An idyllic, 30-island archipelago 45 minutes from the city, the Rosario Islands National Park is a fantastic seven-star playground for Cartagena’s rich and famous
The beach options here are endless if you can work an invite to one of the personal islands owned by Colombian royalty, the Santodomingos, Echevarrias or Mattos families.
Many of the best beaches are now in private hands. For the commoner not looking to break the bank, Gente del Mar on Isla Grande is a watersport-centric retreat which offers a great day out for all the family.
Most of the best boutique hotels have a tie-up with someone with a strip of coral surrounded by aquamarine, Caribbean seas and can arrange transport to take you there and pick you up.
Destinations like Sport Baru offer a more luxurious and expansive room and can arrange a tour of the islands easily enough from the island.
If you can't tear yourself away from Cartagena's nightlife and its just rest and recuperation that you are after then borrow or rent a yacht or speed boat and park it at Cholón the only 'democratic' spot left in the archipelago where you can wash the lobster and king prawn ceviche down with whatever the captain has on ice.
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Playa Blanca | Barú
Crystal-clear Caribbean waters, a couple of kilometres of bleached white sands and friendly islanders make Barú and its star attraction, Playa Blanca, top dog in Cartagena's battle for best beach
Arguably Cartagena's best beach, Playa Blanca on the island of Baru is about 30 minutes by speed boat from the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita. If you don't believe us then ask the beach experts, Beach Tomato, who made it one of their top 10 undiscovered beaches in the world for 2012.
Packages including transport, lunch and a small tour of the Rosario Islands go for $45,000 and can be arranged from most hotels or directly at the Tourist Pier.
Visitors also pay a COP$10,000 tax paid for entering the National Park of the Rosario Islands, the most popular of Colombia's national park network.
If aquariums are not your thing you out and you like your fish free like Willy opt for a trip direct to Playa Blanca and make the most of the crystal clear waters and pristine white sand.
This is what Caribbean beaches should be like and nearly everyone goes home impressed. Boats will drop you off in downtown Playa Blanca a stretch of beach huts and tents that get insanely busy when the slow ferry, Alcatraz, arrives just before midday.
Resist the temptation to make camp here and instead get away from the crowds by heading north in the direction of the sprawling resort built by the Decameron hotel group.
Find your own quiet spot on the beach, sling your hammock in one of the shady huts offered by one of the locals and negotiate what you want for lunch and when then sit back and enjoy the view.
If you really love the place and want to stay camping is an option but be warned the bugs can be ferocious so make sure you rent a hammock with a mosquito net.
Also you will need to negotiate your return with the boatman.
Old ‘big mouth’ has been the Copacabana of Cartagena since American oil executives and their families made it fashionable in the 1950s. New properties from the Hyatt Regency, Radisson and InterContinental brands are sure to bring some much needed sparkle back to the area.
Long gone are the family homes replaced by towering glass-clad condominiums filled with holidaymakers and residents who love a sea view and to watch the sun plunge into the Caribbean every day just after six.
The beach isn't the best but that doesn't stop it being the busiest during high season and at weekends thanks to important investments in luxury apartment blocks and by international hotel chains.
Facing outwards from the bay of Cartagena towards the Caribbean, Bocagrande is a convenient spot to grab some rays if you don't want to venture beyond the touristic heartland.
Taxis from the old town are just $5,000 ($1.55). The beach gets busier the closer you are to the biggest hotels particularly between Calle 5 and Calle 9.
During the high season beach clubs like Chiringuito draw in the glamour pusses with electronic music and offering beds, a decent massage and even facials for hedonists on the mend from the night before.
High or low season, the zenith of beach action takes place in the strip of sand further south of Hotel Caribe, a fantastic spot for people watching whilst soaking up the rays and a couple of cold Club Colombia beers.
Budding surfers and a glitzy and gay friendly crowd have made the area in front of the 'typewriter' - a cascading 1960s apartment block designed by local architects Rafael and Jose Maria Obregon to sit at the Laguito end of Bocagrande in the 1960s - their own.
Fighting off the hawkers selling everything under the sun is a common complaint but if you sit off the beaten track in the shade of the trees a little further from the sea you can avoid much of the hassle.
Building castles in the sand. Cartagena's elite have made this their exclusive Caribbean enclave. The beach is more laid-back than its unruly neighbour Bocagrande and private members' clubs cater to the segregated needs of the city's high-rolling beach bums
Populated by Cartagena's moneyed elite since the 1950s, Castillogrande, has a more laid-back feel than the touristy bustle of neighbouring Bocagrande.
The Castillogrande cul-de-sac was formerly home to the luxury beach-front villas of the upper classes and oil executives that clamoured to get out of the old town in the later part of the 20th century.
Many have profited from spectacular development in recent years with two-storey houses giving way to 50-storey condominiums. At the turn of the century, the tallest building had six-storeys but an unprecedented boom in beachfront property has given this part of town a more vertical Miami feel to it.
The beach looks out onto the island of Tierrabomba, one of the biggest islands in the Bay of Cartagena.
Due to protection from the currents of the Caribbean in the form of an underwater wall, built to keep English pirates out, the waters are a little calmer than those in Bocagrande but the sea isn't as clean as you might like thanks to the activities of the port.
Castillogrande's high-end apartments have less tourist turnover than the buy-to-let second-homers desperate to fill their beach properties in Bocagrande.
As a result of the more residential feel there are less immediate options for lunch, another reason that gives the beach a more laidback family vibe.
