How to plan an epic Cartagena, Colombia beach vacation

November 11, 2022

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Baru Island Beach in Cartagena

Contemplating a Cartagena Colombia beach vacation with your kids? If so, you’re making a fantastic choice and we can’t wait to help you plan it. 

Cartagena isn’t necessarily the first destination that springs to mind when considering a family beach vacation to the Caribbean

But this vibrant city, with its child-friendly mentality is actually the perfect option if you’re yearning for culture with a side of beach. 

Not far from the colorful city center, Cartagena’s beach scene has all our favorite elements for a Caribbean getaway. 

Bathtub-warm, sapphire water fringed by soft sand beaches and nodding palm trees is what you’ll find on this coast of South America. Meanwhile, there’s an endless supply of water activities and fresh seafood to keep the whole family entertained and eating-well. 

Let’s dip our toes into Cartagena’s best beaches

Table of Contents

Caribbean Family Travel Resources

Before we dive in, let’s be sure you have our best travel resources at your fingertips.   

Did you know we have a whole collection of recommended family hotels in the Caribbean – including in Cartagena? I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s sort of our pride and joy. 

Wishing someone else would just handle the logistics for a change? We also offer bespoke Caribbean family travel planning services. Our specialty? Helping parents identify the best Caribbean island and hotel for a top-notch family trip. 

Now, pour yourself a glass of Aguardiente (Colombia’s national spirit) and start planning your Cartagena beach vacation…

Child on Cartagena Colombia beach

Planning a Cartagena Colombia beach trip with kids

Here’s the first thing to know about planning your beach-focused vacation in Cartagena: You can easily access beaches near Cartagena’s Old Town in Bocagrande. But these beaches pale in comparison to what you’ll find a little further outside the city on the nearby islands. 

To make the most of the area’s shores, we urge you to venture out to the outlying islands and peninsulas. 

We suggest a two-part beach vacation with your kids in Cartagena. First, spend several days with your kids in the city itself. Our complete guide to visiting Cartagena with kids has everything you need to know about where to stay, what to do, and what to expect from a trip to the charming walled city.  As we highlight in that post, this part of the country is extremely welcoming to kids and vacationing families. Visiting the colorful city should absolutely be on your Caribbean bucket list

Once you’ve had enough of the city, head out of town and hit the best Cartagena beaches for a few days. We’ll get into the specifics below, but here’s a quick overview of your options: 

Isla Baru is a peninsula about a 45 minute boat ride away from Cartagena which has nice, sandy beaches, and one of our top Caribbean hotels for families. This is our top recommendation with young kids.  

The Rosario Islands are gorgeous, part of a national park, and worthy of any daydream. But there aren’t many sandy beaches here. Instead you’ll find rocky shorelines and top notch snorkeling. Save these islands for a trip with tweens or teenagers who can swim comfortably in shallow ocean waters.

If you only have time for a short beach day with kids, Tierra Bomba island, Bocagrande, and Manzanilla del Mar are great, closer options to consider for nice beaches in Cartagena. 

Finally, some of our recommended Cartagena hotels (Casa San Agustin and Bastion Luxury Hotel) have relationships with private beach clubs. Staying at one of these special hotels will give you access to these private beaches in Cartagena for a day out of the city.

Still not sure which to pick? Don’t worry! We’ll walk through each one in detail below. But here’s the takeaway: There are tons of great options for a Cartagena, Colombia beach trip with kids! You really can’t go wrong.

And if you want more help, we’re just a click away.

Child on Hotel Las Islas Beach

Best Beaches in Cartagena for Families

The beaches of Cartagena, Colombia, which hug the southern Caribbean Sea, offer pristine conditions for swimming and snorkeling. Several white sandy shores are great for little ones to enjoy the water, to frolick on the sand, and to build sandcastles. These are the ones that get the thumbs up from us.

Isla Barú 

Isla Barú is a truly tropical paradise located 13 miles southwest of Cartagena’s Old Town. 

