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The History of the Rosario Islands


A small archipelago made up of 27 islands, some of which are so small that they have only one house. It is located 45 kilometers southwest of the bay of Cartagena de Indias and takes about 45 minutes to reach by speedboat. The Rosario Islands are part of the Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo National Natural Park, which covers an area of 19,506 hectares. Created to conserve and protect coral reefs, associated ecosystems such as seagrass beds and mangroves, as well as the many species of algae and animals that live there.

The history of the Rosario Islands

The history of this coral area is closely linked to the history of the Bay of Cartagena de Indias. According to the chronicles of the conquistadors, all these islands were originally inhabited by Indians of the Karib family, who succumbed to the conquest and were occupied until the 19th century by maroons and fugitives. From its white sand beaches, a sea of green and blue tones intermingle to create a natural spectacle that impresses the eye and the mind. Its coral seabed preserves a great wealth of animal and plant life and makes these tours the delight of divers.

Being an island in such a rich context offers moments of recreation and relaxation with very diverse nuances. The natural wealth The islands offer activities such as day and night diving, snorkeling, bird watching, canoeing in the inland lagoons and mangroves, moon bathing in the enchanted lagoon, visiting the aquarium, learning about the 3 ecosystems of the islands, visiting the Afro-descendant village, walking through the rainforest and watching the sunrise and sunset.

Cartagena Tours designs luxury itineraries to this small paradise, all according to the wishes of its clients, accommodating them in exclusive boutique hotels or on private islands, with a fleet of luxurious boats and providing in such a remote place the elements of service and enjoyment of the most sophisticated lifestyle.

The Spanish conquest of the Rosario Islands

The story goes that when the Spaniards arrived to conquer the New World, they were amazed by the beauty and splendor of a group of islands located in an archipelago near the current city of Cartagena. According to historians, the Spanish crown granted some of the private nobles of the time who had settled in Cartagena, the possession of several of these islands, islets and cays, which today are known as the Rosario and San Bernardo Islands.

For decades, the properties passed from hand to hand among wealthy Colombian families, who made them their summer retreats. Today, more than 500 years after its discovery, the State is trying to regain control of those in its possession. This has been done to expand the islands, to build their houses. Constant speedboat traffic is another aggravating factor. Experts say that the noise of the engines and the swell caused by the high speed of the machines have caused irreversible damage to the coral formations. This has led the Ministry of the Environment to sanction 48 landowners. Some were fined 348 million pesos. In addition, 25 constructions were ordered to be demolished, including houses, docks, shacks and jetties.

It was also stipulated that demolitions were to be carried out manually (without the use of dynamite) and that the debris was to be evacuated in special slow-moving ships. However, to date none of the sanctions have been applied, as some authorities refuse to comply with them.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry is not a police authority and the matter is in the hands of the environmental authorities of Cartagena de Indias: The Mayor’s Officethe Maritime and Fluvial Directorate (Dimar) and the Corporación Autónoma del Canal del Dique (Cardique), which in turn claim that they are not competent to act. Incora, for its part, claims that it has not made the recoveries because it does not have sufficient budget to recognize the improvements made by the landowners.

They also argue that they do not have enough lawyers to handle the paperwork related to the investigations. Attorney Carlos Arturo Galán, Incora’s representative in the compliance action, warns: “The Institute does not have the competence to intervene and initiate actions to recover the undue occupation of private parties. This competence corresponds to the Ministry of Environment. In turn, spokesmen for the Parks Unit of the Ministry of the Environment argued: “A concept of the Council of State of May 28, 1998 indicates that the power to recover such property belongs to Incora”. These refusals caused the coactive action to be sent to the Cundinamarca court, which asked its Bolivar counterpart to carry out a judicial inspection to check whether the constructions actually had permits and to verify that they were not damaging the environment. For the time being, the parks unit of the Ministry of the Environment has ordered that no landowner may build or rebuild houses on the islands.

The importance of the archipelago: Rosario Islands

Due to the great coral richness of the Rosario Islands, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, declared them a marine national park through Resolution 165 of June 1977. This reserve, known as Parque Nacional Natural los Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo, has an area of 120,000 marine hectares.

Coral reefs are among the richest ecosystems of marine life on the planet. Nearly 3,000 species can coexist on a single reef, and the variety of fish found there is 100 times greater than the average for all oceans. They are home to a quarter of marine species and provide 12% of seafood. They also protect beaches from storms and wave erosion.

According to the Ministry of Environment, 10% of the Earth’s reefs are dead and another 30% could die in the coming decades. The Rosario Islands are made up of large mangrove swamps and native forests, where chonta trees, the raw material for the manufacture of maracas, are still preserved.

There are also lush trees of majagua, totumo, higuito and guásimo, typical of the warm forests. Within this complex is Isla Grande, the largest island, with 200 hectares, where there are three different ecosystems: coastal and inland lagoons, mangroves and tropical dry forests.

This paradisiacal place is the resting place of migratory birds such as the tanager and the bar-headed duck. However, the Ministry of Environment explained that, due to the advance of civilization, several birds that inhabit the area have disappeared, as well as at least five varieties of fish.

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