Las Islas is an eco-friendly jungle estate a just speedboat ride away from historic Cartagena, with thatched-roof bungalows raised into the canopy on stilts, and a white-sand beach lapped by emerald sea. Caribbean and Peruvian flavours are cooked up in the overwater restaurant and barbecue-focused beach bar, and there’s an indulgent spa with a saltwater pool. But, despite its big-resort credentials, there’s a decidedly small-scale feel here – the hand-woven rope floors, bamboo bathrooms and colourful hammocks are all made by local artisans, and you might meet a free-roaming iguana as you cycle around the grounds.
Noon, check-in 3pm. You can check-out as late as 6pm and check-in as early as 8am, but you’ll be charged half of the nightly rate.
Double rooms from £466.30 ($610). Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $3.00 per person per night on check-out and an additional local city tax of $6.00 per person on check-out.
Rates include a buffet breakfast, with options including the local speciality arepas and fresh fruit.
The local community is actively involved in the all aspects of the resort – more than 90 per cent of the staff hail from the area, and the hammocks are handwoven in a nearby town.
At the hotel
Free WiFi, kayaks, bikes. In rooms: TV with DVD player, Nespresso machine, minibar, air-conditioning, video intercom, free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
Bungalow 30 has an oversized private pool and sweeping sea views; Tintipan is the owner’s favourite, so snag that if he hasn’t got in there first. The connecting bungalows 21 and 22 (Serrano and Quitasueño) are best for families.
There are two pools – one at the spa, with saltwater cascading over its infinity edge, and another at the clubhouse, surrounded by tropical flora and with trees overhead for shade.
The Niña Daniela spa has high-tech kit for neurostimulation alongside some of the old classics – a Turkish bath, sauna and Jacuzzi. Try a stress-busting body wrap here, in your room, or out on a treatment bed in the open air.
Leave space in your case – the small resort boutique sells the kind of locally made handicrafts you’ll want to take to all your friends back home (and keep a few for yourself).
Bungalows 12 and 19 are set up for wheelchair users, and all common areas are accessible, thanks to ramps and elevators across the resort.
All ages are welcome. Under-3s are only allowed in ground-level bungalows; cots can be added for free.
The resort is nestled in an important and delicate ecosystem next to the Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y de San Bernard – and great care is taken to preserve it. Much of the seasonal, organic produce used in the restaurants is grown on-site, and the resort supports the local coral reef conservation project.
As close as you can to the sea – for the good views and convenience when you go for a post-pudding dip.
Leave the leopard-skin loincloth at home (this isn't the place to go full-Tarzan); light linens and beachwear are the thing.
You can swim right up to the overwater Tía Coco restaurant, and take a seat on a Philippe Starck chair, ready for breakfast or lunch; expect plenty of seafood on the menu, including Caribbean-style grilled fish. In the towering Clubhouse lodge, Las Guacas does relaxed date-night dinners under the corocillo cane chandeliers; chef Miguel Dapelo learned from super-star restaurateurs Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche in Lima (the ceviche is sublime). For a healthy post-gym juice (or just an ice cream), drop by Los Mangos Cafeteria.
Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the clubhouse and you’ll be greeted by 360-degree views at Las Islas bar; pick a fresh-fruit cocktail from the menu, and settle onto a sofa for sunset. Monaprieta is a bite-sized beachside bar for afternoon cocktails and occasional live music – jazz or classical, usually. Down on the beach itself is Choco (named after the owner’s dog), where you can order heaving plates of barbecue lobster and arroz con coco to go with your Kola Román.
Breakfast is served in Tía Coco from 7am until 10am. Los Mangos is open from 9am to 3pm, Choco is open from 9am to 5pm, and Las Guacas is open from 6pm to 11pm. Monaprieta is open from 10am till 5pm; Las Islas bar serves drinks 24 hours a day.
Las Islas is on an island off the coast of Barú, just outside Cartagena Bay.
You can fly direct to Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International from several US cities including New York and Miami; if you’re coming from Europe, the only nonstop flight is with KLM from Amsterdam. The journey from the airport is a mini adventure (in a good way) – you’ll take a private car to the port, and then hop onboard a speedboat (shared and private options are both available – costs vary) to the island; it takes an hour and a half in total. If you’re tying in a visit to Cartagena, they can pick you up from the city instead.
You could hire a car from the airport or the city of Cartagena, but it’s not worth the trouble – once you’re at the hotel, there are plenty of guided excursions to keep you busy (and safe).
There’s a helipad at the hotel, so you make an entrance by chopper if you wish.
Worth getting out of bed for
Outside your bungalow you’ll find a pair of Isla's Panda e-bikes – borrow them and make tracks through the forest to every corner of the resort. Swim to the floating platform offshore, or just paddle in the shallows with a snorkel. Climb into a glass-bottomed kayak and navigate the mangroves, or test your balance on a stand-up paddleboard; later, sign up to the night boat tour and stare wide-eyed at bioluminescent plankton. To learn the secrets behind Caribbean and Colombian cuisine, sign up to chef-led cooking class. The island is practically surrounded by the Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo, a largely underwater national park with 170 species of fish and the most vibrant coral reef in Colombia – don your snorkel, and dive in. Ornithologists rejoice – Colombia’s national aviary is just a few minutes’ drive away, and has over 130 different species of indigenous birds. If you prefer your birdlife wild and free, join a tour to the Canal del Dique, which divides the peninsula ("island”) of Barú from Cartagena. For an unforgettable day trip, fly by helicopter to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains – think Machu Picchu, without the crowds. The flight takes an hour and a half, and you can stop mid-trek for lunch with the indigenous Kogui people in a remote village. You can’t come to Las Islas without visiting colonial Cartagena, where colourful, crumbling mansions line the streets and you’re never too far from a party.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this beachside hotel near Cartagena and unpacked their cocoa and coffee beans, a full account of their Latin American break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Las Islas in Colombia…
We like a hotel with a sense of adventure, and Las Islas has it in spades. It starts, like all good adventures, with a speedboat. It’ll whisk you along the rolling green sea of Cartagena Bay, then slow to crawl as it enters the narrow mangrove-lined waterways between the peninsula of Barú and the islands along its coast. You’ll step ashore and enter a timber lodge, then proceed into the dense rainforest inland. The next bit is in a golf buggy, admittedly, but you’ll still feel like an intrepid explorer – the path twists and turns between trees (not a single one was uprooted during construction), chickens and iguanas roam free, and wild orchids sprout in the undergrowth. Here and there, tucked between the trees, you’ll see wood lodges with tufty reed roofs, some raised high into the air on stilts. At the top, you’ll find a canopied king-size bed and a vista over the treetops. And then you’ll know that the first part of your adventure is complete, and the next is about to begin.