There is little good information about Isla Grande in Colombia. That changes today!
I stayed 8 days on the island to discover the best hotels and things to do.
With this guide, you can decide if this destination is worth your attention. And if it is, organize the best possible stay.
Get ready to walk the paths under the coconut trees, drink delicious cocktails with your feet in the sand and take a dip in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Learn everything about the Rosario Islands
And avoid mistakes made by travelers.
Isla Grande in 2 min
(for people who are in a rush)
Where: Isla Grande is 1 hour by boat from Cartagena.
How to get there: There are boat rides in the morning, or you can rent a private boat.
How many days: I recommend 3 days as you’ll have to leave around 2-3 pm.
Best activity: The island is famous for its diving and bioluminescent plankton.
Best beach: I love the beach in Sol y Papaya. It’s a restaurant/bar with reasonable prices.
Best tip: Avoid going there on weekends and national holidays. There are too many people.
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Isla Grande, Colombia: The things to do
Why do tourists come to Isla Grande? Will you have a good time on this island? That’s what you’ll find out in this section.
1# Beaches on Isla Grande
You will quickly realize one thing: Cartagena’s beaches are so-so.
Your only chance to enjoy a heavenly beach with turquoise blue water (excellent for pictures) is to go to the Rosario Islands.
There are a few things to know before coming:
- Isla Grande is a coral island. You won’t find natural white-sand beaches. There are still a couple of sandy beaches created artificially.
- Most of the island is private. You’ll have to pay something if you want to use their private beach.
Let’s move on to this famous list of heavenly beaches.
The only public beach is Playa Libre
Playa libre is about ten meters long with some trees for shade and is well maintained. On the other hand, tourists can quickly invade it with their private boats for the day.
To get there, you need to walk 20 min from town. It’s just after Sol & Papaya.
Private beach Sol y Papaya
Sol & Papaya is a bar/restaurant where guests can enjoy a beautiful private beach. Prices are reasonable (around 30,000 COP for a meal), and you can use the beach facilities for as long as you want. It’s here.
Private beach Gente de Mar
Gente de Mar is a hotel located at the end of the island of Isla Grande (30 min walk from the village). You can go there for lunch and enjoy their 2 beautiful white-sand beaches — the service is slow.
More private beach clubs
Luxury and Bora Bora are two ( rather trendy ) clubs where travelers (mostly Colombians) like to spend the day. The prices are high for the quality of the service offered.
2# Explore Isla Grande on your own
Don’t be afraid to get out of your resort and visit Isla Grande. However, there are no signs. You should download Maps.me and the map of the island in advance. On the app, you’ll find all the walking paths.
First, you might want to head to Orika, the only town on Isla Grande. It’s nothing spectacular, but I liked the atmosphere. There is a big square with a small tienda (shop) to drink beers under the trees. Some locals walk around with their machete ( Colombian Swiss knife), or others sit 2 meters away from huge speakers to feel the beat of the music.
From Orika, you have different trails to reach the beaches and hotels. The paths are shaded mainly by dense green vegetation.
If you don’t like walking, you can ask your hotel to lend you some bikes.
3# Snorkeling and scuba diving
You will find many colorful reefs and sea life around Isla Grande.
Before you jump into the water, there’s one crucial thing to know. The boats are going fast, and it’s pretty dangerous to go far from the shore, especially between 9 am and 4 pm. Either leave with a tour or use a buoy to signal your position in the water.
The hotel where you will stay will put you in contact with a local and a boat. He will show you his favorite spots — among others, an underwater plane wreck that was supposed to belong to Pablo Escobar.
For diving, the best is to contact one of the two dive centers that organize dives around Isla Grande.
- The most famous center is Diving Planet, located in the hotel San Pedro de majagua.
- Scuba Cartagena in the hotel La Cocotera is another solution.
If you want to do more than 2 dives, you should contact them first. They’ve got special deals with the hotels forementioned.
4# Mangrove and canoe tour
Even if you can observe the mangroves by yourself (they are all around Isla Grande), nothing beats a canoe trip to watch the island’s wildlife. Moreover, these natural tunnels connect several lagoons on the island. The calm and the wild atmosphere make this experience superb.
It lasts 2-3 hours.
5# Bioluminescent plankton and the enchanted lagoon
When nights are dark (around the new moon), it is easy to observe the bioluminescent plankton that lives in the calm waters between the mangroves. These “light up” when there is movement in the water.
The most famous spot in Isla Grande is called the Laguna Encantada. Depending on your hotel, you’ll arrive by canoe through the mangrove or directly by speed boat.
The tours usually start 30 min after sunset (around 7 pm).
To fully enjoy the experience, I advise you to bring a snorkel and a white t-shirt.
