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The Ultimate Travel Guide to Cartagena, Colombia

Headed to Cartagena and wondering what you can’t miss? Here is my go-to Jetset travel guide to a perfect vacation full of dancing, drinking, and eating your way through this coastal Colombian gem.

travel guide cartagena colombia

You’ll come to Cartagena for its tropical Caribbean vibes, but you’ll be blown away by the historic stone-walled old city, the colorful colonial architecture and the uniquely Colombian culture. Whether your idea of a vacation is sipping the world’s best coffee on a bougainvillea-laced balcony, heading to a lush tropical island just minutes off of the city, or salsa-dancing until 6am in one of Cartagena’s famous nightclubs (My favorites are La Movida, Alquimico, La Jugada, or Cafe Havana), Cartagena, Colombia has a ton to offer everyone.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Table of Contents

Where to stay in Cartagena

travel guide cartagena colombia

On the rooftop of Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa

There are two main areas to choose to stay in in Cartagena – the old city or the “new city”- the Miami-beach-like Bocagrande (which you can see is the area with the skyscrapers below) . They each have their pros and cons. From Bocagrande, you can step out of your hotel or Airbnb directly onto the beach, which is pretty ideal. But, that being said, the city beaches are nothing  compared to the beaches outside of the city (like Baru or Rosario), so I don’t think this is a strong enough pro to stay here over Old Town.

travel guide cartagena colombia

The gorgeous stone-walled Old City is Cartagena’s principal attraction – and  is where the best restaurants and cafes, and all the nightlife is, so if that’s where you’re going to be spending all of your time, it may not make sense to stay elsewhere.  Old town is packed with colonial architecture, beautiful churches and plazas, delicious restaurants, and Cartagena’s famous colorful mansions with their overhanging balconies… It’s definitely where you want to be.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Hotel Casa San Agustin

Honestly it doesn’t get any better than this hotel if you’re looking for where to stay for luxury in Cartagena . This boutique luxury hotel is one of the Leading Hotels of the World (which in my experience are ALWAYS amazing). Hotel Casa San Agustin is stunning in every sense of the word. It’s composed of three beautiful white houses, connected with bright clay rooftops, and a gorgeous view of the clocktower.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Hotel Casa San Agustin has only 20 rooms and 10 beautifully-decorated suites in traditional Colombian style and sprawling balconies for sipping your Colombian coffee in the morning. The hotel incorporates modern amenities while maintaining pristine colonial architecture and a beautifully authentic vibe of Cartagena’s rich history. It is absolutely one of my favorite hotels I’ve stayed in in the WORLD, and a must if you’re willing to splurge on your vacation in Cartagena.

Standard rooms are beautiful, but the premium rooms with private plunge pools or jacuzzis are definitely worth the splurge. Rates from $400-$500 per night. Hotel Casa San Agustin .

travel guide cartagena colombia

Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa

I LOVED this hotel. The location is awesome – right at the entrance to the old city and right by the boat docks (making it easy to get out to the Rosario Islands for a day trip!). The service was impeccable, and I loved the rooftop and the dreamy courtyard. Can’t beat this spot for a go-to Cartagena hotel. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

My fiance Kenny (wearing his brand Kenny Flowers ) living his best life at Hotel Charleston

Tcherassi Hotel & Spa

This boutique hotel from acclaimed Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi is set in a 250-year-old restored colonial mansion with original stone-walled rooms and private balconies. There are only 7 rooms, but 4 pools, creating an intimate atmosphere like none other in the city. Rates from $200-$300 per night. Look at how beautiful this hotel is –  Tcherassi Hotel & Spa .

travel guide cartagena colombia

Shop my Colombia dress here

The best places to stay in Cartagena with a group –

The Best AirBnBs and VRBO’s in Cartagena for Groups

Luxury 4 bedroom villa in cartagena´s walled city with pool and rooftop jacuzzi.

Courtyard pool

Located next to plaza Fernandez Madrid and across from Santo Toribio church. It combines modern finishes with colonial Colombian architecture creating an unforgettable property. It has a large private pool as well as a modern rooftop jacuzzi. All of the well appointed large bedrooms have spacious en suite bathrooms. 

Check rates here

Old Town Group Villa

La Casa Que Besa El Mar is located in the old city of Cartagena de Indias. It sits unobstructed, with views of the historic Spanish Colonial wall set just in front of the ever expansive ocean. Facing west, the sunset is visible each and every day, with optimal viewing from La Casa’s spectacular mirador (roof terrace).

Mirador

Other hotels I like:

Townhouse boutique hotel & rooftop.

This charming and tropical boutique hotel is the perfect choice for young 20-somethings traveling to Cartagena and hoping to be in the heart of the action. It’s decorated head-to-toe by young Colombian artists (the pictures don’t do it justice but CHECK OUT THIS PLACE !!!), so cool. Each room has vibrant and fun paintings of flamingoes, toucans, or other tropical touches. Each of the hotel’s eight bedrooms and 3 suites are individually styled, and their rooftop, open the public from 8am-1am, offers panoramic views of the walled city, two plunge pools, and a lot of icy cocktails. Their slogan “fancy doesn’t have to be boring” says it all – Townhouse is millennial luxury at its finest. 

Rates are around $175/night for a standard double room. Book here.

Gallery image of this property

Blue Apple Beach House

If you’re looking for a beach retreat right outside of the city, Blue Apple Beach House is your spot. This chill beach club slash hotel is owned by the same people as Townhouse in downtown, and is a super-cute, relaxed, very Colombian beach getaway. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Intercontinental Cartagena

If the Miami-like bocagrande is more your style, the Intercontinental offers 360 degree ocean views and a swoon-worthy ocean-facing infinity pool and a bar filled with delicious fruity cocktails that will have you wondering if you should ever leave your hotel.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Sophia Hotel Cartagena

This modern elegant hotel in the heart of Cartagena’s Plaza de Aduana offers fashionable rooms, a modern aesthetic and a pretty unbeatable rooftop.  It’s a little oasis in the heart of the city. Rates from $200-$300 per night. Book at  Sophia Hotel Cartagena

travel guide cartagena colombia

What to do in Cartagena

travel guide cartagena colombia

Explore Old Town Cartagena

You can’t leave Cartagena without exploring the beautiful stone-walled Old City.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Strategically located on the Caribbean coast, Cartagena was historically one of Colonial Spain’s most important ports. Stone fortresses and gigantic walls up to 30 meters thick and 11KM long line the city, which was so well protected after many pirates (most notably Sir Francis Drake) in the 16th Century attempted (and often succeeded) in sieges of the wealthy port city’s riches.  Strolling the historic Old City is like stepping back in time and losing yourself in the romantic historic plazas and vibrant, colorful cobblestone streets.

travel guide cartagena colombia

One of my favorite streets (and most colorful) is right where the restaurant Carmen is. Just type in Carmen to your google maps to get there!

travel guide cartagena colombia

Go emerald shopping!

Did you know that Colombia produces the highest quality emeralds in the world? If you, like me, love your jewelry, do not leave Colombia without emerald shopping! My favorite spot in Cartagena is Lucy Jewelry – let them know I sent you and maybe they’ll give you their best price 🙂 

14KT Yellow Gold Emerald Baguette Diamond Audelia Necklace

photo from Equities.com

SEE MORE: Where to Find The Best Instagram Spots in Cartagena

What islands are the best to visit around cartagena.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Follow @JetsetChristina on Instagram

Take a day trip to Islas Rosario

There are so many breathtakingly beautiful islands accessible by boat from Cartagena, and a beach day to the islands is a popular day trip for locals and tourists alike! The most popular islands to visit are the Islas De Rosario, a beautiful group of 28 islands about an hour off the coast of Cartagena.

travel guide cartagena colombia

The easiest way to book a boat is to go through your hotel (who can recommend you to one of the many best island resorts). My favorite spot in Islas Rosario I’ve been to so far has been Gente Del Mar island (pictured here)! It was so gorgeous, and the food and drinks were amazing! 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Eteka Beach Club

If you’re looking for Tulum-meets-Bali vibes in Colombia, the super-instagrammable Eteka Beach Club is a great spot super close to Cartagena. Loved this place!!

We were super impressed by the food here, too!

travel guide cartagena colombia

Take a day trip to Isla Barú

Baru is another great island option from Cartagena (in fact, if you have enough days you should definitely do both Baru and the Rosario Islands!!!). It’s way more casual, and divey, than the Rosario islands, but the colorful beach shacks and pina colada stands with the beautiful turquoise water make it an amazing day trip.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret that most people don’t realize —  Isla Barú, is even accessible by an easy 40-minute cab ride over a bridge! Making it super easy to get to verus the islands only accessible by boat, since, sometimes, when you don’t want to worry about boat schedules! So an easy (and cheap!) cab ride out to the island is just what you want. Negotiate a rate with the cab driver ahead of time, and tell him you’d like him to wait there at Playa Blanca until you are all ready to go home (it should be around $50 for the entire day – which divided if you’re going with friends is not bad at all!) 

Then, once you’re dropped at Playa Blanca, hop on a motorbike to take you to the end of the road where the beach is. There will be lots of locals offering to take you down to the end- it’s definitely worth the $1 ride versus a long walk! When you get to Playa blanca, get onto the beach and turn right and keep walking. My favorite place to post for the day is this beautiful colorful beach bar called The Wizard. If you’re early enough, you and your friends can reserve one of their hammock beach lounge areas, or just a few chairs where you can order frozen beach drinks and yummy bites all day long.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Isla Baru is anything but fancy… It’s less of a luxury island and more of a local, divey beach day getaway, but the water is gooorgeous, the beach bars are colorful and fun, and the vibe is bustling. It’s an awesome spot to explore for the day and get some sun.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Bike around town

Many of the resorts I recommend in this post (such as Charleston Santa Teresa and Casa San Agustin ) offer complimentary bikes to get around town! It’s my favorite thing to do in the mornings in Cartagena, before the crowds. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Watch the sunset at Cafe del Mar

If your hotel doesn’t get a good sunset view, this touristy-but-great outdoor lounge and bar is perched up on Cartagena’s stone walls and offers a casual bar with an unbeatable sunset view. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Where to drink & dance in Cartagena

this is my all-time favorite bar in Cartagena! 4 stories, a gorgeous rooftop, and way too many insta-worthy corners. We had so much fun here! HIGHLY recoommend.

travel guide cartagena colombia

There’s no better spot for dancing the night away in the hippest little spot in the historic district, La Movida is easily the best night club in Cartagena. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Mirador rooftop 

this bustling rooftop is the place to be after the sun goes down. With a DJ spinning every night, great happy hour specials, and the colors of the city shining right behind the DJ booth, this is a great spot to kick off your night out in Cartagena. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Where to eat in Cartagena

I hope yall like seafood, because Cartagena is seafood & ceviche central – and it is all SO good.

Carmen Cartagena

My favorite fine dining meal in Cartagena is easily Carmen. It has the most gorgeous tropical patio and the food is always extraordinary. Dine on dishes like octopus with chili pepper and tucupi tiger milk, or yucca croquettes with a liquid foie gras and black truffle center, or poached prawns with black bisque and creamy cilantro rice and crab cakes with plantain and wasabi mayo.

They have a restaurant in Medellin as well and it’s also unreal. The food at Carmen is so innovative, fresh, and AMAZING here, and the cocktails are even better. 

travel guide cartagena colombia

Ranked as one of the top 50 Restaurants in Latin America, Celele is a must-stop on any trip to Cartagena. It’s creative Caribbean fusion food and many people will tell you it’s the best restaurant in Colombia – you have to go!!!

travel guide cartagena colombia

Alma Restaurant

If you’re looking for a romantic meal in Cartagena, this is your spot. Located inside the dreamy Casa San Agustin hotel, Alma is delicious, and the atmosphere is absolutely perfect, complete with live music playing the courtyard.

travel guide cartagena colombia

La Cevicheria

This is the one place you’ll see on every single travel guide to Cartagena. This always-busy seafood haven is located on an adorable cobblestone street and rose to fame thanks to Anthony Bourdain. Everyone will tell you to go there but what they won’t tell you is there’s a just-as-good-if-not-better cevicheria down the block called El Boliche also. Head to either one and all your Caribbean ceviche dreams will come true.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Pizza en el Parque

if a casual pizza overlooking one of Cartagena’s parks is what you’re feeling, Pizza en el Parque serves up some delicious pies on a gorgeous balcony. It’s cute, casual, and delicious.

Juan Del Mar

This spacious restaurant & bar in the heart of old town is like a rite of Cartagena passage. The menu is full of Colombian delicassies, as well as some international and Italian favorites. Book a table on the upper terrace if you want to soak up the best view of the square (this is where Colombia’s president eats when he’s in town!) The restaurant is busy year round and features a live band 7 nights a week.

For good Italian food in a casual atmosphere in Cartagena, head straight to Diva Pizza. I almost always crave Italian no matter where I am in the world, so headed to this place when I read the incredible reviews. It was casual, but the food is anything but. I was SO impressed by their food (especially the lasagna, oh my goodness!!!)

For delicious tapas, yummy cocktails and a great ambiance, Pata Negra is your spot. Go with a group and order just about anything on the menu – they’re shared plates and you can’t go wrong – it’s all so, so good.

travel guide cartagena colombia

RPG Pizzeria Boutique

This adorable local pizzeria was my favorite meal in Cartagena! The location is right off of a main square, allowing for a quiet tucked away dinner. The menu features to-die-for thin crust pizzas, sandwiches, salads and more. Ask them if you can sit outside and they’ll set you up with an awesome people-watching spot on the cutest cobblestone street.

Know before you go

travel guide cartagena colombia

Is it safe to travel to Colombia?

Is it safe to travel to Cartagena? Is Cartagena safe? Is Colombia safe?

Yes, yes, and yes! Please don’t let fear of Colombia’s rocky past stop you from exploring this WONDERFUL country! Yes, Colombia was entrenched in a civil war up until the 1980’s, and I know that this is a main concern for many people who are wondering just how safe the country is today. But I want to say that I didn’t feel unsafe for a second in Cartagena. Of course, like anywhere, it’s important to stay aware and be smart about your surroundings, but I think that if you do so, you won’t feel unsafe, even if you’re traveling by yourself.

There is still a US government issued warning against travel to Colombia, which reads: 

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali.

However , violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas. Despite significant decreases in overall crime in Colombia, continued vigilance is warranted due to an increase in recent months of violent crime.

My travel philosophy has always been that dangerous crimes can happen anywhere. They happen every day in my home city of San Francisco , and crimes are commonplace in many of my favorite travel destinations, and many places at home. It’s not uncommon to hear news stories or read travel cautionary tales and feel extremely nervous about traveling to a certain place, but I am a big believer in not letting that fear of danger get in the way of seeing the world. While everyone’s travel experiences are different (and one negative experience or secondhand negative experience can forever skew your feelings toward a certain place), I think it is vitally important to see the world with an open mind, while staying optimistically cautious and aware, of course.

What do I need to be on the look out safety-wise in Colombia?

This all being said, a lot of people ask safety-related questions like, “should I wear my jewelry in Cartagena?” and to that I say it’s best to leave your expensive jewels at home, and be as bare as possible so as to not attract attention to yourself as a potential target to criminals. I would not wear fancy jewelry in Colombia, or bring name brand luggage (such as Louis Vuitton), etc. They call it ‘don’t dar papaya’ which translates to don’t give papaya, meaning don’t give yourself up as a flashy easy target for criminals. 

If you’re a guy traveling by yourself or with a group, please also be aware that there is a crime happening often in Colombia of Colombian women drugging foreign men to rob them at night. (crazy, I know! but please watch out!)

You also might see many signs in Colombia saying “SAY NO TO THE SEX TOURIST”, many establishments have these signs up and will flat out deny service to sex tourists, which is great. Sex tourism is unfortunately a trend in certain cities in Colombia, but there is a lot of active action happening against it making it a less than ideal place for these people to travel to, thank goodness. I only mention it so that you aren’t put off if you see one of these signs at a restaurant or hotel, this is a good thing!

travel guide cartagena colombia

Can I drink the tap water in Cartagena?

On the coast of Colombia, it’s recommended to buy bottled water (it’s very cheap!) as opposed to drink from the tap. But, theoretically, the tap water is supposed to be fine, that’s just the tip I’ve heard from other travelers.  You don’t have to worry about ice or vegetables or anything like that. In  Medellin , on the other hand, which is inland and a big city, it’s perfectly okay to drink their (very good!) tap water, and I drink it every day when I’m there!

Do I need to know Spanish to travel in Colombia?

I’m not going to lie, it helps a TON to know at least a little Spanish when you’re traveling around Colombia. The thing is, tourism is relatively new to this country, so it’s not like everyone is used to all of the tourism and English speakers. But isn’t that what’s so cool about a Colombian vacation?! Cartagena, of all the destinations in Colombia, is by far the most developed for tourism and much easier to get around as a gringo (even if you don’t speak Spanish) than other destinations in the country. But it would definitely help to brush up some on your Spanish before your trip (I’m a big fan of using Rosetta Stone for this!)

And, don’t worry, by the time you leave Colombia all of your high school Spanish will be flowing out of you like loco. Olé!

Will I need a power converter for traveling to Colombia?

If you’re traveling from the US, nope! Cartagena and all of Colombia uses the same power outlets as the USA. If you’re coming from Europe, however, you’ll want to bring a converter ( like this one ) with you.

What season is best to travel to Cartagena?

Cartagena is wonderfully hot year-round. With May being the warmest month (average temperature around 85 °F) , and January being the “coolest” (averages around  80 °F ). The dryest months are December through April and t he highest rainfall occurs in October.  The high season for tourists is during Christmas and New Years (note that prices for accommodation and just about everything hikes about 3x around this time and it can be very difficult to find vacancies in hotels- after all, the whole country wants to flee to the beautiful coast for their vacation!).

Will I need a visa to travel to Colombia?

Nope! A Colombia tourist visa is not required for citizens of United States of America for a stay up to 90 days.

What should I pack for a trip to Cartagena, Colombia?

It is HOT in Cartagena. And when I say hot, I mean HOT. Like, 90 degrees plus humidity hot. And it’s year round. It’s dryest December-March, but you’ll still be sweating every time you walk outside (which I love…. especially when you’re escaping the cold winter up north!)

You’ll definitely want to pack some sunscreen ( here are my favorite sunscreen picks ) and a hat to protect yourself from the Caribbean sun!

Here are some of my favorite picks for Cartagena outfits:

ASTR the Label Rooni Skirt in Orange Green Print

What to pack for him for Cartagena:

This classy Cartagena-inspired button down shirt

travel guide cartagena colombia

PS – Join the JETSETTERS secret facebook group to get & give travel recs to our Jetset Christina community and connect with other jetsetters!

travel guide cartagena colombia

Follow @JetsetChristina on Pinterest!

Enjoy your trip! It’s one of my very favorite cities.

PS – Follow @JetsetChristina on instagram to keep up with all of my travels!

& don’t forget to like jetset christina on facebook .

Check out my post on 10 Things You Can’t Miss When Traveling to Colombia

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links to some hotels! If you choose to book one of the hotels I recommended, I would so appreciate you using these links to do so! An affiliate link basically just means that at no cost to you at all, I get a small kickback from the booking site for bringing them your business! I never recommend any hotels that I don’t 100% LOVE & think you will, too! If you have any questions at all, please see my advertiser & affiliate policy page here .

