Colombian Charm in Cartagena & the Rosario Islands

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Old Town Cartagena Colombia

Inside: All the best things to do in Cartagena and why the beautiful Rosario Islands are well worth a visit.

Today, my new husband, Dave, and I officially kick-off our 3-month Round-the-World honeymoon with a visit to Cartagena, Colombia and the Rosario Islands.

For those of you keeping track at home, this will be my 10th annual RTW trip and Dave’s first.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Haven’t we already been honeymooning for the past 2 weeks across Italy and Greece?

Read More: Italy’s Fantastic 5 – The Seaside Towns of Cinque Terre in 48 Hours

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle).  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

And yes, that’s true, we have. Allow me a moment to bring those who are just joining this adventure up to speed.

After getting married in Tuscany two weeks ago, we began Part #1 of our honeymoon journey in nearby in Cinque Terre and Venice before heading over to Santorini.

Read More: The Romance of Venice Italy

Read More: How to Plan the Perfect Santorini Honeymoon (on a budget!)

But Round-the-World tickets dictate that you start and end in the same city. So, in order to finish our trip at home in Atlanta, we needed a re-positioning flight after Honeymoon Part #1.

Read More: Round the World Trip How-To

And today we’re back in Atlanta to begin Part #2 of this ridiculously lengthy honeymoon and take the first flights on our actual round-the-world tickets.

So today we’re off to Bogota, Colombia!

Why Colombia, you might ask?

Well, I always prefer to start my RTW trips in South America and, to be frank, I’m running out of South American countries to visit…so Colombia it is!

Things to do in Cartagena Colombia
The sandy shores of Cartagena, Colombia

My research on Colombia revealed charming historic towns, beautiful beaches, and postcard-worthy offshore islands (like the Rosario Islands) surrounded by coral reefs.

My husband’s research, however, revealed State Department warnings. That’s the kind of trip planner he is.

Too many years in the Army and now in the corporate security field means he approaches trip planning from a tactical standpoint. While I often prefer the view from rose-colored glasses.

Yes, I know. We are a match made in heaven.

Undeterred by Dave’s internet searches on hostage and rescue incidents in Bogota, I am determined to see the beauty in Colombia and prove to him that it is a perfectly delightful honeymoon destination.

Of course, even I didn’t think we should spend the majority of our time in Bogota. Instead, we settled on flights to oceanfront Cartagena for our Colombian visit.

Things to do in Cartagena Colombia

So after an overnight layover in Bogota, we hop on a late morning flight and land in Cartagena just before noon.

A Suite stay at the Hilton Cartagena

We chose the Hilton Cartagena for our stay primarily to make use of some Hilton Honors points. But also because it was ridiculously cheap to upgrade to the Presidential Suite.

Hilton Cartagena Presidential Suite
The Presidential Suite at the Hilton Cartagena

I mean, we are on our honeymoon after all!

We discover that the Hilton Cartagena itself is a bit dated but the Presidential Suite turns out to be spectacular. Every room has a terrific view of the city and beaches.

Hilton Cartagena Colombia Suite View
Our view of Cartagena from the Hilton’s Presidential Suite

With the rest of the day still ahead of us, we settle into the room quickly and head back out to explore.

Things to do in Cartagena

Cartagena has plenty of things to see and do. You can explore the Old City, hit the beaches, get offshore to snorkel the coral reefs of the Rosario Islands, visit a fortress, take a volcanic mud bath at El Totumo, have sunset drinks at Cafe del Mar…the list goes on and on.

A food tour highlighting the local street food or through the lively Bazurto Market is another fun thing to do in Cartagena.

But since our time is short, we decide to focus on local history and culture on day one. And then spend the next two days visiting Cartagena’s best beaches and islands.

1. The Walled City of Old Town Cartagena

First up, the Old Town within the historic walled city of Cartagena.

Up until the late 16th century, the port town of Cartagena sat totally unprotected. After the attack by Francis Drake, construction began on the thick city walls – called Las Murallas – which surround the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego to this day.

Walled City Cartagena Colombia
Old Town Cartagena’s City Walls

Thanks to repeated storms and pirate attacks, the project took nearly two centuries to reach completion in 1796.

Today, Las Murallas stand remarkably well preserved as an astounding example of military engineering. A walk along the city walls of Cartagena is a great place to begin your tour of the Old Town, so that’s exactly what we did.

A stroll through Old Town Cartagena

A leisurely stroll along the walls gives us the perfect birds-eye view of the protected old city of Cartagena, an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Things to do in Cartagena Plaza Aduana
Plaza Aduana, Old Town Cartagena

Cobbled streets, expansive squares, ornate churches, and primary-colored buildings make up Cartagena’s charming Old Town.

