The 12 best things to do in Cartagena

Laura Watilo Blake

Aug 11, 2023 • 12 min read

colombia travel cartagena

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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Wandering Stus Adventure Travel Blog

Visiting Cartagena: 18 Things To Know Before You Go

Visiting Cartagena on your Colombia itinerary ? Well, you wouldn’t be the first! This vibrant, Spanish-colonial, coastal town is one of the most visited places in all of Colombia. Regardless of what there is to do in Cartagena , understanding a few tips for visiting Cartagena ahead of your arrival will definitely come in handy.

From outlets to money and Cartagena’s beaches, there are definitely a few things to know before you visit Cartagena. Let’s get to it!

Tips For Visiting Cartagena

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1. Cartagena Is Hot. Very, Very Hot

You’re close to the equator, along the northern coast of Colombia which faces the Caribbean Sea….to say it’s hot is an understatement. We visited Cartagena in late January and into early February and their “winter temperatures” rose into the 90s. Chilly winter temps, right??

Cartagena is hot and oh-so humid, so do your best to start your day off early to get some sightseeing in. If the temperatures get too much, try booking accommodation with a pool , head to a few museums, or grab a coffee and a bite to eat in an air-conditioned eatery or coffee shop.

Oh, and definitely make a pitstop at La Palettería to get an ice-cold popsicle.

2. It’s Really As Beautiful As People Say It Is

Facts. Cartagena is beautiful. From its cobblestone streets to its historic and colorful Spanish colonial architecture, and the DOORS! The doors on some of these houses and buildings are magnificent, not to mention the hanging gardens and outdoor balconies which add a perfect little cherry on top of it all.

In all honesty, Cartagena reminded us of Old San Juan . It’s historic, colorful, and charming, which will leave that memory card of yours full. There are never too many photos you can take of Cartagena’s streets.

Wandering around the walled city in Cartagena

3. …but Cartagena Is Crowded

Do you think all that beauty is just going to go unnoticed?! Absolutely not. Thanks to Cartagena being a cruise port and its rise to fame through social media, Cartagena is one of the most visited places in all of South America. Yes, all of South America, as in the entire continent.

Around 4.5 million people visit Cartagena annually. The Old City of Cartagena (Centro) is small, so its streets are inevitably crowded with tourists and locals. We recommend making reservations at any of the restaurants you want to eat at and also book any tour you may be interested in well in advance.

4. Get Up Early

Not only to beat the heat but the crowds too. In our opinion, the best time to explore Cartagena is at sunrise. You will have the place to yourself which is perfect for any photographers wanting to get “people-free” photos of Cartagena’s Old City.

Cartagena's Old City Streets at Dawn

5. It’s Easy To Get To

Especially if you plan to fly. Cartagena’s airport has handfuls of international flights coming and going daily. Not to mention, the numerous amount of domestic flights that arrive and depart from Cartagena daily too!

Rafael Núñez International Airport is Cartagena’s airport and it’s located north of the Old Walled City. Once you land, rest assured that Cartagena’s Old City is only a short taxi or Uber ride away (15 minutes or so).

6. Avoid Cartagena’s Beaches, and Go To The Islands instead

Yes, Cartagena has beaches. Should you go? Meh, no. While Cartagena is nestled along the Caribbean coasts of Colombia, its beaches are far from white and sandy with pretty blue waters.

Due to Cartagena being a massive port city, not only for cruises but for freight liners too, and the number of tourists this place sees, unfortunately, the water has been affected due to pollution. At one time, 70+ years ago we are told, the coast along Cartagena was lovely. However, that is not the case today.

If you are looking to get some beach time in, we highly recommend skipping the beaches in Cartagena and heading to the neighboring islands of Isla Barú or Islas del Rosario . Islas del Rosario ( Isle Grande ) is only accessible by a 1-hour boat ride whereas Isla Barú can be accessed by boat or car via the peninsula bridge.

Swimming in the blue waters of Rosario Island

7. Fruit Lady Photos Are Not Free

When visiting Cartagena, you may take notice of some fruit vendors. Cartagena’s fruit ladies or also known as The Palenqueras, are colorfully dressed women who effortlessly balance a bouquet of fruit atop their heads as they wander the streets of Cartagena. They will encourage you, the tourist, to take a photo with them or of their Palenqueras group. If you do, just know that the photo is not free. You’ll be expected to pay a few pesos for your photo souvenir.

8. Get Out of Cartagena’s Old City and Explore Getsemani

Laying just outside of Cartagena’s historic old city is the neighborhood of Getsemani. While Cartagena and Getsemani are only a few minutes from each other, they can feel like different worlds at times. Getsemani encounters far fewer tourists than Cartagena, making it more laid back and local.

Home to beautiful street murals, umbrella-covered streets, and Salsa bars, Getsemani is a perfect break from what can be the chaos of Cartagena. Plus, Getsemani is home to amazing restaurants, so if you can’t get a reservation in Cartagena’s Old City, definitely plan to eat and drink in Getsemani.

Fruit vendor in Getsemani

9. Book Ahead, This Place is Busy

As soon as you know the dates as to when you’re visiting Cartagena, BOOK your accommodations ! Remember that millions of people visit Cartagena yearly so if you are looking for a certain type of accommodation, you’ll want to be sure to book as far in advance as you can.

The same goes for any tours you are looking to take or any restaurants you are wanting to try. Reservations are encouraged where you can make them!

10. Skip The Taxis. Walk .

You do not need to rent a car or even book a cab to get anywhere within Cartagena’s Old City or to get to Getsemani for that matter. Everything is walkable! Everything. And we promise, if you think something is too far and opt to get a taxi or Uber, it’ll take you longer to get to vs if you just walked. The traffic in Cartagena can be crazy.

colombia travel cartagena

11. The Water in Cartagena IS Safe to Drink

Yes, you read that right. The tap water in Cartagena is safe to drink. So sleep easy knowing you can brush your teeth, have ice in your cocktails, and drink the water without encountering tummy troubles.

If you are a little wary of trusting the tap water, you can opt to filter the water further, you know, to take the better safe than sorry route. The Life Straw will help purify your water further if you are wanting to give tap water a try and avoid single-use plastic water bottles.

12. Cartagena Uses U.S. Outlets

All you Americans visiting Cartagena, leave your outlet adapters at home! Colombia uses the same outlets as we do. For anyone visiting Cartagena, not from the United States, you’ll need to pack your adapter with you. If you are unsure if you have the right outlet adapter, you can check out this adapter pack for your trip to Colombia and future travels.

Gestamani Street Art

13. Cards are Accepted, but Cash is Pesos

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted at restaurants all around Cartagena, but if you want to pay in cash, Colombian Pesos is the only form of currency accepted. No USD or Euros. If you have any cash you want to exchange, plan to do so before leaving your home country, or you can exchange your home currency for Colombian Pesos when you arrive at Rafael Núñez International Airport.