Check out these other Colombia posts:

travel guide cartagena colombia

The best places to visit in Colombia

travel guide cartagena colombia

Medellin Colombia Travel Guide

travel guide cartagena colombia

Reasons why Colombian coffee is the best in the world

travel guide cartagena colombia

Where to stay with a group in Cartagena

travel guide cartagena colombia

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WRITTEN BY: Christina

Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.

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Tanja Valentic

Christina, Your pictures are beautiful and your trip sounds amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I am planning a trip to Cartagena in March and I was wondering if it is safe to bring a nice camera (DSLR camera) or do you recommend bringing a small camera ? This is kind of a dumb question but what did you do with your stuff to keep it safe while you were at Isla baru? Sorry for all the questions!

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Christina Vidal

Hi Tanja! Thanks so much for reaching out! It is definitely safe to bring a nice camera. I didn’t feel unsafe at all and I had my camera with me in Baru! If you’re by yourself, you can ask a trustworthy bartender or tourist to watch your stuff while you go in the water, or just take turns going in the water if you’re with someone else! Have such a great trip to Cartagena! xx

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Christina your description of Cartagena is perfect – the colors and architecture are very appealing –

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Thomas Espeute

Hey Christina!

Your pictures are gorgeous, and your dress is matching perfectly with the colorful walls ;). Cartagena is lovely and perfect for a Jetset Trip!

The old city center is really safe, and there are so many options to sleep, eat and drink! Also, there are other beaches than Isla Baru 🙂 – You can travel to Cholon island or sleep one or two nights on Isla Grande. You should try to get there. I’m sure you will love it!!!

And I love the Getsemani district where there are the street arts. And the vibe on Trinidad square at night is awesome! And then you go out at Bazurto social Club (great live music) or Mr. Babiila (crazy bar)

Oh yes!! thank you so much for all the tips! Going to get to Getsemani, Isla Grande and Cholon next time I head to Cartagena, for sure!!

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Patricia Davies

[* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “oy” in “comment_content” *] I loved Cartagena de Indias! I stayed at the Intercontinental Cartagena and I am planning to go back. Really enjoyed your post and your pictures!

Thank you so much!

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Donna M Brown

Thanks Christina for sharing great stuff on Cartagena. I am also a travel blogger and share a list of Things to do in Cartagena Tour. Thanks again Christina for this wonderful write up!

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Shawndra Warren

Super helpful, I am heading to Bogota and Cartagena in two weeks. I am going with a friend and my husband is super nervous this post set him at ease and gave me some great tips for my upcoming adventure. Those colorful buildings are calling my name!

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Sandra McCoy

Awesome read. I am heading out to Colombia in June for the birthday so super excited. The hotels you recommended are they in the old town area?

Most of the ones here are! I definitely recommend staying in the Old Town area!! Everything is walkable and the views are unbelievable 🙂

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Hi Christina! I am going for a bachelorette and your info is so so useful, I love it all!!! The hotels you mentioned, do you know if they let you go and use the pool/bars or amenities or eat at their restaurants if you are not a guest ? they all look so beautiful?

Hi Sara! So fun. I don’t know for every one, but usually they’re okay with it! I’d just shoot a quick email to the hotel and find out!

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Adam McConnaughhay

Hey, this is a great travel guide for Cartagena. And your pictures are terrific, they capture the colors of Cartagena perfectly.

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Amazing! Did you take out cash before you arrived or did you use the ATMs there/use your card at restaurants/shops? What would you recommend? Thanks!

Great question! I like to have some cash on hand before I arrive (especially for taxis, etc) and there are definitely plenty of places that don’t take card in Colombia. But, the more upscale bars and restaurants will take card.

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Hey Christina was born in Colombia, am adopted y have foster parents that live in Colombia as well have one of my foster sisters that live there as well with her family. Haven’t been back over there since coming 2 America at the age of 2, definitely want 2 go back y see where my life started have just so much desire 2 visit y know there are lots of changes but am just so interested 2 go back home since have a family there. When is the best time 2 go y bout how long is the flight? Look forward staying in touch y getting some gr8 pointers from u, t2u soon Christina – Danny

Hi Danny! That’s so great to hear that you want to go back. It is a beautiful country!!! I think any time of year is great in Colombia. The highest season is winter in the states – so november-january. It’s beautiful weather down there then!! The flight isn’t too bad! Actually only 2.5 hours from Miami. So depends where you are coming from in the states.

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Hi Christina I have all your post and I really like. I am exciting because of my travel to Cartagena and I want to make a little question to you. When you talk about take a cab ride, you pay 50 (you are talking about dollars right?) and is it sure to take a taxi for a long way in colombia?. PD: Thank you for your post It’s very helpful for us.

Hi Pamela! Yes I paid $50 USD to get from central Cartagena to Baru island. It was about 45 minutes to an hour away! & thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad it’s helpful!

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If someone was going to stay in isla baru what area of the beach would you suggest? Thanks!

I’ve never stayed on Isla Baru but I’ve heard this hotel is amazing – https://www.booking.com/hotel/co/las-islas.en.html?aid=1590369&no_rooms=1&group_adults=1 They probably have the best most tucked away area of beach!

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Hi!! I love your post, I will soon visit Cartagena, please a question… Where exactly is the purple house of your photo? I love your pic..

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Hi Christina! I love this blog post, it’s very helpful as I plan a mini-moon for this June. I’m curious about your dinning recommendations and if you recommend making reservations ahead of time, or if most of the places you listed are okay for walk-ins? Thank you!!

Hi Ana! Thank you! Most should be fine to walk in (or have your hotel book you a reservation week of) – if you’re going to Carmen I would make a reservation at Carmen ahead of time!

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I have been reading your blogs and googling Cartegena all day at work! Can you give us an insider scoop of how much things are in Colombia… average for a cocktail / beer / soda / pizza / steak dinner? I think you mentioned this once in your stories but I don’t remember! I’ll have to go through your Insta stories when I get home! Thank you! I am dying to book a trip!!

Hi! Of course! Everything in Colombia is definitely a more affordable price point than in the US! A dinner for 2 at a fancy restaurant in Colombia usually ends up around $100, including drinks but obviously can be more if you get a nicer bottle of wine, etc. Dinner at a more casual restaurant can be super affordable. Cocktails out will cost $8-10 at a good spot. Beer is like $3-5.

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hello Christina, I love yout your travel guide. I have questions about when you visit Isla rosario. is the Gente Del Mar is beach club or is hotel ? do you prefer to do day pass or go by yourself with guide of the hotel. I will like to visit exactly that point where you were more I need more details please thank you. I see that you travel a lot. I love your pictures.

Hi! We went for the day, but I believe you can stay overnight there too. I prefer to stay in old town Cartagena and go for the day! We went via a boat that we rented for the day.

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Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

Cartagena Travel Guide

Last Updated: September 1, 2023

The Old Walled City in Cartagena, Colombia filled with people on a bright and sunny day

Cartagena is a perfectly preserved colonial town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. During the narco heydays, Cartagena was considered the only “safe” spot in Colombia for tourists. It was where foreigners vacationed, cruise ships docked, and wealthy Colombians built their vacation homes.

Today, this colorful colonial city remains one of the most popular destinations for tourists and Colombians alike. Rich Colombians — and now foreigners — still build vacation homes here, cruise ships still dock, and the influx of tourists has grown with an increasing number of direct flights from North America and Europe.

In the midst of all the touts and tourists, Colombia is an architecturally beautiful and vibrant city. It’s brimming with lovely little cafés, cutting-edge restaurants, lively music, town squares full of life, funky bars, and more.

Cartagena is not about seeing the sights. After a couple of museums, a walking tour, and a visit to a beach or two, you’ve pretty much seen the city. It’s about the vibe and ambiance.

Which you’ll need to experience for yourself.

This travel guide to Cartagena will give you everything you need to know to see the local side of the city, find hidden beaches, eat the best food in Colombia, and make the most of your trip!

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Cartagena

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cartagena

View over the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia, with a large historic domed church in the foreground and modern skyscrapers in the background

1. Walk the Old Walled City

Cartagena has become such a popular tourist destination thanks to the colorful colonial architecture of its Old Walled City. It’s one of the best-preserved) examples of colonial architecture in the whole of Latin America. Be sure to wander around and take it in for yourself.

2. See Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Climb to the top of San Felipe Castle to admire the view over Cartagena. This fortress was built by the Spanish in the 1600s and its main highlight is the complex system of tunnels running underneath it. Admission is 25,000 COP.

3. Visit Playa Blanca

The pristine sandy beach and turquoise waters of Playa Blanca make it one of the most scenic beaches in Colombia. Located one hour from the city, it gets very busy during the day, so if you spend the night you’ll have the beach to yourself once the day-trippers leave. A tour costs around 60,000 COP.

4. Explore Getsemani

The Getsemani area was once a no-go zone but, in recent years, the area has transformed into a cultural melting pot full of street art, artisan shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It’s now a great neighborhood to wander around for food, drinks, colorful buildings, and friendly locals.

5. Visit Plaza de Trinidad

Plaza de Trinidad is a small square just a 10-minute walk outside of the old town where you can hang out with backpackers and locals alike, normally while enjoying lots of live music. There are always street food carts and vendors selling cold beers. It’s an awesome place to relax and people-watch!

Other Things to See and Do in Cartagena

1. go island hopping.

Cartagena doesn’t have a lot of nice beaches, which is why island-hopping around the Islas del Rosario is so popular. The Islas del Rosario are a collection of 27 islands just off the coast. If you want to visit the larger Islands, you can either go by road (there’s a bridge) or on a public boat. If you want to snorkel the reefs and see some of the smaller islands, you need to take a private boat. You can book tours online, or if you can get a small group together, it’s worth walking down to the port early and negotiating a private tour with a local. Expect to pay from 300,000 COP and up for the boat trip.

2. Watch the sunset from the wall

As the sun starts to go down you will see a constant stream of people heading towards the wall next to the seafront to secure their spot. Most people take a few beers and enjoy sundown with friends. The most popular bar in town around this time is Cafe del Mar, famed for its perfect sunset views and live DJ sets. Arrive early as it gets super busy.

3. Visit La Boquilla

La Boquilla is a small fishing village just outside Cartagena that’s best known for its busy beachfront. While the town lacks the polished finish of Cartagena, it more than makes up for it in cheap eats and cold beer best enjoyed on the beach. You can also hop on a mangroves boat tour to see the area’s natural mangrove tunnels, including the scenic “Tunnel of Love” (a natural tunnel made by the mangroves). Day tours start from 150,000 COP.

4. Do a free walking tour

Free Tour Cartagena organizes a free walking tour that covers all the main highlights in the city, including the Clock Tower, Inquisition Palace, Aduana Square, and Heredia Theater. They’ll also take you through neighborhoods like Getsemani, and they offer a free food tour (though you’ll pay for the food) too. Remember to tip your guide at the end!

5. Visit the Palacio de la Inquisición

The Palace of Inquisition, housed in a Baroque-style building with wooden balconies covered in bright flowers, is home to a museum displaying the instruments of torture used by the Spanish to stamp out heresy amongst the native Colombians during the Spanish Inquisition. The main source of torture was known as the strappado . This is when the victim was suspended in the air with their hands tied behind their back and weights were added to a rope to pull them down, dislocating their shoulders in the process. There’s also the rack, where victims were painfully stretched until they confessed. It’s 22,000 COP to visit.

6. Mix with locals at Mercado de Bazurto

If you want to taste a different side of Cartagena, get away from the old city and take a trip to Mercado de Bazurto. It’s easy to get disoriented here as the market is a virtual labyrinth. It’s dirty, loud, and fascinating. The market itself sells an incredible variety of freshly made food at rock bottom prices, so be sure to go with an empty stomach.

7. Take a street food tour

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is one of the best places in the country for foodies. Even the arepa con queso is a game-changer compared to the dry, tasteless arepa that you might find elsewhere. It can be tricky to find the best street food places, however, so a street food tour is the best way to go about finding the best eats. Duran Duran Tours offers a great tour through open-air markets where you’ll sample some local delicacies before finishing up with a cooking class and meal at a local family’s home. Cartagena Connections and Free Tour Cartagena also offer in-depth street food tours.

8. Visit the Museum of Modern Art

Located inside the converted part of a former 17th-century Royal Customs House, the Museum of Modern Art is small and its collection includes artwork from mostly local and national artists. Alejandro Obregón, one of Cartagena’s most famous painters, has several pieces here. There’s a cool photography exhibition detailing the city’s transformation throughout history too. Overall, you don’t need more than 45 minutes here but it’s worth a quick visit to admire the collection. Admission is 10,000 COP.

9. Go to Tierra Bomba Island

Tierra Bomba Island is just a 15-minute boat trip from Cartagena. There are four small towns here, each with different beaches. Punta Arena is the best town to get dropped off at, as some of the island’s cleanest, most pristine beaches are around here. Relax, book a cabana on the sand, and enjoy a seafood lunch. To get there, take a small boat from the pier next to the Castillogrande. A round-trip ticket is 15,000-20,000 COP.

10. Take a mud bath in a volcano

A popular but cheesy day trip is to the 15-meter (49-foot) high Totumo Mud Volcano (also known as the “Volcano of Youth”) where you can climb down into a pit and soak up the minerals from the naturally heated volcanic mud. Only 10-15 people can fit inside at a time. According to local legend, the volcano used to be full of lava but was turned into a mud volcano by a local priest when he sprinkled holy water into it. A round-trip tour starts at 110,000 COP. You can pay extra for a massage while you soak in the mud as well.

11. Visit the San Felipe de Barajas Castle

This castle was built and rebuilt between the mid-15th century and mid-17th century. It has been used to defend Cartagena against everything from pirate attacks to European invasions. It is in excellent condition so it’s easy to see where the vantage points for artillery were and to explore the underground galleries, gunpowder warehouses, and tunnels. This incredible example of Spanish military engineering is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission is 25,000 COP.

12. Go to the Pink Sea

Known locally as El Salar de Galerazamba and Salinas de Galerazamba, these salt flats are an hour north of Cartagena. It is thought that the pink comes from the only microbes that can survive in such high salinity conditions. Add enough light and heat and they produce carotenoids which turn these algae pink. Many tours to Totumo Mud Volcano combine a stop here or you can take the bus from Cartagena which costs around 25,000 COP.

  For more information on other cities in Colombia, check out these guides:

  • Bogotá Travel Guide
  • Cali Travel Guide
  • Medellín Travel Guide
  • Santa Marta Travel Guide

Cartagena Travel Costs

Two women in bright, colorful dresses, walking down a street with baskets of fruit on their heads in Cartagena, Colombia

Hostel prices – Cartagena has some great accommodation options, although you will notice a big increase in price in comparison to the rest of Colombia. Most dorms with 6-8 beds are 30,000 COP per night while 4-bed dorms cost 45,000-70,000 COP per night. A private room will cost about 130,000 COP per night, and that’s about as low as it gets. Expect free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities. Free breakfast is sometimes included as well.

Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels are plentiful in Cartagena and often cheaper than private hostel rooms. A room in a two-star hotel can cost as little as 60,000 COP, but expect to pay closer to 100,000 COP per night.

Airbnb is also available in the city. The average price for a private room is 140,000 COP per night while an entire home/apartment starts from 350,000 COP per night.

Food – Colombian food is a blend of indigenous, Caribbean, and European traditions. While ingredients and popular dishes vary by region, common staples include maize, potato, cassava, rice, and all kinds of tropical fruit (dragon fruit, papaya, guava, passionfruit). Fried plantains, chicken soup, tamales, empanadas, meat pies, and roasted piglet are just some of the delicious popular dishes you’ll encounter.

If you’re on a budget, you can eat for under 50,000 COP a day. Whether it’s an arepa (a maize dough bun filled with meat or cheese) for around 4,000 COP, an empanada for 2,000 COP, or fish with beans and rice for lunch for as little as 11,000 COP, there are plenty of cheap options for eating out if you look for them.

Cartagena is known for its food and you can find some world-class fish, pizza, high-end Colombian food, and gastronomic food here. Mains cost about 30,000-50,000 COP, while starters are about 20,000-30,000 COP. For a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant with table service, expect to pay around 42,000 COP.

Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 15,000 COP. A beer at a bar costs about 10,000 while buying it at a store is half that price. A latte or cappuccino costs around 5,000 COP.

Some of my favorite places to eat in Cartagena include Demente, Caffé Lunático, La Mulata, Carmen, and La Cervichería.

OXXO stores are a great place to stock up on snacks and alcohol — and most are open 24 hours. For a week’s worth of groceries, expect to pay around 100,000 COP for basic staples like rice, eggs, meat, and some fruits and vegetables.

Backpacking Cartagena Suggested Budgets

If you are backpacking Cartagena, my suggested budget is 125,000 COP per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating street food and cooking some meals, limiting your drinking, using local transportation or walking everywhere, and sticking to mostly free or cheap activities like walking tours and the beach.

A mid-range budget of about 275,000 COP per day covers staying in a private Airbnb or private hostel room, eating out for all your meals, enjoying a few drinks, taking the occasional taxi to get around, and doing more paid activities like cooking classes and museum visits.

On a “luxury budget of about 600,000 COP per day or more, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, take more taxis or rent a car to get around and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in COP.

Cartagena Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips

Cartagena is one of the more expensive cities in Colombia. It’s popular with the cruise ship crowd, older Americans, and couples so prices are a little higher. Here are some ways to cut your costs while you’re here:

  • Take a free walking tour – If you want to get a great overview of Cartagena, take a free walking tour. It covers all the highlights and is a great intro to the city. Just don’t forget to tip your guide!
  • Eat like a local – It’s easy to eat on a budget here if you stick to local Colombian food. Avoid Western food and fancy restaurants if you want to save money.
  • Stay with a local – Accommodation isn’t cheap here, but staying with a local will make it free! Not only will you save some money, but you’ll get firsthand knowledge from a local who can share their insider tips and advice.
  • Cook your own meals – While eating out isn’t too expensive here, if you’re on a budget it will be cheaper if you cook your own meals. It’s not glamorous, but it’s affordable!
  • Walk everywhere – If you don’t mind walking, this is the easiest and cheapest way to explore the city. Most of the main sights are well within walking distance.
  • Pack a water bottle – The tap water here is safe so bring a water bottle with you to avoid buying single-use plastic. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw , which has built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.

Where to Stay in Cartagena

Accommodations in Cartagena are a lot more expensive compared to other places in Colombia, especially in the Old Town. Your best area for budget accommodation is outside the old city. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Cartagena:

  • Quintas by Maos
  • Republica Hostel Cartagena
  • Selina Cartagena

How to Get Around Cartagena

A square in the old town of Cartagena, Colombia at sunset

Public transportation – The main method of public transportation in Cartagena is the Metrocar bus. A one-way trip costs 2,600 COP. However, most everything you’ll want to see and do in Cartagena is within walking distance. Many locals will tell you to avoid the bus altogether as it passes through some shady parts of town.

Taxis – Taxis in Cartagena the best way to get around if you want flexibility. Ask your accommodation for approximate prices so you don’t get ripped off. The city has set rates but taxis don’t use meters and usually won’t show you the rates. Know what to expect in advance so you don’t get ripped off.

