20 Best Cartagena Islands: My Secret Guide to Get There + Map

A handy list to compare the best Cartagena islands, based on my many visits with friends and families

🛑 Stop worrying about which island to visit around Cartagena de Indias. Start learning about their pros and cons to decide which islands to include in your trip to Colombia.

There are over forty paradise islands near Cartagena, between the archipelago of San Bernardo and Rosario. Some are closed to the public. Others are tiny, and you can privatize them for a weekend. 

I’ve visited many of these islands since 2015, and I felt like writing a mega guide for you to choose your ideal paradise.

Here’s what you get if you read it:

  • A short description of Cartagena’s 20 most famous islands.
  • Insider tips to enjoy them like the locals.
  • Common mistakes made by travelers.
  • Hotels perfect for relaxing by the turquoise waters.

Put on your swimsuit, and let’s go!

Can’t miss: our exciting series on the best things to do in Cartagena. Read it to find out all our little exciting secrets.


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Cartagena Islands: Pick yours in 2 min

IslandsWhy comingDistance
Tierra BombaEasy day trip to a beach club20 min
Isla BarúLuxurious hotels accessible by land or sea45 min to 1 hour 
Isla GrandeYou can wander on your own1 hour
IsletaBest boutique hotels1 hour
Isla CholónTo party on loud boats1 hour
Isla TintipánBest white-sand beaches2 hours
Isla MúcuraFamous upscale hotels (medium-sized)2 hours
Islote de Santa CruzOne of the densest urban areas on earth2 hours
Isla PalmaChill out hostel with lots of animals3 hours
Isla PelicanoStay on a cool private island1 hour
Isla RosaStay on a cool private island1 hour

Cartagena Islands on a map

The Main Cartagena Islands 

While the whole island chain is made up of around 40 islands, these are the biggest ones, the most important ones, and the ones with all the main attractions:

#1: Tierra Bomba – The closest Cartagena island

Tierra Bomba is, by far, the easiest island to get to from the city of Cartagena. The trip will take between 10 and 25 minutes each way, depending on exactly where you want to disembark. 

This particular island is known for its history and many beach clubs.

Its name comes from the fact that it was the first line of defense for the Spanish against pirates, privateers, and England in general. Because of that, it was constantly being bombarded! 

There is a museum here, and people who scuba dive can see one of the many shipwrecks scattered all over the sea bed.

Please be advised, however, that the beaches here are far from the best in the area. The water is still slightly brackish since it’s so close to the mainland. Also, the sand isn’t the pristine white sand you can find elsewhere on the islands. 

As long as you aren’t expecting a beachy paradise – and dodge the ever-growing amount of touts – you can have a fantastic time on Tierra Bomba. 

I recommend staying overnight and planning all of your activities in advance. This way, you will avoid missing out on the best stuff/being bored. 

🏠 Best places to stay

  • The Blue Apple Beach Hotel is my favorite Tierra Bomba hotel, hands down. It is located southwest of the island, so the water and sand are much cleaner and nicer. 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

You have two options to get to Tierra Bomba.

  • The first is to find a boat in front of Bocagrande’s hospital.
  • The other option is to arrange for one of the island’s hotels to send a boat to pick you up. They sell day passes for people who want to use the hotel’s facilities/beaches and return to Cartagena. These generally cost from 130,000 to 230,000 COP per person.

 Naturally, you can buy a package with overnight or extended stays.

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#2: Isla Barú – The most famous Cartagena-area Island 

Barú Island is the largest of the Rosario Islands by a significant margin. It is also home to the most beautiful beaches in the whole archipelago. 

Unfortunately, this place isn’t exactly an undiscovered gem. In fact, it has been feeling the harmful effects of mass tourism for some decades now.

This is especially true for Playa Blanca. You will find beautiful pristine beaches, gorgeous white sand, and turquoise waters here. You will also find armies of sweaty tourists to go along with it. 

I don’t recommend you go to Playa Blanca. If you do decide to go, be prepared for lots of touts and incessant price-gouging and scamming attempts by them. Also, be prepared for lots of noisy crowds everywhere at all hours of the day and night. 

Instead, I recommend going to one of the upscale hotels at the island’s southern tip. These are exclusive private beaches. The crowd and the beach vendors are kept from going into these places. 

Other ideas for enjoying yourself on Isla Barú are

  • Take a nighttime “plankton tour” to see the luminescent plankton. 
  • Visit the very impressive Colombian National Aviary for bird watching.
  • Find your way to Playa Tortuga, on the island’s opposite coast. Here, you won’t find the same crystal clear waters as you would in Playa Blanca, but you will find tranquility. 

