The Rosario Islands make for a remarkable visit while in Cartagena. Located just a one-hour-or-so boat ride off Cartagena (about 22 miles southwest the city) and declared a national park in 1977, Natural Park Corales Islas del Rosario comprises some 27 islands within the municipality of Cartagena, the colorful coral reefs that encircle these islands providing for a unique ecosystem of a most spectacular host of aquatic flora and fauna wonders: curious angel fish, pinfish, snapper and creole, and barracuda among others.
Some of the islands are inhabited by no more than a couple of palm trees or a single building; the majority of the islands showcasing the vacation homes of Colombia’s upper middle class, though you will also find a number of quality, affordable hotels.
Although warm water currents have unfortunately eroded the region’s reefs, so diving in the area is not as good as it used to be, it’s no surprise the islands grant some of the most spectacular diving sites—some 40 of them, comprising a variety of hard and soft reefs along sandy coves, thick mangrove forests and coastal lagoons. A perpetually-tropical climate and great weather may just make this a diver’s paradise. For the less daring, of course there is the option of snorkeling as well.
On Isla Rosario, the second largest island, you have the Oceanario Aquarium. Though small, with more emphasis on conservation, it offers an excellent dolphin show and the opportunity to see sea rays, playful seals and sharks. Isla Grande, the largest of the islands and lined by hotels and private homes, is one of the few islands home to full-time local residents. A stop overlooked by most tours, you can enjoy just wandering about the terrain and small communities, and for any birders out there, there is a wonderful private bird sanctuary granting free admission.