6# Tour of Isla Grande
The surroundings of Isla Grande are beautiful, and the best way to see it is to take a complete tour of the island by boat. This will be the opportunity to get close to the famous private islands, do some snorkeling, and take some nice pictures.
The boat tour lasts 4-5 hours.
It is also possible to rent a kayak, but due to the size of the island (200 hectares), it is a bit challenging to explore everything on your own. If you like the idea, I suggest going around Isleta (1 hour).
Where to stay in Isla Grande, Colombia
Isla Grande is an isolated and touristic area. The prices of the accommodations are high – sometimes too high for the quality of the services. Paradise is expensive.
Don’t expect 5-star customer service. Relax if something unexpected happens, and everything will be fine.
One last thing.
All the hotels on the waterfront sell day tours. On weekends, there are usually many tourists coming in, and you will have to share a little piece of paradise. This is not ideal considering the price you will have paid for your room.
Don’t worry. I’m here to help.
1# Best hotels in Isleta (Isla grande’s little secret)
Isleta (or Isla Marina) is only 5 min away by boat, and it’s where you’ll find the hotels that offer the best value for money.
With Alejandra, I stayed in Islabela.
Please, bring me back.
Islabela, the perfect Isla Grande deal
This Belgian couple had the great idea to work hand in hand with the island’s locals. The profits generated by Islabela are equally divided between the landowners and the hotel.
So there is an excellent atmosphere because everyone has something to gain.
The main beach is well laid out, with many beds and curtains to protect from the sun. There is enough not to feel oppressed when the daytrippers arrive.
The restaurant is located about ten meters away, and you can easily order cocktails and delicious small dishes from the menu. The prices are reasonable for the location (approx 25,000 COP for a cocktail and 40,000 COP for a main course).
From the restaurant, there are small paths that lead to the bungalows (access limited to guests only) on the other side of the island.
Each bungalow has its own private beach (although you won’t be able to swim as it’s quite shallow, with lots of dried corals) and privacy.
There are only 8 of them, so you’d better book in advance 😉
I found my bungalow very comfortable. The wooden building materials and the dry palm leaf roof give a robin-chic look that perfectly mixes the island’s atmosphere. There are also various seats and hammocks where you can relax. It was perfect for sunrise.
In Islabela, you won’t find any A/C and the electricity comes mostly from solar panels. We don’t mess with the environment here.
👉 Wanna come? Check out availability
Coralina island, an upscale paradise
Travelers looking for a more exclusive option will likely enjoy staying on Carolina Island.
Comfortable cabins with air conditioning are scattered under the shade of the vegetation, each with its own little relaxing corner with deck chairs and hammock. Pierre, the owner, loves good wine and fine cuisine. The meals are delicious and will satisfy the most demanding palates.
2# Best hotels on Isla Grande (the main island)
The main advantage of staying on the main island is that you can walk everywhere, without asking permission from your hotel.
On Isla Grande, you will find the “biggest” resorts and economical hotels.
Resort Gente de Mar, the perfect beaches
Gente de Mar is located north est of Isla Grande. The rooms are ok (some are a bit dark) but the outside facilities are excellent. There are two beautiful white sandy beaches, a volleyball court, a bar that serves cocktails, and a good restaurant.
On the negative side, the service is slow, and the prices of the meals/drinks are high.
You can also plan a day trip from Cartagena.
Hotel San Pedro de majagua
San Pedro de Majagua has the reputation of being a good and modern Isla Grande hotel. They still should improve their customer service and food, but I have to admit that the quality of its room suite is excellent. It is spacious, high-ceilinged, and pleasant. Outside, there is a sofa and a comfortable Chinchorro hammock. Swinging under these huge trees will make you forget all your worries.
Moreover, you can easily organize your diving trips.
On the negative side, the 2 beaches are pretty small, and it’ll become quite crowded with all the daytrippers.
Hostel Secreto: pool party and cocktails
Ok, it won’t happen every time. It will depend on the guests present. But if you like to take it easy, meet people and sleep on a budget, then Hostel Secreto is the place to be.
There are 7 individual houses divided into dormitories or private rooms. The atypical architecture, bright colors, and vegetation give a pleasant atmosphere to the place.
On the negative side, the hostel lacks some rigor in its management and maintenance, and the small private beach is far from being the most beautiful on the island.
El Hamaquero: A great budget hotel
Traveling on a tight budget but want to be at the water’s edge? Then stay at the Hamaquero.
The staff is adorable and will make sure you don’t miss anything. The hotel allows trusted locals to sell their services (mangroves, snorkeling, etc.) for an affordable price and top quality.
There is no beach here. But you can access a private swimming area thanks to a small wooden pontoon. At about 50 meters, there is a beautiful reef. The hotel provides free snorkeling gears and buoys to indicate your position.
On the negative side, travelers who are used to comfortable rooms may be disappointed.