👉 I recommend staying at least overnight on this island, especially if you do wind up choosing Playa Blanca. The best times to visit any beach are around sunrise and sunset. 

🏠 Best places to stay in Isla Baru

  • Sofitel Baru Calablanca – the most popular option. Not cheap, but lots of terrific amenities, including several pools.
  • Las Islas – the most luxurious hotel anywhere in the Rosario Islands. Also, it’s very private and secluded.
  • Isla del Encanto offers top-notch spa services and free meals during your stay.

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

Isla Barú is the only one of the islands where you actually have the option of getting there by land. There is a vehicular bridge; you must hire a private car to take you across. The whole trip will take 1-2 hours one-way, depending on traffic and your final destination. 

You can also decide to go by boat. Most trips should take an hour or so each way. Once again, hotels or travel agencies can arrange these excursions for you.

3# Isla Grande – My favorite Cartagena island

This is my favorite island out of all the islands in the area. The main reason is that it’s the only really walkable island in the whole island chain. 

Once you land, there are plenty of places to reach on foot, including: 

  • Sol Y Papaya, a beach club located around 20 minutes walk from the main dock. If you eat here, you get free access to its private beach. 
  • Paue is a new place similar to Sol y Papaya and located just a bit further down. I haven’t personally visited this place yet.
  • In Orika, you can meet and chat with friendly locals and eat authentic food at very reasonable prices.
  • Gente de Mar, yet another restaurant with a private beach. The walk is long, and the service is slow here, but the beach is beautiful. 

👉 It’s also a great idea to rent a kayak or canoe for a few hours. You can then explore the maze of mangrove forests up close, probably crossing at least one enchanted lagoon. You can also do this during the evening to see the famous luminescent plankton. 

Please remember that, in general, the sand isn’t going to be good because the island itself is a reef. Most of Isla Grande’s beaches are made up of pebbles and small pieces of broken coral. Adequate footwear is a must!

Because there is so much to see and do on Isla Grande, I recommend a 3-day stay.

🏠 Best places to stay

  • Eco-hotel Isla del Sol Great rooms/facilities. Outstanding staff. However, the beach can get crowded at peak periods.
  • Isla Matamba – don’t let the name fool you. This place is actually physically located on Isla Grande. Beautiful surroundings and great food. 
  • El Hamaquero, a great budget option. Rooms are not the most comfortable, but the staff is amazing. The hotel has excellent guided tours too. 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

A public boat ride to or from Cartagena takes at least 2 hours each way. You will leave from La Bodeguita dock, generally around 9am. At 3pm at the latest, you will have to go back if you are on a day trip. This is another reason I recommend staying in Isla Grande. 

Also, if you book a room in a hotel, you will usually be able to ride on the hotel boat, which will be much more comfortable and quicker (about 1h)

#4: Isleta – The perfect getaway from Cartagena

Isleta, aka Isla Marina, is technically its own island, but it’s right off the coast of Isla Grande. A strong swimmer could easily swim there, only around 100m away. Of course, plenty of fishing boats can take you there from Isla Grande, although they are not allowed to make the trip at night. 

Isleta is extremely small. You can kayak around the whole island in around 45 minutes. As such, you must ensure you plan the activities you want to do, or you will be left out and probably bored during your stay. 

Each hotel in Isleta has its own private beach. The positive aspect of this is that there is none of the chaos you would find on the bigger and more popular islands. 

There is one big caveat, though. Since you can only use your hotel’s beach, you need to choose that hotel cautiously

🏠 Best places to stay

  • Islabela – a series of cute little cabins on the water. Great staff and food.
  • Coralina Island – similar to Islabela, but a bit more luxurious. Gets points for their excursions, and the dining room is literally made out of a mangrove forest.
  • La Fragata Island House – done up with a nautical theme. Great restaurant, and also great excursions. Only cold water in the showers, though, and very low water pressure.

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

Generally, if you stay in Isleta, your hotel will arrange privately to bring you over. The trip takes around an hour each way. 

#5: Isla Cholón – the Cartagena area’s party island

Isla Cholon in Rosario Island (3)

Isla Cholón is a pretty unique party place. It’s also the only place on this list with no facilities to stay overnight. 

It’s also a place you would love or hate, depending on your preferences. 

It’s always a party atmosphere in Isla Cholón. Any time you go there, it will be crowded, crazy, and loud. Competing music will be blasting from the sound systems of every boat within earshot. 

