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Best Beaches in Cartagena: Isla Grande Colombia Guide

Have you considered adding Isla Grande Cartagena to your Colombia itinerary? While Cartagena is high on most travelers’ Colombia itineraries, Isla Grande often flies under the radar. However, visiting this charming island near Cartagena is a must to experience the best beach in Cartagena.

This guide has everything to know about visiting Isla Grande Colombia for the best time possible.

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?

The Insurance companies I recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing

Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single-trip cover, annual multi-trip cover, and long-term travel cover. Safety Wing is great value, with monthly coverage starting at $45.08. It’s super easy to use, and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.

Read my full travel insurance post here, where I go into detail about all companies. 

Where is Isla Grande Colombia, and Why Visit?

Isla Grande is an island off Colombia, near Cartagena. While traveling there can be challenging, it’s worth the effort. If you follow my advice and book travel in advance, getting to Isla Grande will be much easier.

Now that you know where Isla Grande is, you might be wondering why you should go. Simply put, you should visit to see the best beaches near Cartagena! I love Colombia, but the beaches suck—even the ones in Park Tyona, which you can’t swim in because the sea is too crazy. 

Many people go to Playa Blanca in Isla Baru, as it is a beautiful and accessible day trip. Speaking from personal experience, my time there was a nightmare! I stayed overnight with a friend in an eco-hotel—we sat in the sun on our suitcases, waiting for the boat to pick us up the next day. It may be beautiful, but the harassment from beach sellers was next level. 

The only choice for enjoying beautiful white sand beaches is Isla Grande. Isla Grande has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Colombia, but it’s also an excellent spot to lounge on the beach. This protected natural area has incredible biodiversity—if lucky, you might see whales and dolphins.

Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours, and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress. 
Best Isla Grande ToursClick here to check out the top Israel tours
Best Isla Grande Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in Isla Grande
Best Isla Grande Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Isla Grande

Getting to Isla Grande Colombia

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

To get to Isla Grande, Colombia, first travel to Cartagena, the nearest major city. From there, you can take a boat or a ferry to this island off Cartagena.

Most people fly into Cartagena Airport and go to the port by taxi. You can take a public bus but must first buy and add money to a travel card, so it’s easier to take a cab. From the airport, a taxi to the port will cost around $10-15 USD and take 10-15 minutes—it’s faster and cheaper from the city center.

You have a few options from Muelle de la Bodeguita (the main port). Negotiating with a local boat driver to take you is the best option for groups or those who don’t mind paying for a private ride. I recommend the ferry to anyone else.

The ferry to Isla Grande Cartagena takes around one hour and costs between $15-20 USD. You can book it ahead of time on 123Go.

If these options sound like too much hassle, you can also book a guided tour to Isla Grande with transportation and activities. Some tours also include lodging in Isla Grande hotels.

Things to Do in Isla Grande Colombia

The most popular activity on Isla Grande is lounging by the water on some of the best beaches near Cartagena. However, those wanting more action on their vacation won’t be disappointed. Here are a few of the best things to do in Isla Grande.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

Scuba diving is my top recommendation because it’s epic compared to Taganga, the other famous spot for scuba diving in Colombia.

The crystal-clear waters surrounding this island off Colombia are teeming with marine life, so scuba diving here doesn’t disappoint. The most popular dive sites are the San Sebastian, Cholón, and Barú wrecks, all in Rosario Islands National Park. Each site offers a variety of depths and underwater environments for divers of all experience levels.

Expect to see colorful fish, sea turtles, rays, dolphins, and whales. If you’re not a certified scuba diver, Isla Grande is an excellent place to learn—some dive centers offer an Open Water Certification.

Although the tropical climate keeps it warm all year, the best time to scuba dive in Isla Grande is December to May, when the waters are calm and visibility is high. 

Quick Tip: View my full Scuba Dive Equipment List here. And check out my Scuba Diving Essentials shopping list here.

Relaxing on the Best Beach in Cartagena

I couldn’t skip this one because, let’s face it, relaxing on the white sandy beaches of Isla Grande is one of the main reasons people visit this beautiful island off Cartagena.

There are several beaches, but Playa Libre is the most popular. Playa Libre is famous for its soft white sand and calm waters. Playa Blanca is also a great option, with turquoise waters and stunning views of the surrounding islands.

Many beaches in Isla Grande have hammocks available for rent—pack your book and prepare to enjoy the island life!

Hiking to the Island’s Highest Point

Are you bored of the beach? Hiking to the highest point of Isla Grande is a great way to exercise while enjoying the island’s beautiful scenery. This point is called “Pico de Loro,” which means “Parrot’s Peak” in Spanish

Starting early before the heat sets in is essential if you decide to do this hike. The trail can be steep and challenging, so give yourself enough time to complete it before sunset. It’s well-marked, but I suggest bringing a map or hiring a guide if you aren’t an experienced hiker.

Pack decent hiking sandals (like these)—the trail can be rocky and uneven, so it’s important to wear sturdy shoes with good traction. My feet got too hot in boots, but my hiking sandals were a godsend.

Of course, remember to bring plenty of water and snacks for fuel during the hike.

Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

Kayaking and paddle boarding are excellent ways to explore the beautiful waters surrounding Isla Grande Colombia

You can rent equipment from several places on the island, including Playa Libre and Playa Blanca. Many Isla Grande hotels offer rentals or will lend you complimentary paddle boards and kayaks. Hire a guide or book a tour to see the best spots.

Bring plenty of water and snacks, and cover up from the sun with sunglasses, a hat, and a rashguard.

Visiting the Natural Pools of La Piscinita

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

La Piscinita is a popular natural pool on the western side of Isla Grande. It’s excellent for snorkeling and offers beautiful scenery. 