Bike rental – Bikes can be rented for around 6,000 COP per hour, while guided bike tours cost around 100,000 COP for a two-hour tour. Electric motorcycles cost around 30,000 COP per hour for a rental.

When to Go to Cartagena

Cartagena is hot all year round, with temperatures usually in the high 20s°C (mid-80s °F). The busiest time of year is from December to April (the dry season) when temperatures are the most pleasant and there’s very little rainfall. This period is also when the city receives the most tourists, however, so you can expect inflated prices and big crowds.

June to August usually bring lots of rain and overwhelming humidity, so you might want to brave the crowds and visit during the peak season instead of visiting during this time. Expect daily highs around 32°C (90°F).

The cheapest time to visit is August-November, as this is when the city is the least busy. It will be rainy, but there is still a lot to do and prices for accommodation will be lower.

How to Stay Safe in Cartagena

Safety is often one of the biggest concerns for people when planning a trip to Cartagena, as Colombia used to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. They have a common saying in Colombia: “No dar papaya,” which translates to “don’t give papaya.” What it really means is though don’t give anyone the chance to steal your stuff — because someone probably will.

That means no walking around with your phone out, never keeping anything in your pockets (especially when on public transport), and always keeping hold of your bag.

If you are eating out, keep your backpack on your lap or place your foot or a chair leg through your strap. It is very common for someone to do a bag swap (meaning they swap their empty bag for yours) while you’re busy eating so always stay vigilant.

Avoid ATMs on the street whenever possible and go into the bank to use the ATM there instead. That way you can put your money away discreetly without being watched.

There aren’t many street scams in Cartagena; it’s mostly opportunistic petty theft. But if you’re worried about getting ripped off you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.

Look for hotels or hostels with 24-hour security. You always want someone around in case you need assistance. If you don’t feel safe somewhere, don’t hesitate to move on.

Also, avoid drug tourism. The drugs cartels have crippled this country so it’s really disrespectful to support the drug industry here. Doing drugs here is also illegal and you don’t want to end up in a Colombian prison!

If you experience an emergency and need assistance, dial 123.

Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.

For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Colombia, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:

Cartagena Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Cartagena Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Colombia and continue planning your trip:

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travel guide cartagena colombia

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

When it comes to vacationing in Colombia, there are endless things to do in Cartagena. You’ll see in this Cartagena travel guide just why this bustling city is the darling of South America’s coastline.

After spending five days in the walled city, it was easy to fall in love. The culture is vibrant — music is playing everywhere. Brightly painted walls, bougainvillea pouring out over balconies, and plenty of drinks to stay refreshed paints a picture perfect postcard. Cartagena has turned into a traveler’s hotspot and for good reason. The city is walkable, beautiful beaches are nearby, and a whole culinary world waits to be discovered. Pair this with the locals’ friendly welcome, there has never been a better time to visit Cartagena.

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

What to Know Before Traveling to Colombia

Safety. Of course this is a topic I cannot avoid so I will address it according to my time in Cartagena only (Medellín will be addressed in that guide). I felt safe the entire time there — it’s a widely visited place, with many tourists. Yes you need to be careful as always when traveling internationally. Safety precautions like not going out solo at night and not showing off valuables is still encouraged. With all of this in mind, we went out at night, danced, and enjoyed the liveliness of Cartagena. I always encourage to check local news before arrival and during trips as well as any US announced travel precautions.

Money . You will need cash on hand for some of the restaurants. Credit cards are accepted at most places as well. I would pull out cash at a trusted bank’s ATM and not exchange at the airport.

Transportation . It’s important to book transport you can trust. I recommend having your hotel call a taxi and using the taxi line at the airport. Uber also works here and is great for getting around locally. Getting between major cities in Colombia itself, flying is the best option. I flew from Medellín for around $60 USD one way on Avianca. Cartagena also has an international airport with direct flights to major cities in the US in Florida, New York, and more.

Travel Insurance . I recommend having it for all international travel. My preferred insurance is World Nomads. 

Amount of Time Needed . It completely depends on what you plan to do in the Old City and nearby day trips. Three nights in the Old City was nice with one night out on an island. You could easily spend a week here if you plan to visit more nearby.

Packing . I did the trip in a carry-on — here’s a look at what I packed for Colombia.

Cartagena Weather

When it comes to weather in Colombia, Cartagena, the temperature is average year round. You’re not going to get snow in Cartagena for instance, but you may get wind and precipitation during certain months. With sunny and cloudy days, you tend to have  humidity all year round.

The hottest months of the year are June-September where severe heat is at its highest. The forecast rarely varies and it feels pretty hot out.  The coolest months are January – March, but it is also the time of year that can be most crowded.

I went in February and found the temperature to be just right, especially coming from the United States where it was freezing. I checked the forecast before arrival and though it predicted storms, when I arrived it was clear skies. Be sure to take a look at the weather networks before travel.

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

Where to Stay in Cartagena

  • Casa Pombo : No doubt one of the most beautiful buildings in Cartagena, Casa Pombo is an oasis tucked behind grand doors. Staying here for two nights was the highlight of the time — the design is stunning. Booking a three bedroom apartment, I loved the airy space. Spending most afternoons at the rooftop pool, it was the perfect place to escape the heat of the day.

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

  • Hotel Las Islas Barú : For one night, we took a boat out to this luxury eco-hotel. Near the Rosario Islands, it has a great location for time on a small, private beach. The rooms are well appointed and the high price point is worth it for the seclusion. I only wish we would have stayed a few more nights.

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

  • Casa San Agustin : My second choice hotel in the Old Town that I would have booked would be Casa San Agustin. The design-forward hotel is in a central location, making for a great base for discovering Cartagena.

Best Restaurants in Cartagena

What took me most by surprise in Cartagena was how international the cuisine was. Yes you can find great local food here, but there is a ton of restaurants that specialize in other food. For the top places, you will want to reserve in advance.

  • El Kilo: Arguably this was our favorite meal. Their ceviche is incredible (try the El Kilo) and they had wonderful cocktails. This was one of those gems that we stumbled upon and would take this over some of the other popular ceviche spots.
  • El Barón: We originally came here for cocktails (amazing!) and they also have good food as well for a quick bite.
  • Zaitún Cartagena: Another one of those meals that took us by surprise was Zaitún. Firstly the cocktails are incredible and then they had Lebanese food which blew my mind. I would definitely eat here if you’re looking for something different . 
  • Coffee at Epoca Espresso Bar (their breakfast is also delicious).
  • Demente: One dinner here was great for lighter bites that were Spanish tapas style.
  • Restaurant Palenqueras Getsemani: This space was really fun and good, classic dishes like whole fish and plantains. It gets really lively at night as well with their second floor and patio.
  • Alma: This is an awesome venue for upscale Colombian food. *Reserve in advance.
  • Restaurante Bar La Vitrola : If you’re craving Italian food, come here.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Things to Do in Cartagena

Days in Cartagena are rather relaxed. It gets pretty hot so most of the time you’ll want to spend time near the water. I would highly recommend having a hotel with a pool at the very least. Here’s a few things to do in Cartagena:

  • Explore the Walled City: This is the highlight — exploring the endless streets and discovering gems.
  • Shop local designers : There are some incredible design shops here so much so I wish I had brought a bigger suitcase. Favorite shops included Mercedes Salazar, Silvia Tcherassi, Loto del Sur (candles), Chiqui House Boutique (local designers), St. Dom, and Colombia Artesenal.
  • Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas : Head here early to beat the crowds and visit this enormous castle from 1639.
  • Walk through Mercado de Bazurto : For an opportunity to get a look at local life, the market is one to walk through.
  • Discover Getsemani : One of the other neighborhoods to explore is just outside of the walled city. The neighborhood is filled with incredible street art, great bars, and good local eats.
  • Take a free walking tour with Free Tour Cartagena.
  • More things to do in Cartagena in this post .

The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

Possible Day Trips from Cartagena

Though I stuck to staying in the Old Town and the overnight to Barú, I wanted to provide some other day trips available. Researching a few of these before hand, they all looked wonderful for a day out of the city.

  • Take a boat ride to the Rosario Islands. (most Tourism Agencies can arrange a boat tour or ask your hotel)
  • Spend a day at Playa Blanca. (taxi or Uber here)
  • Tayrona National Park

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The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you . If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here .

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:

  • World Nomads (best for all-around)
  • Safety Wing (best for frequent travelers)

Xx, Jessica

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The 12 best things to do in Cartagena

Laura Watilo Blake

Aug 11, 2023 • 12 min read

travel guide cartagena colombia

Get lost in Cartagena's stunning Old Town © Yuki Mao / Getty Images

Like much of the Caribbean, Cartagena is a blend of coastal beauty, historical significance and cross-cultural influences. Palm leaves sway in the salty sea breeze, dazzling sunsets paint the sky enchanting shades of pink and gold, and sun-kissed beaches meet the shimmering sea.

It was also the center of power and wealth for the Spanish colonial empire in the 16th century. As a vital hub for trade and commerce, Cartagena brought together people from various parts of the world, including Spanish colonizers, European traders, enslaved African people, Middle Eastern immigrants and Indigenous groups.

The convergence of multicultural traditions has left an indelible mark on Cartagena’s architecture, music and cuisine, setting the scene for a wide range of experiences that appeal to all kinds of travelers. Here are the top experiences and hidden gems to seek out when you visit Cartagena.

1. Wander the labyrinthian streets of Cartagena's walled city

Wanderlust-stricken souls will find themselves enchanted by Cartagena's colorful and captivating Old Town , which is best explored on foot. Within its thick coral walls that once safeguarded the city from plundering pirates in the 17th century, history reverberates as loudly as the local champeta music spilling from open windows as you stroll by. Opulent mansions, adorned with ornate door knockers, bright pink flowers and fluttering Colombian flags, have been converted into beckoning shops, restaurants, boutique hotels, art galleries and museums that unravel the city’s storied past.

On the Plaza de Bolívar , don’t miss the Palacio de la Inquisición and its spine-chilling collection of torture devices used to extract confessions from heretics and witches in the colonial era. Nearby, the Santuario de San Pedro Claver pays tribute to a saintly priest whose compassionate treatment of enslaved people contrasted with the unenlightened period he witnessed.

Detour:  Take respite from the hot tropical sun by ducking into the atmospheric – and air-conditioned –  Ábaco Libros y Café . This coffeehouse for bibliophiles has floor-to-ceiling books wedged between exposed brick archways. Order a hot or cold brew and take a seat at one of the handful of tables inside.

2. Marvel at the engineering prowess of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas , one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and the largest fort in South America, sits high upon a hill overlooking the city and sea. After Sir Francis Drake ravaged Cartagena in 1586, an existing structure on the hill was fortified. It took a couple of centuries, many more attacks and subsequent renovations for the imposing fortress to look like it does today.

If you don’t mind tight spaces, duck into the short and narrow tunnels that were designed to slow invading troops if they managed to breach the barrage of gunfire after scaling the deceptive outer ramparts. To delve deeper into the fort’s engineering ingenuity, pay for an audio guide or a tour guide at the entrance since signage is limited.

Planning tip:  From the fort’s highest point, the 360-degree view is an unforgettable vantage point to bid adieu to the day before the historic site closes at 6pm. At Cartagena’s latitude, sunsets occur around 5:30pm in November and 6:30pm in June.

A woman and a man standing at a fruit vendor's cart in colorful Cartagena

3. Experience the art of bohemian Getsemaní

Once a primarily working-class neighborhood just outside the Old Town’s walls, Getsemaní has evolved into an artsy enclave renowned for its captivating street art. Along narrow alleys strewn with fluttering pennants, umbrellas and other colorful embellishments, weathered walls have become plein-air canvases for large-scale murals. During the day, locals converge to chat or play Parqués (a version of the board game Parcheesi), but as the sun goes down, the same alleys transform into open-air restaurants and bars.

At the heart of Getsemaní lies Plaza de la Trinidad, a vibrant square where one can grab quick bites and cold drinks, then revel in nighttime entertainment against the backdrop of a historic church. Look to the right of the church to spot one of Getsemaní’s most emblematic murals depicting a grackle taking off amid sparks of color. The bird, locally called Maria Mulata, has iridescent black feathers that show off rainbow hues in the right light.

Planning tip:  For a more in-depth tour of the neighborhood, Free Tour Cartagena and Beyond Cartagena both offer no-charge walking tours of Getsemaní, but expect to tip at least COP$20,000.

4. Lounge on one of Cartagena’s beaches

Cartagena's beaches may not have the same breathtaking beauty as other coastal gems in Colombia, but their accessibility and convenience make them a viable option for a beach within reach. The Bocagrande neighborhood, characterized by towering condos, hotels and bustling shopping plazas along a mile-long stretch of shoreline, often draws comparisons to Miami Beach.

The crowds of beachgoers and the constant presence of street vendors interrupt any chance at tranquility and relaxation. On the bright side, you don’t have to leave your patch of sand to get something you didn’t know you needed, from refreshingly cold drinks to massages.

For more serenity, consider Playa El Laguito in the predominantly residential neighborhood of Castillogrande. From there, you can hire a boat to take you to Tierra Bomba, an island with a nicer public beach or private beach clubs that have all-inclusive day passes. Alternatively, book passage to the captivating Islas del Rosario or the picturesque Playa Blanca on Isa Barú. They are the closest thing you’ll get to idyllic crystal-clear turquoise waters and soft white sand near Cartagena.

Detour:  La Boquilla is a peaceful fishing village at the northeastern edge of Cartagena. It holds the distinction of being one of Colombia's first beaches to receive Blue Flag certification, signifying compliance with international standards of biosafety, accessibility, and sustainability. It is popular with kitesurfers and a jumping-off point for boat tours in the surrounding mangroves.

5. Sip cocktails on a rooftop oasis at sunset

Cartagena’s coastal setting provides an unobstructed view for watching the sun vanish beneath the waves – a time-honored tradition most often done with a drink in hand. Café del Mar , atop the city walls, may be the most iconic place to partake in the ritual, but there are other establishments with better prices and fewer crowds. Seek out hidden rooftop bars that are equally bathed in the mesmerizing glow of the golden hour.

In the heart of the Old Town, venture to Townhouse Rooftop , a chill palm-tree studded spot with tropical-fruit drinks such as the Colombian Mule or Passion Fruit Coolada. Overlooking the Portal de los Dulces, the Mirador Gastrobar has unforgettable people-watching opportunities. In Bocagrande, savor signature drinks and tantalizing international fare at 51 Sky Bar , Colombia’s highest open-air bar.

Woman selling fried street food at a stall in Cartagena

6. Savor Cartagena’s restaurants, street eats and market fare

Cartagena boasts one of the most dynamic gastronomic landscapes with a variety of restaurants that artfully blend local flavors with global influences at all ends of the price spectrum. In the heart of Old Town, the sophisticated Mar y Zielo fuses traditional Colombian cuisine with Middle Eastern flavors that represent a more recent wave of immigration. Celele , located in Getsemaní, delivers an exceptional dining experience in a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. Each dish is a work of art curated to showcase the diversity of ingredients found in the region.

Alongside haute cuisine, the city has a diverse and wallet-friendly assortment of quick bites that can be procured from street vendors. The tempting aroma of deep-fried foods lures passersby on practically every street corner and plaza. Any time of the day or night, you can step right up for specialties like patacones (fried plantains), papas rellenas (ground beef and mashed potato balls), arepa de huevo (stuffed arepa with egg) or buñuelos (fritters). If you’re looking fo something a little bit healthier, pick up mango biche (unripe mangoes seasoned with salt, lime juice and chili powder) from a vendor along the Calle de la Iglesia in Old Town or order a shrimp cocktail or ceviche from a stall along Avenida Venezuela just outside the walled city.

If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the chaotic Mercado Bazurto , a bustling maze of narrow alleys lined with food stalls piled high with produce, raw meat and seafood. The sights, sounds and smells are an assault on the senses, but it’s worth the trip. Not only can you load up on all kinds of exotic tropical fruits found only in Colombia, but also sample some of the prepared foods made right before your eyes.

Planning tip:  The best time to visit the Bazurto Market is mid-morning to early afternoon when the lunch establishments are preparing and serving meals hot off the grill, out of the fryer or straight from a bubbling pot. Place your order early because once the food is gone, the stalls either close for the day or have limited options until the following day.

7. Take a spin around the dance floor in a salsa club

Salsa may be a Cuban export, but Colombians have adopted the musical style as their own. Whether you're an experienced salsa dancer or taking your first steps, Cartagena’s salsa clubs have a welcoming atmosphere that encourages everyone to join in the fun. Inside, the dance floor becomes a melting pot of swirling bodies, moving in sync with the music’s pulsating beats.

Starting around 11pm, the Café Havana in Getsemaní fills with people from all over the world. It may be the most expensive option with a steep cover charge, but the live music is top notch. For a more local vibe, try Club Los Carpinteros in the heart of Getsemaní.

Detour:  El Coreano may be outside the tourist circuit, but you are guaranteed to dance with some of Cartagena’s most-seasoned salsa dancers for a modest price.

8. Cruise the streets of Cartagena in a chiva party bus

As soon as the sun goes down, Cartagena nightlife rolls out, quite literally, in the form of a chiva party bus, or chiva rumbera . Chivas ( “goats” in English ) are a traditional form of public transportation, traditionally used to transport people and cargo through rural parts of Colombia. In Cartagena, these colorful buses are conscripted for a journey into the city’s party scene, announcing their presence with colorful lights, loud music and cheers from those on board.

As the chivas rumble along the city’s thoroughfares, passengers revel in the pulsating beats of reggaeton or sometimes live Vallenato music in between shots of all-you-can-drink rum or, sometimes, aguardiente –  Colombia’s go-to fire water. After an exhilarating ride, the chiva comes to a stop in front of a nightclub, ensuring that the fun continues without a pause.

9. Go for the gold at the Museo del Oro Zenú

The Museo del Oro Zenú reopened its door in early 2023 after an extensive renovation to the magnificent colonial mansion in which it resides. Facing the Parque de Bolívar, the free – and air-conditioned – museum displays artifacts representing 6000 years of pre-Hispanic culture within the Colombian Caribbean region.

The highlight is the permanent collection of exquisite objects made from gold and tumbaga, a versatile alloy made with gold and copper. Zenú (or Sinú) artisans could cast, hammer, engrave and inlay to create unique works of art representing the natural and spiritual world. Included among the treasures on display are an assortment of wind instruments, crafted in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shapes, which provide a melodic soundtrack to the past.

Planning tip:  The Museo del Oro Zenú is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 9am to 5pm, and Sundays. The exhibits are in both Spanish and English. Guided tours in English are available at 11am and 3pm, offering a deeper understanding of the fascinating exhibits and their cultural significance.

A view of Cartagena from the Convento de la Popa

10. Worship the views from the Convento de la Popa

In the early 17th century, Father Alonso García Paredes had a vision in which the Virgin Mary directed him to construct an Augustine monastery on the highest hill above Cartagena. At the time, the Cerro de la Popa harbored a dense jungle teeming with venomous snakes and a goat-like demon revered by local Indigenous people.

Today, the Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, or Convento de la Popa for short, still perches at the summit, having survived pirate attacks and the fight for independence under the leadership of Simón Bolívar in the 19th century. The complex has a beautiful cloister filled with tropical plants and flowering trees, and a chapel with its gilded altar and shrine to Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. The 360-degree panoramic views overlooking the city are worth the price of admission, which is COP$13,000 for adults and COP$11,000 for children.