Generally, people here will be standing on the boats on which they came or puttering around in the shallow water. Locals working there will be zooming around in canoes, bringing food and drinks to the partiers. These foods and drinks are expensive, especially by Colombian standards. 

🏠 Best places to stay

None available 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

You can go on a private boat or negotiate on the docks to get a spot on a boat going there. I highly recommend the former option. In addition, I recommend you talk to Aymeric, who works in this industry, to arrange this boat ride in advance. 

#6: Isla Tintipan – The most beautiful white-sand beach

This island is not part of the Rosario Islands chain. It belongs to the Bernardo Islands, a bit further out from Cartagena. 

Once again, picking your hotel well here is essential since most of the island is privately-owned. You can’t just walk around freely. 

The good news is that the beach is public and is absolutely gorgeous. So, no matter which hotel you stay at, you will be able to enjoy this beach. In fact, this is the best beach out of all the islands mentioned in this article! 

Activities here include snorkeling, kayaking, and even going out to fish with local fishermen – all of them highly recommended. 

👉 They say the best time to fish in these waters is at night.

I recommend staying a couple of nights here if you go. The place is far enough from Cartagena to make a day trip impractical. 

🏠 Best places to stay

  • Hotel PuntaNorte – Great food, excellent staff, and family-friendly. 
  • Hotel Sal Si Puedes – Great rooms, great food, great staff. Some guests have complained about boat tours arriving from 10am on and blasting their music. 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

This journey will take a good solid 2 hours or more each way, depending on conditions. 

You can book this trip with the people at Tranquit Easy

#7: Isla Múcura – from cheap to luxurious accommodations

Isla Múcura is very picturesque and tranquil. I prefer Tintipan over this island—only 5-min away from each other. This is mainly because of the beach in Tintipan. Also, Múcura has almost none of the pretty mangroves Tintipan has.

Múcura is probably a better bet for budget travelers, though. This is because you can get a (very basic) room in town here. In fact, you have a lot of options for hotels here. If you don’t get into a hotel with a private beach, please understand that the one public beach remaining on Múcura is tiny. 

Regarding excursions, you will have the same options here as in Tintipan. 

🏠 Best places to stay

  • Hotel Isla Múcura is the biggest hotel on the island, and it can be a “budget” option if you decide to stay in dorms or even in hammocks. 
  • Hotel Punta Faro – minimum 2-night stay. Great location, food, staff, rooms, and excursions. Highly recommended as a hotel. 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

As mentioned above, it’s around two hours away from Cartagena (the islands are very close to each other). And, once again, Tranquil Easy will get you there. 

#8: Islote de Santa Cruz – Tiny island, highly populated

This artificial island is an absolutely unique place in the world. The place is 100-percent built up, making it one of the densest urban areas on earth, but in the middle of nowhere! 

There are no beaches or mangroves here. There are, however, around 1200 of the most friendly people you will ever meet!

There are no cars, internet, or police in this place. You are free to roam around the island’s narrow streets, giving you a quick glimpse into local life. You can also pay a small fee to one of the locals, and they will be glad to serve as an ad hoc tour guide. 

Many people stay at hotels in the neighboring islands and make a day trip out of Santa Cruz. You can stay on the island; a few hotel options exist here. Keep in mind that these hotels are very spartan, though. Also, there is nothing to do for tourists once you have finished walking through the town. 

🏠 Best places to stay

No recommendations, as local hotels are all very basic by most standards. 

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

To get to Islote de Santa Cruz, you must get to Tintipan or Múcura, as described above. From there, you must take another boat for a quick 10-minute jaunt to finish the trip. 

#9: Isla Palma – The closest island to Rincón del Mar

Hotel Isla Palma
Credit: Hotel Isla Palma

This island is much closer to Tolú or Rincón del Mar than Cartagena. It’s not unreasonable to go there from Cartagena, though. Naturally, you will stay at least overnight if you do so because of the travel times involved. 

The beach here is spectacular, almost as lovely as the Tintipan beach. However, the two hotels operating on Isla Palma are outdated and lack decent infrastructure/customer service; in my opinion. It’s also important to note that you will only have running water for a few hours per day here. 

🏠 Best places to stay

You’ve got two options:  Isla Palma hotel and Mystica Hostel.

🚣‍♂️ How to get there from Cartagena

There are no direct boats from Cartagena. You can get the hotel’s boat from Tintipan, however. This will take at least 3 hours each way. This is still faster than going to Tolú or Rincón del Mar overland, the only other option. 

