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Island hop: Tropical island excursions near Cartagena, Colombia

Discover the Cartagena de Indias. With pristine beaches, stunning wildlife, history and social scene, the Colombian Caribbean is a tropical oasis. | By Lisa Beach | August 27, 2021 (Updated March 13, 2023)

Whether you're looking for a secluded spot for sunset yoga, want to perfect your surfing form or explore Caribbean’s natural diversity, the Cartagena de Indias is an excellent choice near mainland South America. But with so many things to do in Islas del Rosario, Tierra Bomba and the Archipelago of San Bernardo, it's difficult to know where to start. We’re here to help you create intriguing memories with handpicked island excursions near Cartagena, Columbia:

  • Cabana cool: Surf and ski the pristine waters of the Rosario Islands and then relax in a cabana

  • Fresh catch: Local food and cocktails are served up fresh in Tierra Bomba

  • Glow in the dark: Swim with bioluminescent plankton at Isla Múcura

Our top tip? Make the most of your island excursion from Cartagena, Columbia and consider purchasing day passes for the beaches and islands you want to visit. The passes often include beach access, use of the facilities, round-trip transportation, food and water sports, so you can relax and enjoy all the areas have to offer.

Islas del Rosario

Composed of 27 small coral islands, the Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario) is an archipelago located about 22 miles southwest of Cartagena — the perfect distance for a day tour or afternoon excursion. The islands are also a national park, Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park. Dive into the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea or kayak through winding mangroves — every outdoor adventure is picture perfect here.

At the Oceanario Islas del Rosario, which is located on the island of San Martin de Pajarales, you can see more than 100 marine species. While here, you can even get into the water and interact with dolphins (with the help of a guide).

Adventure awaits

Dolphins, sharks, rays and starfish, turtles, reef fish and lionfish: you can see marine life in their natural habitat in the Islas del Rosario.

Don't miss the opportunity to explore the pristine waters of Isla Barú, where you can ride jet skis, go kitesurfing, surface diving, deep-water diving and boating, among other activities. If you want to relax, reserve a cabana on Playa Blanca for the day. This beach is popular, though, so get there early. For more terrestrial delights, check out the massive National Aviary of Colombia, which features 22 exhibits and three ecosystems.

Cholón is where you should go if you love to party. Here you’ll find DJs, drinks and crowds of young adults. It’s billed as a year-round spring break and is a better excursion for groups of friends, rather than families. Cholón is only a 40-minute boat ride from Cartagena, and tour operators offer day-long island excursions from Cartagena here, too.

Tierra Bomba

Tierra Bomba Island is 15 minutes from Cartagena via a local boat – or lancha -- that you can hire at Bodeguita Pier. Featuring white sands and crystal-blue waters, Tierra Bomba might be just off the mainland, but it feels a world away. It is also one of the most popular and most visited beaches in the area.

Lime in the coconut

To help get you in a tropical state of mind, you’ll find rentable cabanas, surfing spots and fresh, local food and cocktails.

Although beach activities usually top visitors' lists of things to do in Tierra Bomba, there are a couple of interesting spots for history buffs as well. The horseshoe-shaped Fuerte de San Fernando de Bocachica has not only served as a military structure, but was also used as a prison.

Archipelago of San Bernardo

The Archipelago of San Bernardo contains 10 islands, including Isla Múcura, which is part of the Corales del Rosario National Natural Park. Here, you'll find long stretches of uncrowded white sand beaches and turquoise waters, as well as breathtaking flora and fauna.

Paddles up

There is plenty of space to surf, snorkel, kayak or simply relax and read a book.

For a real treat, go at night to explore the bioluminescent water. To get there, you'll need to take a 2.5-hour trip via a lancha from Muelle la Bodeguita to Isla Múcura.

Whether you're looking for things to do in Isla del Rosario, Tierra Bomba or the Archipelago of San Bernardo, island hopping around Columbia is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the area's rich culture and natural beauty. The hardest part is deciding where you want to go first.

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Lisa Beach is an Orlando freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Parade, USA Today, and Conde Nast Traveler.

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