14. Skip The Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

Of the many things to do in Cartagena, you may read about taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Old City. While it sounds enchanting, animal tourism is a slippery slope and can go wrong quickly. When traveling, anytime you do an activity with animals, you really want to be sure the animal’s welfare is coming first, not tourist fun.

Like in Thailand, don’t ride the elephants , and in Cartagena, taking a carriage ride with some horses that don’t look to be in the best shape is something you should opt to skip.

15. Brace Yourself for The Salesman

From the moment you leave your hotel to the moment you get back, you will be encountered by many a salesman asking you to buy a sombrero, a bracelet, a soccer jersey, or book a tour. Be kind, but assertive if you have no interest to purchase anything, and just keep walking. Also saying “no gracias” goes a long way.

colombia travel cartagena

16. Cartagena is Expensive

Cartagena was by far the most expensive place of the areas we visited in Colombia. From the food to its drinks and places to stay, Cartagena is definitely on the higher end of things when compared to other places in Colombia you may be exploring.

But expensive is relative to you as a person. So, if you are looking to travel for cheap, Cartagena may be expensive in your eyes. However, if you are coming from the States or Europe, Cartagena may be right in line or even cheaper than what you were anticipating.

17. Brush Up on Your Spanish

The national language of Colombia is Spanish and it should be known that English really isn’t widely spoken. However, of the place we visited in Colombia, Cartagena was by far the most English-friendly destination.

Knowing a few words will help navigate any potential conversation barriers and makes you a favorite with the locals! Plan to have Google Translate downloaded and at the ready, in case you run into any language barriers. We used this app big time during our travel throughout Colombia!

18. Is Cartagena Safe?

In the height of the cartel days in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, Cartagena was actually a very unsafe place to visit. However, all that has changed now, and Colombia as a country has transformed for the better.

However, to say that nothing bad will happen to you there is a little unrealistic. When visiting Cartagena, petty theft like pickpocketing is among the most common. Also, you may get offered cocaine. If you choose to partake, just be aware of the potential consequences that can come along with that decision (potential robbery, arrest, etc).

Just be smart and aware of your surroundings and you’ll be just fine. We spent almost 10 days in Cartagena and at no point did we ever feel unsafe or threatened. Common sense goes a long way 🙂

Jesse roaming the colorful streets of Getsemani

Best Place To Stay in Cartagena

When visiting Cartagena, two great areas are staying either within  Cartagena’s walled city (Centro)  or just outside it, in the  Getsemani neighborhood .

Getsemani is much more local and laid-back than Centro Cartagena. With fantastic restaurants, bars, and street art, Getsemani is the hipper cousin to the more touristy old city of Cartagena. Cartagena’s Old City (Centro) is where tourists flock to stay, and for good reason. Cobblestone streets, colonial Spanish architecture, colorful houses, and amazing bars and restaurants can be found in the Old City.

Both areas are fantastic places to stay and both are close to the best things to do in Cartagena . The best part is you can easily experience both Getsemani and Cartagena’s Old City in one day or spend several exploring both neighborhoods in detail. So don’t fret, you can’t go wrong with whichever area you decide to stay in.

Cartagena Old City Accommodations:   Soy Local  |  Casona del Colegio  |  Casa India Catalina

Getsemani Accomodations:   Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique  |  Hotel Monaguillo  |  Hotel Casa Tere

Want More Information On Colombia?!

13 Absolutely Amazing Things To Do in Salento

14 Things Not To Miss in Cartagena

The Ultimate Colombia Itinerary & Trip Planner

All You Need To Know About the Cocora Valley Hike

PIN IT FOR LATER! Visting Cartagena Travel Tips

For more travel tips, guides, and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site, follow us on Instagram  @wanderingstus ,  Pinterest , and  Facebook . Oh and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!

Happy Travels,

– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)

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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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

Table of Contents

Where to stay in Cartagena

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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 .

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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 .

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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

colombia travel cartagena

What to do in Cartagena

colombia travel cartagena

Explore Old Town Cartagena

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

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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!

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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! 

colombia travel cartagena

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!

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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. 

colombia travel cartagena

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!!!

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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.

colombia travel cartagena

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

colombia travel cartagena

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!

colombia travel cartagena

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:

colombia travel cartagena

What to pack for him for Cartagena:

This classy Cartagena-inspired button down shirt

colombia travel cartagena

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

colombia travel cartagena

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:

colombia travel cartagena

The best places to visit in Colombia

colombia travel cartagena

Medellin Colombia Travel Guide

colombia travel cartagena

Reasons why Colombian coffee is the best in the world

colombia travel cartagena

Where to stay with a group in Cartagena

colombia travel cartagena

Is the Maldives Baby Friendly? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to the Maldives with Kids or a Baby

The Perfect White Dresses & Outfits Every Bride-to-Be Needs for Every Event Leading Up to the Wedding

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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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colombia travel cartagena

colombia travel cartagena

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.

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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 .

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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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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Cartagena   Travel Guide

colombia travel cartagena

Courtesy of Enzo Figueres | Getty Images

colombia travel cartagena

Why Go To Cartagena

During the Spanish colonial period, Cartagena functioned as a key foothold for the Spanish empire in Colombia and South America. The coastal city's colonial walls (which began construction in 1586) defended against pirates, who were drawn by Cartagena's status as an economic hub. These walls were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, and they are now one of Cartagena's most well-known attractions, drawing history enthusiasts from around the world.  

The city boasts an astounding number of historical attractions in addition to its famous walls. Travelers can wander the streets taking in the architecture, or opt to spend an air-conditioned day in one of the many museums populating Cartagena. Plus, with the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Cartagena Bay to the south, this South American city provides a number of playas for even the most selective sun-seekers.

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  • # 7 in Best Places to Visit in Central and South America in 2023
  • # 18 in Best Places to Visit in Winter
  • # 26 in Best Cities in the World to Visit

Best of Cartagena

Best hotels in cartagena.

  • in Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique Spa
  • in Hotel Las Americas Torre del Mar
  • in Hilton Cartagena

Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique Spa

Best Things to Do in Cartagena

  • # 1 in Old City Walls
  • # 2 in San Felipe de Barajas Castle
  • # 3 in Plaza Santo Domingo

Popular Tours

Full-Day Rosario Islands Including Barú, Cholon and Playa Blanca

Full-Day Rosario Islands Including Barú, Cholon and Playa Blanca

(1392 reviews)

from $ 75.00

Bora Bora Cartagena Beach Club Full Day Experience

Bora Bora Cartagena Beach Club Full Day Experience

(409 reviews)

from $ 108.11

Cartagena ATV Tour

Cartagena ATV Tour

(655 reviews)

from $ 135.00

Cartagena Travel Tips

Best months to visit.