Private Cartagena islands

All the other islands in the Rosario and San Bernardo chains are tiny private islands. 

These fall into three categories:

  • Islands that are private and not open to visitors.
  • Islands that offer day trips.
  • Islands that you can rent on a short-term basis. 

#10: Isla del Pirata 

This tiny island is another island off the coast of Isla Grande. It does have a hotel for overnight stays. The boat ride and hotel stays are separately negotiated, though. 

  • The Corona company owns the place, and their logo is everywhere here; you almost can’t look anywhere in the hotel without seeing it! 
  • The exterior views, however, are nothing short of gorgeous, with swaying palm trees, etc. 
  • The island is heavily forested, although a small beach is available to hotel guests and day-trip purchasers. 
  • The hotel infrastructure has some things lacking, in my opinion. Outdated buildings, for example. 
  • Service is acceptable but on the slow side. Food is also fine and takes a while to arrive. 

#11:  Isla Pelicano

This is a private island you can rent out in its entirety. 

  • You will have to pay for your own transportation to and from the place, usually in your own boat.
  • The site can accommodate up to 8 people comfortably. Catered meals are available.  
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#12: Isla Rosa

This is another island you can rent out. Please do so well in advance, though. It’s trendy and often hard to book.

  • Once again, you will need to charter a private boat to get to this place. The trip will take approximately an hour each way. 
  • Up to 16 people can stay here. The large pink house is gorgeous and well-appointed; it takes up most of the island.

#13: Isla Gigi

Isla Gigi in Rosario Islands

Like the other options listed above, you will need to book a private boat trip each way to get to and from the place. It will also take around an hour each way. 

  • The house is lovely but a bit outdated and could use some renovations. 
  • The owner of Isla Gigi is not very technically savvy. Sometimes, the place shows as booked on some platforms but free on others. Only send money once you get confirmation from the owner

#14: Kalua Island

Isla Kalua
Credit: Isla Kalua

It’s a small island located right between Isla Gigi and Isla Rosa:

  • People rave about the excellent catered food available on this tiny island. 
  • There is room for up to 14 guests. 
  • The property has a long saltwater pool.

#15: Hotel Las Islas – Isleta

Las Islas - Barú
Credit: Hotel Las Islas

Your stay in Las Islas includes unlimited trips to their private island named “Isleta.”

  • There is a massive villa with a pool and a small white-sand beach. You can order food, and the hotel will bring it to you.
  • You can go there from 10am to 5pm (5min away from the hotel)

#16: Bendita Beach

This is another property that the Corona company has bought. People also refer to it as “Playa Arena.”

  • Bendita Beach is a good place to chill at the beach, eat and sleep. If you want lots of exciting activities, you can also find them here. 
  • Also, the food is amazing, as is the staff. All in all, I highly recommend this place.
  • It’s a private beach, only available for events.

#17:  Isla San Martín de Pajarales

This place is located right next to the Oceanarium. 

I can’t recommend this place to anybody because they have the irresponsible custom of letting you swim right with the animals. Please boycott this place. 

#18: Isla Majayura

This island was previously leased by a man named Alaín Suaza. He is now serving a prison sentence for smuggling drugs.

It’s currently not open to the public as the authorities seek a more responsible tenant.

#19: Isla Pavitos

Pao pao beach club in Isla Pavitos (rosario Islands)
Credit: Pao Pao Beach Club

Isla Pavitos is home to the Beach Club Pao Pao

Many people reviewing the place feel it needs to be cleaner and better for the money.

#20: Casa en El Agua

Casa en el agua Islas San Bernardo
Credit: @diegonzalez

This is a house built on top of a coral reef that had unfortunately died. It’s located between Múcura and Tintipan. 

  • One nice perk you get while staying here is that you can jump into the ocean directly from your room—the shallow turquoise waters are ideal for swimming.
  • Tranquit Easy will take you there. 
  • Many people from all over the world come to Casa en el Agua to party. It’s a great place to mingle. 
  • The staff and activities are also great. However, this place gets booked way in advance, so prepare for that. 
  • Also, keep in mind that this is a very eco-friendly hotel. It has composting toilets, and you must shower with a bucket and follow strict recycling rules while staying there. 

Practical information about the Cartagena Islands 

Travelers make many mistakes when planning their trips to the islands of Cartagena. Here are some things you should know 😉

Weather & High season in Cartagena

Isla-grande-Rosario-Islands-1

There are two factors to remember when discussing the area’s weather: the possibility of rain, and the winds, which affect traveling conditions on the sea. The sunniest months are from December to April.

