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Isla Grande, Colombia: An Island Escape Near Cartagena

Isla Grande, Colombia: An Island Escape Near Cartagena

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When I was planning my trip to Cartagena, the Rosario Islands kept coming up in my searches. I knew I had to get myself to Isla Grande, the largest in this group of islands.

All of the photos looked absolutely stunning – the Caribbean waters, the natural beauty to see on each island, the snorkeling, and of course, all of the seafood.

A lot of people do day trips from Cartagena with a tour company which basically takes you snorkeling, around one of the islands for lunch, and back to Cartagena on a whirlwind day out.

Alternatively, you can hop on a bus and head south along the coast to places like Rincon del Mar and Tolú or up to Santa Marta and Barranquilla for even more incredible beaches.

If you are going to be in Colombia for a week or more and you find yourself in this region of the country, you don’t want to miss a trip to Island Grande.

Read: The Best Restaurants in Cartagena Colombia

What You Need to Know About Isla Grande Colombia

What to do on Isla Grande Colombia

Isla Grande Versus Isla Fuerte

As the name might suggest, Isla Grande is the largest of the islands in the Rosario Islands.

It has the most beaches, the most resorts, the most restaurants, and the most activities to keep you busy – however, if you’re only planning a trip for a few days, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy on both islands.

Island Grande offers snorkeling trips, has a dive school on the island if you want to go diving.

It has large resorts like the one we stayed at, Cocoliso Resort, and yet it still feels small and private. The beaches aren’t too busy, especially after the day-trippers leave at 3pm, and the sunsets were absolutely incredible.

What to do on Isla Grande

There were so many cute beach dogs to hang out with on Isla Grande

Isla Fuerte is slightly smaller and it only has a few places to stay.

That means if you don’t book well enough in advance, then you won’t be staying over night there (which is basically exactly how we made the decision to stay on Isla Grande).

If however, you do plan well enough in advance, Isla Fuerte sounds like a wonderful place to escape the city for a while.

There are sloths that you can spot as you walk along the island paths. You can go diving, snorkeling, and hiking on the island.

There also seemed like more opportunities to go kayaking or boating from Isla Fuerte, but I’m not 100% certain about that.

isla grande, colombia

Where to Stay on Isla Grande

We stayed at Cocoliso Resort which was pretty good. I would use the word resort lightly.

Most places on Isla Grande are a touch rundown, but we still got air conditioning, a pool with a waterslide and swim-up bar, and the price of the room also included free transportation to and from Cartagena.

The rooms are really clean and they were cleaned each morning when we were out enjoying our day by the beach.

Our stay didn’t include meals, but we brought tons of fruit from the mainland for breakfast every morning, ate lunch at one of the nearby beaches, then had dinner at the hotel restaurant which we charged to our room and paid for at the end of our stay.

If you wanted to, you could have all of your meals at the hotel restaurant or order from the outside bar and eat your meals poolside.

Book a stay at Cocoliso here.

What to do in Isla Grande

If you are looking for a party spot on the island or something slightly more budget, check out Paraiso Secreto.

It’s a region of the island with tons of hostels and even its own private beach. The specific hostel that kept coming up again and again in my research was My Casa Nativa.

It’s one of the hostels that’s on this side of the island and has private rooms as well as super cheap hammocks for less than $10 per night. Be sure to book early because these places book out quickly thanks to their great price.

Book a stay at My Casa Nativa here.

Where to stay in Isla Grande

For super duper luxury, book a stay at the islands only five-star resort, San Pedro de Majagua.

It has absolutely gorgeous cabanas with hammocks on the patios where you can just chill and read a book. It has its own private beach, tons of lounge chairs, a massage tent with plush looking beds, and they have all of the tour booking companies on-site if you want to go snorkeling or diving while you’re there.

I took a walk through the hotel grounds while I was on the island and I was seriously lusting after one of those cabanas.

Like most of the places on the Rosario Islands, you’ll have to book at least a month in advance, even further in advance if you are coming during busy times like Easter, Christmas, or summer, if you want to snag one of these places.

Book a stay at San Pedro Majagua here.

where to stay on Isla Grande

What to Do on Isla Grande

There are tons of activities to keep you busy on Isla Grande.

One of the things I loved about staying at Cocoliso, and why I would recommend it to others, was the easy access to walking paths and the fact that there were tons of local guides always around to take you somewhere new.

Every morning, we’d get dressed for the day and head out to the pool area around 9:30 (the new boats arrive for the day at 10, so it’s best to beat them to the guides).

Then we’d chat to one of the guides – they all stand around the pool area with maps wearing blue t-shirts waiting to take you somewhere for the day.

On our first day we paid a guide a few dollars to take us to Playa Libre, which is the beach you see in all of these photos.

It was my absolute favorite one that we visited during our trip to the island.

We spent the entire day here eating seafood that was cooked by one of the beach vendors, drinking beers sold to us by a different beach vendor, reading books, and hanging out with all of the beach dogs (who usually tried to eat our food and get sand on our blankets).

beaches of Isla Grande

Always a little pup to hang with at the beach!

The second day I was on the island, my friend and I got up early again and met the same guide outside our place around 9:30 (her name was Guila and she spoke very little English, but she was hilarious).

This time we wanted to do a walk around the island and then take a ride on a canoe through the mangroves.

You could definitely walk the island on your own.

There aren’t many trails so it’s hard to get lost and even if you do, there are always locals around willing to take you back to your resort for a small tip.

However, the mangrove system seems to only be accessible with a guide, so I recommend getting one. We paid just under $20 each (50,000 Pesos) for the guide for the whole day and she definitely deserved it after that canoe trip!