The best time to visit Cartagena is December to April. The city's tropical climate means that, although temperatures tend to stay around the mid-80s year-round, the amount of precipitation each season varies wildly. The dry season, December to April, coincides with Cartagena's summer and is also when the city welcomes the most visitors. Fighting the throngs of tourists turns out to be worthwhile though, as the winter seasons brings near-constant precipitation, accompanied by overbearing humidity, which makes it difficult to take advantage of the outdoors.

Weather in Cartagena

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Be wary of street vendors Aggressive street vendors swarm many of the popular attractions . If you're not interested in their services, clearly say no to avoid awkward confrontations.
  • Keep cool Average temperatures in Cartagena typically stay between 75 and 89 degrees year-round. Travelers should be prepared to invest in sunscreen and sunglasses before their trip.
  • Learn Spanish phrases Although Cartagena caters to tourists, most of its English speakers are concentrated in the most heavily-trafficked areas (such as the walled city). If you plan to venture outside of the tourist areas, plan to learn a few key Spanish phrases. It makes you a better tourist and (hopefully) helps you avoid scams.

How to Save Money in Cartagena

  • Try some street food With food stands perched on every corner, travelers can experience a smorgasbord of culinary options without ever setting foot in a restaurant. What's more, street food is generally cheaper than a traditional sit-down eatery.
  • Avoid public transit The Cartagena bus system is inconvenient and hard to navigate. What's more, many of the areas are walkable with some rudimentary planning, while hailing a taxi only costs a small premium.
  • Budget for small purchases While lodging, flights and excursions are best budgeted out in advance, set aside a small pool of pesos for small purchases from street vendors and the like.

Culture & Customs

Cartagena features a diverse culture, though visitors will primarily notice the Spanish colonial vibes that permeate the city. Consequently, Spanish is the dominant language of Cartagena; though, as a tourist city, most establishments can recognize the relevant English phrases. That said, travelers are more likely to avoid overpaying for services if they know a few simple Spanish words such as hola (“hello”), por favor (“please”), gracias (“thank you”), cuánto cuesta (“how much is it”) and dónde (“where”).

Visitors to Cartagena ought to recognize the roles that different meals traditionally play in Colombian culture. Breakfast and dinner are auxiliary meals, with small dishes accompanied by coffee or water. Meanwhile, the majority of a Colombian's calories are typically consumed around lunchtime. While the role of each meal is more of a guideline, travelers have no reason not to subscribe to the country's dietary habit during their visits.  

After dinner, music-lovers should plan to spend at least one night out dancing to the sounds of the city. Music plays a particularly significant role in Colombian culture, with an eclectic variety of genres like champeta, cumbia and salsa echoing from the city's bars and clubs.

What to Eat

Cartagena's street food provides a cost-effective and delicious option for full meals or snacks. Travelers can purchase an assortment of tropical fruit from las palenqueras , or local women selling fruit from the carefully balanced bowls on the tops of their heads. You'll be able to easily spot them thanks to their colorful dresses. Alternatively, Colombians and tourists alike enjoy feasting every morning on arepa de huevo , a deep-fried breakfast dish that consists of cornmeal dough and eggs.

The city's coastal perch means that fresh seafood is also abundant. Ceviche, a hodge-podge of fresh seafood and vegetables, delights travelers from around the world. La Cevicheria is the most well-known ceviche eatery, in no small part because Anthony Bourdain once visited and praised the restaurant. Other traveler favorites include La Pescaderia Ceviches y Piqueo, Mangata and Porton de San Sebastian.

A culinary trip to Colombia isn't complete without sancocho , a soup that combines local ingredients like seafood, plantains, yucca, corn and cilantro. Soup isn't the only liquid worth trying though, and a variety of bars, like El Arsenal: The Rum Box and Sinko Bar , wowed recent patrons with their expansive menus of custom cocktails.

Following the Colombian government's 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, violent crime in Cartagena has drastically declined. That said, Cartagena is still plagued by many of the same petty crime that you'll find in other major metropolitan areas. Because street crime is the most common threat to tourists, visitors should take common sense precautions: travel with friends, be aware of your valuables at all times, and stay alert for pickpockets and other scams.

Getting Around Cartagena

The best way to get around Cartagena is by taxi. Taxis make it easy to get between distinct points in the city, including Cartagena's Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG), while short jaunts ought to be made on foot. According to area hotels, taxi rides from the airport to the central tourist areas cost about $10. Rental cars are available in Cartagena (an international driving permit is required), but the U.S. State Department advises against driving in Colombia due to lax traffic laws and poor infrastructure.

For the same reasons, travelers should avoid taking the busses from nearby cities into Cartagena. Instead, visitors should opt to arrive by air, which is the most common means of arrival in the city. Local buses are also available at the airport and stops throughout Cartagena, but public transit can be challenging to navigate and is not recommended for tourists.

Entry & Exit Requirements

A valid passport is required for entry into Colombia, and tourists from the United States can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. A yellow fever vaccine is required for travelers entering Colombia from Brazil, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department's website .

The Public Clock Tower is a major attraction in the Old City Walls .

Explore More of Cartagena

San Felipe de Barajas Castle

Things To Do

Best hotels.

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Cartagena Travel Guide: Best Things to See and Do

Written by Becca

Updated on March 11th, 2024

Flowers in a wall in Colombia

An epic destination for a Colombia trip, here are our essential Cartagena travel tips for safety, solo travelers, the best times to visit, what to do and what to avoid.

This article may contain affiliate links. We earn a small commissions when you purchase via those links — and it's free for you. It's only us (Becca & Dan) working on this website, so we value your support! Read our privacy policy and learn more about us .

Posted in Colombia

Table of contents

  • Should Cartagena be on my Colombia itinerary?
  • Does Cartagena make a good entry point into Colombia?
  • When are the best and worst times to visit Cartagena?
  • Is it expensive to travel in Cartagena?
  • Is Cartagena generally safe?
  • Is Cartagena a safe trip for women?
  • What are the top things to see in Cartagena?
  • The top things to avoid in Cartagena
  • Where to stay in Cartagena: ideas at every budget
  • Where to eat and dine in Cartagena
  • Where to drink and hit the bars and nightlife in Cartagena
  • Day trips from Cartagena
  • Where to go next, from Cartagena

Cartagena: a traveler’s dream, right on the tropical north coast of Colombia. Many call it the gem of the Caribbean, and it certainly gets the most attention from travelers.

What’s the big deal about Cartagena? Is it beautiful? Is it safe? Should you go there alone, or as a solo female traveler? Is it romantic for couples? Is it cheap for backpackers? Is it safe?

