Isla Grande, Colombia: Here Is What I’ve Learned (After 8 Days)

A practical guide to know all my favorite spots on Isla Grande, Colombia, after a fabulous 7-night stay.

🛑 Stop having doubts about your stay on Isla Grande. Start learning all my tips for a successful stay

I stayed 8 days to discover the best hotels and things to do in Isla Grande, Colombia.

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.

Here’s what you get if you read my expert travel guide:

  • The inside scoop on whether it’s a destination worth visiting.
  • The 2 best beaches for drinking your cocktails.
  • My favorite way to get to Isla Grande from Cartagena.
  • A list of hotels to spend an incredible stay.

Vamos!


Who are we 👋

Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.


Premium Experiences & hotels

Want to create incredible memories when visiting the Rosario Islands? Here are my favorite experiences and hotels.

Book with locals
  • Where:
    From Cartagena
  • From 400 USD
  • Description:

    More than 300 travelers have trusted us to book their boats with Aymeric. He works only with the best local captains and will quickly answer any questions you may have.

Day Pass
  • Where:
    From Cartagena
  • From 75 USD
  • Description:

    The Islabela day pass is fantastic for a fun beach day! It has a big beach area, free kayaks, and cool spots for photos. Plus, it includes your lunch, and can order plenty of cocktails! It's a great, relaxed spot for families and kids.

Boutique hotel
  • Where:
    Isla Rosario
  • From 258 USD
  • Description:

    Escape to Hotel Coralina Island, a secluded paradise nestled in Isla Grande's mangroves. Indulge in gourmet dining, private beaches, and tranquil, adult-only romantic settings. Perfect for couples seeking serenity and luxury amidst nature's beauty.

Affordable
  • Where:
    Isla Grande
  • From 61 USD
  • Description:

    It's perfect for budget travelers who love being near the water. The staff is super friendly and connects you with locals for great deals on activities like snorkeling. Plus, they've got a private swimming area and free snorkeling gear. Just a heads-up, the rooms are basic.

Book with locals
Where:
From Cartagena
From 400 USD
Description:

More than 300 travelers have trusted us to book their boats with Aymeric. He works only with the best local captains and will quickly answer any questions you may have.

Day Pass
Where:
From Cartagena
From 75 USD
Description:

The Islabela day pass is fantastic for a fun beach day! It has a big beach area, free kayaks, and cool spots for photos. Plus, it includes your lunch, and can order plenty of cocktails! It's a great, relaxed spot for families and kids.

Boutique hotel
Where:
Isla Rosario
From 258 USD
Description:

Escape to Hotel Coralina Island, a secluded paradise nestled in Isla Grande's mangroves. Indulge in gourmet dining, private beaches, and tranquil, adult-only romantic settings. Perfect for couples seeking serenity and luxury amidst nature's beauty.

Affordable
Where:
Isla Grande
From 61 USD
Description:

It's perfect for budget travelers who love being near the water. The staff is super friendly and connects you with locals for great deals on activities like snorkeling. Plus, they've got a private swimming area and free snorkeling gear. Just a heads-up, the rooms are basic.

Isla Grande: What you should know

Tom underwater turquoise water caribbean sea

I understand your time is valuable. If you’re short on time, here’s the essential info you need about Colombia’s Rosario Islands.

🚗 How to get to Isla Grande From Cartagena:

  • The easiest way is to leave Cartagena’s dock with the hotel’s boat. It takes 1 hour.
  • If you can’t, you must take the “public boats” that leave at 9am. It takes 2 hours.
  • The best plan? Book a private boat to visit the islands and ask the crew to drop you off at your hotel.

🏠 Where to stay in Isla Grande:

  • I recommend you stay at least 2 nights.
  • You can choose between Isla Grande and Isleta (just 100m away)
  • Another option is to rent a private island nearby.

🏝️ Best things to do in Isla Grande:

  • The island is famous for its diving and bioluminescent plankton.
  • Check out the lovely white sand beaches at Sol Y Papaya, Paue, and Rosario de Mar.

👍 Best tips to enjoy your stay on Isla Grande:

  • Download the app “Maps.me” and bring a sim card “Movistar” if you want internet access.
  • Bring some cash—no ATM on the island.
  • Avoid the weekends, high season, and public holidays—too many people.