Technically a peninsula rather than an isle, it’s possible to connect overland by shuttle bus. But our recommended method of getting to Isla Baru is via speedboat from the La Bodeguita Pier in the port of Cartagena. You can visit the peninsula either as a day trip or as an overnighter. Particularly when exploring with children, we’d encourage the second option for a more relaxing experience.

Although Isla Barú does demand extra effort than beaches closer to town, you’ll reap the rewards the moment your feet touch the sand. With its crystalline waters, powdery sand, and lush mangroves – the beaches of Isla Barú tick all the boxes. 

We’ll cover the signature beach, Playa Blanca, separately below.  But first, we want to flag that, in our opinion, there’s no better place to maroon yourselves on Isla Barú than at the eco-luxe Hotel Las Islas

Unwind in a thatched bungalows with a private terraces – or perhaps a personal plunge pool. The beach at Las Islas is soft and calm, great for little swimmers. We stayed two days on our first voyage to Hotel Las Islas, and could easily have stayed a week.

Dishes at the Las Islas restaurants are prepared using organic ingredients grown on-site. Occupying a beachfront spot on the cusp of the Corales del Rosario National Park, the water at the property is shallow and calm for younger kids. Meanwhile, the staff at this family-friendly hotel will help you organize tours and cultural activities.

Isla Barú with a stay at this resort gets our vote for the best beach in Cartagena, Colombia with younger children. 

Mango Tree Travel Tip: 

Rather than take a boat directly to Hotel Las Islas, we booked a full-day private boat experience and ended our day at Las Islas. We highly recommend this splurge!  

We brought our luggage with us, spent the day in the Rosario Islands, and had fresh grilled whole fish for lunch on a deserted beach. We planned in advance to have our captain drop us off at Las Islas. It was truly the perfect vacation day.

Best beaches in Cartagena; Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca

The mesmerizing Playa Blanca is the star of Isla Barú. Given that Playa Blanca is closer to downtown Cartagena than some of the other options on this list, Playa Blanca is one of the best Cartagena beaches for a day trip. You could also consider stopping off at Playa Blanca before heading onward to our recommended Hotel Las Islas for a couple of nights. 

Sand the color of clotted cream and aquamarine water makes Playa Blanca one of the prettiest swim spots in Cartagena. In fact, this is about as close as you’ll find to the dreamy turquoise hues of Caribbean travel brochures. Note, however, that the beach drops off fast. You’ll need to keep a close watch over non-swimmers and younger children.

As one of the most popular beaches in Cartagena – well, everyone wants an eyeful of the whitest sand in the region! – Playa Blanca does fill up swiftly. We recommend getting there early in the day to secure a good spot.  If you get really turned off by a crowded beach, this may not be the best choice for you.

Playa Agua Tranquila is another mellow choice to lay your towel for a few hours. 

Because it’s marketed as a party destination, Cholón is the one beach we suggest skipping on your family excursion. 

View of Rosario Islands in Cartagena

Rosario Islands

The Rosario Islands, or the Islas de Rosario, are one of Colombia’s natural national parks. With coral reefs, mangroves, and cerulean waters, this archipelago will offer a true castaway Caribbean experience.  

Unlike Playa Baru, you won’t find many long stretches of white sand here. Instead, you’ll find smaller beaches, and rocky shorelines giving way to reef just below the surface.

There are countless scheduled boats and group day tours from La Bodeguita marina in Cartagena to Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands. These are primarily aimed at adult travelers, though, and perhaps older teens. With younger children, a private boat rental will make it more comfortable to explore beyond the main island and suss out offbeat snorkel spots.

Isla Grande is the natural starting point for exploring the remote Rosario Islands cluster. Playa Libre is the only public beach; elsewhere, you will need to purchase a meal in order to access the beaches – though day passes are included with many of the organized boat trips to the islands. – If you decide to drop anchor for a night, there are a handful of family-friendly resorts with private beaches. 

Paddleboard and kayak rentals are widely available in the islands, and the snorkeling potential is unrivaled. If your kids are old enough to snorkel, you can do so right off the beaches to see reef fish and sea crabs, or from the boat. 