What should you know before traveling to Cartagena, what are the best things to see, and what should you avoid? Here’s everything you need to know about travel in Cartagena, before you go.

Orange flowers in Colombia

Should Cartagena be on my Colombia itinerary?

Yes, Cartagena is a great destination to add to a Colombia trip itinerary.

If I may be completely honest, a trip to Cartagena is worthy of five to ten days, to see the whole Caribbean North Coast region (Cartagena - Santa Marta - Minca - Tayrona National Park).

If you are intent on seeing several regions of the country of Colombia (which is huge, by the way), you can add Cartagena as your first or last stop.

Cartagena makes a logical start or end destination after also visiting the Bogota , the Medellin region , the Colombian Coffee region and Salento and then, a place like Guatape .

A group of people standing on the front porch of a building.

Does Cartagena make a good entry point into Colombia?

Cartagena is an ideal destination for entering Colombia internationally, especially if you are flying from the US, or Canada. The Cartagena airport is ready to welcome international travelers, and typically, no tourist visa is required in advance.

A big draw for travelers from North America is that Cartagena is one of the easiest destinations for traveling into South America, given that it’s only five hours nonstop from NYC, and only three hours from Miami. A trip to Cartagena is closer for many people in the US than a trip to Los Angeles or San Francisco!

Stone wall in Cartagena Colombia

When are the best and worst times to visit Cartagena?

I’ve been to Cartagena in January-February, and also in November. I find that late fall into much of winter is the perfect time to visit Cartagena and the surrounding regions. I’m also biased, because, living in NYC, this is why Cartagena and neighboring Santa Marta are on our list of warm places that are best for escaping the cold of winter .

A group of people walking down a street.

Best time to visit Cartagena

Most people will say the best time to visit Cartagena is from December to April. This is because these months are slightly cooler than the Colombian summer, which runs from May to September. These months, despite it being hot (by most people’s standards) during the tropical Caribbean coast winter, are even hotter .

Woman vendor in Colombia selling fruit

Worst time to visit Cartagena

If you live in the US, you may be familiar with what we refer to as Hurricane Season, which we all know is from June to October or so. Noticeably, Cartagena gets the most rain during this warm time of year, so to enjoy the dryer weather, travel to Cartagena when I’ve gone there: between November and March.

When are the days longest in Cartagena?

As photographers, we put a lot of emphasis on the length of a day and the amount of daylight a place receives when we make travel plans. Given that Cartagena and most of Colombia lie close to the Equator (see: location near Ecuador), the length of a day in Cartagena is generally similar all year round.

If you visit one of our favorite websites, Timeanddate.com , you can see a visual of the sunrise and sunset times in the Cartagena region. The latest sunset will be in mid-June at 6:22pm, and the earliest will be in late December at the winter solstice, so it’s around 5:43pm.

A group of people walking down a street at night.

Is it expensive to travel in Cartagena?

Honestly speaking from all my experience traveling in Colombia, Cartagena ranks as one of the more expensive cities for traveling in Colombia. In fact, it is probably the most expensive. This is because Cartagena is a tourism destination, whereas other cities have a wider range of things for foreigners to do on a budget.

Nevertheless, if you are coming from a country like the US, Canada or anywhere in Western Europe or East Asia/Australia/New Zealand, Colombia will definitely feel like a cheap place to travel on a budget in 2024 and beyond.

Is Cartagena generally safe?

During my trips to Cartagena, I luckily have never experienced any petty crime! I’m also a pretty safe traveler: I watch my bag, I don’t keep valuables in my pockets, I don’t wear flashy jewelry, I don’t walk around alone in the dead of night and I don’t carry around too much cash.

Cartagena, especially its “Old City” and historic center (where you’ll find mostly tourists and backpackers), is very welcoming to visitors. What you do have to watch out for is the city of Cartagena proper, which is a rather big Latin American city with its share of the risks/dangers that are typical for cities of its size in South America.

A map of the city of córdoba, argentina.

If you stick to the touristic areas, you’ll be charmed by historic architecture, excellent shopping, lovely bars and restaurants, a great sunset on the city walls and probably a great guest house, hotel or Airbnb for accommodation. I wrote a Medellin safety guide that can help with a lot of general expectations for Colombia travel.

Stone wall in Cartagena Colombia

Are there scams in Cartagena?

Yes, there are scams in Cartagena and I want you to know that I was the victim of one. I was even quoted in this article by the Professional Hobo about popular travel scams in regard to my experience being scammed in Cartagena.

In short, if you follow the general rules of travel, you will be completely fine . Given my experience of getting scammed at the locals-only beach La Boquilla, I’d recommend sticking to the beaten path in a place like Cartagena. I got scammed because a friend and I decided to do our own thing and take the path less traveled, deciding to take a taxi to a beach outside the city known for being much less touristy and sure enough, we were the only foreigners there.

A woman walking on the beach with a basket on her head.

We sat down in our own private beach tent, and were treated to drinks and food from a man who refused to show us a menu (big red flag). We were “treated” at the end to a bill of $100 USD, which, for what we got, was a grossly inflated bill that he knew we’d pay because there was no one around to help us — no police, no one to take our side, no one who had seen what had happened.

In very stressed-out Spanish, I negotiated our way out of there with enough cash in hand to be able to take a taxi back to town, but they had taken most of the money we had arrived with.

I promise you that if you stick to the recommended areas, use TripAdvisor reviews and popular travel blogs to recommend your day trips and places to eat, you will experience no harm whatsoever. It’s only if you stray outside the comfort zone that you could get into situations where no one is around to defend you if you’re being bullied by a scammer.

If you want to learn the local language of your travel destination before you go, try our tips for learning languages for travel .

Is Cartagena a safe trip for women?

Cartagena is absolutely a safe destination for women! I say this because I have traveled solo to Cartagena from Santa Marta by bus and spent time there on my own, and I have also been on a ladies’ trip with a gal pal of mine!

In the Cartagena walled city and historic center, there are so many women travelers from around the world, and there is very little targeting of anyone for just being female.

Stone wall in Cartagena Colombia

I would feel confident and quite safe if I went back to Cartagena as a woman traveling alone. I’d be ready to party and explore! If you’d like to see some inspiration for solo travel safety ideas, head to my list of products to pack for solo female travelers .

Is Cartagena a good destination for solo travel?

I’ll say yes to this one too: Cartagena is a great destination for solo travel! In fact, having been a solo traveler there myself, I can attest to some very social hostels, many excursions to take in groups as ways of meeting other backpackers and general confidence in safety.

We even named Cartagena as one of the best cities for solo travel this year .

