Just a short drive or speedboat ride from Cartagena, Isla Barú (Barú Island) is one of the best beach destinations in Colombia. Whether you have just a few hours to spend here, or a whole week, you’ll fall in love with the white sand beaches, turquoise water, and laidback atmosphere of this paradise island.
In our ultimate travel guide to Isla Barú, Colombia, we share everything you need to help plan your trip to this unforgettable destination. We share how to get to Isla Barú, where to stay the night, and why, though easy and affordable, a day trip from Cartagena just won’t cut it!
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Just a few miles west of Cartagena sits the stunning Isla Barú. This island is one of the best day trips from Cartagena, with stunning mangrove forests, incredible beaches, and plenty of things to keep you busy. It’s home to everything from backpacker hostels to luxury hotels and should be a mandatory stop on every traveler’s itinerary.
Isla Barú is probably best known as being home to Playa Blanca, which many consider to be among Colombia’s best beaches – it’s a stunner, though busy. However, even if you aren’t looking to hit this beach, don’t count out a visit to the Island. Consider staying at one of the lovely private hotels around the island, home to their own beachfront which provides visitors with plenty of privacy.
Isla Barú and the Rosario Islands
Isla Barú is located right next to the Rosario Islands, a group of 27 islands in the Caribbean Sea – mostly uninhabited – to the southwest of Cartagena. These are islands dotted with white sand beaches and mangrove forests, and are some of the best budget destinations in the Caribbean.
Isla Barú is technically not one of the Rosario Islands – it actually wasn’t an island at all, until the Spanish cut a canal along the coast, severing it from the mainland, during the colonial years. However, Isla Barú is often lumped in with the rest of the Rosario Islands and spoken of as if it was one.
Isla Barú is often included as part of day trips from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands, and a stop at the famous Playa Blanca on Isla Barú is often considered one of the best things to do in Cartagena.
Is Isla Barú Worth Visiting?
Isla Barú is definitely worth visiting! This island is not only home to stunning white sand beaches like Playa Blanca and countless private beaches rimming the island, but it is a great base for countless activities like snorkeling, diving, watersports, excursions, and more.
If you can fit it into your itinerary, try to spend at least a night in Isla Barú. If you’re headed here on a day trip, you probably won’t see much more than Playa Blanca, and it will be at the time of day when it’s the busiest. Budget at least one overnight – more if possible!
Unless you love the backpacker hostels on Playa Blanca, try to find accommodation on a private beach (Isla Luna is a great budget option, while Hotel Playa Manglares and Hotel Las Islas are the BEST if you have a bigger budget). You’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of a private beach, and the stunning ocean views!
Getting to Isla Barú
There are several different ways to get to Isla Barú, meaning no matter your budget you’ll have a choice of different options. These are the most common ways to get to Isla Barú.
1. Take a Bus or Taxi
Though separate from the mainland, Isla Barú is connected to the mainland by a causeway, meaning that you can easily drive here. Because of the popularity of Isla Barú with travelers, you’ll find a few shuttle bus options from hostels and tour companies in Cartagena throughout the day. However, the best and most frequent is from Mamallama Hostel in Cartagena. The service costs 50,000 pesos round trip, and shuttles leave at 8:30 AM, 12:00 PM, and 5:00 PM daily.
You can also take a public bus, though the bus won’t take you the whole way and you’ll need to take a taxi from the end of the bus line. I generally recommend spending a bit more on the shuttle bus instead!
2. Take a Speedboat
It’s an island, so of course you can take a boat to get here! Both private and shared boats to Isla Barú are available in the mornings from the dock in Cartagena, known as Muelle La Bodeguita. From the dock, you can find someone to take you privately, or you can get on a public boat, though you’ll need to wait until it fills before it leaves.
At the dock, you’ll also find tour operators here that try to get you on their excursion including a stop at Isla Barú. Again, tours sold this way are generally not good, so I’d avoid them – book an excursion in advance if you’d like to avoid the hassle of dealing with the dock and the salesmen there.
3. Take a Tour
Taking a day trip to Isla Barú is one of the most common ways to arrive here. Almost all tours will take you to Playa Blanca, but check your itinerary before booking. You can find day tours that are booked through hostels and tour companies in Cartagena, though I generally recommend booking online ahead of time. This helps you avoid sketchy tours that try to fit people into speedboats like sardines.
Here are some of the tour options that we recommend for getting to Isla Barú:
You can even take a tour to Isla Barú if you plan on staying the night here. You just won’t get on the boat as it makes it return to Cartagena. If this is the most convenient and economic plan for your itinerary, this is a fantastic option that far too few travelers consider.
Isla Barú Map
We created this Isla Barú map listing all the spots we mention throughout this article, including popular beaches, hotels, and more. Click around as you read through this article, and even download the map for your trip!
Things to Do in Isla Barú
Relax on Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is the typical beach you’ll see on every Caribbean postcard. A long stretch of white sand spilling into crystal clear water awaits beachgoers at this stunning paradise. It’s well worth a visit!
In addition to its stunning beauty, Playa Blanca also has plenty of beach amenities that make it easy to spend an entire day here. You’ll find tons of small restaurants and beach bars along the sand, wandering vendors selling food and drinks, and small hostels and hotels if you decide to stay the night.