Just next to Isla Grande is a small neighboring island, Isla del Pirata, which offers another great option. Take a guess at how it earned its name! Rest assured, what was once a thriving hub for pirates has since cleaned up its act. Although privately owned, boats are authorized to dock while you plunge into the crystal clear water and snorkel the reef. There’s no actual beach on the island, but the little island resort has great swimming just off the dock.

While we suggest Playa Barú and Playa Blanca for families with younger kids, the Rosario Islands offer some of Cartagena’s best beaches to take adventurous tweens and teens. The emphasis on water-based activities will offer these older kids hours of entertainment.

Mango Tree Travel Tip: 

When traveling with a group that includes young kids, a private boat tour is the best way to see the Rosario Islands.

With older kids who can handle a group tour, go for a full day catamaran excursion.

Sun Deck in Agua Baru Hotel

Isla Tierra Bomba

Isla Tierra Bomba is one of the closest beach destinations while staying in Cartagena. Despite that, Yet the island manages to fly under the radar. Located a mere 15-minute boat ride from the port, it’s perfectly feasible to scoot across to Isla Tierra Bomba for the day. If you want to stay the night,  there is a pleasant spread of boutique properties where your kids will be made to feel right at home.

As the arrival point for any visitor, Punta Arenas welcomes you with a string of low-key public beaches with easy access to amenities and seafood eateries. These beaches have a sheltered position on the island, resulting in tranquil waves lapping at the shoreline where younger kids can cool down. While basking beneath the palm trees, you can look back at the skyline of Cartagena. 

Although the beaches of Punta Arenas are lovely and laid-back, they can be fairly busy at weekends and later in the afternoon. 

Consider heading down to Bocachica in the south of Tierra Bomba to combine a session on the sand with a stroll around the forts. But bear in mind that a couple of the beach clubs – for example the well-known Blue Apple Beach – cater less to kids on this part of the island. 

Child in Bocagrande Beach in Cartagena

Playa de Bocagrande

As Cartagena’s most central beach, Bocagrande is worth adding to your radar if you need a quick burst of vitamin D while exploring the Old Town. This long stretch of sand fronts the glitzy Bocagrande district, the immediate neighbor of the charming Old Town.

Bocagrande has a little bit of a Miami beach feel to it, with high-rises and skyscrapers lining the beach. It’s noisier and more crowded than the more remote options described above. Furthermore, the water clarity isn’t a patch on what you’ll find out on the islands. It’ll do in a pinch, for sure, but when planning a Cartagena, Colombia, beach break with kids, we highly recommend going a little bit further out.

 

Manzanillo del Mar

Manzanillo del Mar is a fishing village located half an hour’s drive north of Cartagena.  The area remains vastly undeveloped, with a scattering of unpretentious hotels and wide sweeps of beaches. 

Despite its relative proximity to downtown, the beaches of Manzanillo del Mar are rarely overcrowded. Playa Manzanillo is the most central beach, with the provision to rent loungers and palapas or engage in water sports. As this shoreline is prone to winds – particularly as you head south – it’s not uncommon to catch locals honing their windsurfing and kitesurfing. 

Besides, there’s space aplenty for sandcastle-building, digging holes, and setting up your own arepa picnic. 

If you have access to a rental car or are hiring a driver, Manzanillo del Mar is a great option for a half-day at the beach. We will say, the beaches are not as stunning as those on the islands. But, they are more family-friendly than Bocagrande and handy for a quick fix of vitamin “sea” before your afternoon siesta back at your Cartagena hotel.

View of Bocagrande Beach in Cartagena

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is there a beach in Cartagena

Yes. Bocagrande beach is right in Cartagena, only 15 minutes from the historic walled city. Many families choose to stay at the resorts in Bocagrande, but we highly recommend staying in the city center.

Are Cartagena Beaches Safe For Kids? 

You might have concerns about the safety rating of beaches in Cartagena, Colombia. In general, these postcard-pretty beaches are suitable for smaller children. However, it’s important to pay attention to the conditions on the day and keep the kids on the sand if the water appears choppy or during strong winds. As with any beach, keep an eye on your possessions and leave valuables at your hotel.

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