AKA everything I wish I knew before I went to Isla Grande for two nights.
Why you want to go:
How to get there:
1. Make a reservation. There are not a lot of options, you are probably staying at one of the collection of hostels at Paraiso Secreto. This is not something you can just show up for. (I booked mine through hostelworld.com, but that’s only two of the half a dozen options in that collective.)
2. Stock up. Plan to bring enough water for you to drink for your stay (2-3L per person per day). Bring any snacks or other food that you may want. I would recommend bringing breakfast fixings, as the hostel breakfast is expensive and not very good. If you have any allergies to seafood, you may want to plan to bring all of your meals, while the the hostel does have pizza and burgers on their menu, I would not rely on this.
There is no fridge in the hostels, but there is a stovetop. Ants will be a problem, if that concerns you, maybe bring ziplock bags to store your food in. Make sure to bring enough sunscreen and bug spray as you will not be able to get some on the island.
I would operate under the assumption that there are no stores on the island. They exist (in the front-of-someone’s house way), but they probably won’t have what you need. You cannot bring your own alcohol.
There is no ATM on the island, but you can use credit cards at the hostel (and only the hostel). They will charge 5% extra for credit cards, but you can use it for all the various activities, the bar, and paying for your room.
Breakfast is about 15,000 COP, lunch or dinner is about 35,000 COP at either the hostel or La Pola, the other major food opportunity on the island (which is much better than the hostel food and actually quite good). Water (600mL bottle) and soda are about 5,000 COP, cocktails are around 15,000 COP. That’s hella expensive for water and they ran out at times, so bring as much as you can as discussed above.
Other things to bring: a long beach towel, snorkel gear if that’s your thing, and I appreciated having light long pants and long sleeve shirt in the evenings to avoid bugs.
3. Get your ticket. In Cartagena, go to the La Bodeguita del Muelle, which is the tourist dock, by no later than 8:15am. If you are facing the clocktower entrance into the old walled city, (from outside the old city, not inside) turn left along the water until you see the dock. You’ll be swarmed by ticket vendors, it should not be hard to find.
You need both a ticket and a tourist tax ticket. You get your ticket from a pushy ticket sales person who is wandering around. They will find you. Make sure their boat will drop you off at Isla Grande, Paraiso Secreto, it will save you a lot of headache to just be dropped off directly on their own beach. Once you get that ticket, pay your tourist tax (the ticket with the barcode), and go inside the dock complex to wait for your name to be called to get on your boat. Combined, the ticket an tourist tax was 60,500 COP for me.
A note on coming back: the only boat that leaves Paraiso Secreto directly leaves at 2pm on the day you check out. It costs 55,000 COP cash. That’s 2pm island time, so 2:30/3:00pm actually (but maybe 2 exactly, so be there by 1:30). We didn’t get back to Cartagena until around 4pm.