Isla Grande is the largest of the Rosario Islands, a dreamy Caribbean archipelago off the coast of Colombia.
Despite its name, Isla Grande actually isn’t that big. You can walk from one side of the island to the other in a few hours. That’s a good thing, as there are no cars on the island — no background noise to disturb the sound of the waves.
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Isla Grande and how to experience them.
Need help planning your trip? Check out our tips for visiting Isla Grande — you’ll find where to stay, how to get there and more!
#1 Go snorkelling around Isla Grande
Isla Grande is part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
This means that the waters around the islands have been largely preserved, offering magnificent marine life — perfect for snorkelling. Under the surface, the ocean is alive with schools of fish, clusters of coral and sea life. Make sure to keep an eye out for turtles too.
The incredible underwater scenery makes snorkelling one of the best things to do on Isla Grande.
How to go snorkelling on Isla Grande
You have two choices on how you can go snorkelling on Isla Grande.
The first is to swim around the coastline from Playa Libre. There should be some interesting things to see from here, but the second option might be better (plus, you need to constantly be aware of the boats whizzing around you if you go snorkelling by yourself.)
Better option: by boat
The better option would be to book a snorkelling tour. For 3-4 hours, a boat will take you around Isla Grande to some of the best snorkelling spots.
One popular spot is the underwater plane wreck that’s pretty eerie, but fun to snorkel around. It’s close to Pablo Escobar’s old holiday home too, so you can tick that one off the list at the same time.
With a boat, you’ll be able to snorkel in deeper waters where the marine life is more diverse.
#2 Relax on the beach
Sitting back, enjoying the sun and relaxing on a beach is most people’s daily itinerary when visiting an island. You can certainly do that on Isla Grande.
Unbeknownst to most visitors, Isla Grande is actually an island mainly composed of coral. The stunning white-sand beaches aren’t actually natural, they’ve been artificially built. That doesn’t take away from their beauty, though.
A lot of Isla Grande’s beaches are actually private. Playa Libre (literally ‘free beach’ in Spanish) is the island’s most accessible and best public beach.
This intimate little beach has plenty of shade to escape the Colombian sun. The water is crystal clear and has the perfect temperature.
Try to visit this beach earlier in the morning to avoid the crowds that arrive on day trips to Isla Grande.
Other beaches to visit on Isla Grande
The majority of beaches on Isla Grande are private. Often owned by the beach club or restaurant behind the beach.
In most places, you simply have to buy a drink or a meal in order to have access to the private beach. This is the case for Bora Bora beach club and Sol y Papaya.
Top Tip: If you want a beach right on your doorstep, there are accommodations that come with a private beach — but you’ll need to book ahead!
#3 Admire the bioluminescent plankton at the Enchanted Lagoon
The Enchanted Lagoon has definitely earned its name. If you didn’t believe in magic before visiting the Enchanted Lagoon, you certainly will afterwards!
During the day it’s a pretty lagoon, but at night is when it truly comes alive (literally).
If you’ve never swum with bioluminescent plankton before, you have to do it whilst you’re on Isla Grande. As you swim through the lagoon, the water lights up around you! It’s like swimming with hundreds of fairy lights.
When is the best time to see the plankton?
Check the moon phase before going on the tour. The best time to see the bioluminescent plankton is when the moon is at its smallest — for example, during a new moon.
During a full moon, the moon will be giving off too much light and sometimes you can’t see the plankton.
Your accommodation should be able to organise a bioluminescent tour for you.
#4 Enjoy SUP or kayaking around Isla Grande
A portion of Isla Grande’s coast isn’t accessible via land. The mangroves are too dense for paths to be created.
A great way to discover the island is to hire a kayak or SUP (stand-up paddle board). This way you can explore the coast and find hidden coves that no one else can get to!
You can get lost amongst the mangrove tunnels and visit some of the island’s lagoons connected to the mangroves.
Grab a drink at Bar La Piscina
Another hidden gem that you can visit on a kayak or SUP is Bar La Piscina. It’s a bar located on a tiny island in the middle of the sea.
Not many people can say that they’ve drunk a cocktail in such a unique place!
Renting a kayak or SUP is a fun thing to do in Isla Grande and should cost around 20,000 COP ($4.25). A lot of hotels and hostels have their own equipment for rent.
#5 Wander around Orika Town
Orika Town is the only town on Isla Grande. The town’s residents are mainly native artisans and Caribbean fishermen who have lived on the island for generations.
Whilst Orika Town isn’t very big, it can be a nice place to wander around, soak up the atmosphere and interact with some locals.
If you’re looking for cheap, local food then Orika Town has a few spots. The places are very simple and serve typical Colombian food.
There are a few small shops and stalls where you can buy some fresh fruit and vegetables too, but that’s about it!
Some days, when the sun sets, the locals and reggaeton music come out! If you’re lucky, a little island disco could be on the cards.
#6 Party at Paraiso Secreto
Paraiso Secreto is a luxury eco-hostel with its own private beach. It’s popular amongst backpackers and a great place to go if you’re looking to party.
They frequently invite awesome DJs to play on the beach whilst guests can relax or dance around the bonfire.
We recommend heading there around sunset as it’s in an ideal spot to watch the sun disappear for the day.
Our favourite places to stay in Isla Grande
Day trips from Cartagena to Isla Grande are a popular choice for tourists, but if you want to experience the island at its best, we recommend staying on Isla Grande for at least two days,
If you decide to do so, it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. It’s an island after all, which means that accommodation options are limited.
Accommodation prices tend to be higher in Isla Grande than on the mainland. Expect a bit less luxury compared to what you will get in other destinations in Colombia.
But hey, who needs the fanciest hotel on the island? You’ll want to be enjoying the white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters most of the time anyway!
Now let’s hope one of these gems is still available:
Hotel Coralina Island —Treat Yourself
If you’re looking to go all out and treat yourself, then Hotel Coralina is the place to do that.
Some of the bungalows are actually set on the water. Guests get to enjoy three delicious and free meals a day from the onsite gourmet restaurant. Eat, swim, repeat!
The rooms are large and luxurious, but you’ll probably want to be spending your time on one of the docks overlooking the sea. This place is somewhere that you’ll never forget!
There aren’t many budget options on Isla Grande. Casa Lola is one of the best ones. The hotel boasts a tropical vibe, with bursts of colour throughout the place and plenty of plants.
Here you’ll be located in the centre of the island, meaning you’ll be no more than a 15-minute walk from all of the beaches on the island! It’s a wonderful place to just relax and let the staff help you with all of your needs.
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in Isla Grande, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. Not sure how to plan your trip? Our guide is here to help! You’ll find out how long to stay in Isla Grande, where to eat, how to get around and more. Happy planning!
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.