These oases of calm are yet to be affected by mass tourism and offer some unbeatable snorkelling and diving opportunities. The most beautiful parts are the Columbian beaches. Find out where to go on your Costa Cruise to Colombia’s most beautiful islands below.
Providencia is around ninety kilometres north of the better known island of San Andrés and is a real Caribbean gem. It’s only easily accessible via San Andrés and as such, it’s flown somewhat under the radar. You won’t find luxury resorts or hotels here, just emerald green lagoons, luxuriant greenery and long stretches of coral reef.
The island’s capital of Santa Isabel is fairly modern. Here, you can stroll through the old town towards the bay, where you’ll find numerous bars and restaurants. The island’s best beaches are arguably Manzanillo Bay and Bottom House. We also recommend visiting the wonderful little island of Crab Cay, which is surrounded by a magnificent barrier reef home to colourful fish, manta rays and barracudas. Also worth a visit is South West Bay, where you can bathe in peaceful, clear waters while admiring the colourful fauna.
Reggae music, waves crashing onto beaches lined with palm trees, crystal clear waters and soft, white sand. Welcome to San Andrés, a 27-km island located just off the coast of Nicaragua near Providencia and Santa Catalina. Here, you can really immerse yourself in the local Creole, English and Latin American culture. In reality, San Andrés’ diversity is owed to its troubled past. It’s currently a disputed territory between Nicaragua and Colombia, and has previously been governed by Spain, the Netherlands and Great Britain. San Andrès is a lively place home to some alluring scenery, which is owed in part to its lively salsa, reggaeton, vallenato and calypso music scenes.
San Andrés also offers some amazing snorkelling and diving opportunities thanks to its local reef, which is home to schools of colourful fish, coral and manta rays. Nature lovers can also explore the island’s natural parks and gardens. Locals say that the sea is so splendid here, it’s often seven different colours at once! Its beaches are also wonderful, with sands that are a lovely shade of pink thanks to the local presence of red coral.
Locals are known for their welcoming, upbeat attitude and fun parties, an energy that is reflected in the island’s brightly coloured homes. San Andrés also hosts several music, culture and dance festivals. What’s more, the island is shrouded in intrigue. In fact, legend has it that the privateer Henry Morgan once hid his treasure in a cave on this very island.
This island is a real Colombian gem and is home to a harmonious community that feels almost like it’s been suspended in time, despite an increase in tourists in recent years (especially in the area home to hotels and resorts). Múcura is located in the Archipelago of San Bernado and its main attraction is definitely its white, sandy beaches, which emerge from luscious clusters of green palm trees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a trip to Múcura is a great opportunity to relax, read a book, recharge and indulge in the wonder of a picture-perfect holiday.
The largest village on the island is El Pueblo. Here, you can sleep in picturesque houses built on stilts before waking up to admire the unparalleled views, amazing natural light and even a giant shell or two. The island also offers tourists the opportunity to bathe in a lagoon filled with plankton! Other essential activities include snorkelling and diving, especially in Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, which is the perfect place to make friends with colourful fish and friendly sea turtles.
It takes just under an hour to get to this pretty island from Cartagena by boat. In fact, Isla Grande is a fairly small atoll famous primarily for its heavenly beaches. The sea here is crystal clear and the island is the largest in the Archipelago of Rosario, which comprises about twenty islets. It is just a little over two kilometres long, and is home to a local village of colourful brick houses and huts. The locals are incredibly friendly and helpful, and the restaurants serve delicious meat and fish dishes.
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Located 25 kilometres from the Colombian Cauca Department, this island was home to a maximum security prison until 1984. Escaping was practically impossible. Today, it is a protected national park with a very intriguing past indeed. A few years after its discovery in 1542 by the Spanish explorer, Diego Almagro, a hundred Spanish soldiers descended on the island to rest after a battle with the Incas. The majority of the soldiers were subsequently killed by snakes living on the island! In fact, the name Gorgona is a reference to a mythological creature with snakes for hair. In 1960, the island was transformed into a maximum security prison.
The prison was open for 24 years, but not without its fair share of violence and drama, including an escaped prisoner! The cells were very small and prisoners were monitored by guards. When the prison eventually closed, the Colombian government decided to convert it into a natural park in order to fight mass deforestation. Prison guard houses were later converted into residences for experts researching biodiversity in the local area.
The protected zone spans 61,000 hectares and is home to over 380 species of fish and over 700 different types of plant, as well as a sizeable local sea bird population. The island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. Gorgona is also an ideal destination for nature lovers, and you never know, you might even spot a whale, dolphin or sea turtle if you’re lucky! The island is famous for two things in particular: its extensive rain forest and barrier reef, which promises numerous encounters with intriguing marine fauna.
Santa Cruz del Islote
Near Cartagena de Indias, about ten minutes from the Rosario Islands in the Colombian Caribbean Sea, is Barú Island. The star of the show here is definitely Playa Blanca – a wonderful beach boasting soft, white sand and tranquil, clear sea waters. Add in a long line of palm trees and some lush vegetation and you’ll start to get a good picture of this amazing area. This is the place to come if you’re hoping to relax and clear your head while snoozing in a hammock or sipping on a cocktail from one of the many nearby stalls.
Playa Blanca is a fairly large beach, making it perfect for a stroll along the shore or a spot of snorkelling near the rocks. One end of the beach is home to a quieter area and restaurants serving local fish dishes.
Margarita Island (Colombia)
The largest river island in the department of Bolivar, Columbia, Margarita is around 250 kilometres from Cartagena. This particular island is famous for its resident fish and amphibian population and its contrasting scenery. Not to be confused with the large, famous Venezuelan island, Margarita Island is a great place for a relaxing afternoon immersed in nature. It is located right where the Cauca River meets the Magdalena, and is sometimes also called Mompox.
Perhaps the most popular hub on the island is Santa Cruz de Mompox, a beautiful colonial village with Spanish and local influences. Its buildings, attractions, churches and wrought-iron decor convinced UNESCO to make it a World Heritage Site. It’s also famous for another reason: Simon Bolivar recruited over 400 soldiers from this very island to lead him to victory in Caracas.
This particular island is located in the Amazonas Department, twenty kilometres from the city of Leticia, and is mainly populated by squirrel monkeys. The island of Arara – also known as Los Micos or Monkey Island – is a river island famed for its free-roaming Amazonian primate population. In fact, the local community of monkeys loves to jump between the treetops and is very used to visitors. The monkeys here love to pose and climb on your shoulders or head, almost waiting for the mandatory photograph before receiving a delicious banana as a well-deserved reward!
Monkey Island is also linked to the Greek-born, American adventurer Mike Tsalikis. The Colombian Amazon boasts some impressive biodiversity and really embraces the concept of eco-friendly tourism. There are no hotels on the island, just a simple wooden structure selling local goods to tourists.
Travel to Colombia with Costa Cruises
Colombia’s islands are home to some truly magical scenery. Whether you choose to visit a better known spot, such as San Andrés, or one of the smaller atolls, you’ll have to leave your busy lifestyle behind and get used to a slower pace of life. A trip to Colombia’s islands is guaranteed to involve a few surprises, unbeatable views and some great experiences shared with the welcoming local residents. Of course, Colombia isn’t only known for its beaches, you’ll find amazing attractions throughout the whole country! What’s more Colombia’s amazing national cuisine of soups, vegetables and fish dishes is incredibly rich in imagination and creativity, including its famed lime-marinated sarago fish dish.
What are you waiting for? Come and explore Colombia’s hidden paradises, striking monuments and picturesque towns.