A Travel Guide to Cartagena, Colombia

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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.

STAY

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)

Language: Spanish

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.

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Cathedrals and calles in Old Town Cartagena

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Fresh ceviche at La Cevicheria

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Simón Bolívar Park in Old Town

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Colorful mochila bags

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Coco frio? Sí por favor!

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Strolling the streets of Old Town

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Blue skies over Cartagena and Iglesia de San Pedro Claver

16 Comments

    • December 6, 2016 / 8:03 am

      Glad you found it useful!

  1. December 4, 2016 / 9:56 am

    Never heard of CARTAGENA. Loved your photographs. Its so medieval.

    Cheers,
    Himanshu

  2. December 4, 2016 / 6:43 pm

    I have heard such amazing things about Cartagena recently, and I am glad to see it getting such positive coverage finally. It looks absolutely beautiful and your photos depict such a vibrant destination with so much to offer. Hope to visit Cartagena someday!

    • December 6, 2016 / 8:02 am

      Colombia is definitely making a comeback…in a great way!

  3. Vicki Louise
    December 4, 2016 / 9:39 pm

    Great guide and awesome photos! It looks like such a colourful place. Good to have a things to know before you go section too – thats really helpful for the basics and what to expect.

    • December 6, 2016 / 8:01 am

      Thanks for the positive feedback Vicki!

  4. December 5, 2016 / 10:20 am

    Cartagena looks like a beautiful place to visit. We love to explore old towns as they offer so much history about the place.

    • December 6, 2016 / 8:01 am

      If you like exploring old towns, I’m sure you’ll love the colonial architecture in Cartagena!

  5. December 5, 2016 / 4:26 pm

    The ceviche looks so good! I love how everything looks so bright and colorful. It’s hard to imagine how someone could be sad with that kind of backdrop!

    • December 6, 2016 / 8:00 am

      Gotta love the Caribbean for all the bold, bright and beautiful colors!

  6. December 5, 2016 / 5:14 pm

    Love the photos! Cartagena sounds amazing. I have a friend that lives In Curacao and he’s always going to Cartagena. I now understand why! And I love cobblestone roads! I have yet to visit Cartagena, but I’m saving this article for when I do. Thanks for the info!

    • December 6, 2016 / 7:59 am

      Cartagena is fantastic and very affordable. Hope you make the trip there soon!

  7. Jelena Bubalo
    December 6, 2016 / 9:22 am

    I’ll eat that ceviche!! Wow!

  8. December 6, 2016 / 8:45 pm

    Beautiful little town. Love the photos. It’s not very often you hear about Columbia. So it’s very nice to read about Cartagena. You’ve shared a great amount of detail too.

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