ROSARIO ISLANDS, Colombia – A visit to Cartagena is not complete without spending a couple of days relaxing in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. Just a short 1-hour boat ride from downtown Cartagena lie the Rosario Islands, a pristine archipelago dotted with private island homes, small boutique hotels, and intimate beach clubs. In 1988, the Islas del Rosario, as they are known locally, became a National Park in order to preserve the coral reefs and associated ecosystems of the islands. With this National Park designation, property owners were required to upgrade their property to account for environmental protections. Given the economic state of Colombia at the time, many island properties were abandoned (Pablo Escobar’s home included), most were primitively converted to comply with the regulations, and a few took the opportunity to fully upgrade their land and create intimate island retreats. One of those retreats is Coralina Island, owned and operated by a lovely Frenchman named Pierre.
Previously a rustic family getaway, Pierre has turned this tiny slice of paradise into a quaint little hotel. Part Robinson Crusoe, part Gilligan’s Island, Coralina Island is a unique property where there isn’t much to do but relax, swim, and take in the sun. While Coralina welcomes day-trippers for lunch and swimming, the lucky ones who have booked to stay the night get to enjoy the magic of sunset and the cool Caribbean breeze that comes in the evening. I had the pleasure of visiting Coralina Island for three nights in March, at the end of a visit to Cartagena, and I wouldn’t have finished the trip any other way! To set the stage, I traveled to Coralina Island with a group of 10 middle-aged women. To say that we rolled in hot from Cartagena would be an understatement. We were ready to relax, swim, laugh, and consume as much rosé as possible. Mission accomplished.
Coralina Island Hotel is a small, rustic property developed amidst mangroves on a coral island surrounded by beautiful blue water. The hotel offers 6-air conditioned en-suite rooms with verandas and views of the sea. The spacious rooms are tastefully and minimally decorated with antique furniture and island flare. Because the hotel is built on a coral atoll, water pressure and temperature in the guestroom showers can be finicky – but shouldn’t be a deal breaker, as Coralina is intended to be casual, rustic, and a welcome break from high heels and blown-out hair – relax ladies, you’re on island time. My only criticism of the rooms is that the mattresses were VERY firm. That being said, a few cocktails and the sound of the waves is enough to get this traveler to sleep on any surface.
Swimming platforms with sun beds and umbrellas are dotted throughout the property, making a launch into the crystal blue water a breeze. Kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear are available if you feel like a workout, but lounging is really the principal activity on island. For serious relaxation, book a massage – no regrets here, ever.
All meals during a stay at Coralina Island are included in the room rate. Before booking our reservation I read many reviews from guests complaining about the meal set-up. So let’s discuss and clarify. The staff at Coralina Island do not live on the property and commute to and from work every morning and evening by boat. Similarly, all the food prepared by the chef is brought to the island each day. In the morning, the staff inquires about guest menu selections so that the kitchen can prepare for the day. While some reviewers found this process something to complain about, it was hardly bothersome. The menu is brief and has something for everyone, including those guests with dietary restrictions. The food is simple, delicious Caribbean cuisine - just-caught fish, fresh fruit and juices, and the tastiest rice dishes (I think I ate shrimp and rice three times, it was that good).
Wine and spirits are widely available – the Coco Loco, a concoction of coconut, pineapple juice, and rum served in a coconut was a group favorite. And if there is something special that you would like to have on hand, Pierre is happy to accommodate with a little notice (we drank the hotel dry of rosé on the first day – to be fair, there were 10 of us, and we were very thirsty). All meals at Coralina are taken alfresco in the shade of the mangroves. Lunch is a busy affair, given the welcome presence of day-trippers from Cartagena. However, the evenings are peaceful, quiet and limited to guests of the hotel – the island basically becomes yours.
Coralina Island is a special place. It’s not for everyone. Wifi is limited. There is no television. And there is no room service. But you probably already figured that out. If you are looking to check out and hit the refresh button, Coralina Island is a great place to hunker down for a couple of days.
Coralina Island is a short 1-hour boat ride from Cartagena. All transportation to and from the island is arranged by the hotel and is included in your room rate. If staying in Cartagena prior to departing for Coralina Island, Pierre collects and escorts his guests to the boat on the morning of your arrival on island. Standard departure from the island is in the afternoon. The hotel is happy to arrange for private transportation if you need to leave the island before the scheduled afternoon shuttle departs.
The staff at Coralina Island is really lovely and accommodating (our stay would not have been complete without meeting Kevin, one of Pierre’s right hand guys). Be sure to tip the staff when you depart.
Whats to Come:
Lisbon, Portugal ★ 9.2019
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