Dare I say that Cartagena actually would make one of the best destinations for solo travel in Colombia, up there with Medellin . You can read more about Cartagena for solo travel in our list of the best destinations for traveling alone .

Colorful street of Cartegena Colombia

What are the top things to see in Cartagena?

Having now been to Cartagena with a guy friend, with a girl friend, with myself as a solo woman and also with my husband, I have a lot of favorite places in Cartagena to recommend! You can put the following places on your list of places to see in Cartagena.

Green and yello painted house with an orange door

Additionally, Cartagena has plenty of photo spots for anyone who wants to take a great Instagram (or TikTok). Find these spots in your map and make sure to go during golden hour for great lighting.

A yellow building with a clock tower in the background.

Plaza de Santo Domingo

This is a wonderful bustling square with sculptures, live music, outdoor dining and more.

Monumento Torre del Reloj

One of the most popular spots for taking photos in Cartagena, this is a big historic yellow clocktower with a big public square.

Muralla de Cartagena

Don’t forget about the city walls of Cartagena that line the Caribbean Sea! This is the best place to watch the sunset.

Beach sunset over the ocean

Baluarte de Santiago

This is a specific place on the city walls overlooking the water that makes great sunset photos, too.

Plaza de la Aduana

This is a colonial square with statues, colorful buildings and great lighting for taking photos to remember your trip.

Plaza de la Trinidad

This plaza in Getsemani has local life and street vendors, and it’s also where the street art tour commences.

Two hands holding two small pastries.

Aviario Nacional de Colombia

A special place to go, especially with kids or anyone into wildlife, is the Aviario Nacional de Colombia , Colombia’s National Aviary. This place to see natural birdlife in a natural setting is highly-rated and is a worthwhile stop.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

If you’re up for the very heated walk from downtown or if you can take a taxi, visiting this castle can be pretty special.

Calle Angosto (Umbrella Street)

For an Instagram moment or photo op, check out the Umbrella Street on Calle Angosto in Getsemani! See more about it at My City Paper .

See sloths at Parque Centenario

Believe it or not, there are a few sloths that call this park home. There are also a few Tamarin monkeys, red squirrels and iguanas. If you can’t spot the wildlife, ask the ice cream vendor! See a bit more here at TripAdvisor .

The top things to avoid in Cartagena

From experience, here are the places I would completely avoid during a trip to Cartagena:

La Boquilla

I love my Lonely Planet books , but I have the Colombia guidebook to blame for the idea of ‘getting off the beaten path’ and going for a day trip to La Boquilla fishing beach. This is where I got scammed with my friend Kevin, and I would not recommend that anyone go here because it was neither safe nor pretty.

El Totumo Mud Volcano

I was both recommended to take a day trip to El Totumo, and I was equally advised against it. I caved (pun?) and went with my friend Sam to El Totumo on an excursion day trip from our hostel. It was completely not worth it, and it was weird.

We waited on a line to swim in the mud in the center of this “mud volcano,” kind of got bathed by some women giving mud massages, and then Sam lost his GoPro and we have zero photos to remember this bizarre and pretty rip-off experience.

The excursion ended with an overpriced lunch for tourists at a place on the beach that served average seafood dishes. Please skip this Cartagena day trip, as it is overrated.

Playa Blanca

If I could, I would probably save my friend Danielle and myself the pain of going to Playa Blanca for a night. Don’t get me wrong: this is a beautiful white sand and blue water beach about an hour outside Cartagena, and the bummer is that it looks much closer on a map.

After an expensive $75 (USD!) Uber ride, we stayed in one of the grossest beach guesthouses in a room made of wood with basic beds and a bathroom for everyone that had no soap, and this was the place with the best ratings online! We were baffled.

We sweated our faces off and were bummed by the complete lack of things to do after the sunset besides drink “happy hour” on the beach and wake up early just to escape our stuffy wooden bungalow room. We couldn’t wait to leave.

If you must go to Playa Blanca, avoid staying the night so that you can get back to town and do something worthwhile with your precious vacation nights like visit all the excellent bars that Cartagena offers in its historic walled city for travelers.

Beach with long waves and palm trees in Colombia

Where to stay in Cartagena: ideas at every budget

As mentioned, I’ve had quite a few experiences in Cartagena, hence this well-rounded guide! I’ve stayed in a hostel dorm with a friend, a hostel dorm by myself, a hostel private with a friend, a hostel private with Dan, an Airbnb with my friend Danielle, and … I think that’s it. I’ve seen a good share of accommodations in Cartagena. Here are some recommendations!

An Airbnb in Getsemani

My friend Danielle and I stayed at an Airbnb in Getsemani as a splurge. On the outside, it was an old historic house with a colonial facade, and on the inside, it was modern with sleek cement finishes, a lofted bed area, a renovated bathroom and a full kitchen. Luxury!

If you choose to Airbnb in Cartagena, make sure that you are selecting an Airbnb either in the historic walled city or in Getsemani, as staying in Cartagena downtown proper will require a taxi ride every time you want to come to the walled city to see the sights and experience the destination.

Downtown Cartega Colombia skyline

How do we book our accommodation? We run through some facts and figures, and then we debate the differences of Airbnb vs Booking.com vs Hostelworld every time we make a booking.

Small multicolored flags hang across a small quiet street with white and orange buildings

Hostel Life is Good

I never actually stayed at Hostel Life is Good , but now I remember that I showed up there to meet a friend, used the WiFi, and put this hostel in my list of places to star in my maps. Now that I’m checking it out on Hostelworld.com, I’m seeing that it has incredible ratings, a glorious rooftop and mid-range prices for immaculate rooms.

El Viajero Hostel Colombia

This awesome backpacker hostel has a perfect location, helpful staff, a cool courtyard and a super social atmosphere. Prices are super affordable, especially for dorms, so you’ll pay a typical expected price for a backpacker in Latin America. Breakfast is included!

Selina Cartagena

Dan and I stayed at Selina Cartagena when it had just opened, and the perks are a coworking space, rooftop, a pool, bar and location in Getsemani. Prices are on the “higher end” of budget stays and you’ll probably stay here for the CoWork.

Where to eat and dine in Cartagena

Cartagena has a plethora of fine dining, budget eats, street vendors and snacks to choose from. One of my personal favorites are the vendors with the coconut candy that is absolutely to die for!

A person holding a piece of food in front of a building.

While in Cartagena, if you are a foodie, you’ll want to try Caribbean Colombian-style seafood, including local types of fish, ceviche, “mariscos” (seafood) and arepas .

Are you a gluten-free traveler? Good news: Colombia is one of the best travel destinations for gluten-free food .

La Cocina de Pepina

This special Colombian restaurant is hailed as one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. You’ll find it in Getsemani.

A plate of food on a table.

