Meet the most iconic marine life paradise in Colombia, the El Rosario, and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park. On the Caribbean coast of Colombia close to the coastal areas of the provinces of Bolívar and Sucre, and part of the jurisdiction of Cartagena, you will find the archipelago of El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
This archipelago is formed by 40 small islands, and it was declared a National Natural Park to protect the population of coral reefs and mangroves that are found in this area.
The crystal-clear waters and white beaches welcome those who visit the park to experience a large variety of flora and fauna. At the Rosario and San Bernardo islands, water activities such as canoeing, snorkeling, and diving are all must-do activities.
Discovering El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
With an area of 1,200 square kilometers, the park has an underwater set of ecosystems that give life to the largest coral platform in the Colombian Caribbean. Thus, the park is host to the largest coral reef formations in Colombia. The three ecosystems you can find in the park are:
These are the essential ecosystem that provides food and shelter for approximately 25% of the marine fauna present in the area.
Coral reefs, as in the rest of the world, are very vulnerable and need crystal waters, light, and stable substrates that do not affect their composition. The ideal temperature should be between 25º C (77º F) and 31º C (86ºF).
At San Bernardo, they take an area of 191.68 square kilometers, approximately 72% of the total amount of coral reefs in Colombia.
This marine-coastal ecosystem, formed by trees of different sizes with roots that protrude from the mud, is a powerful filter of salty water. Mangroves are by far the most productive ecosystem in these areas and an important source of flora and fauna resources.
More than 60% of the world’s tropical fish depend on this ecosystem for their survival. The park has four species of mangrove worth preserving:
- Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle),
- White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa),
- Buttonwood or button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus); and
- Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans).
Coral reefs and mangroves are also a powerful natural barrier to tsunamis and hurricanes.
The park has 30.35 square kilometers of sea pastures, serving as a food provider and shelter for several marine species.
Pastures depend on calm waters between 20 and 30 meters deep for their survival. This allows the circulation of nutrients that benefit them as well as the species that depend on them.
In the park, the most common seagrass species is the Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), providing firmness to the bottom of the ground where they live.
How to get to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
When you arrive at Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) take approximately 15 minutes to ride to the “La Bodeguita” dock (8 km). In “La Bodeguita” is necessary to take a boat trip of 2 hours to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nuestra Senora del Rosario).
From Santiago de Tolú
Take a 50 minutes flight from Bogotá to Las Brujas Airport (CTG) at Sincelejo city. From Sincelejo take an approximately 45 minutes ride to Santiago de Tolú (40 km).
Once at Santiago de Tolú is necessary to take a 1-hour boat trip to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of San Bernardo.
What to do in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
Diving and snorkeling
The underwater trails of Punta Brava and Luis Guerra in Isla Grande and Isla Tintipan are perfect for sea diving or snorkeling. A supervised company by authorized instructors is highly recommended.
We recommend staying within delimited marked areas.
Sailing in the mangroves
The natural aquatic-terrestrial path of Isla Grande, the Lagoon of Silence, an ideal place to take photos and videos.
Help support Cangrejos Azules, the entity in charge of organizing ecotourism in the area with the help of local communities at Islas del Rosario.
In the protected area it is possible to see 62 species of corals, including the blade fire coral (Millepora complanata), the thin leaf lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia), and the massive starlet coral or round starlet coral (Siderastrea siderea).
In the case of decapod crustaceans, there are 153 species; mollusks with 244 species. No less than 153 species of echinoderms; 199 species of sponges and 513 species of fish.
Finally, it is possible to find sea turtles such as the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
Within the park, it is possible to identify more than 60 species of birds. 31 of which are seabirds, including cormorants, gulls, frigates, and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.
Where to stay in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
It is possible to find different accommodations. Suggested choices are:
- Hotel Las Islas, a luxury ecolodge in Baru.
- Coralina island is the perfect place to relax, in Isla Grande.
- Gente de Mar Resort, Location, and service are exceptional, in Isla Grande.
- Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, the staff is wonderful, and the rooms excellent, in Isla Grande.
Best time to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
The dry season that starts December until late March is the best to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo islands. It is also the peak season for national tourists, so be aware the place must be crowded.
The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:
- Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 9,500
- Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 9,500
- Children under 5 and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance provided they present their identification cards.
What to consider before visiting El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park
- Guided tours must be taken with authorized and certified tourist guides
- Consider wearing personal protective items (sun blocker, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
- The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
- use of binoculars to admire animal behavior and beauty in their natural habitat is recommended
- Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
- It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
- If you take specific medications, take them with you. It’s never enough to carry a personal medicine kit.
Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.
- Colparques Website
- Parques Nacionales Website
About the authors
Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.