The Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo) is a natural park located in the Sucre and Bolívar Departments on the coast of the Caribbean Region of Colombia
Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park constitutes the most extensive and most diverse coral reef formation on the Colombian continental Caribbean coast. Furthermore, the Park presents one of the country’s most varied ecosystems, comprising two archipelagos, coastal marshlands, barrier and coastal reefs, channels and mangrove swamps.
There are other types of ecosystems, such as tropical dry forest, sediment beds, wetlands, rocky coasts, sandy beaches and seaweed meadows; but the marine ecosystems are undoubtedly the most attractive.
The most outstanding underwater ecosystem is the one configured by the coral reefs. Indeed, few places in the world can boast such an extraordinary spectacle of beauty, diversity of colours and forms. On the other hand, these formations serve as the substratum for an enormous variety of brightly coloured organisms: calcareous algae, anemones, soft corals, sponges, plumed worms and feather stars, among others, combine with living architecture and contribute multiplicity, movement and colour nuances. And as if this were not enough, a great number of fish and invertebrates swim over the coral or hide in holes and crevices. This marvellous spectacle may be observed in shallow waters, thanks to their transparency.
Another of the most interesting characteristics of the Park are the coastal lagoons, bodies of water inside the islands or enclosed in them and linked to the sea by channels that allow water exchange. For example, the Mohan swamp traces out a corridor between the Bay of Barbacoas and the open sea. The Cholón swamp is located on the westerm side of the island of Barú and is the Park´s most extensive coastal lagoon.
THE protected vegetation here is fundamentally marine, such as the underwater meadows which, together With the coral reefs, provide the habitat for a great variety of seaweed species. The Park accounts for 7% of the underwater meadows in the Colombian Caribbean, the most extensive and best preserved of which are those of the San Bernardo Archipelago.
The mangroves, for their part, are low and thrive in the coastal swamps or lagoons. They are of vital importance to life in the Park, since they harbour a great number of aquatic, amphibian and terrestrial organisms, play a key role in protecting the coastline against erosion, are highly productive and constitute the habitat and nesting place for indigenous and migratory seabirds. The dominant species is the red mangrove, allhough the white mangrove and a lew specimens of black mangrove also thrive here.
All these ecosystems inevitably support a wide variety of fauna. The Park Is characterised by a great wealth of Invertebrates and vertebrates of commercial and ecological importance, which find food, protection and breeding grounds here.
They also provide the habitat for mammals such as the spotted dolphin, reptiles like the hawksbill sea turtle, and up to 167 species of fish, of which 18 are of commercial importance and I ti are threatened. Among them we might pinpoint the great diversity of tropical coloured fish, and other spe-i ies like the cat shark, which may grow to a length of four metres and feeds on crustaceans, echinoderms and molluscs, or the blacknose shark which, though it has been known to attack humans, feeds mainly on fish and invertebrates.
But if there is a star species in the Park, then we must grant this privilege in the corals. We know that coral reefs figure among the most beautiful and diversified ecosystems on the planet, although they are also one of the most fragile. They are hard formations of calcium skeletons generaed by colonies of minute animals tSat provide the substratum for a huge variety of brightly coloured, peculiarly shaped organisms. This creates tot only nuances of colour and movement but also life, because, as we know, the beauty of a coral reef depends not only on the diversity o’ its forms and colours but also on the :act that it is alive.
A countless number of creatures swim over the coral or seek refuge in its holes and crevices. The habitat in the column of water above the reef is shared by herbivorous coloured fish which, in turn, serve as food for others, thereby comole-ting the ecosystem food chair. In the Park up to 53 species of reef-building corals have been identified, which constitute 83% of the coral barriers in the Colombian Caribbean.
Lastly, the Park’s sky is also a source of great diversity. Over 60 species of birds have been catalogued, 31 of which are seabirds such as cormorants, herons, gulls and pelican.
Most members of the human communities are of Afro-Colombian descent and devote themselves la-gely to making wooden craft objects, cultivating small plots, extra;ting resources from the mangrove swamps and traditional fishing. All these activities have become consolidated as substantially generdised cultural practices, mainly on tie islands that do not form part of the protected area.
