Why You Need to Visit Cartagena and Islas del Rosario Uncover Colombia
Colombia, Islas del Rosario


June 18, 2024, 9:14 am

Cartagena is the capital city of the Colombian Department of Bolívar and is located along the central part of the Colombian Caribbean Coast, between Barranquilla and Sincelejo. Cartagena has long been a hot spot for tourists venturing to Colombia, even before Colombia was considered a safe tourist destination. In Cartagena, you’ll see all types of tourists: backpackers, luxury travellers, extended-stay tourists, and tourists who have now become ex-pats, having fallen in love with this immediately enamouring Colombian city and having decided to make it home. There is something for everyone in this magical Caribbean city.

Cartagena was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984 for its historical importance as a port city, as well as for its impressive fortification, now called la ciudad amurallada, or “walled city,” that remains more or less intact today. It is within the walled city that you will find the historic heart and soul of this colonial city. The architecture, the historical sites, the colours, the sounds, the aromas and the atmosphere within the walled city are not only inspiring, but many say they also come together to create the perfect ambience for a little romance. Although a bit touristy nowadays, be sure to explore outside the most frequented streets and duck into any store that catches your eye—you’ll be amazed at some of the unique products you can find in the shops within the walled city. If you have the time, find a restaurant or coffee shop with second-floor seating and take some time to enjoy the view. If you are a fan of the Hard Rock Café, the view from the balconies at this world-famous restaurant chain has an excellent view of the famous Centro de Convenciones, the Convention Center, and the brightly coloured and hard-to-miss Tower Clock. Having visited several times, I can tell you that this part of the city never gets old—I will always be up for spending time in the walled city.

If you’re not up for a stroll in the romantic walled city, you can soak up some sun on the beaches in Bocagrande with the locals. While the beaches in Bocagrande do not have the pearl white sand and turquoise waters stereotypical of the Caribbean, they offer a unique atmosphere where you can try as many homemade cocadas(coconut sweets), papayuela sweets, sweet yucca bread, bolas de alegría (“happy balls” made of popcorn, caramel, and coconut), national Colombian beers, and shrimp cocktails as you want. My personal favourites are the bolas de alegría—they really are balls of happiness, trust me! In Bocagrande, you’ll also probably have to pay to rent a beach chair, unless you bring your own, and you’ll for sure be exposed to whatever music is popular in Colombia at the time of your visit. Personally, I think the beaches in Bocagrande are worth a visit, but if you’re not up for that kind of beach scene, Bocagrande is full of small boutique stores where those of you itching to shop can browse and spend to your heart’s content.

Islas del Rosario

If you do want beach, but not the Bocagrande scene, Cartagena has another amazing option: las Islas del Rosario (the Rosary Islands). There are 27 islands in this beautiful archipelago; however, I am not sure how many of the 27 you can actually visit. To get to any of them, you’ll need to catch a boat from el muelle, close the Convention Center. All the boats leave from here, so it’s easy to find. The total trip from Cartagena to the islands takes about an hour, depending on which island you’re going to, and you’ll need to pay a small fee, as the islands are part of a national park. Even so, the islands are well worth both the fee and the boat trip. The Islas del Rosario are great for sunbathing as well as water activities like swimming and snorkelling, and unlike Bocagrande, Islas del Rosario do offer the stereotypical pearl white sand and crystalline turquoise waters. There are also lots of unique corals and sea life in the waters around the islands, so, if you’re a snorkeler, make sure you take advantage and spend some time observing the flora and fauna of the water.

While there is much more I could tell you about Cartagena and Islas del Rosario, I am hoping this short description of a few highlights will whet your appetite and get you on a plane bound for Cartagena soon.

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Paige Poole

Paige Poole

Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. 

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