La Vieja Guardia

This spot recommended by a friend is for “fish and beer,” or rather, seafood and good drinks. It’s frequented by Colombian travelers, so you know it’s good! Check it out here.

Restaurant Carmen Cartagena

This contemporary Colombian restaurant is truly excellent, and reservations are required. Carmen Cartagena should be a star on your map if you’re into fine dining and having food memories during your travels. Just look at the menu !

Restaurant Candé

For an upscale dining experience in Cartagena, try Restaurant Candé, known for “Cartagena’s finest local cuisine” in a chic atmosphere. The service is great, there’s entertainment, and you’ll find some options for special diets. Read more in the reviews .

Restaurante Pavia

Restaurante Pavia is a spot for budget eats and Italian food in Getsemani where you can grab some pizza and eat outside.

Where to drink and hit the bars and nightlife in Cartagena

Cartagena in the walled city area is super fun for travelers as you bar hop, try cocktail spots, enjoy rooftop lounges and hotel bars, too. There is no shortage of fun spots for nightlife in Cartagena and you may be surprised at the fun that can be had.

Cafe del Mar

This is the best spot to watch the sunset on the city walls! It is a total scene at happy hour. They have this website with cool drone shots .

A large colombian flag.

El Balcon Eat Drink Love

My friend and I found this little balcony bar off a small public square in the Cartagena Old Town and wound down and people-watched from above. Recommended!

Two drinks with straws on a table.

This adorable old-school espresso bar is a lovely spot to get caffeinated near the city walls.

I’m pretty sure this rum bar was voted the best bar in Cartagena, and I had a pretty fun night here. If you like rum cocktails, you’ll be in for a treat at El Arsenal .

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this excellent cocktail bar was memorable. Definitely go with a group (or with a date) for lovely drinks, fun ambiance, a very cool secluded rooftop that makes you feel like you really went on vacation and much more.

Day trips from Cartagena

Cartagena is a good place to spend a week because you can use it as a “jumping-off” point for many day trips or side trips, as I have done in all my trips to the Colombian north coast. Definitely assess how much time you have and decide how much time you want to spend in transit, because distances will take longer than they appear. This is due to bus schedules, traffic, slow roads, or buses that make a lot of stops.

Scuba divers in a blue-ish green-ish ocean

I found Playa Blanca to be underwhelming, but this was because it didn’t have a ton of things to do and didn’t have the infrastructure of many beach towns in Latin America. In fact, it’s not really a beach town; it’s a beach, with a string of basic accommodations and rustic restaurants. I did not love Playa Blanca, and I’d say if you want a real Colombian beach vacation to actually book a trip to a real Colombian beach like Palomino.

Casa en el Agua

Casa en el Agua is the party hostel on an island of its own in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and off the coast of Cartagena. To get there, you take a boat, and then you spend a day, probably sleeping in a hammock using a beer to shield your face from the sun, in a little slice of paradise (with no AC). Bookings for Casa en el Agua get absolutely crazy very far in advance, so if you plan to go with a group, book as early as you can.

Blue and pink house in the water in Cartagena Colombia

Islas Rosario

These islands off the coast of Cartagena have private resorts and hotels. Note though, that getting to them does require time, and if you’d like to go for a day trip, you must do so through a tour agency that will hire a boat for you to do water activities. Here’s one we recommend!

We had friends stay in a bougie resort on one of these islands, and dare I say that our friends were not immune to Cartagena’s famous power outages even by paying top dollar. Beware of blackouts.

Barranquilla

Many people might say, why do you want to go to Barranquilla if it’s not Carnival? The answer is that there is (as it’s said) not much reason to visit Barranquilla (Shakira’s hometown) if it’s not near-time for the parties to start for these Mardi Gras-like festivals that shake up the city every year.

If you go at any other time, Barranquilla is the major city in the region that has a few historic things to see, and not much more.

Where to go next, from Cartagena

There are a lot of places to go next from Cartagena in your Colombia itinerary. How about a few of these ideas?

Santa Marta

Santa Marta is the next big city eastward from Barranquilla, after Cartagena. A square half-mile of a downtown will give you some delights of a colorful colonial Caribbean charm, like a cool cafe or two, some trendy restaurants, some shopping and some street markets. The beach is underwhelming, as it is not sunbathing-friendly and is not very well kept.

Use Santa Marta as your base to visit either Taganga or PNN Tayrona.

A woman holding up a map of colombia.

Taganga was once a backpacker-friendy beach town, but it has slumped in recent years and is now a bit polluted, and not overwhelmingly welcoming. There is a beach, but I would suggest wearing shoes, as there is a lot of trash, pollutants, broken tiles and shards of glass. There are a few beach bars at which you can sip a mojito while watching the sunset, which I’d call Taganga’s major attraction.

Minca is a mountain town in the Sierra Nevada and it gets off the beaten path a bit because far fewer travelers get there in comparison to the towns along the coast. In Minca, stay at any of these high-rated hostels with mountain views and outdoor activities for adventurers.

A view of a lush green valley with mountains in the background.

Tayrona National Park (camping)

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Natural Park) is the natural gem of the Caribbean North Coast of Colombia. For those who like bouldering, hiking, camping and sweating, Tayrona is nothing short of adventure in the region.

There are two routes to hike, with one being easy and one being harder (we did the harder one…) and there’s wildlife, protected beaches, lots of views, big rocks and even some indigenous natives roaming around.

Medellín & Antioquia

To get to Medellin, one of our favorite places in Colombia, you’ll probably have to take a flight, unless you want to spend a lot of time in a bus or car rental. Medellin is a big city with an incredible recent history that has shaped the destination it is today.

Big backpacker areas are El Poblado and Laureles, and the Poblado neighborhood has a slew of bars, hostels, restaurants, coffee shops and markets. See more in our Medellin travel guide .

Find the Best Things to Do In Cartagena

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36 Hours in Cartagena, Colombia

By Shannon Sims Updated Aug. 24, 2023

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A public square is lit up at night. People stroll along the cobblestones, with colonial buildings in the background.

Cartagena de Indias, a colonial port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, can be so hypnotically hot (even with the ocean breeze and occasional tropical downpour) that visitors may feel like they are drifting through a dream world of cobblestone lanes and Afro-Colombian drum beats — a sensation captured by the magical realism in Gabriel García Márquez’s Cartagena-set novels. A weekend is perfect for a robust introduction through two adjacent, walkable neighborhoods. The Old Town is still surrounded by the stone walls built by the Spanish colonists, who also left behind opulent mansions and churches. Neighboring Getsemani is an artsy, semi-residential enclave with a popular street-party scene, overlooked by the 16th-century fortress that looms on a hill nearby. And if the heat does get to you, order a limonada de coco, the slushy coconut limeade that keeps coastal Colombians deliciously cool.