Visitors may approach them, since it is they who provide the eco-tourism services of food, lodging and environmental interpretation, nainly in the Rosario Archipelago. There are also artisans who sell theirwares to visitors.
- Established: 1977
- Area: 120,000 hectares
- Altitude: Down to a depth of 50 metres
- Climate: From 27°C to 30°C
- Average temperature: Warm
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: Situated in the Colombian Caribbean, Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park stretches over the marine area of the archipelagos of Nuestra Senora del Rosario y de San Bernardo, in the Jurisdiction of the Distrito Turistico y Cultural de Cartagena de Indias, in Bolivar Department.
- HOW TO GET THERE: There are two main routes: 1.- The overland route: From Cartagena we take the Mamonal highway to Pasacaballos, where a ferry crosses the Canal del Dique, and then proceed by road to Playa Blanca or the village of Barn, which stands 20 minutes away from the El Rosario islands. 2.- The sea route: Also from Cartagena, we sail from the La Bodeguita nautical sports harbour to the El Rosario Archipelago. The boats are fast launches that leave between 7:00 and 10:00 am, and the trip lasts between one and two hours. The wharf stands on Aveniida Bias de Leso, opposite the La Marina
- WHERE TO EAT: You may savour fish and seafood dishes in the hotel restaurants on Isla Grande and Isla Pirata, in Punta Baru, on Isla Mucura and Tintipan. And at the more rudimentary eateries of Isla Grande (the Rosario Archipelago), Playa Blanca, the village of Baru and Cholon inlet, Islote and Mucura (the San Bernardo Archipelago), typical food is served by the locals. In La Cocotera we may also sample local cuisine and buy local craft wares. In this way, National Natural Parks of Colombia fosters community eco-tourism in which the local communities provide services in the protected area.
- WHERE TO STAY: Although there are several hotels and guesthouses in the area, the best accommodation options are in La Cocotera.
- WHERE TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: The nearest hospital to the Park is in Cartagena.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: Ideally, four days and three nights.
- WHEN TO GO: Any time of the year is suitable, though bear in mind that heaviest rainfall occurs in September, October and November.
WHAT TO VISIT IN THE PARK
The Park contains a substantial number of natural environments, by virtue of which it is one of Colombia’s most important eco-tourism areas, Its greatest tourist attractions include the coral reefs; the coastal mangrove forests; the Cholbn swamp; the islands of Maravilla, Baru and El Islote; the Mohan and Tintipan lagoons; the Oceanarium, at the Centro de Investigacidn, Education y Recreation; and the fine white-sand bathing beaches (such as the one that bears the name of Playa Blanca).
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK
As we know, there is much to see, and one of the best ways to do so is by following some of the established paths, since hiking is one of the main activities, Several of these itineraries may be undertaken in the company and under the guidance of the young members of the Organizacion Cangrejos Azules (Blue Crab Organisation), who introduce visitors to the Park’s natural and cultural values, on both the terrestrial and marine paths. You may also follow the marine paths in the company of qualified operators. Some of the best circuits include:
- The aquatic-terrestrial nature trail on Isla Grande, an ideal place -although not the only one, needless to say- for photography and video enthusiasts.
- The Punta Brava and Luis Guerra underwater trails, We recommend staying close to the demarcation buoys. The first is reached by boat from the Ensenada de las Mantas sector of Isla Grande, and the second by boat from the south sector of Isla Grande. Both provide you with the opportij-nity to observe a great variety of corals, coloured fish, sponges and marine invertebrates.
- From the above, the reader will appreciate that the other two main activities have to do, on the one hand, with observing both fauna for example, the unique colonies of seabirds- and flora such as the extensive seaweed meadows that border the islands-, and on the other, nautical activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing and kayak, which allow us to discover some of the coastal and inland lagoons.
- Furthermore, visitors should not miss the privileged opportunity to make interesting cultural contact with the indigenous population or engage in- research and environmental education activities.
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