Planning tip:  It’s not recommended to walk the hill on your own due to the risk of armed robbery and other crimes. Your best bet is to negotiate a price with a taxi driver that includes roundtrip transportation and a stop of 30 to 60 minutes.

11. Perk up with Colombian coffee

A visit to Colombia would be incomplete without indulging in its renowned coffee. While most of the premium-quality beans are exported from the country, there’s a growing demand for the good stuff within the country. Luckily, Cartagena promises a satisfying pursuit for an exceptional cuppa.

Café San Alberto ’s award-winning coffee originates from the Hacienda de San Alberto in Colombia's famous coffee triangle. Partake in the coffee baptism to appreciate the characteristics of specialty coffees and discover the perfect flavor pairings. Época Espresso Bar is renowned for its specialty coffees, with the Carajillo Ahumado, a delightful blend of espresso and aguardiente, stealing the show.

Libertario Coffee Roasters offers connoisseurs a diverse range of flavor profiles, which can be savored alongside delectable French pastries or a light breakfast. For an afternoon pick-me-up, Café del Mural in Getsemaní opens its doors at 3, serving freshly roasted and brewed coffee using various methods.

12. Go fish in the coastal mangroves bordering La Boquilla

A canoe trip through the Caribbean’s coastal mangroves with Ecotours Boquilla is more than a scenic boat ride. It’s a vital way to preserve the cultural heritage of the seaside village of La Boquilla. Local fishers have embraced their roles as tour guides, imparting their ancestral knowledge of casting fishing nets and crab traps.

Emerging from the maze of interwoven roots and branches, the boga (boat driver) ushers everyone into the murky water of a shallow lagoon to learn how to throw weighted nets that sink to the sandy bottom, trapping bait fish that will be used in the crab traps. If all goes well, enough crustaceons will take the bait so everyone can eat fresh-caught boiled crab once on dry land. It’s the appetizer to a hearty feast of fried fish, coconut rice and patacones (fried plantains) expertly prepared in an open kitchen at the water’s edge.

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Welcome to Cartagena Explorer:

Travel guide to cartagena, colombia.

Are you planning a trip to Cartagena?

Then, you’ve come to the right place! I lived in Cartagena for over a decade.

In that time, I fell in love with the city and got to explore all over Colombia.

I created this site to share that love and I’m confident it will help you explore Cartagena and Colombia for yourself!

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About Me and this Site

My name is Adam McConnaughhay, and that’s me with my beautiful wife Susana with our favorite view of Cartagena behind us in the photo above. I lived in Cartagena from 2011 to 2022 and started this website in 2018 as a way to share my love for Cartagena and Colombia. You can learn more about me here .

I write everything on this site based on our experiences and honest advice. Well, Susana does help me translate some to Spanish and definitely does a much better job posing for photos. I don’t use AI, and I try to always go beyond repeating the same advice every other travel blogger who spent a week in Colombia shares.

Most importantly, I try to give the advice I would like to read myself.

So, I hope this site will be helpful to you in planning your own trip!

Please do consider joining my Facebook group and keep in mind our privacy policy , disclosure policy and terms of use .

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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All About Traveling in Cartagena, Colombia

travel guide cartagena colombia

 Taylor McIntyre / TripSavvy

Hot, sultry, filled with the sounds of music and bright with color and tradition, Cartagena de Indias in Colombia has been an important port on the Caribbean since it was founded in 1533. Gold and silver left the port bound for Europe, pirates looted the city, and a walled fort grew to protect both shipping and the slave trade.

Cartagena still draws interest, but from tourists who come to enjoy the history, the sights, the weather, and nightlife. Plan to stay several days, to enjoy the colonial period, the modern city and the fashionable seaside resort of Colombia's second port. 

Cartagena's colonial charm and the old walled city, the Ciudad Amarullada , with tiled roofs, balconies, and flower-filled courtyards, beckons visitors to stroll the narrow streets or to enjoy a weekend getaway.

Things to See and Do

  • Casa de Marqués Valdehoyos , on Calle Factoría, is a good place to begin your explorations of the old city. This house exemplifies old Cartagena, and the tourist office inside offers maps and information.
  • Museo de Oro y Arqueloguía on the Plaza Bolivar has a good collection of gold and pottery of the Sinú culture. Also on the plaza, the Palacio de la Inquisicíon is a fine example of colonial architecture. Behind the charming facade, a museum displays instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition, pre-Columbian, colonial and independence-era art.
  • Cartagena's Cathedral , with its massive exterior, simple interior, and fortress appearance was begun in 1575, partially demolished by Sir Francis Drake's cannons, and completed in 1602.
  • Iglesia de Santo Domingo on Calle Santo Domingo, which is little changed from colonial days, is the oldest church in the city, and like the cathedral, was built to resist invaders.
  • Las Bóvedas are dungeons initially built for military purposes and now house boutiques and tourist shops.
  • Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the largest of a series of fortresses built to protect the city from pirates. A must-see is the tunnel system meant to facilitate supply and evacuation of the fortress.
  • Overlooking the fortress, the Convento de la Popa boasts flowered patios and a great view of the city, particularly at sunset. The convent once served as an additional fortress and now houses a museum and the chapel of the Virgen de la Candelaria , Cartagena's patron saint.

Cartagena's newer areas, Bocagrande and El Laguito , on the peninsula facing the Caribbean, have become the fashionable location of upscale hotels, restaurants, and shops. You may be disappointed in the beaches, but dancing until dawn in one of the city's hotspots might make up for it.

Excursions and Day Trips

Outside the city, take time for excursions to:

  • Mompós , on the Río Magdalena, was once an important trading river port between the Caribbean and the interior of the country. As the river current shifted, the city was stranded and commercial life ended. Remaining, however, are the curved streets paralleling the waterfront, deliberately designed that way to foil cannonballs and the graceful colonial architecture.
  • Santa Marta is a deepwater port, the oldest Hispanic town in Colombia. Its colonial tradition is all but gone, but the attraction of the city is the gateway to the Sierra Nevada and the pre-Columbian ruins of La Ciudad Perdida . Be aware that Santa Marta is the shipping point for contraband and drugs. The Museo Arqueológico Tayrona displays a collection of Tayrona gold and pottery and a good model of the Lost City. The nearby Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is the estancia where Simon Bolívar died. There is a monument to the Liberator on the grounds. Be sure to see the pictorial history of the Liberator's life.
  • Parque Nacional Tayrona is a scenic mix of white sand beaches (rough currents make swimming dangerous,) coral reefs, jungle slopes, and the steep peaks of the world's highest coastal range. Popular with trekkers, hikers, and campers, the park also has an ancient Tayrona village, called Pueblito , under excavation.

If your visit falls in November, you might enjoy the celebration of Cartagena's independence. On November 11, 1811, the Declaración de Independencia Absoluta was signed, declaring independence from Spain.

This article was updated by Ayngelina Brogan.

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Travel Worth Telling

Colombia · May 29, 2022

The Complete Cartagena Travel Guide: 7 Best Things to Do

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). This helps support and run my blog. I only recommend products I personally use and love. Thank you for your support.

Planning a trip to colorful Cartagena? Find everything yPlanning a trip to colorful Cartagena? Find everything you need to know in this ultimate Cartagena travel guide. Best places to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Cartagena.ou need to know in this ultimate Cartagena travel guide. Best places to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Car

Cartagena, Colombia has become a top tourist destination in South America, and with good reason. The vibrant coastal city is warm year-round and attracts visitors with its tropical vibes and rich culture. After spending a few days in Cartagena’s historic walled city, it’s easy to see why people love it. The Spanish-colonial architecture, the cobblestone streets, and the brightly colored walls draped in bougainvillea make it picture-perfect.

The city has something for everyone, whether you want to relax on the beach or take in the sights. The area is walkable and its beaches are easily accessible. You can eat your way through the city, dance the night away, or sip on the world’s best coffee. Find out everything you need to know about visiting Cartagena in this complete Cartagena travel guide.

Cartegena Travel Guide:

Best time to visit cartagena.

Cartagena, Colombia has a tropical climate with two seasons: the wet and the dry season. It can be a year-round destination but the best months to visit are generally January through March . These months are considered the dry season. During this time, the weather is warm but not overly humid and nights can be breezy. This is a popular time to visit, so expect crowds and more costly accommodation. December and April can be great as well but may see a little rain.

The off-season is the period from August to November. These months are the least popular because of the large amounts of rain. However, this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker unless you are primarily going for the beach. These months can be perfect for the budget traveler since great hotel deals can be found.

The temperature in Cartagena doesn’t vary greatly from month to month but the amount of humidity can make it feel much hotter than it is. I visited at the beginning of May. The weather was hot and humid with a couple of brief morning rainstorms. Traveling to Cartagena during the most humid months is doable if you plan your day well. I suggest starting early at 7 am with activities, taking a midday break indoors, and then going back out in the evening.

Walled city Cartagena

How Much Time in Cartagena

Three days in Cartagena is perfect. It’s enough time to explore the walled city, see most of the major sights, and spend a day at the beach. If you wish to do a day trip from the city, you may want to add an additional day.

The walled city is easy to explore on foot and a lot can be seen in a single day. The hip and nearby neighborhood of Getsemani can be covered in a day as well. Three days is enough time to enjoy the city at a reasonable pace and have time for some shopping and great food.

How to Get Around Cartagena

The walled city is extremely walkable . I recommend staying within the walls and exploring its sights on foot. Taxis are readily available, but the streets are so congested that walking is often faster.

If traveling outside the walled city or going long distances, I suggest Uber . Uber is technically illegal in Colombia but as of May 2022, it is still available. Don’t be alarmed if the driver asks you to sit in the front. This is so it appears you are a known passenger. The wait for an Uber may be longer than that of a taxi but if you don’t speak Spanish, it will be the easier option. The driver will have the location of your destination whereas, I found taxi drivers rarely had a phone and relied on me to direct them.

If you are in a rush, there are always plenty of taxis and your hotel will be able to arrange one for you. A taxi is also best for travel to/ from the airport. Always agree on a price with your driver in advance.

Safety in Cartagena

Colombia was once deserving of its bad reputation but today many of Colombia’s large cities are generally safe, with Cartagena being one of the safest. Within the walled city, you’ll find a strong police presence. However, they aren’t present because it’s a dangerous place, they are there because it’s a large tourist attraction and they want to keep it safe. Violent crime against tourists is very rare.

Like any city, you will want to take general precautions. You’ll want to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Streets can be crowded, especially on the weekend and pickpocketing does happen. Keep your valuables secure and don’t carry more money than you need. Don’t wear anything overly flashy.

Avoid walking alone after dark. Walking to/ from dinner within the walled city is generally ok. There are usually people out, just make sure to stick to busy streets. Be aware of scams and avoid rougher neighborhoods that are further from the walled city.

Walled city in Cartagena

Things to Do in Cartagena:

1. walk around the walled city.

Construction of Cartagena’s walled city began in 1586 and was designed to protect the city from pirate attacks. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Today, you’ll find well-preserved colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets within its walls. You can explore the walled city on your own or go on a free walking tour.

Free walking tours are offered twice a day, Monday through Saturday, and last about 2 hours. This is a great way to see all the major sights and learn about the city’s history. If you choose to explore independently, it’s easy to get around on foot. Make sure to stop at the Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandria and take a midday break in the shade-covered Plaza Bolivar.

2. Take Photos with the Palenqueras

The Palenqueras are fruit sellers originating from Palenque de San Basilio, a town just south of Cartagena. For years, the women in colorful dresses have walked to Cartagena’s old town, balancing large bowls of fruit on their heads. However, today they sell less fruit and primarily make money to support their communities by posing for photos. You should agree on a price before taking any photos.

travel guide cartagena colombia

3. See the Street Art in Getsemani

A visit to Getsemani is a must-do in this Cartagena travel guide. Getsemani is a hip neighborhood located just 10 minutes from the walled city. It’s a popular area with backpackers but is less touristic than the walled city and has a more authentic vibe. Not long ago, Getsamnai was a dangerous area but has since transformed and is now known for its street art. Many of the murals tell a story of Getsemani’s history and represent issues the barrio currently faces, such as gentrification and tourism. Book a graffiti walking tour here .

Plaza de la Trinidad is a lively square in Getsemani where people come for street food, inexpensive drinks, and socializing. Make sure to try the empanadas. There are also some great rooftops and bars scattered throughout the area. Cafe Havana is very popular in the evenings.

Getsemani Street Art

4. Have a Rooftop Drink

Take a break from the afternoon heat and relax on one of Cartagena’s rooftops with a drink. Cartagena has a handful of great rooftops. Some of the most popular within the walled city are Townhouse Boutique Hotel and Sophia Hotel.

Dona Lola in Getsemani is also a great option. It’s a great escape from the busy street below and even has a small pool for a quick cool down.

5. Dine on Fresh Seafood

Cartagena has a great food scene and is known for its abundance of fresh seafood. However, there are a lot of so-so places mixed in with the great ones. I suggest sticking to places that are well-reviewed or visiting my selections in this Cartagena travel guide.

A must try is La Cevicheria . It exploded in popularity after being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. It’s delicious and absolutely lives up to the hype. It does get very busy so I recommend going for an early lunch to avoid a long wait.

6. Day Trip to Rosario Islands

Cartagena Travel Guide: La Cevicheria

The Rosario Islands is an archipelago located off the Caribbean coast, about 62 mi (100 km) from Cartagena. The boat ride from Cartagena takes about 45 minutes. The area is gorgeous and is one of Colombia’s natural national parks. A day trip to the islands is a popular activity and can be visited on a tour . This one visits several islands and allows for time to snorkel and relax on the beach.

7. Go Shopping for Souvenirs

Spend an afternoon shopping in the walled city. There are many clothing boutiques, souvenir shops, and a handful of places with artisan crafts. Shop the boutiques for cute colorful swimwear and flowy beach dresses for women or breezy linen shirts for men. Find high-quality crafts and home goods at El Centro Artesano and Aja Company . Abaco Libros y Café is a bookstore and cafe that has great Cartagena coffee table books to bring home.

Plaza de Las Bovedas is a series of small spaces that once housed prisoners. The spaces now contain tiny shops packed with souvenirs. Portal de los Dulces is a candy market. The block has vendors selling all sorts of candies and traditional desserts.

Shopping in Cartagena: Aja Company

Where to Eat in Cartagena

Cartagena has a great food scene, but I wouldn’t recommend just walking into any restaurant. I left disappointed after trying a couple of random places so for the remainder of my stay, I tried to stick to well-reviewed establishments. However, many of the recommendations I found online were out of date. Covid apparently hit Cartagena pretty hard and many businesses closed. The following are some of the best restaurants in Cartagena and all are open as of May 2022:

Crepes & Waffles: Crepes & Waffles is a Colombian chain but it’s actually pretty tasty. They open late morning and it’s a great spot for breakfast or lunch. The location within the walled city has an upstairs dining area with outdoor tables overlooking the streets below.

Epoca Espresso Bar: Epoca Espresso Bar has some of the best coffee in Cartagena. The cafe is open most of the day and serves both breakfast and lunch items. They do get very busy so I suggest going early. I recommend the egg benedict. The cafe also has non-dairy milk options.

Alquimico: Alquimico is a great spot for a drink in the evening. The large open space is beautiful and has 3 levels, including a rooftop terrace. The bar serves refreshing craft cocktails made of quality ingredients.

La Taperia: La Taperia is located just outside the walled city. The small but cozy restaurant serves paella and Spanish-style tapas. The restaurant only has a handful of tables so a reservation is strongly recommended.

Carmen: Carmen is one of Cartagena’s most popular restaurants. The restaurant offers a contemporary menu with Colombian flavors. Admittedly, I wasn’t able to eat here. Not because I didn’t want to but because I couldn’t get a reservation. You’ll want to make a dinner reservation about 2 weeks in advance. They do offer a waitlist, but I was told the list rarely opens up.

La Cevicheria: As mentioned above, La Cevicheria is a must in this Cartagena travel guide. It became very popular after appearing in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. It gets extremely busy so I suggest going for an early lunch. Everything I ordered here was amazing.

Restaurante Alma: Restaurante Alma is a beautiful restaurant located in Hotel Casa Sana Agustin. The restaurant is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I suggest going for lunch. The restaurant is somewhat on the pricier side and the lunch menu is more affordable. Reservations are suggested for dinner.

The menu does change, but I recommend lobster empanadas, coconut ceviche, tuna tartare, and the Snooky de Coco for dessert. This was one of my favorite meals.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Where to Stay in Cartagena

There are three main areas where tourists usually stay in Cartagena: Centro (walled or old city), Getsemani, and Bocagrande. I suggest staying in Centro or the walled city. You’ll be able to walk to great restaurants, shops, and many attractions.

Getsemani can also be a great choice. Getsemani caters to backpackers and has a great selection of hostels and budget accommodations. Bocagrande can be a good option if you want somewhere quieter and are interested in spending most of your time at the beach. Bocagrande has high rises and big-name hotels offering ocean views.

Sophia Hotel The Sophia is a beautiful boutique hotel featuring a rooftop pool and deck. It offers a massage service and an onsite vinoteca. The Sophia is conveniently located in the walled city.

Casa India Catalina Casa India Catalina is a traditionally decorated hotel and is reasonably priced. It’s located within the walled city and close to major attractions. The hotel has a pool, hammocks, and a restaurant on site.

Hyatt Regency Cartagena If you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, Bocagrande may be for you. The Hyatt Regency Cartagena is a luxurious hotel located just a few steps from Bocagrande Beach. The hotel has a pool, bar, and restaurant on-site as well as incredible views.

Hotel Casa Lola Hotel Casa Lola is an incredible hotel located in Getsemani. The hotel is made up of 2 historic buildings attached to one another. The hotel is beautifully decorated and all the plants give it wonderful jungle vibes. It also houses Dona Lola, which I’ve mentioned above.

Airbnb Airbnb is a great option for finding affordable accommodation within the walled city. Follow the link to the studio apartment that I stayed in. The location and our host were both terrific.

Cartagena Travel Guide: Clock Tower

Know Before You Go

  • Power Adaptors/ Converters: Colombia sockets use plugs A and B and have a voltage of 110v. Neither an adaptor nor a converter is needed if you are traveling from the United States.
  • Currency: The Colombian peso is the country’s currency. Credit cards are taken in most restaurants but you will need cash for many things. Make sure to bring enough money with you and don’t rely on ATMs. There is no ATM on the arrival side at the airport and the ATMs around town are often out of cash or allow you to withdraw very little.
  • Visas: U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a tourist or business stay of 90 days or less or for cumulative stays of 180 days or less per calendar year.
  • SIM Cards: I usually buy a SIM card at the airport when I arrive. SIM cards are not available in arrivals at the Cartagena airport. There are a couple of markets in the walled city that sell Claro! and Tigo cards.
  • Language: Spanish. Some Colombians, especially the younger generation, speak English. However, I would learn a few basic phrases before your trip. I would also download an offline translator just in case you find yourself without phone service.
  • Other Things to Bring: Cartagena is close to the equator and the sun can be harsh. Make sure to bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen.

Have you been to Cartagena? Is there something I missed in this Cartagena travel guide? If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Want to explore other South American destinations? Continue to my post, “ The Ultimate Galapagos Land-Based Itinerary “.