Recommendations

  • The UNESCO-designated Old Town , Cartagena’s inner walled city, merges historical architecture with modern shops and restaurants, and is often compared to Old San Juan or New Orleans’s French Quarter.
  • Celele is a rising star restaurant in the Getsemani neighborhood that serves elegantly presented Colombian-Caribbean dishes.
  • San Felipe de Barajas Castle is a 16th-century fortress on a rocky crag overlooking the city.
  • La Serrezuela is a former bullring and theater that has been reimagined as a shopping mall packed with local design boutiques.
  • Mar y Zielo is a stylish, low-lit Old Town restaurant with great service and inventive dishes made with local ingredients.
  • Alquímico is an acclaimed multi-floor bar and restaurant, and later in the night, a discotheque.
  • El Barón is an unpretentious restaurant and bar that pairs beverages and cigars on a popular square.
  • Libertario Coffee Roasters is a coffee-lover’s mecca in the middle of the Getsemani neighborhood.
  • Sambal is a small Getsemani restaurant with an open kitchen and a knockout dessert menu.
  • Mirador Gastro Bar , Movich Hotel and Sophia Hotel are three Old Town rooftop bars where you can watch the sun set over the city.
  • Callejón Ancho and Callejón Angosto are two narrow Getsemani alleyways shaded by colorful umbrellas and flags that, come evening, are filled with people drinking beer at plastic tables.
  • Café Havana is a dependably vivacious bar for Cuban rum drinks and live salsa music in the heart of Getsemani.
  • The rooftop at Townhouse Hotel turns into a boozy brunch scene on weekend mornings, with unlimited mimosas and a plunge pool.
  • Café de la Mañana is a sweet little (albeit unairconditioned) cafe in the historic center with affordable breakfast plates and icy cold coffees.
  • Evok sells chocolates and teas derived from local herbs and fruit.
  • Ábaco Libros y Café is a cozy bookstore and coffee shop in the Old Town.
  • St. Dom is a one-stop shop for some of Colombia’s coolest fashion designers.
  • Loto del Sur sells fragrant lotions and potions in chic packaging.
  • Silvia Tcherassi is one of Colombia’s most recognized fashion designers with an Old Town shop.
  • El Centro Artesano Guazuma sells an expansive collection of crafts from artisans and Indigenous groups across the region.
  • Maaji sells tropical-printed bathing suits inside La Serrezuela mall.
  • Sabandija sells leather handbags and wallets in La Serrezuela.
  • Victor del Peral is a favorite shop for preppy menswear.
  • The Getsemani neighborhood is the hipper sibling to Old Town and famous for its street art.
  • Puerta del Reloj , crowned with a clocktower, is the historic main gate into the walled city.
  • Parque del Centenario is a green space between the Old Town and Getsemani, where locals hang out alongside trees hiding monkeys and sloths.
  • Plaza de San Diego is a popular public square inside the walled city with food carts selling typical Colombian snacks.
  • A champeta dance class with Black Legacy Experiences is a great way to dive into Cartagena’s Afro-Colombian musical roots.
  • Plaza de la Trinidad is a lively square and the heartbeat of the Getsemani neighborhood.
  • Casa San Agustin , a luxurious Old Town hotel with a spa and pool, is near the elegant Alma restaurant and plenty of nightlife. Doubles start from around 2,300,000 Colombian pesos, or about $560 a night.
  • Casa del Coliseo is an upper mid-range boutique hotel ideally located in the heart of the Old Town, with a rooftop pool and some rooms with street-facing, flower-covered balconies. Doubles start around 1,150,000 pesos.
  • Amarla Boutique Hotel is a seven-room hideaway in the Old Town with a checkerboard floor that can also be booked as a whole for groups. Doubles from around 992,000 pesos.
  • For short-term rentals , look in the Old Town or Getsemani neighborhoods, where most tourist sites are concentrated. Or, a short drive away, ocean views are available in the high-rises of the Bocagrande neighborhood.
  • The Old Town and Getsemani neighborhoods are best explored on foot , and most destinations in those areas are reachable within 15 minutes. Taxis and Ubers are also widely available and affordable.

People stand in front of a market stall that displays a variety of tropical fruits. A person wearing a dark-pink polo shirt holds a cut fruit.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the square that has a statue by Fernando Botero. It is Plaza de Santo Domingo, not Plaza de San Diego.

More From 36 Hours

Have a weekend to explore a destination we’ve got the perfect travel itinerary..

Paris: A different side of the French capital reveals smaller museums, under-the-radar spots in Montmartre and a diverse performance scene .

Montreal : Climb a mountain, wander the waterfront and enjoy a smoked-meat sandwich  in a city with a surprise around every corner.

Cartagena: With a limonada de coco in hand, explore two walkable neighborhoods over a weekend  in this coastal Colombian city.

Glasgow:  Take in Gothic architecture, green riverside walks and a global banquet  in Scotland’s largest city.

Chicago:   ​​ Cycle miles of urban trails, tour a restored Frank Lloyd Wright masterwork and catch golden hour  along Lake Michigan.

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  • 1 Understand
  • 2.1 By plane
  • 2.3 By boat
  • 3.1 On foot
  • 3.3 By bike
  • 3.4 By taxi
  • 3.5 By chariot
  • 3.6 By boat
  • 3.7 By scooter
  • 5.3 Beaches southwest of Cartagena
  • 6.1.1 Banks
  • 6.2 Handicrafts
  • 7.2 Mid-range
  • 7.3 Splurge
  • 8.2 Nightlife
  • 9.2 Mid-range
  • 9.3 Splurge
  • 10.1 Money-changing magicians
  • 10.2 Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca
  • 10.3 Long-distance buses
  • 11.1 Hospitals
  • 12.2 Internet
  • 13.1 Consulates
  • 13.2 Libraries

Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is a city and a world heritage site in Bolívar , Colombia . The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas. It is populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.

Understand [ edit ]

Cartagena has almost 1 million inhabitants, and is on the northern coast at the Caribbean Sea. Founded by the Spanish in 1533, it was fortified and functioned as the center of the Inquisition in the region. The impressive buildings from the Spanish time today make up a UNESCO World Heritage site .

Cartagena is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. It is also nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with modern condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.

Being in the tropics, the climate of the city is defined by dry and rain seasons. The dry season is from December to April and it also rains a little less in July. Nevertheless, there are still on average more sunny than rainy days per month in the rainy season. Apart from September and October, the monthly amount of rain isn't much more than 100 mm. Thanks to this, the temperature is also quite constant around the year with daytime highs of +32°C and nighttime lows of +23°C.