More than 10,000 travelers have already used our Colombia travel guide

I’ve been exploring Colombia since 2015 and put all my knowledge into one E-book. It’s free and accessible now. 👇

👉 Want to know everything about the Rosario Islands? To learn where the best places are and avoid tourist traps and beginner mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to the Rosario Islands.

Isla Grande, Colombia: Best things to do

Isla Grande Sol y Papaya

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.

Going to the Rosario Islands is your only chance to enjoy a heavenly beach with turquoise blue water (excellent for pictures).

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 Isla grande

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 y Papaya Isla Grande

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 Rosario de Mar

Tu peux aussi décider d'opter pour le Paue Beach Lounge - j'en ai entendu du bien.
Credit: Rosario de Mar

Rosario 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.

You can also decide to check out Paue Beach Lounge—I’ve heard good things about it.

2# Explore Isla Grande on your own

Orika Isla Grande

Don’t be afraid to leave your resort and visit Isla Grande. However, there are no signs. You should download Maps.me and the island map 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

Snorkeling-Isla-Grande

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 aforementioned hotels.

4# Mangrove and canoe tour

Mangrove La boquilla

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. I suggest going around Isleta (1 hour) if you like the idea.

Where to stay in Isla Grande, Colombia

IslaBela Isla Grande (1)

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, many tourists usually come 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, small paths 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 with 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.

Best deal
Eco Hotel Islabela
Pros:
  • Lovely wooden cabins
  • One of the best beaches
Cons:
  • No A/C & Mosquitoes
See on Booking See on Tripadvisor

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.

High-end
Coralina Island
Pros:
  • Romantic hotel with delicious meals
  • Few rooms
Cons:
  • You can't choose your beach seat
See on Booking See on Expedia

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.

You will find the “biggest” resorts and economical hotels in Isla Grande.

Resort Rosario de Mar, the perfect beaches

Gente de Mar Isla Grande

Rosario de Mar is located northeast 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.

Best beach
Rosario de Mar
Pros:
  • 2 lovely white-sand beaches
  • Many deck chairs
Cons:
  • Expensive food & slow service
See on Booking See on Hotel

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.

San Pedro de Majagua
Pros:
  • Beautiful surroundings
  • Many outdoor activities
Cons:
  • No swimming pool
See on Booking

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.

Hostel
Secreto Hostel
Pros:
  • Cool activities
  • Swimming pool + bar
Cons:
  • Outdated rooms and facilities
See on Booking See on Hotels

El Hamaquero: A great budget hotel

Hamaquero Hotel Isla Grande Rosario Islands

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 gear and buoys to indicate your position.

On the negative side, travelers who are used to comfortable rooms may be disappointed.

Affordable
El Hamaquero



Pros:
  • Near the coral reefs
  • Chill out vibe
Cons:
  • Basic rooms
See on Booking See on Tripadvisor

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 at Eco Hotel Las Palmeras.

3# Best private islands

Aleja Pelicano Island Cartagena

Yes, you can rent a private island and wake up surrounded by 360 degrees of turquoise water.

Wanna know how?

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 one 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 (sometimes 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 early 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

Cartagena Boat rental Rosario Islands (3) (1)

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 loved it.

→ 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.

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. Is Isla Grande safe? 

    Yes, Isla grande is safe. In one week, I walked everywhere without feeling insecure.

  7. 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.

What to read next?

Here are some of our most popular guides:

INFORMATION: PLEASE NOTE THAT SOME LINKS ARE AFFILIATE S AND AT NO EXTRA COST TO YOU, I EARN A SMALL COMMISSION IF YOU MAKE A BOOKING. IT’S A NICE GESTURE TO THANK US FOR THE MANY HOURS WE DEDICATE TO TOMPLANMYTRIP 🙂

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

5 comments

    • Everyone is different ^^. IslaBela is a bit more cozy (fewer people), and the beach is more beautiful. There, I would prefer Islabela. But if you want a bit more of comfort and space, go for Majagua!

  1. David says:

    Hi Thomas, thanks for all this great information!

    To visit beaches like the ones at Gente de mar and Sol y Papaya, can you simply turn up, buy a drink or food there and visit the beaches this way?

    Or do you need to book in advance and pay an extra fee of some kind to visit these?

    Gracias,
    David

  2. Theresa Nix says:

    Hello:) thank you for your super informative post! Can you tell me the company that leaves Isla Grande to Cartagena at 06.30am in the morning? I can’t find this transfer and need to leave the island early in the morning

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.