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Reader Interactions

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June 18, 2022 at 3:21 pm

When I was travelling in South America Colombia was too dangerous to visit but I’d love to visit Cartagena! The colour, culture and history are fascinating! Thanks so much for the inspiration!

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June 18, 2022 at 4:11 pm

While everything looks worth my time here, I will have to say the food might have my attention the most! I would totally be down for some crepes in the morning and then seafood at night for dinner.

travel guide cartagena colombia

June 18, 2022 at 9:00 pm

The food was amazingggg.

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June 18, 2022 at 7:20 pm

It looks like such a gorgeous area to take photos – interesting that the ladies who used to sell fruit now sell photos!! I mean, it is smart of them, but I always fancy fruit! :D The food you had looks incredible too!

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June 18, 2022 at 8:32 pm

I had a taxi-guided tour in Cartagena and it took me to so many places. I loved the historic sites outside of the old walled city as well as the bird sanctuary by the cruise port. Definitely a city I want to spend more time in.

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June 18, 2022 at 10:13 pm

Definitely on my list for next time in South America. Great info here thanks.

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June 19, 2022 at 12:45 am

omg, that food looks so good! I love how colorful it is and your photos are very beautiful 😍 I see you have included a lot of useful information – well done!!

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June 20, 2022 at 6:43 am

I’ve heard so much about Cartagena! And I think your post was the push I needed to actually start planning a trip – thanks for sharing!

June 20, 2022 at 2:25 pm

It was a great trip and really affordable. Def recommend :)

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June 22, 2022 at 9:35 am

This place looks beautiful as it is but your photos make them so much more picturesque! The food looks so good – and I’d give anything to stroll those pretty streets! 😍

June 25, 2022 at 10:51 pm

Thank you! It’s a gorgeous little town.

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The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Are you looking for a Cartagena travel guide that covers everything you need to know about this amazing city? If so, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll show you why Cartagena is one of the best destinations in Colombia and the Caribbean, and how you can make the most of your trip.

Cartagena is a beautiful and historic city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It has a rich and diverse culture that blends Spanish, African, and indigenous influences. It also has stunning beaches, natural wonders, and vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re interested in history, art, food, or adventure, Cartagena has something for everyone.

In this guide, I’ll share with you some of the best things to do in Cartagena, when to visit, how to get there, what to do, where to stay, and what to eat. By the end of this travel guide, you’ll be ready to plan your ultimate Cartagena trip.

Are you ready to discover the magic of Cartagena? Let’s get started!

Cartagena Best Time to Visit

One of the first things you need to consider when planning your Cartagena trip is when to visit. Cartagena is a tropical city that enjoys warm weather all year round. However, there are some variations in temperature, rainfall, humidity, and sunshine hours that can affect your travel experience.

ladies of Cartagena in beautiful colorful dresses

Cartagena Weather

Cartagena has two main seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season runs from May to November. Specifically:

– The average temperature in Cartagena is around 28°C (82°F), but it can vary from 24°C (75°F) in January to 31°C (88°F) in June.

– Rainfall in Cartagena is around 1,000 mm (39 inches) on average per year. However, it can vary from 10 mm (0.4 inches) in February to 200 mm (7.9 inches) in October.

– The average humidity in Cartagena is around 80%, but it can vary from 75% in March to 85% in September.

– Sunshine hours in Cartagena are around 6 hours per day on average. Yet, they can vary from 5 hours in October to 8 hours in January.

Here is a table that shows the average temperature, rainfall, humidity, and sunshine hours for each month in Cartagena:

As you can see, there is no bad time to visit Cartagena. The weather is always warm and sunny. However, depending on your preferences and goals, some months may be better than others. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each season:

The dry season is the most popular and expensive time to visit Cartagena, as the weather is ideal for enjoying the beaches and outdoor activities. The city is also full of life and color, as there are many festivals and events that take place during this time, such as the Carnival of Cartagena in February, the International Film Festival in March, and Holy Week in April. However, the downside of the dry season is that it can get very crowded and hot, especially in January and February, when the temperatures can reach up to 31°C (88°F). You may also have to deal with higher prices and limited availability for accommodation and flights.

Rainy Season

The rainy season is the least popular and cheapest time to visit Cartagena, as the weather can be unpredictable and wet. The city is also less busy and more relaxed, as there are fewer tourists and events. However, the upside of the rainy season is that you can enjoy lower prices and more availability for accommodation and flights. You can also experience a different side of Cartagena, as the rain brings out the lush greenery and freshness of the city. The rain also doesn’t last all day, so you can still enjoy some sunny spells and explore the attractions and features of Cartagena.

Based on this Cartagena travel guide information, my personal recommendation on when to visit the city is between March and May or between September and November. These are the shoulder seasons when the weather is still pleasant and dry, but not too hot or crowded. Additionally, you can find some good deals and discounts for accommodation and flights during these months. Plus, you can still enjoy some of the events and festivals that take place in Cartagena. For example, the International Music Festival in March, Independence Day in November, or the Jazz Festival in September.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and you may have different preferences and goals for your trip. Ultimately, you should choose the best time to visit Cartagena based on your own criteria and expectations.

How to Get to Cartagena?

One of the questions you may have when planning your Cartagena trip is how to get there. Cartagena is a major city and a popular tourist destination, so it has good connections with other cities in Colombia and abroad. You have three main options to get to Cartagena: by air, by bus, or by boat. In this section, I’ll compare these options and give you some details on each one, such as cost, duration, frequency, availability, etc. I’ll also provide you with some links or resources where you can find more information or book your tickets.

Cartagena City Square in a sunny day

The fastest and most convenient way to get to Cartagena is by air. Cartagena has an international airport called Rafael Nunez International Airport (CTG), which is located about 5 km (3 miles) from the city center. The airport receives flights from many cities in Colombia, such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, San Andres, etc. It also receives flights from some international destinations, such as Panama City, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Lima, etc.

You can check the flight schedules and prices on websites like WayAway . For example, a flight from Bogota to Cartagena takes about an hour and costs around $50-$100 USD one way. A flight from Miami to Cartagena takes about 2.5 hours and costs around $200-$300 USD one way.

Then, you can take a taxi or a bus from the airport to the city center. A taxi costs around $10-$15 USD and takes about 15 minutes. A bus costs around $1 USD and takes about 30 minutes.

Cheap flights with cashback

The cheapest and most eco-friendly way to get to Cartagena is by bus. Cartagena has a main bus terminal called Terminal de Transportes de Cartagena (TTC), which is located about 11 km (7 miles) from the city center. The bus terminal receives buses from many cities in Colombia, such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, etc. Indeed, the bus is the main transportation that can be your companion in any Colombia itinerary.

You can check the bus schedules and prices on websites like 12Go . For example, a bus from Bogota to Cartagena takes about 20 hours and costs around $30-$40 USD one way. A bus from Medellin to Cartagena takes about 13 hours and costs around $20-$30 USD one way.

You can take a taxi or a bus from the bus terminal to the city center. A taxi costs around $10-$15 USD and takes about 20 minutes. A bus costs around $1 USD and takes about 40 minutes.

The most adventurous and scenic way to get to Cartagena is by boat. Cartagena is a port city and a gateway to the Caribbean Sea. It has several harbors and marinas where you can find boats that go to and from other destinations in the Caribbean, such as Panama, San Blas Islands, Rosario Islands, etc.

It’s a little more complicated when going to Cartagena by boat. You have to look for a ship operator in your nearest boat and then deal with the trip. Usually, a boat from Panama City to Cartagena takes about 5 days and costs around $750 USD one way. On the other hand, a boat from Rosario Islands to Cartagena takes about an hour and costs around $20-$30 USD one way.

These are the main options for getting to Cartagena by air, bus, or boat. Depending on your budget, time, and preferences, you can choose the one that suits you best. No matter how you get there, you’ll be amazed by the beauty and charm of this Caribbean city.

Things to Do in Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena is a city that offers a lot of attractions and activities for travelers of all interests and tastes. You can enjoy the history, culture, nature, and nightlife of this captivating city. In this travel guide, here are some of the best things to do in Cartagena :

Cartagena Attractions

One of the main attractions of Cartagena is its Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site that preserves the colonial architecture and charm of the city. You can explore the Old City Walls, the Plaza Santo Domingo, the Museo del Oro Zenú, and other monuments and museums in the area.

Another attraction in Cartagena is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a massive fortress that was built by the Spaniards in the 17th century. You can climb to the top of the castle and enjoy panoramic views of the city and the sea. You can also explore the complex system of tunnels that run through the base of the castle.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

If you want to learn more about the history and culture of Cartagena, you can visit some of its museums and churches. Some of the most popular ones are the Palace of the Inquisition, the Naval Museum, the San Pedro Claver Church and Museum, and the Cathedral of Cartagena.

Cartagena Beaches

Cartagena is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, which means it has some beautiful beaches to enjoy. You can find beaches within the city or outside it, depending on your preference.

cartagena colombia beach

  • Some of the beaches within the city are Bocagrande Beach, La Boquilla Beach, and Marbella Beach. They are convenient and accessible, but also crowded and commercialized.
  • Some of the beaches outside the city are Playa Blanca, Isla Grande, Tierra Bomba, and Rosario Islands. They are more secluded and natural but also require a boat ride or a car ride to get there.

Cartagena Activities

Cartagena has a lot of activities to offer for travelers who want to have some fun and adventure. You can try some water sports, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, jet skiing, or sailing. In addition, you can go hiking, biking, horseback riding, or zip-lining in the nearby natural parks and reserves.

water sports

If you want to experience some local culture and traditions, you can join some tours or workshops that will teach you about Cartagena’s history, cuisine, music, dance, art, or crafts. You can also visit some nearby villages or communities that have a unique heritage and lifestyle.

Cartagena Nightlife

The city has a lively and diverse nightlife scene that will suit any mood or taste. You can find bars, clubs, lounges, and pubs in different areas of the city, such as the Old City, Getsemaní, Bocagrande, or Manga. Besides that, you can enjoy a variety of music genres, from salsa and cumbia to reggaeton and electronic. You can also find some live music venues, karaoke bars, or comedy clubs for some entertainment.

An outdoor lounge in the Cartagena Old City

If you want to have a more romantic or relaxing night, you can opt for some rooftop bars or terraces that offer stunning views of the city and the sea. Moreover, you can take a night tour or a carriage ride around the Old City and admire its illuminated beauty. You can also watch a sunset or a moonrise from the Old City Walls or the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.

If you want to have a more cultural or festive night, you can check out some of the events and festivals that take place in Cartagena throughout the year. You can join the celebrations of the Hay Festival, the Barranquilla Carnival, the International Film Festival of Cartagena de Indias, or the Cartagena Independence Day. You can also watch some performances of theater, dance, music, or art in some of the city’s venues or plazas.

Cartagena Boat Tours

Cartagena has a lot of boat tours to offer for travelers who want to explore the surrounding waters and islands. You can choose from different types of boats, such as yachts, catamarans, speedboats, sailboats, or kayaks. Furthermore, you can choose from different durations and destinations, such as half-day or full-day tours, or tours to Playa Blanca, Isla Grande, Tierra Bomba, or Rosario Islands.

Some of the benefits of taking a boat tour in Cartagena are:

  • Enjoy the scenic views of the city and the coast from a different perspective.
  • Escape the crowds and the heat of the city and relax on a boat with a fresh breeze and cold drinks.
  • Discover some hidden gems and secluded spots that are only accessible by boat.
  • Snorkel or swim in some of the best coral reefs and marine reserves in Colombia.
  • Have some fun and adventure with some water sports or activities that are included in some boat tours.

Cartagena Food

Cartagena is a city that has a lot of food to offer. It has a rich and diverse cuisine that reflects its history and culture. It also has a variety of restaurants and street food stalls that cater to all kinds of palates and budgets. Whether you’re looking for a traditional dish, a fusion dish, or a vegetarian dish, you’ll find something that satisfies your taste and hunger in this city.

Traditional Dish

A traditional dish that you must try in Cartagena is the bandeja paisa. This is a hearty and filling dish that consists of rice, beans, plantains, avocado, arepa, egg, sausage, pork belly, and steak. It’s a typical dish from the Antioquia region of Colombia, but it’s also popular in Cartagena. You can find this dish at many restaurants and street food stalls in Cartagena.

Costs : around $10-$15 USD per person and serves one or two people.

Fusion Dish

A fusion dish that you must try in Cartagena is the ceviche. This is a fresh and tangy dish that consists of raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice, onion, cilantro, and chili. It’s a typical dish from the coastal regions of Latin America, but it’s also influenced by Asian cuisine. You can find this dish at many restaurants and street food stalls in Cartagena.

Costs : around $5-$10 USD per person and serves one or two people.

Vegetarian Dish

A vegetarian dish that you must try in Cartagena is the arepa de huevo. This is a crispy and fluffy dish that consists of a corn cake stuffed with egg and cheese. It’s a typical dish from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, but it’s also enjoyed by vegetarians and vegans. You can find this dish at many street food stalls in Cartagena.

Costs : around $1-$2 USD per person and serves one or two people.

These are some of the main food that you can try in Cartagena and how they can make your trip more delicious and enjoyable. You can try one or more depending on your mood and preference. You can also find more food online or at one of the many kiosks near the port. Let’s take a food tour and see what dishes are there waiting for you in Cartagena.

Cartagena Food Tour

If you’re a food lover, you’ll love Cartagena. Indeed, the city is a food lover’s paradise that has a rich and diverse cuisine that reflects its history and culture. Cartagena’s cuisine is influenced by the Caribbean, African, and indigenous flavors and ingredients that create a unique and delicious blend of dishes. Some of the best food and restaurants in Cartagena are seafood, arepas, sancocho, coconut rice, and more.

Cartagena Seafood

lobster ceviche cartagena seafood

Cartagena is a coastal city that has a lot of seafood to offer. Thus, seafood is one of the main ingredients of Cartagena’s cuisine and it’s prepared in different ways and styles. You can find seafood dishes such as ceviche, fried fish, seafood rice, seafood soup, seafood stew, and more. You can also find seafood restaurants that serve fresh and local fish and shellfish that you can choose from a display or a menu.

Cartagena Best Restaurants for Seafood

One of the best places to try seafood in Cartagena is La Cevicheria. This is a small and cozy restaurant that specializes in ceviche, which is a dish made with raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice, onion, cilantro, and chili. You can choose from different types of ceviche, such as shrimp, octopus, tuna, salmon, lobster, etc. You can also choose from different sauces, such as coconut milk, passion fruit, mango, etc. The ceviche is served with plantain chips or popcorn and it’s fresh and tangy.

Another great place to try seafood in Cartagena is El Boliche Cebicheria. This is a modern and elegant restaurant that also specializes in ceviche, but with a fusion twist. You can find ceviche dishes that combine Peruvian and Japanese flavors and techniques. For example, tiradito (thinly sliced fish with sauce), nikkei (fish with soy sauce and sesame oil), or leche de tigre (fish with lime juice and spices). Moreover, you can find other seafood dishes such as grilled octopus, tuna tartare, or scallop carpaccio.

Cartagena Arepas

Cartagena is a city that has a lot of arepas to offer. Arepas are one of the most typical and popular dishes of Cartagena’s cuisine and they’re prepared in different ways and styles. Arepas are corn cakes that are grilled or fried and stuffed or topped with different fillings or toppings. You can find arepas such as cheese arepas (with cheese inside), egg arepas (with an egg inside), meat arepas (with meat on top), etc. You can also find arepa restaurants or street stalls that serve hot and crispy arepas that you can customize with your favorite fillings or toppings.

Cartagena Arepas

Cartagena Best Restaurants for Arepas

One of the best places to try arepas in Cartagena is La Esquina del Pandebono. This is a small and simple restaurant that serves delicious cheese arepas that are made with corn flour and cheese. The cheese arepas are grilled until golden and melted and they’re served with butter or sour cream. The cheese arepas are soft and cheesy and they’re perfect for breakfast or a snack.

Another great place to try arepas in Cartagena is Arepas Pues. This is a street stall that serves amazing egg arepas that are made with corn flour and egg. The egg arepas are fried until crispy and fluffy and they’re served with different sauces, such as garlic, cheese, or spicy. The egg arepas are crunchy and savory and they’re perfect for lunch or dinner.

Cartagena Sancocho

 Sancocho

Cartagena is a city that has a lot of sancochos to offer. Sancocho is one of the most traditional and hearty dishes of Cartagena’s cuisine and it’s prepared in different ways and styles. Sancocho is a soup or stew that is made with meat, vegetables, tubers, herbs, and broth. You can find sancocho dishes such as chicken sancocho, beef sancocho, fish sancocho, etc. You can also find sancocho restaurants or street stalls that serve hot and filling sancocho that you can enjoy with rice, avocado, or bread.

Cartagena Best Restaurants for Sancocho

One of the best places to try sancocho in Cartagena is La Cocina de Pepina. This is a cozy and colorful restaurant that serves authentic and homemade sancocho that is made with fresh and local ingredients. You can choose from different types of sancocho, such as pork sancocho, goat sancocho, or seafood sancocho. The sancocho is served in a clay pot and it’s rich and flavorful.

Another great place to try sancocho in Cartagena is La Mulata. This is a modern and trendy restaurant that serves fusion and creative sancocho that is made with exotic and gourmet ingredients. You can find sancocho dishes such as coconut sancocho, curry sancocho, or mango sancocho. The sancocho is served in a bowl and it’s light and refreshing.

Cartagena Coconut Rice

Cartagena is a city that has a lot of coconut rice to offer. Coconut rice is one of the most common and delicious dishes of Cartagena’s cuisine and it’s prepared in different ways and styles. Coconut rice is a dish that is made with rice, coconut milk, water, salt, and sugar. You can find coconut rice dishes such as plain coconut rice, mixed coconut rice, or sweet coconut rice. You can also find coconut rice restaurants or street stalls that serve fluffy and aromatic coconut rice that you can pair with different dishes or eat by itself.

Cartagena Coconut Rice and fried fish

Cartagena Best Restaurants for Coconut Rice

One of the best places to try coconut rice in Cartagena is La Casa de Socorro. This is a traditional and family-owned restaurant that serves classic and tasty coconut rice that is made with fresh and natural ingredients. You can order plain coconut rice or mixed coconut rice that comes with raisins, carrots, peas, and corn. Coconut rice is served with different dishes, such as fried fish, chicken stew, or meatballs.

Another great place to try coconut rice in Cartagena is La Paletteria. This is a cute and colorful ice cream shop that serves sweet and creamy coconut rice that is made with condensed milk and cinnamon. You can order sweet coconut rice or sweet coconut rice with cheese. The sweet coconut rice is served in a cup or a cone and it’s a perfect dessert or snack.

Where to Stay in Cartagena?

