Colombia is absolutely chock-a-block (translation for non-native English speakers: full of) with islands: it’s the only country in South America that has both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, and lots of coast means lots of islands.
And we’re not talking windswept, weather-beaten, inaccessible rocks here (although there are a fair few of those as well): Colombia is home to some of the most incredible, diverse, palm-fringed paradises in the island world! And what kind of traveler doesn’t love a good island: you actually have to physically travel over water to get to one…it’s perfect, right!? Anyway, I digress: here are the Colombia Travel Blog’s Top 8 islands in Colombia…
1. San Andres and Providencia
OK, so technically this is a few islands, but that just represents value for money, eh (so it’s basically a Top 10)!? However, there’s no list of the best islands in Colombia without these Caribbean jewels near the Nicaraguan coast.
San Andres is the more developed of the two and attracts far more tourists due to the cheap flights, tax-free shopping, plentiful hotels, and lovely beaches. It’s Providencia though that is the true jewel – some of the countries’ best beaches, incredible cultural diversity, seafood and music, and some wonderful boutique hotels as well. This is the island to visit for a true Robinson Crusoe.
2. Gorgona Island
If Providencia and San Andres are a comfortable island paradise holiday, then Gorgona is the yin to their yang, so to speak! Named for the mythical Medusa of Greek lore due to the thousands of snakes that tormented Pizarro’s small force, trapped for 8 months on the island prior to the invasion of Peru, and an Alcatraz-style prison island this century, Gorgona has been reinvented for ecotourism – home to some of the most spectacular diving in the country, and stellar views of the migrating humpback whales that visit Colombia’s Pacific between June and September every year, this jungle-covered island, not too far from the city of Buenaventura, is the island to visit to get off the beaten track and enjoy some of Colombia’s biodiversity.
3. Isla Fuerte
Strong Island, as its name translates, belies its name somewhat – a lovely little Caribbean island just off the coast, it technically falls within the jurisdiction of Cartagena but is only a 20-minute boat journey from the coast of Cordoba department, near to the lovely beach town of Monitos.
Home to a small population, and some excellent beaches, Isla Fuerte also has some excellent diving, great fresh seafood, and a few good hotels and hostels for those who wish to really get with that ‘lost on a desert island’ vibe. The perfect island to just get away from it all and drop off the face of the earth for a few nights!
4. Santa Cruz del Islote
The only ‘man-made’ island on this list, El Islote, as it is often called, is supposedly the most densely populated island on earth, with around 1200 people living on an artificial island of only around 0.012 square kilometers! The island has its origins in the fishing industry along the coast, and most of the residents now work as fishermen or in the tourism industry on other nearby islands, and it’s important to remember that it’s not really an ‘attraction’ per-say – but having visited myself I can say that the people are open and friendly and more than willing to introduce people to their island and its culture.
Backpackers can now stay incredibly close to Islote on the new floating hostel, Casa en el Agua – perfect! The best island on this list for that ‘you’ll never guess what?’ travel experience.
5. Isla de la Corota
The only lake island on this list, la Corota is a small, round, tree-covered island set in the gorgeous Laguna de la Cocha, in the southern department of Nariño, just a couple of hours from the departmental capital, Pasto. The island, whilst very small (just 12 hectares), is a Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, protected for its abundance of tropical plant life, birds, and insects.
It is also known as a deeply spiritual site, home as it was to a sacred site for the Quillasinga indigenous people. You can take a boat over to the island and take a stroll along some paths through the reserve, soaking up the nature and the spirituality. It’s a worthwhile stop on any southern Colombia loop, and the best island on this list for an ‘alternative’ island experience…
6. Malpelo Island
The only (as I shamelessly denied at the start of this post) wind-beaten little rock in the middle of the ocean on this list, Malpelo exists more as an idea than a reality for most Colombians (and most people in the world to be fair) – hundreds of miles into the Pacific ocean, Malpelo is essentially a big rock, home to thousands of seabirds, some lizards and crabs, and not much else…the reason to visit is what lies below the waves – in the right season, thousands of hammerhead sharks! It’s a diver’s paradise, and played a large role in the spectacular Colombian wildlife documentary ‘Colombia: Magia Salvaje.’ The best island for…divers really, and natural history documentary cameraman, and for you too!
7. Isla Mucura
Just next door to the rammed little island of Islote is Isla Mucura, a larger, natural island, made up of beaches, coral reefs, and mangroves. It’s also home to the lovely luxury hotel of Punta Faro, with its gorgeous beach, massage hut down by the sea, and top-notch fancy meals!
Their boats will take you over to nearby Tintipan Island (another great island!) at night to swim with bioluminescent plankton, out to some deeper water reefs for diving and snorkeling, or to spot dolphins that are regularly seen in the surrounding waters. This is the best island to visit for some pampering and luxury in the glorious Colombian Caribbean!
8. Isla Barú
One of Colombia’s classic Caribbean holiday spots, Barú used to be a peninsula until it was cut off from the mainland by the construction of the Canal del Dique, connecting the Magdalena River with the sea closer to Cartagena. Around 20,000 people live on an island that’s less than 25km long, and sometimes just 1km wide! It’s a hugely popular day-trip from Cartagena (and a great overnighter as well) and can get pretty busy in high season, but with its lovely cabins and hotels, Barú is definitely worth paying a visit to. The perfect island to break up your classic Colombian Caribbean itinerary with.