Plus, you find spots that rent gear for snorkeling and other watersports – including jetskis! – if you’re not content with just relaxing all day in paradise.
A popular destination with daytrippers and as a part of small group excursions to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena, it’s important to be aware that Playa Blanca can get quite crowded during the late morning and early or mid-afternoon. If you’re looking for more privacy, you’ll either need to walk further down the beach, or plan to spend the night on Isla Barú and enjoy the beach in the mid to late afternoon once the day tripper head back to Cartagena.
Visit the Rosario Islands
While there is plenty to see and do on Isla Barú, the island is also a jumping-off point to further explore the Rosario Islands just a few kilometers west. You’ll find plenty of boat tours and excursions to the Rosario Islands that depart from Isla Barú, with a variety of destinations.
Some tours focus on island-hopping, some focus on snorkeling and diving, and others include a stop in the evening to swim among bioluminescent plankton, an unforgettable activity!
You’ll also find plenty of day trips from Cartagena that combine a visit to both Isla Barú and the Rosario Islands – this Isla Barú and Rosario Islands day trip is the best (affordable!) tour with an excellent company!
Have Fun Snorkeling and Diving
You can’t go wrong with exploring the beauty underwater surrounding Isla Barú. The warm, clear water is a snorkeler’s dream, so pretty much anywhere you go snorkeling, you’ll see impressive corals and beautiful tropical fish. From Playa Blanca, rental shops for snorkeling gear can point you to the best spots along the beach to find tropical fish and corals.
You’ll have even better luck snorkeling on a boat ride around Isla Barú and the Rosario Islands, where captains will motor around to some of the best spots to be found and drop anchor so guests can swim and snorkel for a while before moving on to the next destination.
Get a Day Pass at a Beach Club or Hotel
If you’re looking for more than just a spot on the sand for your towel, plan on getting a day pass to a hotel on Isla Barú or one of the beach clubs along popular beaches like Playa Blanca. This is a great way to enjoy the beach for an entire day carefree and comfortably.
Alternatively, you can also organize private transportation by the beach club of your choosing as a way to get to Isla Barú in the first place. Nena Beach Club on Playa Blanca offers packages that include transportation from Cartagena, food and drinks throughout the day, use of a beach bed and other facilities, all for less than $45 USD (185,000 pesos).
Alternatively, access for the day – without transportation to and from Cartagena – is about $30 USD (130,000 pesos), and includes lunch, drinks, and access to the facilities.
Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton
The waters around Isla Barú and the Rosario Islands are well known for being one of the few places in the world to experience bioluminescence. Bioluminescent Plankton Excursions to spots where you’re able to swim among the plankton in the water are a popular evening activity you do NOT want to miss. Just be aware that you’ll need to spend the night in Barú to attend one of these excursions.
Visit the National Aviary
Located on Isla Barú off the main road is Colombia’s National Aviary (Aviario Nacional de Colombia). While this is a must for birdwatchers and animal lovers, even those who wouldn’t normally visit this type of attraction should consider it. The array of birds is impressive, and the tours are excellent and highly informative.
You will also find day tours of Isla Barú from Cartagena that include a stop at the National Aviary. The tours are quite well done and highly recommended!
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Where to Stay on Isla Barú
You’ll have no problem finding a place to stay on Isla Barú, particular if you’re interested in staying near Playa Blanca on a budget. There are plenty of small hostels and rooms for rent to choose from. Further from Playa Blanca, you’ll also find a growing number of lovely hotels for travelers with a bit more to spend, some of the particularly spectacular.
No matter what you’re looking for in where to stay on Isla Barú, here are the best options on the island.
The Wizard Hostel is by far the best choice for budget backpackers on Playa Blanca. Rooms are very simple, but colorful and directly on the beach. The hostel’s beach bar and restaurant are excellent, and there are plenty of beach chairs and palapas to enjoy this incredible location and pass the time away.
Isla Luna Beach Baru ($ – $$)
If you’re looking for something a bit nicer than The Wizard, but are still traveling on a budget, Isla Luna Beach Baru is the place to be. The beach here is a private one, so it’s not the place if you’re looking for the hustle and bustle of Playa Blanca, but its a great place to relax with some peace and quiet.
Isla Luna’s bungalows are just steps from the beach, and though simple they’re very nice. You’ll find affordable dorm beds or private rooms here, and each bungalow has its own terrace, a nice touch at this price point!
Hotel Playa Manglares is a lovely beach escape you won’t soon forget. In front of the hotel, white sand beaches with hammocks everywhere, and behind a lush jungle. You’ll feel a world away here, though the rooms are plush and comfortable, with plenty of amenities. Food is delicious, and the prices are quite fair!
Hotel Las Islas ($$$)
If you’re looking for a luxury getaway in the islands, Hotel Las Islas is a clear choice. Located on Isla Barú, the hotel is easily accessible but feels like a world away with its private beach, dreamy waterfront, and surrounding mangroves. Guests can choose from rooms with jacuzzis or private pools amongst the stunning and lush jungle. Activity options are unending, though this is the ideal spot to kick back and relax.
Where to Eat in Isla Barú
You’ll have no trouble finding plenty of places to eat on Isla Barú. Particularly in the area of Playa Blanca, there are seemingly unending options for beach bars, restaurants selling local grub, and beach clubs with kitchens as well.