Choosing the right accommodation can make a big difference in your trip to Cartagena. You want to find a place that suits your budget, style, and location preferences. There are many factors to consider when booking a hotel or resort in Cartagena, such as:

  • The proximity to the attractions and activities you want to do
  • The amenities and services offered by the hotel or resort
  • The reviews and ratings from previous guests
  • The safety and security of the area
  • The availability and cost of transportation

colorful houses and flowers in Cartagena city

To help you narrow down your options, we have selected some of the best hotels and resorts in Cartagena that you can consider for your stay. These are:

  • Casa India Catalina – A budget-friendly and comfortable hotel located in the Old City, with simple and colorful decor. It offers a pool, a terrace, and a breakfast area.
  • Casa Movida Hostel – A fun and social hostel located in Getsemaní, with a graffiti art theme and a rooftop bar. It offers dorms and private rooms, a kitchen, a lounge, and a terrace.
  • Hotel Capellán de Getsemaní – A charming and romantic hotel located in Getsemaní, with a colonial style and a tropical garden. It offers a pool, a terrace, a bar, and a restaurant. Airport shuttle included too.
  • Casa Claver Loft Boutique Hotel – An apartment-style hotel located in the Old City, with spacious and modern lofts that have kitchens and living rooms. It offers two pools, a terrace, and a breakfast service.
  • Hotel Casona del Colegio – A luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of the Old City, with a rooftop pool, spa, restaurant, and art gallery.
  • Movich Hotels Cartagena de Indias – A modern hotel with a colonial charm, featuring a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the city and the sea, a spa, a gym, and a restaurant.
  • Casa Lola Luxury Collection – A chic and eclectic hotel located in Getsemaní, with a mix of colonial and contemporary decor. It offers two pools, a spa, a bar, and a restaurant.
  • Hotel Casa San Agustin – A historic hotel that blends contemporary design with original features, such as frescoes and wooden beams. It offers a pool, a library, a bar, and a restaurant.
  • Hotel Boutique Casa del Coliseo – A cozy and elegant hotel located in a colonial house near the Coliseo Theater. It offers a pool, a terrace, a bar, and a restaurant.
  • Hyatt Regency Cartagena – A luxurious and modern hotel located in Bocagrande, with direct access to the beach. It offers a spa, a gym, three pools, a bar, and a restaurant.

Have a Great Trip To Cartagena!

Cartagena is a captivating city that offers a rich and diverse travel experience. Whether you are interested in history, culture, nature, or nightlife, you will find something to suit your taste in Cartagena.

You can also take advantage of the many events and festivals that take place in Cartagena throughout the year and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions.

We hope this guide has helped you plan your trip to Cartagena and given you some useful tips and recommendations. Cartagena is a city that will surprise you and enchant you with its beauty and charm. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this amazing destination and create unforgettable memories.

Are you ready to book your trip to Cartagena?

Note: This post contains affiliate links from which I can earn commissions if you use services or buy products from the blog’s partners. If you love the blog, please use the services or buy the products. In that way, you give me support for the blog’s maintenance and development. I appreciate it a lot and thank you for that!

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‘PIN IT’ NOW TO SAVE THIS ULTIMATE CARTAGENA TRAVEL GUIDE TO PLAN YOUR TRIP

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Khoi Nguyen

Khoi Nguyen builds The Broad Life with a desire to inspire people go exploring the world and live a more interesting, experience, and adventurous life. This blog shares the stories, pictures, and experiences at destinations where he has traveled to.

28 Comments

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The Old City and the beaches in Cartagena described in this article have piqued my interest! Thanks for offering some budget lodging options for those of us who like to travel without breaking the bank.

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I hope this article helps you to well plan your trip to Cartagena.

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I am planning A trip to colombia this year and i love the RECOMMENDATIONS in this post. I am still in between cartagena or medellin. Thanks fir sharing these great tips. Cant wait to visit.

Enjoy your trip! Don’t forget to come back and share with us your experience.

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Alita pacio

Wow, I will visit cartagena soon and everything I wanted to know is here. What a detailed and helpful guide.

Thanks a lot for your comment! I hope you will like your trip to Cartagena.

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Rose Ann Sales

I really love to go and vi this wo and awe place! Ever that I need to know is ALREADY here!

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OMG the colour of that sea! Spectacular. lovely photos and great info, thank you

Thanks for your comment!

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I enjoyed reading your Cartagena travel guide! The details about the city’s history and culture were fascinating, and your tips for food and activities were spot-on. Keep up the great work!

Thanks for your comment! I hope the detail brings enough info for travelers to well-plan their trips.

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WE considered visiting Columbia about 20 years ago, but there was too much political unrest. Cartagena looks like a great place to explore!

Colombia in general and Cartagena in particular are now good destinations to travel to.

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Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place

Wow, what a comprehensive guide on Cartagena. All the photos are lovely, and your guide is super helpful. Thank you for sharing!

I hope this guide inspires you to doing a trip to Cartagena.

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Eileen M Loya

This is a really great travel guide. everytime we plan to travel somewhere, our first research on the place is about the weather and the best time to visit. Thanks for including that information in your travel guide.

I’m glad that the info included in the article helps you to plan your trip carefully. Enjoy your journey!

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Ntensibe Edgar

Aaaahhhhh…so, this is the cartagena I am always hearing about? i am definitely keeping this blog on bookmark for reference when i visit there, for my first time. thanks for sharing about it.

I’m glad that the info in this blog is useful for you. Enjoy your trip to Cartagena! And don’t forget to come back and share with us your experience.

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Kristy Bullard

I WOULD LOVE TO SPEND ALL DAY AT A BEACH IN CARTAGENA! tHAT WATER IS UNBELIEVABLY GORGEOUS! I GUESS I WOULD DEFINITELY NEED TO VISIT IN THE DRY SEASON! AND THE FOOD – I WANT TO EAT IT ALL!

Enjoy your trip!

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Oh wow, it sounds like a lovely place to visit. I would head over in June as that’s just the right temperature for me. Hope it decides not to rain lol. Sign me up for a break holiday as I am overdue one!!!

Sounds like you are very excited to visit Cartagena. Enjoy your trip!

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I have never been to Cartagena. Your post is an informative and engaging read for anyone planning a trip to Cartagena. The beautiful photographs included in the article also capture the city’s vibrant colors and unique charm

Thanks a lot for your comment! I hope the post inspires you to visit Cartagena.

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Jennifer Prince

i was just in cartegena and loved it! the food was amazing, and i loved all of the colors. so lovely!

Wow, sounds like you had a great trip!

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Cartagena Solo Travel Guide

Cartagena Cityscape

Planning a solo trip to Cartagena , Colombia? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:

QUICK FACTS

  • Located on the northern coast of Colombia, with a population of about 920,000 .
  • The most visited city in Colombia, it hosts the world-famous  Carnival  festival every February.
  • Strongly associated with pirates  (more than any other city), it is an important regional port.
  • Nicknames: Capital of the Caribbean, The Door of the Americas , The Walled City, The Mother City, Colombia’s Crown Jewel

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Colombian Peso ( COP )
  • Spoken languages:  Spanish
  • Best time to visit: from  December to March , and in  July and August when it’s dry and breezy. Keep in mind that these are also peak tourist times and all arrangements (flights, hotels, etc.) should be made well in advance. There are always tourists in Cartagena!
  • Arriving via airport : Rafael Nuñez International Airport is centrally located in the Crespo neighborhood in northern Cartagena. To get to the Old Town or Centro , pick up a taxi voucher from the official stand in the baggage area before getting into a cab. It will have the price printed on it depending on the address you give to the booth teller, but will roughly cost you around 10.000 COP or less. Local buses or colectivos can take you there too for about 3.000 COP.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Best hostel for solo travelers in Cartagena: Casa Movida Hostel . Very clean, safe, and right in the Walled City! To top it off, on-site bar and restaurant. Breakfast included daily. Book ahead – especially during high season!
  • The Ciudad Amurallada , or the Walled City, is where you’ll be spending most of your time. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is what makes Cartagena one of the most beautiful cities in the world, brimming with colonial character and old world charm. This is where you’ll find all the best hostels, most of which are housed in leafy haciendas , or colonial estates.
  • Popular, upscale hotels can also be found in the Bocagrande district, which has the second highest concentration of accommodation options (after the Walled City).

GETTING AROUND

  • The Old Town is best explored on foot , and is generally flat and expansive.
  • Buses will take you everywhere else: the beach, specific restaurants, the bus terminal, etc.
  • Taxis in Cartagena don’t have meters, so negotiate a price before getting in. Otherwise, they’re generally a safe and reliable way of getting around outside the Walled City.

CARTAGENA NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18 , last call is generally around 3 AM (varies).
  • Cartagena is famous for its vibrant nightlife. The Walled City has something for everyone: cheap bars, waterfront clubs and romantic establishments housed in ancient dwellings. Most of the action takes place Wednesdays through Saturdays, starting at midnight.
  • Calle Del Arsenal   (in the  Gethseman í  neighborhood) is where some of the best nightlife is centered.
  • Great sports bar  to catch the game and meet new friends: León de Bavaria Cartagena.
  • Looking for dancing ? Check out Delirium Gastro Bar and Dolce Vita Cartagena.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • The Walled City is a must. Despite being an architecturally interesting attraction, it really inhabits a city of its own while maintaining authentic Colombian flare. It may be touristy, but locals resume normal lives there, selling fruits all over the street and blaring salsa music in the morning.
  • You’ll definitely want to hit the beach in Cartagena, as its stretch of the Caribbean Sea is exceptionally arresting (the actual city beaches in town are not much to rave about). Like most city beaches, they tend to be overcrowded and dirty, and for this reason, you can visit one of several pristine islands just a skip away from the city. Popular getaways include La Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario .
  • The Iglesia de San Pedro Claver has to be Cartagena’s most visually stunning church – and that’s saying something. It’s ancient, yellowed facade dominates its very own square.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • With the Caribbean to your right, walk west along the city’s 400 year-old wall that stretches on for over two miles.
  • Take a walk around Las Bóvedas , the site of a military dungeon complex used in the 1700’s. Today, the area is an outdoor market, where colorful, handmade crafts can be found.
  • The walk along Calle de la Inquisición is packed with historic churches, museums and haciendas saturated in deep hues lining little cobblestone streets. Don’t feel pressured to see any sights in particular – Cartagena is a city suited for wandering.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Cartagena has to be one of the sexiest cities in the world. The area where the old town faces the Caribbean Sea is a spot made for romance. In fact, proposals and weddings happen so often here that you’re likely to walk right into one!
  • Cartagena hosts the craziest Carnaval in the world every late February. The capital of Carnaval in Colombia is the city of Barranquilla and takes place in November, but much of the action spills over to Cartagena during this time.
  • Great restaurants to try in Cartagena: Restaurante Celele ($$$ – Caribbean), La Picua ($$), Andrés Carne de Res ($$$), Riquisimo BBQ ($$), Pezetarian ($$ – ceviche), La Mulata ($$ – casual), Restaurante San Valentin ($$ – Italian).
  • Where to find good cheap eats : street vendors sell anything and everything from shots of coffee from heated thermoses, to tripe soup out of big barrels wheeled on tricycles, and slices of mango with spicy sauce. All of these are cheap, delicious and sold no matter what street or district you’re in. The Historic Center is like a food market in the daytime, and the fruit juice stands on Muelle de los Pegasos whip up exotic drinks all day – perfect for rehydrating.
  • Dangerous areas : exercise caution outside the center at night, especially when walking alone. It’s easy to link up with other solo travelers at hostels or hotels, and most locals venture out in groups, too. Though the Walled City is generally safe, you will most likely be approached by unlicensed guides, drug dealers, prostitutes and money exchange conmen if you’re alone in quiet pockets of town.

Recommended trip duration:  3-4 days

  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Cali, Colombia
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Barranquilla, Colombia

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travel guide cartagena colombia

Cartagena, Colombia Travel Guide: Experience The City’s Rich Afro-Caribbean Heritage 

Cartagena, Columbia is a vibrant coastal city connected to Afro-Caribbean culture. Here's where to play and stay in this historic city.

Kristina Lopez • Apr 28, 2023

travel guide cartagena colombia

Cartagena is a city that is deeply connected to Afro-Caribbean culture. There is a significant amount of people with direct African descent and a legacy shaped by the transatlantic slave trade. This cultural influence is evident in everything from the city’s cuisine to its nightlife. Travelers can explore the city’s Afro-Caribbean roots, and visit museums and landmarks highlighting Black history. They also can connect with local communities to gain a deeper understanding of Cartagena’s unique identity. This vibrant coastal city is equal historic as it is diverse with everything that it offers.

Cartagena, Colombia, Quick Travel Facts

  • Best time to travel: April to June (shoulder season) and September to November (off-season)
  • Time zone: Colombia Time (COT)
  • Currency used: Colombian Peso (COP)
  • Noteworthy: Hay Festival Cartagena (January), Annual Barranquilla Carnival (February), Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival (March), Vallenato Music Festival (April), Cartagena Independence Festival (November)
  • Best for: Caribbean Getaway, Cultural Cuisine Trip, Friends Trip, Couples Trip

Play: Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia 

Cartagena atv tour.

The Cartagena ATV Tour is a thrilling and unique experience, along the Colombian countryside. The tour provides everything needed for a safe and enjoyable ride, including ATVs, helmets, bottled water and private transportation.

Riders can explore at their own pace and zip past lush mangroves. Along the way, they also will discover hidden beaches and take in stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. An experienced guide also accompanies them on the tour for additional safety. Guests will enjoy a refreshing dip in the sea and a traditional Caribbean lunch after the tour. 

Brunch & Paint on a Secret Rooftop

Travelers looking for a unique and memorable experience in Cartagena will enjoy the brunch and paint. The fun happens on a hidden rooftop in the Old City with a glass of champagne to break the ice. The delicious brunch includes toast, tortilla, sausage, empanadas, arepas, fresh fruit, two glasses of mimosa and bottled water.

The company provides all of the creative supplies, such as brushes, paint and aprons. Travelers will learn painting techniques and create a perfect travel-sized souvenir.

Black Legacy Experience Tour

The Black Legacy Experience Tour highlights the hidden African heritage that lies within the vibrant city of Cartagena. The tour takes visitors on a cultural walk showcasing the essential role Black history played in Cartagena’s past and present.

Travelers will visit different landmarks, such as the monuments of Benkos Biohó and Kid Pambelé, and the traditional medicine yard. The trip concludes with lunch, and the chance to try ÑEKE, a traditional Colombian drink. During lunch, participants will learn more about the meaningful language and rich culture of the region.

Totumo Volcano and Mar Rosa Tour in Cartagena with Lunch

The Totumo Volcano and Mar Rosa tour provides travelers will the opportunity to dive into a true Cartagena adventure. This excursion includes roundtrip transportation and admission to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. There, travelers can take a relaxing mud bath. The volcanic ash and rich minerals creates a natural spa experience, and the stunning Pink Sea as a backdrop is perfect for relaxation. Travelers will enjoy a delicious lunch, while indulging in the experience.

Guest’s entry admission to Playas de la Boquilla also is included in the cost of the tour. 

Excursion to the Rosario Islands with Lunch and Snorkeling

The group catamaran excursion to the Rosario Islands is a exciting and scenic day trip. It takes travelers on a breathtaking route to see the vibrant coast. Tour organizers provide snorkeling equipment and a delicious lunch. The sunset cruise also anchors at Isla Grande and Isla Bela for some unforgettable beach fun.

All fees and taxes are included in the price, which makes this excursion hassle-free.

Gourmet: Best Restaurants in Cartagena, Colombia 

Celele restaurant .

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Celele Restaurante (@celele_restaurante)

Executive Chef Jaime Rodriguez runs Celele Restaurant and combines modern gastronomy with the incredible biodiversity found in Colombia. Over the past few years, the restaurant has been recognized as one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America.

The stunning interior design incorporates Afro-centric furnishings and natural earthy tones into the decor. The menu consists of local ingredients and fresh food with Caribbean-inspired cocktails, beers and wines. The appetizers, such as the shrimp tartare with Caribbean mamey chutney, complement entrée, like the Celele Style Pork. Some of the desserts include banana and coca leaf flour cake and Caribbean red flower meringue.

Lunatico Restaurant

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Lunático Experience (@caffelunatico)

Located in the Getsemani Barrio, the Lunatico Restaurant has a delicious menu sourced from local farmer’s markets. The owners wanted to create a space that highlighted the racial diversity of Cartagena among the Indigenous, Africans and Spaniards.

The restaurant offers a variety of creative and Afro-Caribbean inspired recipes. The brunch menu has both imaginative dishes, like spicy Korean chicken benedict, and traditional Colombian breakfast options. Guests also can bring their furry friends to enjoy a night out at Lunatico.

Sierpe Cocina Caribé Fusión 

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sierpe Cocina Fusión (@sierpecaribe)

This Caribbean food fusion restaurant specializes in seafood and farm recipes packed with fresh local flavors. At Sierpe Cocina Caribé Fusión, guests will enjoy a mouthwatering menu. The menu includes entrées, like the Tamarind Beef Loin with coconut risotto and desserts, like the Peanut Turron with coffee caramel sauce.

La Cocina de Pepina

View this post on Instagram A post shared by La Cocina de Pepina (@lacocinadepepina)

La Cocina de Pepina has plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. The bar also has delicious wine, beer and Latin-Caribbean cocktails.

Guests praise the menu for its flavor profiles. Three popular dishes at La Cocina de Pepina are the Sea Bass ceviche, Boronía and Sopa Caribe. 

Cafe San Antonio

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Café San Antonio (@cafesanantonio.cartagena)

Cafe San Antonio’s menu is very diverse, making it perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a quick coffee stop. Located right in the heart of Gestemaní, the restaurant also offers fresh-pressed juices and local coffees.

Guests can enjoy breakfast options, such as homemade oat pancakes with fresh fruit or avocado toast with eggs and bacon. There also are fresh seafood appetizers, Venezuelan dishes and American dishes. The menu has something to fit every traveler’s appetite.

Stay: Best Places to Stay In Cartagena, Colombia 

Hotel casa noir cartagena.

Hotel Casa Noir Cartagena is located in the colonial Plaza Bolivar, which is close to Rafael Nunez International Airport. The rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, separate toilet and shower and amenities, like dryers and bath sheets. After a day of enjoying the coastline, travelers can relax in the jacuzzi or the terrace.

For those travelers with car rentals, the hotel also offers parking.

Blue Apple Beach House

This relaxing and sustainable beachfront hotel is 20 minutes outside of Cartagena. Located on the island of Tierra Bomba, the Blue Apple Beach House is a laid-back and relaxing place to stay. Executive Chef Pedro Mosqueda’s hotel dining menu features Mediterranean and Colombian-Caribbean specialties using locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.

The hotel’s solar power and zero-waste policies make it an eco-conscious choice for green-conscious travelers. With a living wage policy in place, guests can enjoy their stay while supporting fair labor practices.

Lovely Duplex Loft Apartment

The Lovely Duplex Loft apartment is located near the Marbella area in Cartagena. It is about five minutes from Old Town and three minutes from the beach.

The beautifully designed loft has a spacious living room complete with stylish natural furnishings, lush plants and a large television. It also has an open kitchen with all the amenities needed to cook meals in-house. Guests can enjoy the shared outdoor pool, a dedicated workspace with WiFi, free parking and a pet-friendly policy.

Gorgeous New Studio in the Old City

This Gorgeous New Studio in Getsemaní is located on the first floor of a brand new stylish building. This stay is in a prime location because it’s close to the tourist destinations, while still being away from them.

This studio is perfect for couples, solo travelers and small groups. The apartment is an open space with a big window door for luminous daylight and fresh air. The bedroom area has two queen size beds with a private spacious balcony, an outdoor sofa and a jacuzzi. The terrace overlooks a luscious garden.

