Rosario Islands, how did I get to be so lucky and to end up at this small piece of heaven? Without a doubt, it’s Colombia’s hidden gem.
Located off the Carribean coast of Colombia, this archipelago is one of a national park that protects the coral reef of the coast. Not a lot of people know about this place if you mentioned islands next to Cartagena people would most likely think you’re referring to San Andres (that became too crowded and touristic long time ago). We basically got there by a sheer coincidence.
These islands provide you with the purest form of simplicity. After a few hours of arriving at this place, you will fall in love. It felt like we transitioned to a different world. It didn’t look like anything we know and it certainly didn’t feel like it. Yes, you might think I’m exaggerating, but I just felt like we went back in times, to times I’ve never known but felt awfully comfortable in.
How we learned about this place?
In my second week in Colombia, my Canadian friend and I met this German guy, who told us about these beautiful islands where electricity is off during most hours of the day and water is scarce. The guy told us he got there on a small boat from Cartagena and then the boat left him on a raft and another tiny boat came and got him.
If you know me, you should have known my reaction would be: “nahhhh… that’s not a place for me.” But I don’t know why the way he described later on what the place was like was just so appealing. It sounded so peaceful and so little known, I had to see what it’s like.
So, I surprisingly said: let’s do this. We tried finding more information about the place and booking a hostel but it was tricky, there isn’t a lot of information online. Luckily we had the help of our German friend. And you have got me!
First thing is first, let me tell you how does this work?
Where to stay in Rosario Islands?
You can take a day trip to go there but I heard some really bad stories about those companies that take you there for a day. I’ll tell you this… we stayed there for 2 nights and it was perfect. As far as I’m concerned that was the only way to experience the place. Otherwise, you’re just going to do some snorkeling in the ocean and chill on a beach (which you can do anywhere).
If you decide to stay, when it comes to accommodation you have two choices- a resort/hotel type of stay or a hostel. We chose the latter and loved it! The only hostel on the main island, Isla Grande, is Paraiso Secreto (Secret Paradise). The name is definitely appropriate as you will find out when the boat drops you off on the small beachfront surrounded by mangroves and trees. Behind it, is the reception.
Paraiso Secreto is essentially a hostel collective that brings together six different hostels from all over Colombia that has their twin hostel on the island. Since it was built on top of the former mansions of Emerald barons it looks like an old mansion with a pool in the middle (not active) and is right on the beach.
The decor of the hostels is amazing, each with its colors and wooden furniture (and of course, hammocks). Each hostel is basically a grand cottage with high ceilings and private rooms or dorms, a kitchen and plenty of common areas where you can lay down and relax. You can choose one of these hostels: Saman, Galeria, Fulano, Alegria, Golden Frog, The Local House. They are all pretty much the same and located one next to another.
We stayed at Saman Hostel and loved it. Our house host, Diego, was so kind and after I forgot my laptop there he came all the way to Cartagena to give it back to me! You can book it through Booking.com or Hostelworld.com (the prices are normally similar so it depends on your preference).
How to get to Rosario Islands?
Once you book with one of these hostels they will send you the instructions on how to get there. Essentially you have to get to La Bodeguita Dock in Cartagena early in the morning (you get a full day on the islands that way) and the whole trip will cost about 50.000 Colombian pesos.
After about an hour boat ride you will get to the beach front of Paraiso Secreto. I wouldn’t recommend getting there with other companies than those who work with the hostel since they can make stops along the way (in different restaurants) or try to sell you their tours.
It is highly recommended that you wouldn’t bring your backpack on the boat unless completely necessary. We left our bags in our hostel in Cartagena (although we didn’t stay there once we got back, only the night before we left for the islands) and came with a small backpack. The boat cannot fit your luggage so be prepared. I’m one of these girls who needs my clothes and creams but I’ll tell you this, all you need is a swimsuit and pajamas.
What do you do in Rosario Islands?
Once you get to the reception and check in (be patient since you are all coming on one boat and checking in at the same time) the workers will explain to you about the activities you can do in the area (some are paid and some are free). The host of each hostel will then take you to your rooms and explain the rules of the house- like not wearing shoes (flip-flops included) inside the house.
Among the different attractions, there are snorkeling boat trips to see the coral reef and the relics of the plane wreck beneath the water. Rent the kayaks or paddle boards and paddle through the different lakes connected by tunnels surrounded by mangroves. The highlight of all attractions is the fluorescent plankton at the Enchanted Lagoon. This tour leaves at night time where you can watch the plankton lights up the water. You can also rent bikes and ride through the forest. We loved the simple thing, being around all this nature and vegetation, swimming in the clear water and wandering around the different trails. we watched amazing sunsets a Playa Cocotera with the best companions- island dogs.
The food on the island is scarce so be aware. We would go to the small grocery store in the center of the island (about a 10-minute walk from the hostel) once or twice a day to buy some fruits or rice and cooked. The hostel complex offers a launch that is simple and will be most likely fish and rice and some yuca. One day we ate lunch at the resort on the other side of the island since we spent the day at the beach there. My tip is that you’d bring some food (items that you really feel like you need) from the Cartagena. I’m vegan I didn’t bring any food with me and got along great.
Some other important details you need to know are that there is no wi-fi in the hostels, only in the main area of the bar and pool. The water on the island is scarce so you’ll have to take short showers. Ther’s no electricity from 9 am to 6pm with only a. break from 12-2 so that people can cook lunch.
But the most important things you need to know is that in Rosario Islands you feel like you’re in a rush to nowhere. Our days there were simply magical. If you’re looking for a secluded island, a secret paradise, a place that you can get lost at, a place for you to wander aimlessly surrounded by nature’s best creation, Rosario Islands is the place for you.
Still not convinced? Here are 15 Reasons Why You Should Visit the Rosario Islands at Least Once in Your Lifetime.