What to do in Isla Grande Colombia

our canoe that we took through the mangroves then around the island a bit!


What to do in Cartagena

Our little boar through the enormous mangroves!

That afternoon we headed back to Playa Libre because it’s that good. We got freshly cooked lobsters with rice and patacones (fried plantains) for about $20 each.

On our final day on the island, we headed over to Diving Planet, which has a desk at Cocoliso. You can either book a scuba diving trip or a snorkel trip with them.

We paid 55,000 Pesos which worked out to be about $20 at the time. You can pay with credit card which is pretty convenient since there aren’t any ATMs on the island.

What to do on Isla Grande

The yummy lobster we had on the beach!

The snorkeling was great. They took us out on the boat around a few of the different islands where we got to see Pablo Escobar’s vacation home, tons of beautiful little islands with only one house on them, a few different bays, then we dropped anchor and plopped ourselves into the water.

The fee included flippers, a mask and of course the snorkel. You could test each out before getting into the boat so that everything fit the way you like it.

The water where we snorkeled was really calm and we were so buoyant!

There must be a ton of salt in the water here, because I pretty much floated without trying. If you’re a bit of a nervous swimmer in the ocean (I can definitely be a nervous swimmer sometimes), then you’ll find this pretty relaxing.

I barely had to kick my flippers. Plus there the guide had a floatation device that you could grab onto at any point if you got tired.

What to do in Isla Grande, Colombia

Our guide, Guila, showing us the jellyfish that were ALL OVER this lagoon. I’ve never seen so many jellyfish in one place!

How to Get to Isla Grande

All boats to the Rosario Islands leave from the El Muelle La Bodeguita near the clock tower in the old town between 8am and 10am. Many of the resorts you book through, like Cocoliso or San Pedro de Majagua will have their own boats.

When you book with them, you’ll be told when to get to the marina and where to go.

Regardless of whether your boat is included in your resort or not, you have to pay a 16,500 Peso port fee.

This works out to roughly $5 or $6. You’ll pay that before you go through the turnstyles. There are literally tons of people working there who will direct you. A little bit of Spanish goes a long way here.

what to do on isla grande

If you book a stay at one of the hostels at Paraiso Secreto, they don’t have their own boat, so you have to get your own.

A ticket will cost about 40,000 Pesos (about $15) each. Make sure you tell them what part of the island you want to be dropped off at and they’ll bring you directly to that dock.

Most boats leave the island in the afternoon. Be sure to check the day before you’re leaving so you don’t miss it (there is usually only one or two a day that go back to Cartagena).

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A Guide to Isla Grande, an easy trip from Cartagena Colombia. If you are traveling to Cartagena, you need to make a trip to the Rosario Islands, and in particular, Isla Grande. Here is where to stay, what to do, and how to get around once you're there!

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Tonda Oates

Monday 26th of August 2019

I am getting this same information from the hotel. It is about $45 USD per person one way to take a ferry to Hotel San Pedro de Majagua.

Also, we are trying to come back in the morning and the only option we are finding is to hire a private boat at $450 USD. This is crazy! I can't believe we can't find a private boat for the one hour trip back to Cartagena for significantly less than that. So looking forward to this trip, but this is definitely a dark cloud on it.

Are there any other options that you know?

Laura Bronner

Tuesday 27th of August 2019

There's also a ferry or public boat I believe that is also the mail boat? But most boats leave the island in the afternoons, not the morning. Perhaps it's worth contacting other hotels on the island to see what they charge for the boat? I was never charged by my hotel, the boat was part of the nightly fee.


Friday 17th of May 2019

Hi there! I booked two nights at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua and am so excited! However, they are charging $50 roundtrip for the private boat service to take me there and back. I am reading that there are cheaper ways to arrive and depart, is this true from your experience? If so, will I easily be able to find Hotel San Pedro de Majagua upon arrival at Isla Grande? Further, is this resort close to other restaurants or am I able to pack my own food/drink? Thank you in advance!

Laura Bronner

Monday 20th of May 2019

Hi Hannah - that sounds very strange. In my experience, every hotel offers a ferry as part of the service. I would not pay $50 each way. I would contact the hotel and see what other options there are to get to the hotel.


Sunday 24th of February 2019

We're planning a trip to La Isla Grande and hoping to get there in the afternoon. It seems most boats leave for the islands in the morning. Do you know if there are boats leaving mid-day for 3pm check-in? Do boats leave to come back to Cartagena around check-out time? I'm nervous to get stuck on the island or find hidden costs for a "special" time to leave and arrive.

Laura Bronner

Monday 25th of February 2019

Hi Janny - most of the boats are run by the hotel that you book with so they usually only have one time per day that they leave. There are a few other smaller and more expensive boats that leave in the mornings and then come back to Cartagena in the afternoons, but I really recommend booking it all through your hotel on the island.

Tony Grigg

Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Thank you so much for the useful information. I will be staying on Isla Grande this February and look forward to trying a couple of your recommendations. Do you have any recommendations for day activities in Cartagena? Thanks!

Laura Bronner

Monday 24th of September 2018

I highly recommend checking out the fortress as well as the nunnery for a great view back over the city. The beach in Cartagena wasn't my favorite (Boca Grande), I much preferred the beaches on Isla Grande! But the old town is beautiful and worth a wander. There are some great museums there too, especially the Palace of the Inquisition.


Thursday 19th of April 2018

Isla Grande looks absolutely amazing! Will definitely be bookmarking this post for when I finally make it down that way!