Many of the colonial buildings have overhanging iron balconies that remind me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans. It is absolutely oozing with charm and a terrific glimpse into Cartagena’s history.

Old Town Cartagena Colombia
Old Town Cartagena

After a thorough stroll of the city walls, we return to ground level and wander the streets of the Old Town for a while. We pass quaint storefronts, colorful markets, and entertaining street art before stopping for lunch.

It’s a perfect afternoon and I think my husband is finally starting to relax and even enjoy Colombia a little bit.

Of course, the fact that we wrapped up our day in the sanctuary of the Presidential Suite didn’t hurt!

2. Cartagena’s Best Beach – Playa Blanca

Located on Isla Baru, Playa Blanca is the most popular beach around Cartagena, and with good reason.

It’s a popular destination with both locals and day-trippers and can get quite busy during the day as we discovered. The white sand beach and turquoise waters rival anything in the Caribbean and the laid-back vibe is perfect for a relaxing day at the beach.

Read More: Know Your Caribbean ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao

If we had more time, an overnight stay in one of the rustic-looking beachfront accommodations would be a must. Rumor has it once the day-trippers are gone, Playa Blanca is pure tranquility.

Tip: The affordable Posada Chikiluky Baru is considered the best of the bunch for an overnight stay.

3. The Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

For our last day in Cartagena, it’s time to head offshore and check out some of the islands Colombia is famous for.

Located just an hour speedboat ride from Cartagena, the Rosario Islands National Park of Colombia is an archipelago of 30 islands covering more than 4,600 square miles.

In 1988, it was designated a national park in order to protect the delicate ecosystem of the area. The national park area includes a coral reef filled with colorful fish and an abundance of sea flora and fauna.

Eco Hotel Isla del Sol Rosario Islands Colombia
Eco Hotel Isla del Sol – Rosario Islands, Colombia

Set amidst the coral reef are several islands offering both resort amenities and day-trip facilities.

When planning our trip to Colombia, we originally hoped to stay at one of the island resorts while in Cartagena. In fact, I had my eye on the gorgeous Coralina Island Resort on Isla Grande.

But most are all-inclusive and comparably expensive for the area. So with just 3 days in the city, it seemed impractical to drag luggage all the way out and back on a speedboat.

Instead, we settled for one of the many day trips to the Rosario Islands offered through the Hilton Cartagena.

A day trip to Isla del Sol in the Rosario Islands

When booking a trip to the Rosario Islands, several island options are available, each with different amenities.

We chose Isla del Sol. Mainly because it looked like it had the nicest beach.

We haven’t been particularly impressed with the beaches of Cartagena so far. So we’re looking forward to getting off the mainland for more of a Caribbean-like atmosphere.

Our group consists of about 30 people today and after departing Cartagena harbor at 9:00am we arrive at the dock on Isla del Sol just before 10:00am.

Just as the tour desk pictures promised, the island is Caribbean perfection with a white sandy beach and crystal clear waters. And (surprisingly) it is completely empty except for staff.

Isla del Sol Eco Resort

I assumed there would be at least a few guests staying overnight at the island’s lovely little Eco Hotel. But apparently, the vast majority of the hotel’s business comes from day-trippers.

The resort welcomes us with a quick briefing on the island’s facilities (including what time lunch will be served) and then we are free to relax and enjoy our day.

Rosario Islands Colombia Isla del Sol Resort
Arriving at the empty Isla del Sol Resort – all ours for the day!

Dave and I assume the position in two umbrella-shaded lounge chairs and proceed to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.

The island actually reminded me a little of some of my favorite remote Central American islands like Nicaragua’s Corn Islands and Panama’s San Blas Islands.

Read More: The Best Caribbean Islands You’ve Never Heard Of: Nicaragua’s Corn Islands

Read More: Kokomo, Kuanidup & the Kuna Yala: The San Blas Islands, Panama

It is a much-needed day of total rest and relaxation interrupted only by a delicious seafood lunch.

A ride on the Chiva party bus

By 5:00pm we are back in Cartagena harbor and headed back to the Hilton Cartagena.

Our mode of transportation? One of the local, vividly colorful, open-air Chiva party buses. It’s a festive way to travel and the bus’s Latin music fills the street as we drive through town.

Chiva bus cartagena colombia
On the Chiva party bus!

It’s the perfect end to a fantastic day.

Back to Bogota

The next day it’s time to catch our flight back to Bogota for one more overnight before flying on to Amsterdam tomorrow.

It was a brief stay in Colombia but we thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I might even be able to get Dave back there someday for further exploration…maybe.

Tonight we’re headed back to Europe for a week. We’re excited to road trip around the UK for a few days. But first, a stop in Amsterdam!

Read More: The Great UK Road Trip! Scotland, England & Wales in 5 Days