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One of the top things to do in Cartagena is pay a visit to the Rosario Islands, an archipelago located around 45 km off the mainland in the Caribbean Sea. There are around 30 islands in total in this archipelago, with Isla Grande being the largest. Some are open to the public, while others are privately owned by wealthy individuals.
Isla Grande is very popular for day trips, since the journey there takes around an hour by boat, but if you feel like staying longer, you can book a few nights there to relax, unwind and enjoy a digital detox.
In this Island Grande travel guide we’ll cover some of the top things to do there, as well as how to get there and essential tips.
How to Get to Isla Grande
In order to get to Isla Grande you’ll need to take a boat. The ferries depart from Bodeguita Pier and usually take around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on which one you take. Departures are usually around 08:30am or 9:00am, and cost around $17-$24.
There are numerous companies running boats to Isla Grande, including CTG Tours, Delfines Tours, Juan Ballena, Mary Cartagena Travel. You can check schedules and book your tickets online using 12Go here.
Return ferries usually depart around 2pm or 3pm, so you don’t have a lot of time on the island if you do a day trip. Still, it’s enough time to lay on the beach, eat some food and relax.
Things to Do on Isla Grande
Isla Grande is a tropical island with a very relaxing vibe, so most people visit to lay on the beach, eat some seafood and drink a cocktail. You can also enjoy a lot of water-based activities, including snorkeling, diving, paddle boarding and canoeing.
Bora Bora Beach Club
One of the most popular things to do on Isla Grande is to relax at Bora Bora Beach Club, which boasts daybeds, cabanas, swimming pools and fine dining. You’ll have to pay a fee for the beds and the facilities, but it’s worth it to relax on the beach in comfort.
If you want to top up your tan, the island is home to numerous beaches with white sands and tropical turquoise waters. Consider Playa Libre, a public beach lined with bars and restaurants. Another popular beach is Gente de Mar, which is lined with trees and has plenty of hammocks should you fancy reading a book and taking a nap.
Isla Grande is part of San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, which boasts over 170 fish species and 52 coral species. There’s a lot to see under the water, and there are several diving schools on the island if you want to learn how to dive.The most popular one is Diving Planet, which is located in the hotel San Pedro de Majagua.
Canoeing through the Mangroves
A great way to view the island is by taking a canoe trip through the island’s mangrove forest, which features a series of interconnected lagoons and plenty of bird and wildlife species. As you canoe along the waters, you’ll notice how calm and peaceful the atmosphere is here.
If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, head to Orika Village, which is the largest village on the island. It’s still pretty small, but you’ll find various shops, a restaurant, a café, and a supermarket. There’s also a local disco playing Reggaton music, should you want to bust some moves on the dance floor.
Visit Pablo Escobar’s Mansion
While on Isla Grande you’ll have the chance to Pablo Escobar’s palace, which was used to host elaborate parties. The palace is overgrown and crumbling now, but once featured 300 opulent rooms, a swimming pool, a helicopter pad and waterfront apartments. Today you can take a speedboat to the palace and wander around what’s left of it.
See Bioluminescent Plankton
Isla Grande is home to bioluminescent plankton, which you can see at night time in the Enchanted Lagoon (Laguna Encantada). Tours usually depart around 30 minutes after sunset and depending on what hotel you’re staying at, you’ll either arrive by canoe or by speedboat.
Tips for Visiting Isla Grande
There are no ATM’s on Isla Grande, so make sure you pull out some cash from the ATM in Cartagena before you leave. You’ll need this to pay for all your drinks and snacks!
The island has limited WiFi and electricity
Some of the more upscale hotels have WiFi, but generally there’s limited Wi-Fi on the island. Make sure you do all your Internet browsing and catch up on your emails before you catch the boat to Isla Grande. If you plan on visiting for a few days, it might be a good idea to tell your friends and family that you’re going off the grid.
There are no cars or motorbikes
You won’t find any cars on Isla Grande, and the only way to get around is on foot or by renting bikes. Make sure you bring some sneakers as well as your flip flops so that you have comfortable shoes for walking.
A Final Word…
There’s a lot to see and do in Cartagena, but if you have a few days there, definitely consider a trip to Isla Grande. It has some of the best beaches in Cartagena and is the perfect place to enjoy island life.