More affordable hotels
Personally, I find it much nicer to stay by the water. But if you don’t care about that, you can stay in Eco Hotel Las Palmeras.
3# Best private islands
Yes, you can rent a private island and wake up surrounded by 360 degrees of turquoise water.
Wanna know how?
I wrote a post to help book your private Cartagena island.
The price of these islands is high, but it becomes quickly interesting if you come with 10 friends. On-site, you will have a chef who will prepare delicious dishes with freshly caught seafood.
Remember that you need to organize a private boat trip to reach these small islands.
Don’t worry. It’s just an hour boat ride away from Cartagena! Do you also imagine yourself organizing the perfect weekend getaway?
How do you get to Isla Grande, Colombia
There are different options for getting to Isla Grande, depending on whether you stay overnight or spend the day. Let’s see it all together in this section.
You’re staying overnight
You’ve made the right decision. Good job.
→ If you stay in a nice hotel, they’ll take care of your transportation. Most of them have a private boat they use to bring the daytrippers. You’ll leave with them.
It means you’ll have to be at El Muelle La Bodeguita (it’s here) around 8h30 am. Don’t miss it. Transportation won’t be included in your stay, and you’ll have to pay a tax (around 19,000 COP) because you enter the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
You should arrive at your hotel around 10 am.
→ If you stay in an economical hotel, you’ll have to take a public boat (sometime the hotel may give an in-depth explanation). The boats also leave from La Bodeguita, from 8 am to 10 am. Between the time of embarkation and the numerous stops on the way, count at least 2h30.
TPMT tip: It is best to arrive on time to sit in the shade.
→ Otherwise, there is still the boat rental option. True, it is much more expensive. But there are two significant benefits to consider:
- You can leave whenever you want (max 2 pm)
- You can enjoy a tour of the other Rosario Islands (Playa Blanca, Isla cholón) from 9 am to 2 pm, then head to your hotel or private island.
Like the idea? Ask Aymeric to organize it for you.
You’re planning a day trip
Don’t have time to spend the night on Isla grande?
That’s too bad.
Still, you can have a great day trip if you pick the right option — and it’ll be better than partying with the hundreds of beach vendors on Bocagrande or Playa Blanca.
→ First, you can book a day pass with one of the Isla Grande’s resorts. Islabela or Gente de Mar are the best for that. However, you should know that you will not have much time on the island. You will arrive around 10 am and leave between 2 and 3 pm. It’s not my favorite option.
→ Otherwise, you can book a fun catamaran day trip. The boat is large enough for dancing, drinking cocktails (yes, there is a bar!), and napping. You won’t set foot on Isla Grande, but you can swim 50 meters from the shore in its beautiful waters. I will tell you everything about this Rosario Island day trip.
→ My last suggestion is the coolest. You and your friends rent a private boat and explore the islands like modern pirates, with reggaeton music and cold beers. Once again, ask Aymeric.
Q&A for Isla Grande, Colombia
Many readers ask us questions about Isla Grande. Here are the most common answers.
Also, don’t forget to download our fantastic Ebook to find the best places in Colombia.
Best time to visit Isla Grande?
All the months of the year are good for visiting Isla Grande. The visibility underwater will always be wonderful and rainy days are rarely continuous. From December to April, the sea is rougher. The rainiest months are May, October, and November. You should avoid going there during the high season (public holidays and weekends).
Where is La Isla Grande located?
Isla Grande is located in the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, 1 hour by boat from Cartagena.
Can you walk around Isla Grande, Colombia?
Yes, you can walk around Isla Grande. The are several pleasant and shady paths to join the different private beaches. Don't forget to download the map on Maps.Me
How is the food on Isla Grande?
The food on Isla Grande is expensive. It can be delicious if you stay on a private island or in a nice hotel (like Carolina Island or Islabela).
How to get out of Isla Grande?
The public boat leaves around 2-3 pm. You can also leave around 6:30 am. In which case, you will arrive at the Mercado de Bazurto. Another option is to take a boat to Isla Baru (30 min) and then drive to Cartagena (1H) — ask your hotel.
Is Isla Grande safe?
Yes, Isla grande is safe. In one week, I walked everywhere without feeling insecure.
Is Isla Grande dirty?
Isla Grande is relatively clean. Many initiatives are to convince the inhabitants (and tourists) not to leave their garbage lying around. However, you will still find some areas with a lot of trash (especially near the village).
Bottom line: Isla Grande, Colombia
Isla Grande is a little piece of paradise that deserves 3 days of your itinerary in Colombia. Choose your hotel carefully and enjoy the many activities it has to offer. Because of its isolated position, the prices are high (for Colombia), and the quality is not always there. The best thing to do is put yourself in the mode “island style” and enjoy this beautiful environment relaxed.
Where to travel after Isla Grande