Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia, thanks to its easy transportation links to the rest of the world. The city is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, which gives it great weather year-round and beautiful islands and beaches.
Throughout time Cartagena has preserved its culture and heritage with traditional Spanish style architecture, painted in bright colours. The old city still has a wall almost completely surrounding it which was once used to protect the city. Now the wall provides a great walk around the city, as well as a great location for bars and restaurants.
In this article, I share why I love Cartagena, my favourite things to do in the city, the best places to stay, and tips for a visit to Colombia’s most popular Caribbean city.
Why Visit Cartagena
Cartagena is a unique and picturesque city located on the Caribbean coast. The city’s Old Town or Walled City is filled with beautiful multi-coloured houses which have been restored and are well preserved.
The Walled City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its Spanish style architecture.
A unique thing about Cartagena is that it has a bit of everything, a beautiful city, history, boutique shops, and a collection of Caribbean islands.
When To Visit Cartagena
Cartagena has the same climate year-round, with dry and wet seasons. The typical climate is warm, the temperatures you would typically find in the Caribbean. The temperature typically stays around a high of 31c (87f) year-round.
Dry season tends to be from December to March which is also the high season, where things are typically more expensive. Between April and November is the low and wet season, where there are typically fewer tourists, and the rain often brings cooler temperatures.
Things To Do In Cartagena
There are plenty of things to do in Cartagena. I have visited the city many times and each time I visited I found something new to do. I do have my favourite activities and must-see recommendations which I have listed below:
1) Visit Castillo De San Felipe De Barajas
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a castle in the middle of the city which you can walk around as well as seeing great views of the city.
The castle is a step back in time with videos, guided tours, and tunnels you can walk around and discover the history of the castle and the city of Cartagena.
2) Take A Boat Trip To The Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands are a collection of 26 islands located just off the coast of Cartagena. These islands are typical Caribbean islands with white sandy beaches and clear water.
These islands make a great day trip from the city when you can catch a boat in the morning between 1.5 hours and arrive at an island. Packages typically include a fried fish and rice lunch on the island, with snorkelling and kayaking or water sports activities to enjoy before making your way back to the city in the afternoon.
Alternatively, many of the islands have small hotels which you can stay at for the night or for a few nights.
3) Watch The Sunset At Cafe Del Mar
Cafe del Mar is a bar and restaurant located on a section of the wall. They have live music and cocktails, It is one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset.
4) Eat Ceviche At La Cevicheria
La Cevicheria is a great restaurant located close to Plaza de San Diego. This restaurant is small with inside and outside dining. The menu is comprised of many different dishes from ceviche to other fish dishes.
5) Walk Around The Walled City
A great thing to do in Cartagena is to just take a walk around the walled city. Every street has something different, with beautiful colourful buildings with unique door hangings, and brightly coloured doors.
There are many plazas in the city which you can walk around, many of them have street vendors, dancing, music, and street artists. There is always something happening in the city with different festivals and events happening year-round.
6) Visit Santo Domingo Square
Visit the Santo Domingo Square, a lively square with street vendors, restaurants, bars, live music, and dancing.
The Naval Museum is my favourite museum in the city because it has such unique pieces on display and highlights major parts of Colombian history. This museum tells the history of the city with different pieces of history and displays.
Other Things To See in Cartagena:
- Playa Blanca
- Mercado de Bazurto
- Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa
- Museo de Oro (Gold Museum)
- La Boquilla
- Crater of El Totumo Volcano
Where To Stay In Cartagena
My favourite place to stay in Cartagena is Hotel Movich, as it is located in the heart of the walled city.
The Walled City is a great location to stay in for exploring the city, dining out, and walking around. The majority of restaurants and activities are located within this area, and from here you can walk around comfortably.
The Hotel Movich is famous for its 360-degree view rooftop swimming pool with a beautiful view of the city, it is one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset. The hotel itself has large rooms and a restaurant which serves delicious food.
Other luxury hotel options in this area are the Casa de Alba Hotel Boutique, Amarla Boutique Hotel Cartagena, and the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena.
AirBnB is also a great option for places to stay in The Walled City.
If you prefer to be in a quieter neighbourhood, with ocean views, and beaches then you can book a hotel in the Bocagrande area.
For those looking for a budget or hostel option then you should look at Getsemaní where more affordable accommodations can be found.