A Mecca for spring break students and visitors on the hunt for a bargain, Laguito's got it all going on. The best stretch of beach is maintained by the Hilton Hotel providing all the comforts expected of an international hotel chain while surfers cluster where Laguito meets Bocagrande
Laguito is the awkward funny bone on the elbow-shaped conjunction of Bocagrande and Castillogrande.
The bulk of the ageing apartments cater to visitors looking for cheap digs, with much of the accommodation is in need of refurbishment. The beach suffers from a similar bedraggled feel.
The Hilton and the Hotel Dann Carlton manage to maintain a certain aloofness from much of the tack in the area, however.
The former boasts arguably the best swimming pool in Cartagena, great sports facilities and the best stretch of beach in Laguito which makes the day pass for lunch, drinks and use of the pool's facilities worth the $116,000 cover price if you are looking for a little serenity amidst Laguito's hoopla.
Almost directly opposite is the legendary Conquistador, a no holds barred warren of eccentrically decorated apartments in which probably around half of the Colombian population lost their virginity or got their first post-beach feel.
Laguito's small beach has a couple of legendary hangouts perched right on the shore which are worth stopping for a drink to take in some sea air and watch the sunset in time-honoured fashion.
Beach football, fishing and even aerobics are popular on the crescent-shaped beaches of Marbella. Exercise early in the morning and watch the fisherman bring in their haul
The beaches in Marbella get crowded with people from all walks of Cartagena beach life.
Beach football and aerobics is big here and there is normally a game going on between each of the crescent-shaped beaches if you feel like testing your luck with the locals.
With less development than the beaches to the south of the old town, the beach has a much more 'criolla' or local flavour than that on offer in Bocagrande and Castillogrande.
On Sunday's the road is closed to encourage cyclists and roller-bladers out en masse.
Plans to give Cartagena's beachfront an upgrade should benefit this stretch more than anywhere with the construction of more pedestrian links across the main road linking the centre to the airport, Crespo and Barranquilla.
Miami-esque beachfront condominiums and all-inclusive resorts have made this expansive stretch of sand popular with Colombia’s Nouveau Riche. A refreshing sea breeze and plenty of space to stretch out attracts watersports fanatics and beach parties
Some of the poorest homes in the country have given way to row after row of beachfront condominiums and resort-style hotels of up to 12 storeys for those averse to adverse movements while on vacation.
The vertiginous growth of Castillogrande and Bocagrande has been restricted in this northern part of the city blessed with the best winds for watersports like kite surfing and windsurfing.
With one of the widest stretches of sand in the city the beach is also used to host parties, concerts and sporting events like beach volleyball and football.
During the high season the beach is packed by a crowd of Miami wannabes with plenty of silicone stacked girls and buffed up boys from Medellin, Cali and Bogotá.
Its distance from the old town keeps the hawkers down to reasonable levels but if its kicks you're after just keep walking beyond the crisp white apartments and beach resorts to reach the real Boquilla, a fine example of the other Cartagena, a poor barrio that moves to the champeta beat thrown out by pumping sound systems and lives for baseball.
Leave the watch and wallet behind if you are determined to sample to local vibe.
Punta Arena | Tierra Bomba
Just seven minutes from Castillogrande, the white sandy beaches of Punta Arena on the eastern side of the large island of Tierra Bomba are one of the best-kept secrets in Cartagena
For the cost of a taxi from the old town ($1.55) a boat will take you to the biggest of the islands close to Cartagena, a spot where the beach stretches for more than 3 km looking back on the towers of Castillogrande.
'Los Nativos' or the Tierra Bomba locals will take good care of you, cooking traditional seafood dishes and serving up all the drinks you need to pass the day laughing at the punters being hassled in Bocagrande.
Like much of Cartagena, the beaches are going through something of a transformation with residents selling out to their moneyed cousins from Bogotá or Medellin to build their castles by the sea.
Punta Arena maintains much of its traditional feel but slowly high-end beach clubs like Cartagena Beach Club are setting the tone using beach-combed drift wood and up-cycled doors and a Peruvian-styled menu to forge a more sophisticated hangout for every occasion.
For the cleanest stretch of beach on the island and the option of the best swimming pool on the island, Hotel Tres Banderas' island retreat is great value at $200,000 (USD$110) a night or $65,000 (USD$35.75) for the day pass.
Manzanillo del Mar
Golf resorts are taking over what was one of the most authentic Colombian beach experiences to the north of the city. Ranging from exclusive to raucous, the three protected coves surrounding this little fishing village are well worth the drive
Twenty minites from the centre of town and 7 km from La Boquilla, Manzanillo del Mar was once a sleepy old fishing village populated by ancestors of escaped slaves.
The construction of two of the city's most exclusive schools - Colegio Jorge Washington and Colegio Britanico, however, has forced people to re-think the northernmost extremes of the city.
The demographic has changed a bit too. More and more affluent Cartageneros have opted to live in luxury compounds to escape the city, carve themselves a bit more space and cut down time spent on the school run.
Large gated communities like Barcelona de Indias are moving big populations out this way, something that has so far had little impact on the feel of the beach, which remains one of the most authentic Colombian beach experiences in Cartagena.
Park your four-wheel drive on the sand, open the boot, pump up the Reggaeton or Vallenato and crack open the bottle of Old Parr whisky to fit right in with the locals.
Further along the coast from the two most traditional beaches, international hotel chains are building resort-style destinations offering a one-stop beachfront escape and even golf for a more affluent breed of beachcomber.