With security cameras on the property, safety is also a priority. Only registered guests are allowed on the property.

Get Away: Getting To and Around Cartagena, Colombia

By air .

Travelers can get to Cartagena, Colombia by flying into Rafael Núñez International Airport. The city’s main airport serves both domestic and international flights, making it easy to reach most major cities in Colombia. Visitors may need to connect through another airport to reach Cartagena, depending on their origin location.

Though it is possible to rent a car, navigating the city’s narrow streets and heavy traffic can be difficult. It’s not recommended to travel around Cartagena by car unless familiar with the local terrain and driving conditions.

Hiring a private driver or taking a taxi is the most popular, affordable and readily available option for travelers. Make sure that the driver uses a meter or agrees on a price beforehand to avoid overcharging. Another option is a ride-sharing apps, such as Uber or Cabify. 

By Public Transit

Public transit can be a convenient and affordable option if traveling between Cartagena and nearby cities. There is a network of buses and colectivos. It may seem a bit complex if travelers are not familiar with the local bus system.

Buses are marked with their route numbers and destination, and fares are paid with cash or a rechargeable card. Buses can be crowded and slow during peak hours.

Explore Cartagena on Foot

The vibrant culture of Cartagena makes exploring the city on foot nearly idyllic. Travelers can enjoy charming plazas, colonial-era churches and quaint local cafes and restaurants. The narrow streets are filled with colorful buildings. The city’s historic walled center, known as the Old Town, is best explored on foot. The beautiful beaches easily can be accessed on foot. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes and stay hydrated.

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Home » South America » Colombia » Cartagena

Backpacking Cartagena Travel Guide (2024)

There are few better places to start an epic South America adventure than Cartagena, Colombia. This gorgeous colonial city sits on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, just a short flight from the southern US.

Its historic city center, paradisiacal beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, and raucous nightlife make it the perfect choice to ease yourself into the continent.

Thanks to its location and history, there is a distinct mix of cultures and styles present in Cartagena. While the city is very much Colombian, the Spanish influence is abundant. It was also one of the first sanctuaries of freed slaves, which resulted in a mixed Afro-Colombian population and culture.

Being on the Caribbean, Cartagena and the surrounding coastal region is quite different from the rest of Colombia, where most people live in the mountains. People here are known as  Costeños , and their unique accent and culture set them apart from the rest of the country.

One major highlight of traveling to Cartagena includes exploring the colorful walled city, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Outside of the old city walls, you can take your pick from several white sandy beaches.

If you’re planning on backpacking Cartagena, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s an affordable destination. The city is home to dozens of excellent hostels, a good public transportation system, and features plenty of places to eat and drink that won’t break the budget.

You could also splurge on a luxury vacation if that’s what you’re going for.

How Much does Backpacking Cartagena Cost?

Backpacker accommodation in cartagena, top things to do in cartagena, backpacking cartagena 3-day itinerary, backpacking cartagena travel tips and city guide.

If you’re backpacking Colombia , you’ll probably end up in Cartagena at some point. Even though this is the most visited city in all of Colombia, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to visit Cartagena; especially if you’re coming from the US, Canada, Western Europe, or down under, you’ll find that your money goes far here.

On the lower end of the budget spectrum, you can easily get by on a $30-40 a day budget. You can find a dorm bed in Getsemani for $10 a night or less that might even include free breakfast.

Cartagena Architecture

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The city is very walkable, and you can catch a local bus for super cheap if you need to. At this budget, you’ll be sticking to cheap local restaurants and dive bars.

If you up that daily budget to around $60-70 a day, you can stay in a nicer hostel within the city walls. With that extra money, you can afford to go on a day trip or two, such as the famous Playa Blanca. You’ll also be able to sit down for a decent dinner and go out for drinks and dancing.

Average Costs of a Trip to Cartagena

Here’s a breakdown of a daily Cartagena budget:

Dorm bed in a hostel:  $10-15 Small basic room for two:  $25-30 Airbnb in a shared apartment:  $20-30 Taxi from the airport:  $4-5 Local bus:  $0.75

Castillo de San Felipe Ticket:  $8 Street food snack (empanadas/arepas): <  $1 Menu of the day:  $3-4 Local beer at a bar:  $1-2 Daytrip to Playa Blanca:  $30-35

Cartagena Budget Backpacking Tips

Even though backpacking Cartagena is already pretty affordable, there are always things you can do to stretch your money even further. Here are some tips for those doing Cartagena on a budget:

Cartagena Street Art

  • Stay in Getsemani : Most people who stay in Cartagena choose either in the Old City or on the beach. Not surprisingly, you pay a bit more for those locations. The Getsemani neighborhood is a short walk/bus ride to both and is a much cheaper place to crash.
  • Book a hostel with free breakfast and/or a kitchen : Cutting down on your food expenses is a great way to stretch your budget. There are plenty of hostels that have free breakfast or offer breakfast for cheap. If there’s a communal kitchen, you can buy groceries and cook a few meals for yourself.
  • Skip the holidays : Cartagena is a super popular destination for both domestic and international tourists. As such, the place is a madhouse during holidays such as Holy Week, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Unless you want the elevated price tag, skip out on these times.
  • Learn some Spanish : There’s definitely a bit of gringo pricing that goes on in Cartagena. Knowing at least a little Spanish will help you save money, as you’ll be able to figure out local buses, eat at local restaurants, and most importantly, haggle in the native language.

Why You Should Travel to Cartagena with a Water Bottle

Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful

You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller .

Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

backpacker drinking using grayl geopress filter bottle

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Most backpackers in Cartagena tend to stay in the Getsemani neighbourhood. As I mentioned above, it’s definitely cheaper than other areas in Cartagena .

This was once a pretty sketchy ‘hood, but it has experienced a bit of a renaissance lately. It’s now bustling with Cartagena’s best hostel s, street art, and plenty of trendy bars and restaurants.

There are also tons of hostels, guest houses, and hotels within the walls of the Old City . There’s definitely an appeal to staying here since it’s beautiful, but you’ll just have to pay a bit more for it.

Those who would rather be near the beach than the sights can find plenty of accommodation in the Bocagrande area. You can even  stay at a floating eco-hostel .

Cartagena Beaches

The Best Places to Stay in Cartagena

Are you wondering  which is the best part of Cartagena to stay in?  Well, let me give you a few suggestions.

Centro

Centro is the undisputed center point of Cartagena’s tourism industry, and for a good reason. The streets here are pristine, vibrant, and filled with relics of the past hundreds of years.

Manga, Cartagena

Whereas Centro is bustling and busy and touristed, Manga provides the antidote since tourists don’t seem to visit this part of Cartagena often. That means a naturally more laid-back character.

Getsemani in Cartagena

Getsemani is Cartagena’s bastion of alternative cool, an area of street art and the city’s emerging hipster scene. Set just outside the old walled city, Getsemani was previously known for its crime – and some parts still don’t feel 100% safe at night – but musicians, artists, and backpackers are beginning to make a community in this bustling area.

San Diego, Cartagena

Just to the north of Centro, and still inside the environs of the old walled city, is the area of San Diego.

Bocagrande in Cartagena

This strip of seaside skyscrapers is Cartagena’s modern heart, a beach resort with a cosmopolitan backdrop of international hotels and a host of restaurants serving food from all over the world.

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Now that you know where to stay in Cartagena, it’s time to figure out what to do. You’d be surprised how much there is to see and explore in Cartagena . To make it a bit easier for you, we’ve listed our 10 favorite activities in the city.

1. Explore the Old City

Much of Cartagena’s charm lies within the walls of the Old City. Here you’ll find streets lined with colourful colonial homes, beautiful cathedrals, and several public parks and squares where locals gather.

There is a lot of history in Cartagena, so the best way to explore the city is through a free walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide. Tours depart every day at 10 AM and 4 PM in both English and Spanish.

Cartagena Walking Tour

2. Day trip to Caribbean beaches & islands

Once you’ve seen the Old City, it’s time to chill on the beach. The beaches in the city aren’t great, so you’ll have to go a little further afield.

Just about every travel agent in the city runs trips to places like Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands . Just be aware that there are several reports of disappointing, overpriced tours, so be sure to book with someone reputable. Your Cartagena must-do list should definitely include some island hopping at least. Or, even better, book one or two nights in a hostel in Rosario Islands , it’s worth it.

3. Castillo de San Felipe

Once upon a time, the Spanish used Cartagena as a major port to send gold and other pillaged treasures back across the pond. Unfortunately for them, pirates were ready to rob them of their booty. In order to thwart their pirating efforts, the Castillo de San Felipe was built.

This ancient fortress is a short walk or cab ride away from the Old City and it provides excellent views. There is a serious lack of information there, so it’s best to pay for the audio guide or just take a tour if you want to actually learn something.

4. Soak in the mud volcano

Some may look at this as a tourist trap, but you can look at it as a fun half-day trip out of the city.

The  Volcán del Totumo has a mud bath in the crater, which you can soak in for a while before hitting a beach and grabbing lunch. These tours are easy to sign up for and a fun thing to do in Cartagena if you’ve got the time.

5. Stay at a floating hostel

Just a 2-hour speedboat ride from the city, you’ll find the amazing Casa en el Agua . This floating eco-hostel is located in the San Bernardo Islands , which are part of a Colombia national park and are thus protected by the Colombian government.

Sleep in a hammock overlooking the ocean, spend your days snorkeling or SUP-ing, and then enjoy group dinners and dance parties at night. I’ve done a lot of travelling, and this has got to be the coolest hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

6. Take Spanish lessons

If you’re starting a massive South America backpacking trip in Cartagena, why not pick up some Spanish before hitting the road? Cartagena is home to several excellent Spanish schools that are ready to help you drop that awful gringo accent and speak like a local.

7. Sunset drinks on the wall

Located right on the city wall, Cafe del Mar is the place to be for sunset drinks. They mix up some tasty cocktails and usually have live music at night to go along with the fantastic views of the sea.

While their cocktails are a bit “rich boy,” to borrow a phrase from one of my buddies, you don’t even have to splurge to enjoy the views. Broke Backpackers may instead purchase a cheeky street beer from locals who bring coolers on the wall every night.

8. Go Scuba Diving

For scuba diving, hit up the Rosario Islands. I was able to go scuba diving with a fantastic dive shop called  Diving Planet . Their bi-lingual guides are professional and the day or overnight dive trips they offer include van transport and boat transfer, lunch, and all the scuba equipment. The Rosario Islands are one of the best places in Colombia for scuba diving, so don’t miss out!

backpacking cartagena

9. Party on the Chiva bus

Once the sun goes down, the streets of Cartagena come alive with the sounds of the rockin’ Chiva buses. These colourful open-air buses have bumping music and an open bar, and they take party animals on a little nightlife tour of the city.

You’ll surely know a Chiva bus when you see and hear it. Go ahead and flag one down and enjoy a wild night out on the town.

10. Tear up the dance floor

The Caribbean influence is strong here, and that means lots of dancing. Salsa may be the most popular and most famous style of dance, but you can also get down to some Merengue, Rumba, or Bachata.

If you have two left feet as I do, you’ll be happy to hear that there are several places offering dance lessons in Cartagena. Take these moves to the dancefloor and head to one of Colombia’s many festivals .

Backpacking Cartagena

Three days is just enough time to get a feel for Cartagena and see most of the highlights. I’ve even gone ahead and done all the planning for you to save you some time. Here’s a detailed itinerary for 3 days in Cartagena.

Day One in Cartagena: Exploring the Old City

Once you’re all settled into your hostel, the first order of business should to explore the Old City. With cobblestone streets and stunning colonial homes draped in bougainvilleas, it’s a lovely place for a stroll.

While it’s easy enough to get around the Old City on your own, you’re better off joining one of the excellent free walking tours. The guides are very passionate about the culture and history of Cartagena, and you’ll come away from the tour with a much better understanding of the place.

Backpacking Cartagena

Allow me to take a moment to remind everyone that the guides live off of your trips. Yes, the tour itself is free, but don’t be a cheap-ass and give them a measly couple of bucks for a tip. If you can afford to be all the way in Cartagena, Colombia, you can afford $10 for an informative 2-hour tour.

Once the walking tour winds down, you can take your pick from the countless restaurants in the Old City. I recommend finding a local joint and ordering the menu del dia . You’ll get a soup, a drink, and a substantial plate for just $3-4.

Cartagena Restaurants

If you need a little boost, it’s not hard to find a good cup of coffee here! Colombia makes some of the best coffee in the world and there are tons of cafes to choose from. Try to find a place with a terrace or outdoor seating and linger for a while.

When that scorching hot sun finally starts to go down, you can head over to the city wall to Cafe del Mar. This place is famous for their cocktails and views, although they come at a slightly high price tag.

Broke Backpacker Tip – grab a cold beer from one of the vendors on the wall and enjoy the experience for much less.

Backpacking Cartagena

For the first night in Cartagena, you should definitely hop on the Chiva bus . If you don’t know what that is yet, you will the second you hear one speeding down the street.

These open-air party buses take you out for a night on the town, all while boozing and dancing on the bus. It’s a great way to mingle with Colombian tourists who flock to the city in search of a good time.

The Chiva bus trip ends early enough where there’s still plenty of night left. What you do next is entirely up to you. If you’ve booked an early day trip, you may want to call it a night, or you can stay out and power through on a few hours of sleep.

You do you! Cartagena is bumping every night of the week, so the world is your oyster if you want to go out and keep the party going.

Day Two in Cartagena: Beach time

After a busy day and night in the Old City, you’ll want to hit the beach for some good old fashioned R&R. The easiest option is to head to the local beaches in the Bocagrande part of town. They aren’t exactly the most beautiful beaches, but you can still enjoy a day of sun and sand right in the city.

Bocagrande Cartagena

If those white sandy beaches are what your heart desires, you’ll have to put in a little more effort. The most popular day trip out of Cartagena is one that brings you to Playa Blanca .

Most trips include a bit of snorkeling and lunch as well. I highly recommend researching for a highly rated company, as there are quite a few horror stories of shitty, disappointing trips.

Another solid beach worth the day trip is offered by the luxury hotel Sport Baru . You don’t need to stay there to sign up for the tour, and it’s a bit more peaceful and relaxing than the Playa Blanca tours. If you really want to get out of the city for a quick tropical getaway, even if just for one day, this is the way to go.

Once you’re back from that big day out, you’ll want to head back to the hostel and get ready for another night out on the town. Many hostels in Cartagena have a pool or bar where you can enjoy a bit of pre-gaming with your fellow backpackers.

Cartagena KGB Bar

One of the coolest bars in the city has got to be the KGB Bar . Head there for cheap beers and check out all their Soviet-era decorations. On our visit, we were treated to a Colombian guy spitting rhymes that could rival Slim Shady. You never know what you’re going to find on a night out in Cartagena!

After the bars it’s time to put on those dancing shoes and tear it up. People love dancing everywhere in this city – in the public squares, at salsa bars and nightclubs, etc.

Cartagena Nightlife

One of the most popular places to go out dancing is Cafe Havana . If you don’t mind the queue, the cover charge, and the fact that it’s mostly tourists, this is a perfectly fine place to go.

Personally, I much more enjoyed the vibe at Bazurto Social Club . There’s a rockin’ live band here and you ca hit the dance floor or just grab a table.

Check out the Old City in our “Streets, Beats, and Eats” series, where we show you some of the sights, a few places to eat, and where to rock out and party at night.

Day Three in Cartagena: Sightseeing and Getsemani

While the free walking tour covers a lot of ground, you don’t visit many of the main sights of on it. That’s precisely how we’ll start day three in Cartagena. (Well, actually, you’ll probably want to start with brunch and some coffee to power through that hangover.)

One of the most famous landmarks in the city is the Castillo de San Felipe . Try to head up there before it gets too hot so you can walk around the old fortress and take in the views. Consider joining a tour or paying for the audio guide if you want to actually learn something about the place, as the signs are very lacking.

Cartagena Fort

Nearby, you’ll find La Popa Hill , which is home to the 17-century Santa Cruz monastery . From high up on the hill, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best panoramic views of the city. Just be aware that it’s not advised to walk up there, as it’s not the safest part of town. Try to haggle with a taxi driver to take you up and wait for you instead.

Many of you will probably end up booking a hostel in the Getsemani neighborhood. Even if you don’t stay there, you should carve out some time to check it out. There’s a ton of awesome street art here, so be sure to bring your camera along to snap some photos.

Cartagena Getsemani

In the evenings, a mixture of locals and backpackers gather in the plaza outside the church here. It’s a very lively atmosphere, with several vendors selling cheap and delicious food, street performers break dancing, and a handful of restaurants and bars.

A laidback night out in Getsemani is the perfect icing on the cake after a busy 3 days in Cartagena.

Cartagena off the Beaten Track

Even though Cartagena is Colombia’s most popular city for tourists, it’s not hard to get off the beaten track. That being said, there’s a good reason for staying on the beaten track. Many parts of Cartagena are not exactly safe to wander around on your own, so it’s best to stick to tourist-friendly areas.

Staying in the Getsemani neighborhood as opposed to the Old City will surround you with way more locals than tourists. While this area used to be pretty dangerous, you’re fine to wander around here now.

If you really want to escape the crowds in the city, the best thing to do is hop on a boat and go to the nearby islands or the aforementioned floating hostel.

Best Walks in Cartagena

Cartagena is a very walkable city, depending on where you are. Here are a few of the best walks in Cartagena to help you see the city on your own two feet:

  • Old City : Many Cartagena visitors spend a vast majority of their trip within the city walls. The place is set up for you to walk around, take in the sights, and eat, shop, or drink.
  • City Wall : There aren’t many Latin America cities where you’ll find a city wall. Take a stroll along the old wall in Cartagena and enjoy the scenery off to the side.
  • Getsemani to the Castillo : It’s not a bad walk from Getsemani to the Castillo de San Felipe. Just make sure to go earlier in the day to beat the heat.

One place I recommend you  not walk is Bocagrande at night. We stayed in an Airbnb for a few nights in this neighborhood, and one night decided to go for a stroll to buy cigs and beers. In our 10-minute walk, we were offered coke by a shady dude and then minutes later stopped and questioned by the police, who shook me down and checked my pockets. We didn’t buy any drugs so we were fine, but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

Cartagena City Wall

Best Time of Year to Visit Cartagena

It’s pretty hot and humid in Cartagena year-round, but it’s most bearable from January to March. It’s less humid than other times of the year, and the ocean breeze cools things down a bit in the evenings.

As far as crowds go, Cartagena is busiest from Christmas to New Year’s and then again during Holy Week. You can expect prices to spike during the holidays, and you’ll want to secure accommodation well in advance if you choose to travel during them.

The rainy season lasts from August to November, so if you prioritize sitting on the beach you might want to avoid these months. It’s really not that bad though. When we visited Cartagena in early September there were only a few showers that passed through quickly.

Old City Cartagena

Getting in and out of Cartagena

Most travellers arrive in Cartagena via the Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG). The airport is about 6 km away from the Old City, or a 20-minute cab ride.

There are direct flights to Cartagena from several cities in Colombia, as well as many other cities in Latin America. You can also fly direct from a few American cities (Miami, Atlanta, New York, Ft. Lauderdale), and even Toronto or Montreal in the high season. From Europe, only Amsterdam offers direct flights.

