The charming, colorful streets, the stunning colonial architecture, and the lovely narrow cobbled allies are probably a few of this Cartagena’s magical features, which inspired Gabriel García Márquez the most for creating his masterpieces. The new part of the town outside the walls, Boca Grande, is filled with hotels, restaurants, and malls where you can also see Cartagena’s modern side. Cartagena de Indias has everything you need for a perfect and memorable vacation experience, from white sand beaches to museums and vibrant nightlife.
Cartagena, a port city, located in the north of Colombia on the Caribbean sea coast, is one of the country’s top visited cities. Once colonized by the Spanish Empire, this unique city is surrounded by a 13km stone wall built in the colonial era for protection against storms and, more importantly, the pirate’s attacks. The part of Cartagena enclosed by the walls, also known as “the walled city” or “Ciudad Amurallada,” has a lot to do with Cartagena’s insane popularity.
Cartagena is home to multiple lovely shores on the Caribbean side. Some of the beaches in or nearby Cartagena city are Bocagrande, Castillogrande, La Boquilla, and Manzanillo del mar.
It takes a 45-minute boat trip to get to this fascinating archipelago. It’s a part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, so it consists of some of Colombia’s best parks and an underwater park you can only find there in the whole country. Visit Rosario islands and enjoy the many lovely Caribbean beaches and fresh seafood at an affordable price. We recommend you search for hostels to stay in before you begin your trip, and it’s guaranteed you’ll find excellent options.
Tierra Bomba Island
Tierra Bomba Island: another gem in the Caribbean Sea, with many coasts to spend a joyful time in. dreamy destinations like Blanca Beach, Isla Grande Beach, Bocagrande beach with its fabulous restaurants, Punta Arena, and many more. With an average cost of around 100$, you can stay in great hotels, or if you fancy seaside hotels, there are plenty of them in Tierra Bomba.
San Bernardo Archipelago
ُpending two hours on a boat will get you to the fantastic San Bernardo archipelago. This place is where unique-looking shores surrounded by clear blue water can be founded. The beaches are unbelievably gorgeous with cabañas, shades, and palm trees. The contrast of white sand and water with so many shades of blue adds to the beauty.
Tayrona National Natural Park
You may have already heard about the famous Tayrona National Natural Park, which is close to Santa Marta and blessed with some well-favored beaches. Camping in Tayrona is usual and this way you can have a full-day fun time with palm trees and green landscapes in your sight. You are not allowed to swim on all of the beaches, so be careful and do your research before visiting.
Sights and activities
A journey to Colombia and, specifically, Cartagena brings a sense of diversity to the visitors’ experience. You might find yourself doing a variety of things during the day, and in each case, one of those many beautiful monuments is a part of the story. Be open to recommendations not to miss any opportunity.
Take a walk through the walled city
There’s such a vast range of activities available in Cartagena. Still, you should definitely do the one thing – both free and wonderfully exciting- is taking a stroll in the city center, the old town. The whole vibe of this part of Cartagena is guaranteed to recharge your batteries and instantly put you in a better mood. Wandering through the narrow and vibrant streets with colorful colonial buildings will make you feel like you’re in a movie scene. We also recommend visiting the Getsemaní neighborhood for its fantastic graffiti arts.
And if at any point during your stroll you find yourself thirsty or in need of a short rest, you can always stop at one of the many local cafes and restaurants on your way and have a cold fresh drink while enjoying the live street music and dance.
Catch the Sunset at a Rooftop or on the City’s Wall
This experience is one you’d thank yourself for it later, so don’t miss it. The sunset alone in this city is already breathtaking. Now imagine watching it from a rooftop bar at the Movich Hotel. Another place to have this experience again is on top of the city’s wall. Here, a lot of people gather around and watch the sun as it goes down. On the wall in El Centro, Cafe Del Mar is also another option if you want to grab a drink or a bite with a spectacular view.
Castillo De San Felipe de Barajas
This masterpiece of a fortress was built in 1657 by the Spanish to defend the city from foreign attacks. Of course, it is not the only magnificent fortress in Cartagena, and there are 15 more. But if you only want to check one of them out, this is considered one of the most outstanding buildings of all. It’s open from 6 a.m.- 8 p.m. every day, but it does get a bit crowded on weekends, so try to avoid that if possible. Each child’s ticket is about $3 and $7 for adults.
Party on a bus
If you’re looking for a fun night out, you should seriously consider taking a Chiva bus tour. You will tour around the city on a bus listening to music the whole time and will be served alcohol. But the fun doesn’t stop here! The bus will drop you off at a nightclub or bar where you can really blow off some steam by dancing to the energetic music and refreshing drinks. Prices range from $6 -$12 depending on the tour.
