
- A good hat for the sun, preferably light-colored and wide-brimmed.
- A dry bag.
- If the vessel’s captain allows it – snacks and beverages.
- A light jacket to protect you from spray, and if it gets cooler.
- Your best playlist for a fantastic day in the Caribbean waters!
Where do the boats leave from in Cartagena?
95 percent of the time, the meeting point will be at the Muelle de las Bodeguitas.
However, some of these excursions can also leave from Manga.
For this reason, it’s essential to get the exact address of the dock you must go to and double-check it when booking.
Plan to be at the dock, whichever one it is, at least 20 minutes before the vessel departs. Due to the limited hours for these trips, the captain will have almost no chance to wait for late runners.
While it’s true that vessels often have to leave late from the dock for one reason or another, sometimes they are right on time, so arrive early.
Lots of deception on Cartagena boat tours
If you decide to buy one of these packages on the street, be prepared for disappointment!
I myself have made this mistake and want to save our readers from the experience I had to go through.
These tours often are run by unlicensed agencies. The craft are, many times, manned by unlicensed captains and crew. The vessels could be tiny, in poor condition, and horribly overcrowded/overloaded. Sometimes, there isn’t even a canopy so you will feel the full effects of the subtropical sun.
Also, there will be zero extras, gifts, or perks on these “no-frills” voyages. The extras can really add up in cases like this, and there will be nothing you can do about it at that point.
You may think you can spread out from the crowds once you reach your destination. What will actually happen is that you will be dumped in some crowded area with very little time to do anything. You will also buy an overpriced lunch or other food and drinks there.
Safety can’t be emphasized enough here. You want to avoid engaging in a voyage like this in conditions like the ones I described above. Remember, even a short day trip to the Rosario Islands still takes you out on the open sea!
This is why private companies like Aymeric are so much better and safer for tourists.
Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.
- Avoid the crowd
- Best Prices. Quick answers.
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