For domestic travel, you can also reach the city by long-distance bus. It’s not far to the larger city of Barranquilla, and it’s another couple of hours to Santa Marta.

How to get around Cartagena

If you’re staying in the Old City or in Getsemani, you can pretty much walk everywhere. To head to the beach in Bocagrande, you can catch a local bus (if you can figure it out) or a cab.

Speaking of cabs, they’re not bad here. Of course, there are some drivers who will try to rip you off, but for the most part, they’re fair. Uber is also available if you have a working phone.

To further explore the islands and beaches, join a tour for convenience or head to the harbour and put together your own excursion.

Safety in Cartagena

If you stick to the Old City, Getsemani, and Bocagrande, Cartagena is a very safe place to visit . It’s not really recommended to wander around aimlessly outside of the tourist centres. There are definitely some dodgy areas, as there are in any big city.

Cartagena Churches

Watch out for money changers’ scams; some offer a great rate and then skim money off after counting it. They’re sort of like rip-off magicians, so just avoid them all together and stick with the ATMs.

Many visitors have complained about getting stuck on crappy tours to Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands. Do your research beforehand or ask around your hostel to book a reputable and legit tour operator.

You may not be surprised to hear that certain drugs are readily available here. I’m not going to tell you what to do or what not to do, but just exercise extreme caution if you choose to buy something on the street. Better to make friends with locals and be discreet.

If you’re concerned about your overall safety in Colombia, then be sure to check out our in-depth safety guide. It’s chalked full of useful tips and reading it should make your life a little easier in Colombia.

Get Insured before Backpacking Cartagena

Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.

I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.

If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

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SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Cartagena Accommodation Travel Hacks

As I mentioned earlier in the guide, you can save a bit of money by staying in Getsemani instead of in the Old City. It’s just a short walk away and is a more backpacker-friendly area anyways.

Wherever you decide to stay in Cartagena, make sure your hostel has free breakfast and/or a communal kitchen. Eating out several times a day always puts a dent in your wallet, and it’s nice to have at least one or two meals covered at home.

Eating and Drinking in Cartagena

There’s no shame in coming to Cartagena simply to eat and drink your way through the city. There are so many excellent restaurants, cafes, and bars in Cartagena.

If you’re backpacking Cartagena on a budget, you can easily fill up on local food like arepas and empanadas. When you need something a bit more substantial, order the menu del dia in a local restaurant and eat whatever they’re cooking up that day.

Cartagena is all about the seafood, whether it’s grilled fish or a delicious plate of ceviche . One of my favorite dishes was mixed seafood in coconut rice. Muy rico! Also, the restaurant La Cevicheria is a bit pricey but well worth it. They serve some of the best ceviche you’ll ever have.

With so much exotic fruit in Colombia, you’ve got to try the juices and smoothies. You’ll also get some of the best coffee around in Colombia, and there’s no shortage of cafes where you can enjoy a cup.

Cartagena Ceviche

Nightlife in Cartagena

The nightlife in Cartagena is the stuff of legends, plain and simple. Not only is this the most popular tourist destination in the country, but the locals like to go out and have just as much fun, if not more!

Every night of the week is a good night to go out in Cartagena. Start out with a bit of pre-gaming in the hostel, or go grab sundowners at Cafe del Mar. That will warm you up for a ride on the Chiva bus as you bounce around town while you drink and dance with fellow travellers.

Cartagena Dancing

You don’t even have to go out to bars and clubs to have fun in Cartagena. Plenty of people gather in public squares to dance and just have a good time. You can even buy street beers from vendors on the city wall and enjoy a drink outside.

When you do want to go into a bar, you have tons of choices. You can have cheap beers in a Soviet-themed KGB bar or hit up fancy cocktail lounges, dance in sweaty salsa bars or cut a rug to some house beats in a trendy night club.

Before you know it, it’s 6AM and you’re stumbling back to your hostel with a tasty empanada in hand. Now that’s a night out!

Books to Read on Cartagena

Reading about a place you’re planning to visit is always fun. It gets you more excited for your trip and you learn something in the process. Below are 5 books and guides to add to your Cartagena reading list:

Moon Cartagena & Colombia’s Caribbean Coast – Plan your trip to Cartagena and the surrounding area with this great guide from Moon.

The Fortifications of Cartagena de Indias – If you’re interested in the history of the city, especially surrounding its important fortresses, definitely check this book out.

Dancing Feet: One Man’s Mi s sion to Dance Like a Colombian – What happens when an Englishman with two left feet heads to Colombia to attempt to learn how to dance like a local? Find out in this hilarious book.

Colombian Slang – Sound more like a local on your trip by learning 500 Colombian slang words.

Volunteering in Cartagena

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in  Cartagena  whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than  World Packers . World Packers is an excellent platform  connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.

If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.

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Worldpackers: connecting travellers with  meaningful travel experiences.

Make Money Online while Backpacking Cartagena

Traveling in Colombia long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring?  Teaching English online  is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection.

Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills!

It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online .

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online,  TEFL courses  open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on  teaching English abroad .

Broke Backpacker readers get a 50% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL  (simply enter the code PACK50), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Be a Responsible Backpacker in Cartagena

Reduce your plastic footprint:  Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a  tough travel water bottle .

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.

Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Need more guidance? – Check out our post on  how to be a responsible backpacker.

travel guide cartagena colombia

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The Only Cartagena Travel Guide You Need ( Updated 2024)

travel guide cartagena colombia

When I told people we were going to Colombia, we were met with a lot of blank stares and responses like “Isn’t it super dangerous?” . Before I get into everything, I can tell you that Cartagena is very safe and I never once felt scared there. This Cartagena travel guide will show you why it is so amazing and should be added to your list asap! It is now my favourite place in South American, hands down. I can’t wait to go back to Cartagena and also check out some neighbouring cities like Medellin!

While this was definitely the case years ago, the country has turned over a new leaf and has actually had FAR LESS shootings than the US in the last two years.

We felt super safe the entire time we were there and received such a warm welcome from all of the locals everywhere we went. Of course, it is important to note that we stayed in the main cities of Cartagena and Bogota.

Whether your idea of a vacation is sipping the world’s best coffee on a bougainvillea-laced balcony, heading to a tropical island just minutes off of the city, or salsa-dancing until 6am in one of Cartagena’s famous nightclubs , this place has something for everyone and we were SO happy we went!! colorful The Colonial architecture has been featured in many magazine and the fact that it is a Unesco world heritage site also tell you a lot about it! Just stunning.

GETTING TO CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

There are direct flights from Toronto to Cartagena but they only operate seasonally. I believe they are from December- March. If you do not travel during these times ( we did not), you can either do a stop over in Miami or somewhere along those lines or fly direct to Bogota, Colombia and take a domestic flight to Cartagena. We flew direct to Bogota and spent a night/day there. We felt that one day was all that we needed to see the city of Bogota.

If you are coming from Florida or visit Florida frequently, you should know there are direct flights from Miami or Fort Lauderdale and the flight time is only 2 HOURS!!! We are definitely going to scoot down from Florida for a few days when we are there next.

The Cartagena Airport is small and once you arrive, you are only a 15 minute drive to the Walled City. So great after a long flight!

NEIGHBOURHOOD BREAKDOWN:

Old City: This is the post popular area for tourists to stay in Cartagena. It’s also where most of the main tourist sites area.

Gestemani: Located just outside the walls of the Old City, Getsemani is a laid-back, authentic neighbourhood and is considered “up and coming”. It is definitely more raw than the Old City and has a lot more hostel like sleeping options.

Bocagrande: Boca grande is located southwest of the Old City and is located on the water. It is filled with high rise hotels and condos and is about a 15 minute cab ride from the walled city.

BEST TIME TO VISIT CARTAGENA

It’s always  hot and humid  in Cartagena…like I’m talking DESERT HOT! Throughout the year the average the temperature range is between 77°F and 87°F. That is why you MUST stay at place with both Air Conditioning and a Pool.

The weather is a bit better from January to March, when afternoon sea breezes provide daily relief. This is, however, their peak tourist season when prices are $$$. Rainy season is considered September-November with October being the rainiest month. With that being said you can visit year round if you wanted but I would say shoulder season of April would be best!

With that being said, it is a tropical climate so even when it calls for rain, it will likely only pour for an hour or two and be sunny once again! We went in June which is considered a bit of rainy season and never had rain once!

WHERE TO STAY IN CARTAGENA

WHERE WE STAYED IN CARTAGENA: Hotel Capellan! The location of this hotel was SO perfect. We were smack in the middle of the Walled City and Getsemani. You can see my full review HERE!

WE ALSO STAYED AT: Las Americas Torre. This was about a 15 minute taxi ride from the walled city and was directly on the beach. It is definitely good if you have kids and it was a beautiful hotel. We got to watch sunsets everynight! There isn’t much to do around here though and we found ourselves taking a taxi into the city everynight!

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CARTAGENA HOTELS  | Some spots within the Walled City that I’d recommend looking into are the Casa Factoria Hotel ( new!),   Casa San Augustin (what design dreams are made of and where many Cartagena Travel Guides will tell you to stay),  Ananda Boutique Hotel,  Townhouse Boutique Hotel & Rooftop (amazing rooftop for Sunset as well), and Bastion Luxury Hotel,  These are all inside the walled city. If you’re a budget traveler, Cartagena is FULL of hostels ( most of which are located in the Gestemani district), so you have plenty to research and choose from! There is also some pretty sick Air Bnb’s in Cartagena and if you are going with a large group, I would DEFINITELY recommend it.

NOTES ABOUT ACOMMODATION: If your budget allows, I would recommend staying somewhere with a pool. It is very unlikely you will be strolling around the city all day and with the kind of heat Cartagena has, a pool is so VITAL!

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN CARTAGENA

El Baron – This unsuspecting little place was one of our favs! Not only was it on the perfect corner to people watch, it had insanely well crafted cocktails with delicious tapas to match. Order the perfume drink ( I forget the name but ask the server) and the shrimp bruschetta.

Carmen- When you’re ready to drop some dollars and live like the tourist king (or queen) that you are, you’ve got to stop by  Carmen  for a high-end take on Cartagena’s passion for seafood.

Demente – If you are anything like me and need Pizza once a week, this place is for you! Actually this place needs to be on your list regardless! It is the best restaurant in Gestemani by far and the settting is tres cool! Get a table in the outdoor courtyard in the back! Hot tip: G et the French Onion Pizza. I was on the fence about it because it sounds weird but OMG SO GOOD!

La Cevicheria – Made popular by Anthony Bourdain, this ceviche restaurant shows up on every “Must-Visit” list of restaurants in Cartagena. Some reviews say it’s overpriced and not that great but we LOVED it!! We are glad we went on our last day as we would have definitely went a few times. It opens at 1pm and lines up quite quickly!

Maria Bonita -Another trendy little spot but this time in the Gestemani district! This place is in the main square so you really can’t miss it. Not only were the drinks SO TASTY but the food was also delish. It wasn’t cheap keep in mind but definitely hit all the boxes. They were also super sweet to Chloe and made sure we sat in a place that had direct fans on us

Alquimico – Ok so this isn’t necessarily for eating but more for drinking in style. With 3 floors of fun, we absolutely LOVED the vibe there. There was a DJ spinning on the first floor which was dark and moody and as you went up a level, the vibe got a bit more amped up. The final floor is a rooftop patio with a more relaxed vibe so there is something for everyone!

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS  | Maria’s ( on par with Carmen), Don Juan’s, La Paleteria ( for ice cream and popsciles- SO GOOD!!), La Perla , Townhouse for sunset or post dinner drinks, Movich Hotel for sunset drinks as well, Alma ( inside the Casa Agustin hotel)

THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

TAKE A BOAT TRIP TO THE ROSARIO ISLANDS OR ISLA BARU

While it is easy to get wrapped up in the Walled City, it wouldn’t be a trip to Cartagena without experiencing it’s beautiful Caribbean waters! There are tons of companies that do day trips to the nearby islands which are Isla Baru, Rosario Islands, Playa Grande and there are a bunch more. We hit up Nena Beach Club on Isla Baru!

We got a package that included transportation, a welcome drink and lunch! We choose this one as it did not require a boat to get there which was key with the baby. Apparently the boat rides to and from the island-although much quicker- are SERIOUSLY rocky and some people have felt really unsafe. If you are prone to sea sickness, keep this in mind. The ride to Nena Beach Club via car was about an hour each way.

OTHER BEACH CLUBS: Bora Bora Cartagena and Blue Apple Beach Club

ALSO NOTE : The closest beach is the beach in the Bocagrande area, however, it is a dark sand and dark water style beach. Not pretty. It is great for sunsets but not for relaxing!

DO A RUM TASTING

For rum cocktails to wash it all down, try  El Arsenal: The Rum Box . With a collection of every single rum made in Colombia, and premium knowledge on pairings—particularly chocolate pairings—you’re in for your own drunken history lesson with every visit.

SALSA IT UP : A CARTAGENA TRAVEL GUIDE MUST !

There are a few salsa clubs in town but the best and most legendary one is Club Havana. It is located just outside the walled city in Gestemani and it gets BUSY! Whether you want to just observe or actually groove, its great for either! Every Cartagena travel guide will mention Salsa dancing and for good reason.

DRINK LOTS OF COFFEE – ANOTHER CARTAGENA MUST DO!

There is epic Colombian corner on every corner- even locals sell it out of thermos in the park but the best places we loved where the following:

Epoca Cafe  – This is perfect early in the morning for breakfast as it gets super packed later in the day for brunch. The inside design of the space is also drool worthy so it’s worth coming to for both! Side note: They also have killer mojitos.

Abaco Libros y Cafe   – Abaco is the book and coffee shop of my dreams! Books line the walls, the smell of delicious coffee wafts through the shop. Students from the university nearby can be found here at all hours, but there’s always space at the bar for a quick cortado! Fun Fact : The cover picture of this blog post is taken on the street right outside this cafe at about 7:30 am in the morning!

If we had more time, we would have taken a bigger day trip or quick 1 night trip to Tayrona national park. It is a stunning area about 4 hours from Cartagena and has one of the most stunning beaches in the country, unique view points and just a landscape like no other. Next time!

IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT CARTAGENA

-All airports in Colombia are completely baby friendly! You literally get to hop to the front of the line at customs, security and check in.

-Ubers are “illegal” here but are still super easy to get. You just have to not be flashy with them. They are also SUPER cheap…like $4.00 for a 15-20 minute ride

-Certain places only take Cash so make sure to come with Colombian Pesos!

-There are so many amazing souvenirs to grab while you are there from local artisans so make sure to leave some room in your luggage for that

-The language barrier is REAL! I would suggest downloading Google Translator. This was the way we had to ask questions to people a lot of the time. It worked great! What not to do in Cartagena would be to only speak english and act stand off-ish. The people there very much appreciate the effort to speak Spanish

-Tipping is not necessary but appreciated! We always left 10% or so

-Travel shots for Cartagena and Bogota are not necessary. If you are travelling to more remote areas or to Tayrona National Park you would require a Yellow Fever vaccination. The mosquitos, however, were still around and we put on bug spray as we found it a bit annoying. Not sure if it was the time of year we went but I would pack some spray to be safe

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Thank you for all your recommendations! This is extremely helpful. My family and I are looking to visit Cartagena next month and are curious if we would need a car seat for our baby to get around in taxis? I would really appreciate it, thank you!

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Cartagena tours: your gateway to colombia’s caribbean wonders.

travel guide cartagena colombia

Cartagena, a jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, enchants visitors with its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty. Cartagena Tours is your ideal partner in exploring this captivating city and its surrounding areas, offering a variety of tours and activities that cater to every traveler’s interests and preferences.

Introduction to Cartagena Tours

what to do in cartagena ? Cartagena Tours is committed to providing exceptional travel experiences, showcasing the best of Cartagena and its coastal treasures. With a focus on personalized service, expert guidance, and sustainable tourism practices, Cartagena Tours ensures that each visitor enjoys a unique and memorable journey through this beautiful region.

Highlights of Cartagena Tours

  • Island Rosario: A Paradise of Natural Beauty

Island Rosario, part of the Rosario Archipelago, is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches, and vibrant coral reefs. Cartagena Tours offers excursions to this idyllic island, where guests can snorkel among colorful marine life, relax on white sandy beaches, and explore lush tropical landscapes. Whether you’re seeking adventure or tranquility, Island Rosario provides a perfect escape into nature’s paradise.

  • Pasadia: Immersive Cultural Experiences

For those looking to delve into the rich cultural heritage of Cartagena, Pasadia offers day trips that immerse you in local traditions and lifestyles. Cartagena Tours organizes visits to historic sites, artisanal markets, and authentic Colombian eateries. Guests can participate in traditional dance workshops, explore colonial architecture, and taste local delicacies, offering a deeper understanding of Cartagena’s cultural fabric and its historical significance.

  • Boat Rental and Jetski Adventures: Explore the Caribbean Waters

For adventure seekers and water enthusiasts, Cartagena Tours provides boat rentals and jetski excursions that allow you to explore the beautiful Caribbean coastline. Whether you prefer a leisurely sail on a private yacht, a high-speed jetski ride, or a scenic sunset cruise, these activities offer a unique way to experience the natural beauty of Cartagena. Opportunities for snorkeling, fishing, and beach picnics make these excursions perfect for both thrill-seekers and those looking to relax and unwind.

  • Rosario Island Excursion: Discover Ecological Wonders

Embark on an ecological adventure with Cartagena Tours’ Rosario Island excursions, showcasing the biodiversity and natural beauty of this tropical archipelago. Guests can kayak through mangrove forests, snorkel in clear waters filled with marine life, or simply relax on pristine beaches surrounded by lush vegetation. These excursions provide a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, allowing you to connect with nature and appreciate the unique ecosystems of the Rosario Islands.

  • Cholon Cartagena: Festive Coastal Vibes

Cholon Cartagena , known for its lively atmosphere and floating bars, is a must-visit destination for those looking to experience Cartagena’s vibrant social scene. Cartagena Tours offers trips to Cholon, where guests can enjoy local music, fresh seafood, and a variety of water sports. Whether you’re lounging on a floating platform, dancing to Caribbean rhythms, or indulging in delicious seafood, Cholon offers a festive and immersive coastal experience that captures the essence of Cartagena’s lively spirit.

Commitment to Excellence

Cartagena Tours prides itself on delivering top-notch service through careful planning, expert guidance, and a commitment to sustainable tourism. Each tour is designed to ensure safety, comfort, and meaningful experiences, making your visit to Cartagena truly unforgettable.

Cartagena Tours offers a diverse array of experiences that highlight the best of Cartagena and its surrounding areas. Whether you’re exploring the natural beauty of Island Rosario, immersing yourself in local culture with Pasadia, or enjoying the excitement of jetski adventures, Cartagena Tours promises an enriching and memorable journey that celebrates the beauty, history, and vibrancy of Cartagena.

For travelers eager to uncover the treasures of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena Tours provides the perfect opportunity to explore, engage, and create lasting memories.

travel guide cartagena colombia

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    This boutique hotel from acclaimed Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi is set in a 250-year-old restored colonial mansion with original stone-walled rooms and private balconies. There are only 7 rooms, but 4 pools, creating an intimate atmosphere like none other in the city. Rates from $200-$300 per night.

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