Personally, I think that the “rainy” season is still a great time to go. Rain in this part of the world rarely lasts more than 30 minutes or so, an hour tops. 

Also, keep in mind that, from December to May, there are often high winds over the ocean. This makes boat rides much more difficult, especially in the afternoon when the seas are roughest. 

Around November, every year, they have Cartagena Fashion Week. Colombians flock to the area at this time. If you like these types of festivals, you may want to catch this. If you want to avoid crowds, make sure you avoid going at this time, on the other hand. 

People, both Colombians, and foreigners, love going to Cartagena and the surrounding island chains. At certain times, the whole area gets extremely crowded and busy. This also means it will be noisier everywhere (Colombians love loud music), and prices will often double and triple. 

Keep this in mind for December and January in general, Holy Week, and during school holidays during June and October. Also, things get busier whenever there is a long weekend in Colombia (There are lots of them).

How much does it cost to enjoy the Cartagena islands 

Isla Pelicano Aleja

Exploring this area and having a good time on a low budget is possible, but it’s not easy. You can take public transportation and find the cheapest places everywhere. 

However, this is not the area you want to go to if you are a backpacker. This place is the most expensive part of the country, and it’s set up generally for higher-end tourism.

As a bare minimum, you should bring $60-80 USD per day to not be completely limited in your options. 

Also, on the islands, everything must be imported from somewhere else, which naturally drives prices up. And remember, you will often be “locked in” to a particular hotel and forced to pay for meals and other services there. This will be at their inflated rates, naturally. 

Getting to the San Bernardo Islands is also costly; it will run at least USD 30 per person per way. 

How long does it take to enjoy the Cartagena islands

Boat rosario island with Ameryc Cartagena 2

I highly recommend staying at least overnight if you want to visit the islands. Some destinations require a 2-3 day stay to make it worthwhile. 

A 3-night stay will give you ample time to chill, hang out at the beach, and participate in activities, such as diving, seeing the glowing bioluminescent plankton, snorkeling, kayaking, and canoeing. 

Suppose you want to do a day tour; it’s best to go somewhere close enough to Cartagena where you will still have some time at your destination. The best way to do this is to rent a private boat, hopefully with friends. 

Which Cartagena islands have the best beaches?

Isla Palma (1)
Credit: Isla Palma

There is not a lot of competition here. Most of these islands are coral reefs, so they don’t have sandy beaches. 

A few places do have really nice white sand beaches, though. The nicest beach is the public beach at Tintipan. If you want a private beach, consider staying at Punta FaroPunta NorteIslabela, or Isla Palma

Playa Blanca is also very nice, and very close to Cartagena. It’s perpetually crowded, though, and noise and touts are definitely a problem in Playa Blanca, along with the danger from numerous boats and jet skies zooming everywhere. 

You can’t walk around wherever you want 

Walking path Isla Grande (1)

It’s also important to understand that 80 percent or more of the area of these islands is privately owned. In almost all cases, only hotel guests and staff are allowed to cross the property. The only real exception is Isla Grande, which is nicely walkable. 

For this reason, try and pick a hotel keeping the beach and the surrounding scenery in mind.  

FAQ for the Cartagena islands 

Stay in Islabela Cocktails Tom & Aleja (1)

Here are the answers to the questions most frequently asked by our readers.

  1. How many islands are there in Cartagena? 

    There are around 40 islands in total in the Cartagena area. 
    Around 30 of these make up the chain of Las Islas del Rosario. The rest are the San Bernardo Islands.

  2. What is the best island next to Cartagena?

    Isla Grande is the best island next to Cartagena. It’s the most walkable place out of all the islands. It’s also the most beautiful and has the best vibes. 

  3. Are the Rosario Islands worth it?

    The Rosario Islands are definitely worth it. It’s essential, however, to plan all the details well ahead of time and to do your research to get the most out of your trip. Also, staying at least overnight at your destination is highly recommended.

  4. Rosario Islands vs. San Bernardo Islands

    The Rosario Islands generally offer better value for your money than the San Bernardo Islands do. They are also much easier to access from Cartagena. 
    However, the San Bernardo islands are much more peaceful and generally have better beaches.

  5. Rosario Islands vs. Tierra Bomba

    Tierra Bomba is good for partying at the beach club, and it’s super close to Cartagena. It also has lots of historical significance and is the cheapest island destination. 
    Just remember, though, Tierra Bomba doesn’t have lovely beaches. The water is murky, and the sand is not beautiful either.

More information about Cartagena

Some good reading you can’t miss before coming:

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I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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