For more information and places to stay, be sure to read our complete guide on The Best Neighborhoods and Places To Stay in Cartagena.
Where To Eat In Cartagena
Cartagena has emerged and created a name for itself in terms of great restaurants and cuisine, with many of Colombia’s top chefs opening restaurants within the city. The city is famous for its seafood and dining locations.
Here are a few of my favourite restaurants in Cartagena:
Bars & Hangouts In Cartagena
Colombians are known for partying, they love to socialise with friends, family, colleagues, either during football matching, the weekend, or even after work in the evenings. For this reason, Cartagena has countless bars and restaurants from rooftop bars, luxury cocktail bars, side corner hidden hole in the wall bars, and street vendors who serve alcohol.
On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, they love to dance salsa, champeta, and other traditional forms of dance, all night long. In Cartagena, it is not usual to find locals dancing in the plaza or streets all night long.
Here are a few of the best bars in Cartagena:
Where To Go From Cartagena
Colombia is slowly becoming a top tourist destination and is appearing on everyone’s travel bucket lists. While many destinations and cities are becoming more popular with tourists the quieter and countryside towns still have a local feel.
Cartagena is a great city to start or end a trip in Colombia or South America. You should consider visiting other cities in Colombia such as Medellín, Cali, Bogota, and Santa Marta.
Colombia has Caribbean Islands, a Caribbean coastline, tropical rainforests, an ancient Lost City, Amazon rainforest, desert, Pacific Coastline, whale watching, bird watching, plains, countryside, and more.
Related Article: How To Get The Most Out Of 7 Days In Colombia
What To Know For Visiting Cartagena
The typical visa to visit Colombia allows you a free 90 day stay depending on your country of nationality. Be sure to check the official Colombian visa website for the latest information.
The currency used in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). The current exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 3,400 COP. You can check the latest IDR exchange rate on Google.
While travelling, our number one tip is to use a free Charles Schwab Debit Card which gives unlimited worldwide ATM Fee Refunds and the true exchange rate.
Best Tours In Cartagena
Some of the best tours and things to do in Cartagena are:
Where To Stay In Cartagena
Cartagena’s Old Town is our recommended area to stay when visiting the city. We recommend booking your hotels on Booking.com to get the best rate and many hotels offer free cancellation in case your plans change.
Some of our favourite hotels in Cartagena are:
- Hotel Almirante Cartagena Colombia: Beachfront hotel with great views and service, in the Bocagrande neighbourhood.
- Movich Hotel Cartagena: This hotel is located in the historic centre and has a beautiful rooftop pool and view of the city.
- Sophia Hotel: Located in the heart of the walled city. close to restaurants and shops. The hotel has a beautiful rooftop pool and view.
AirBnB is also a great option in Cartagena and you can save up to $44 on your first booking with that link!
Best Books About Cartagena
Read more about Colombia before you go! Some of the best books about Cartagena are:
- Short Walks From Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia
- One Hundred Years Of Solitude
- Colombia A Comedy Of Errors
What Power Adapters Do You Need
Colombia uses standard 2 prong Type A or B adapters also commonly used in the United States.
You can buy a universal adapter that will work in any country and has extra ports for USB cables to charge your phone and other devices.
We also always travel with a portable battery pack which is great to keep your phone charged on long journies.
Transportation In Cartagena
- Public Transportation: Public transportation is sparse in Cartagena with only a handful of buses transporting people around the city.
- Rental Cars: It is possible to rent a car at the airport in Cartagena, though driving might be challenging due to bad road congestion, local rules, and specific driving times.
- Taxis: Uber is not available in Colombia anymore but there are many taxi applications such as Tappsi. Do not catch a taxi from the road, always prebook or organise with the reception at your hotel.
Our top recommended travel insurance companies for Cartagena are:
- World Nomads: Comprehensive coverage for medical, travel delays, and electronics.
- SafetyWing: Cheaper monthly coverage primarily for medical.
More Articles About Colombia
- How To Get The Most Out Of 7 Days In Colombia
- Ultimate Guide To The Lost City, Colombia
- 6 Reasons To Sail From Panama To Colombia
- Where To Stay In Bogota, Colombia: A Guide To The Neighbourhoods & Hotels
- Where To Stay In Cartagena, Colombia: A Guide To The Neighbourhoods & Hotels
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Cartagena. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Junior Editor Anny Wooldridge of AnnysAdventures.com
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