If you decide to come here, arrive early to beat the crowds and avoid visiting on weekends or holidays. You can rent snorkeling gear there if you don’t already have it.

Since La Piscinta is a natural pool, you can’t wear sunscreen unless it’s reef-safe—it’s always better to cover up with a UV rashguard.

Taking a Boat Tour

A boat tour of Isla Grande and its surroundings is a great way to explore this island near Cartagena.

Several local companies on the island offer boat tours—research beforehand to find the best one for you, depending on what you want to see. Many stop at La Piscinita, Playa Blanca, and other nearby islands.

Enjoying the Fresh Local Cuisine

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

One of the highlights of visiting Isla Grande Colombia is the delicious local cuisine. Some regional specialties I suggest trying are fried fish, coconut rice, and, of course, fresh ceviche. 

Island food prices can vary, so check the menu before ordering. Some restaurants have higher prices for tourists, so it’s good to ask around for recommendations. Many restaurants on the island only accept cash, so keep money on hand. 

What to Eat

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia

Isla Grande Cartagena offers a unique culinary experience with tasty local dishes influenced by Caribbean flavors. Colombia is one of the worst places for food (in my opinion) behind Cuba, but the coastal regions are an exception. I could happily spend the rest of my life on Isla Grande, feasting on fried plantains, coconut rice, and fresh fish!


As a coastal destination, Isla Grande is known for its fresh seafood. Some popular seafood-based dishes include fried and grilled fish and seafood stews. Ceviche, a dish with raw fish marinated in citrus juices, is also popular.

Coconut Rice

A staple in Caribbean cuisine, this meal consists of rice cooked in coconut milk. It’s often served with beans, fried plantains, and fresh seafood.


Arepas are a flatbread made with corn flour and often stuffed with cheese or meat. They are a popular snack and breakfast food on the island and throughout Colombia. The arepas in the Caribbean are by far my favorite!


Ah, man I do love patacones! Patacones are twice-fried plantains served as a side dish or snack. Almost every dish you order in Isla Grande includes one.

Quick Tip: View my full Colombia packing guide here including a downloadable checklist. And check out my Colombia Essentials shopping list here.

Where to Stay

Accommodations on Isla Grande vary greatly from budget “eco-hotels” and hostels to luxury resorts. Where you stay on Isla Grande depends on how much you want to spend. When I went as a backpacker, I wanted somewhere cheap and safe to sleep. These days, I’m more about comfort, so I’d look for something completely different.

Here are the best areas of Isla Grande to consider staying during your trip:

Playa Libre: Playa Libre is located on the island’s western side and is famous for backpackers and budget travelers. It has several eco-friendly accommodations and hostels.

: Playa Blanca is on the island’s south side and is famous for its stunning white sand beaches. This area is more secluded and peaceful, with some upscale Isla Grande hotels and eco-lodges.

: La Boquilla is a quiet northern area of Isla Grande with a few small hotels and guesthouses. Its calm waters make it ideal for snorkeling and paddle boarding.

: Casa en el Agua is a unique accommodation option on a small island near Isla Grande. This floating hostel offers an unforgettable experience. You may recognize it from viral videos on social media!

Once you have decided where to stay, you must pick your lodging style:

Hostels: Several hostels on the island offer affordable accommodations for backpackers and budget travelers. Popular options include Hostal Marlin, La Cocotera, and La Casa de Felipe.

Eco-lodges: For a more environmentally friendly option, consider staying in one of Isla Grande’s eco-lodges. Check out Eco-Hotel Casa de la Cocotera and Eco-Hotel Las Palmeras. Remember, some of these eco-hotels have super basic facilities, so read the online reviews and ratings before booking.

Hotels: A few Isla Grande hotels offer comfortable accommodations and amenities, like Hotel San Pedro de Majagua and Hotel Cocoliso Resort.

Glamping: Glamping is becoming increasingly popular on Isla Grande! There are several options to consider, such as Glamping Cocotero and Glamping Isla Roots.

Private Rentals: Those wanting a private and secluded experience can stay in one of the private rentals available on the island through VRBO. Here are a few of my favorite options:

La Reina Vacation Home

Barracuda Island Cabin

Casa Frente

Regardless of your accommodation preferences, book your stay well in advance to ensure availability, especially during peak season. Isla Grande is popular with domestic and international travelers from December to January and over Easter. The island will be extremely busy with Colombians traveling for the holidays during this time.

Isla Grande Travel Guide Planning

🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Isla Grande?

Yes! I have created a whole packing guide to Colombia which you can read here and you can also check out my packing list for Colombia on Amazon here.

🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in Isla Grande?

I strongly recommend using GottoGo. You can book almost all transport in the major tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.

🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in Isla Grande?

I recommend either Viator or GetYour Guide. They have a lot of options!

👩‍⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?

I recommend using Heymondo for a great value policy. The app also offers you 24/7 Dr Chat. For Digital Nomads check out SafetyWing digital nomad insurance.

I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here

✈️ Any flight recommendations?

WayAWay offers you cheap flights with cashback. You can use this code CLAIRE22 to get 10% off. Otherwise Skyscanner or Expedia are my go-to flight searching platforms.

📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?

I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.

With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.

🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?

The 3 best platforms that I normally use are, and Expedia They offer great deals and multiple options. I always check all three to be sure of the best deals.

🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?

I do have a complete list of the best packing and luggage products that I recommend, you can check the list here. I’m currently traveling with this suitcase and this backpack. 

Isla Grande Colombia: Final Thoughts

Isla Grande is a beautiful and unique destination with many activities, from hiking to kayaking to relaxing on white sandy beaches. Isla Grande is worth visiting for its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Colombia and the best beaches near Cartagena will love exploring this island getaway.

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Isla Grande Colombia featuring the best beaches with scenic views.