Check out Mercado de Bazurto, the Food Market
As modern as some parts of Cartagena might be, you can’t neglect its authentic local details. For example, the food market offering all types of fresh and locally grown fruits is one of the places you can visit in the city to have a real Cartagena experience. Besides fruits and vegetables, you can also find handicrafts and even traditional food of indigenous people at Mercado de Bazurto. Most things are wallet-friendly at this market.
Staying at least a day on a white sand beach is definitely a must when you come to this city. There are several islands around it with stunning beaches which you could get to by boat and some even by car. Playa Blanca isn’t the nearest beach to Cartagena, but it’s the dreamiest, so if you are looking for a paradise alongside the sea, this is your destination. With its crystal blue water and charming resorts, this beach is a 45-minute boat ride from the city. Try to visit here on weekdays so you can enjoy the experience peacefully.
Caribe Jewelry Museum & Factory
Colombia is well-known for its emeralds, so if jewelry fascinates you take a tour through the emerald exhibition; you will first visit the museum and know about the historical methods for mining the precious gem and the history of the industry in Colombia. The next part of the tour is in the workshop, where you will see professional workers cutting and placing the gems. And the last stop in the store. You can browse through it and purchase anything you’d like. There’s a wide range of different jewelry that fits every budget.
Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver
There’s a lot of churches and museums in Cartagena. One of the most exceptional ones is the Saint Peter Claver Church. This catholic cathedral, located in the walled city, is named after the priest who baptized over 30000 people, many of whom were slaves who were moved through Cartagena. Claver’s body is preserved in a coffin on the church’s main altar. There’s also a small museum where visitors can learn about Saint Peter’s life and the cathedral’s history.
The astonishing architecture of the building is something that every tourist has mentioned after visiting it. There’s also a flourishing garden around the building with plants that enhance its beauty. You can sit and absorb the glory of this cathedral in the garden.
The entrance fee is about $7 for adults and less for children.
When to Go
Cartagena has an over-all hot and humid climate with an average temperature of 84 °F, so make sure your hotel is airconditioned. Although the humidity rarely wears off, the temperature falls during the 3month-period between January and March. These are also the driest months in Cartagena, and you might even feel the evening breeze then. On the other hand, October is the month you would want to avoid if sudden rainfalls are a problem since this is the wettest month. To make it easier to check the weather, take a look at this table:
|January||31 ° C||24 °C||
|February||31 °C||24 °C||
|March||31 °C||25 °C||
|April||31 °C||26 °C||1 day|
|May||32 °C||26 °C||5 days|
|June||32 °C||26 °C||8 days|
|July||32 °C||26 °C||8 days|
|August||32 °C||26 °C||8 days|
|September||32 °C||26 °C||8 days|
|October||31 °C||25 °C||11 days|
|November||31 °C||25 °C||8 days|
|December||31 °C||25 °C||3 days|
The ideal way to get around the Old Town is by walking the cobblestone streets as it’s such an excellent opportunity to soak up this extraordinary city’s atmosphere slowly. But there are also other means of transportation in Cartagena like bikes, taxis, buses and the most special of them are horse-drawn carriages which you should try at least once. In case you want to take a cab, try calling a taxi from your hotel rather than getting one on the streets since they may try to increase the fare that way. And if you have decided to take the bus, make sure you know your stops before getting on, as it might be a bit confusing for a first-timer to navigate on the bus.
Based on tourists’ experience, you should expect an average daily price of $40 in Cartagena. They have mentioned an average of $7 on each meal and $2.5 on transportation for one day.
Accommodation and where to stay
Since this city is on top of the “most visited places” list, there are various accommodation types available in both walled city and Boca grande. Most tourists choose the city center to access the best parts of town. From boutique and luxury hotels to colonial buildings turned into local hostels, you can decide where to spend the night in Cartagena depending on your preference and budget. The hotels in Boca Grande are further from the walled city but more affordable so keep that in mind when looking for a place to stay. The international chain hotels like the Hilton hotel and resort are mostly found in this part of the city.
Food and Food Places
The variety of food in this city is so vast and unbelievably tasty that no one will leave a restaurant disappointed. Again, depending on the budget and taste, you can go to luxury hotel restaurants. In such restaurants, you will be served gourmet dishes or grab a bite from the street food vendors available on almost every street corner. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience and want to try the local food, don’t forget to get yourself some “arepas de huevo” (fried corn disc stuffed with an egg), empanadas, and buñuelos (deep-fried maize and cheese balls). Also, try the Papas Rellenas (potatoes stuffed with meat and spices). As a result of its location, Cartagena is rich in seafood. La Cevicheria is the most famous seafood restaurant in town serving the best ceviches.