Cartagena is having a major moment. A jewel of a city located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, visitors are flocking to Cartagena to experience all that this lively city has to offer. From beautiful colonial architecture to a rich culinary scene, here are the highlights of what to see and do in Cartagena.
SEE + DO
Stroll Old Town: Cartagena’s walled Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located by the sea. Old Town is a maze of cobbled alleys that was meant for exploring on foot. Stroll the streets by day to admire the colorful buildings, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across plazas. Head back at night to experience a different vibe, when Old Town comes alive with street performers, horse drawn carriages and when most local shops open to the public.
Tour Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: The castillo dominates Cartagena’s cityscape and is definitely worth a visit. The fortress was built by the Spanish during the colonial era and is perched atop a hill, securing a strategic location to defend against land and sea attacks. Head to the top of the fortress for stunning views of the city and sea.
Walk the Historic City Wall: Climb the fortified walls that surround the city and walk the periphery of Old Town to enjoy sweeping views of the Caribbean sea.
Explore Gesemaní: A burgeoning barrio located just outside the walls of Old Town, Getsemaní is popular among locals, backpackers and street artists. Explore the neighborhood on foot to admire the street art. At night, grab an authentic Colombian meal at one of the many restaurants in the area and then head to Plaza de la Trinidad to hang with the locals.
Mud Bath at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo: Venture 45 minutes outside the city to visit Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, a 50-foot-tall mud bath renowned for its therapeutic qualities. Tours can be booked at Hostel Mamallena in Getsemaní.
Escape to the Islands: Head to the beautiful beaches of the Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca. You can book tours at Hostel Mamallena in Getsemaní and boats leave for the islands by the dock just outside the walls of Old Town.
EAT + Drink
María: Located in the heart of Old Town, go to María for the jazzed-up jungle decor and equally impressive lunch menu.
Candé: Head to this restaurant in Old Town for traditional Colombian dishes like fried snapper, coconut rice and fried plantain. Be sure to stay for the live entertainment in the evenings.
Vera: Authentic Italian cuisine in a lush atmosphere. The restaurant is located in the Tcherassi Hotel + Spa in Old Town and serves up amazingly delicious Italian dishes.
La Cevicheria: A tiny restaurant located in Old Town, grab a table outside for lunch and stick to eating the ceviche. The restaurant has become insanely popular since being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, so expect a long wait time to be seated.
La Paletteria: Beat the heat with a cool paleta from La Paletteria. A glass case contains dozens of delicious paletas in flavors like tamarind, coconut and mango.
Gato Negro: The restaurant is located in a 300-year old house in Getsemaní and features a stellar breakfast menu. Be sure to try the fresh fruit juices and strong coffees.
Malagana Café & Bar: Located in Getsemaní, the restaurant has a slim menu but makes up for it with an open-air rooftop terrace. The fish tacos are delicious and so is the limonada de coco, a traditional Colombian drink made with coconut cream and milk and tangy limes.
Casa Relax Bed & Breakfast: A charming B&B located in the heart of Getsemaní featuring an outdoor pool and communal kitchen.
Hostel Mamallena: A very affordable option in Getsemaní catering to the backpacker crowd. Whether you stay at the hostel or not, drop by to book various day trips and tours.
Movich Hotel Cartagena de Indias: A swank option located in Old Town. The rooftop pool and bar have arguably the best views of the city.
Tcherassi Hotel + Spa: A Spanish-colonial mansion turned into a boutique hotel located in Old Town.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Airport: Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG)
Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)
Climate: Tropical. The rainy season stretches from April to November. For optimal weather, visit Cartagena between December and April.
Transportation: Taxis are plentiful, but negotiate the fare since there are no meters in the taxis. For better rates, take an Uber.