  • 10.42156 -75.55042 1 Turismo Cartagena de Indias , Plaza de la Aduana , ☏ +57 5 660 1583 . M-Sa 09:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00, Su 09:00-17:00 . The main tourist office. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Also, there are small Tourist kiosks on Plaza de San Pedro Claver and on Plaza de los Coches.

Get in [ edit ]

By plane [ edit ].

colombia travel cartagena

At the airport you can find several ATMs and an exchange bureau where you can change cash and traveler's checks. To get downtown, go to the taxi stand which will give you a receipt with the exact amount you'll have to pay to the driver, around COP$20.000 or 35,000 depending on your destination (2019 rate). To get into town more cheaply, walk about 50 m (150 ft) to the street and hail one of yellow cabs. You should be able to get a cab to take you into town for about COP$10,000. A still more affordable alternative are the "Transcaribe" new public transportation service going from the Calle 70 near the airport (COP$2,500)(A bus driver doesn't accept the money. Locals use a plastic card to go inside a bus. August 2023) to the entrance of walled city that place is called "Paz y Concordia" which is in front of "La Serrezuela" what is a shopping Center at the western edge of downtown. On the way back from the downtown to the airport take the "Transcaribe" bus in the station of the system to the airport ( T102 portal - Crespo, this is the notice in front of the bus).

By bus [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

The 10.40082 -75.45851 2 bus terminal is 11 km east of the old city. Orange and white air-conditioned Transcaribe buses (X104, this is the notice in front of the bus) go to the old city and cost COP$2,500 (depending on the traffic goes between 45-70 minutes). Taking a cab costs COP$30,000, a late night surcharge of COP$500 applies after 20:00. Another fast and cheap way to reach the center is to take a taxi to the Transcaribe Portal terminal 3 km away from the main terminal. From there, the Transcaribe buses which have their own lanes, reach the centre in 30 minutes. The Transcaribe travel card costs COP$4000 and one trip costs COP$2,300.

  • Expreso Brasilia [dead link] has buses:
  • from Medellin : 13 hours (6 per day or more)
  • from Bogota : 18 hours
  • Unitransco [dead link] has buses:
  • from Barranquilla : 2½ hours
  • from Santa Marta : 4 hours
  • from Mompox : 6 hours
  • from Tolú  : 3 hours
  • from Montería : 4½ hours (every 45min)
  • Rapido Ochoa [dead link] :
  • from Riohacha : 8 hours (daily)

If you are coming overland from Panama , your first bus will be from Turbo . Turbo to Monteria is COP$25,000 (4 hours) and Monteria to Cartagena COP$35,000 (4 hours) for express services.

Expreso Brasilia, Expreso Amerlujo and Unitransco have a daily connection to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas via Barranquilla, the two former for COP$200,000 taking 20 hours. If you travel with Unitransco it's a bit cheaper but it entails an additional transfer of buses at the border.

You may be able to bargain down prices for long-distance tickets, locals do that too.

By boat [ edit ]

Cartagena is an important port for charter boats between Colombia and Panama . There are several private boats doing this trip, but expect to have to wait several days to find a boat. Fares vary between US$300-550 depending on the size of the boat and the on-board services. The trip usually takes 4 nights and 5 days and includes a 2- or 3-day stopover in San Blas Islands . At the Panama end, the boats either leave from the Portobelo Area or from Carti Islands Kuna Yala rather than Colón . Reliable information about departure dates and captains can be found at the hotel Casa Viena [dead link] . One option is Ave Maria Sailing .

Especially during cooler months in North America, cruise ships regularly pay day-long port calls here. Depending on their size and numbers on any day, available shore excursions can vary from visits to the city proper, to beaches and islands nearby. Very few will venture to cities elsewhere. The 10.4049 -75.5323 3 harbor for cruise ships is about 3 km southeast of the old town, probably best accessible by taxi or by foot.

By car [ edit ]

The city is connected to the rest of Colombia by good roads. Ruta 90 ( Transversal del Caribe ) goes along the coast connecting Cartagena to places line Barranquilla and Turbo and has been built out to limited-access highway. You can drive here from Bogota too, but that's a drive of more than 1000 km.

Get around [ edit ]

Map

On foot [ edit ]

The old town in particular is best explored walking . Most places in Bocagrande are also within walking distance.

To reach other destinations such as the San Felipe fort, Bocagrande, Castillogrande, airport, etc. there are many buses running all over the city. Ask the driver or other people who are waiting which bus goes to your destination. An urban bus ticket cost COP$2,300 sold by the driver (A bus driver doesn't accept the money. Locals use a plastic card to go inside a bus. August 2023). On the downside, buses drive slower, stop at each corner and seldom take the direct way so expect a bus ride from A to B to take several times that of a taxi ride.

By bike [ edit ]

  • Bike & Art , Media Luna 10 #23 , ☏ +57 311 4185883 , [email protected] . Bike rental. 1 hour COP$4,000, 3 hours COP$10,000 . ( updated Jun 2016 )

By taxi [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Taxis don't have meters in Cartagena, fares should be negotiated. There are printed fares, but they are more like minimum fares. Even negotiated rates are often higher, especially in high season. There are also night and air condition surcharges each of a few hundred pesos. Confirm your fare before getting in the taxi. Taxi drivers may demand ridiculous rates if not negotiated in advance.

Taxis are generally easy to find, although in the old town you may have to walk a few blocks away from the center, toward the wider road close to wall. From the old town to Boca Grande or vice versa or any transport inside Bocagrande or inside old town expect to pay COP$6,000; from the airport to the old town or vice versa is COP$10,000-12,000.

By chariot [ edit ]

A chariot is a popular way for tourists to get to know the old town. These can be flagged down in the street or there are usually some waiting at the Plaza Bolívar or close to the Santa Clara hotel. They are reminiscent of public transportation of colonial Cartagena, and essentially complete the atmosphere of the old town.

Cartagena has several harbours for Boats going out to the Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca, including the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita, Muelle Todomar. One of the easiest options (which includes a good lunch and roundtrip tickets [you can come back the same day or stay as long as you'd like as long as you keep your ticket stub]) is to go on one of the big ships like the Alcatraz. These come at the best price at COP$25,000, but beware - they take around four hours to actually get to Playa Blanca because they move really slowly and stop at the aquarium at Rosario Islands first (which is rather boring).

By scooter [ edit ]

Electric scooters can be rented in town and are to be ridden only within the city area. Gas-powered scooters are not available for rent. Many of the bicycle shops will also rent electric scooters.

See [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Cartagena has several faces; one of a dirty, sprawling Caribbean metropolis, in Bocagrande the one of a massive "hotel ghetto" and finally the old town with its well-polished face of a once affluent colonial city. Cartagena's main attraction is its historic old town surrounded by the city wall. Main entrance is the Clock Tower Building. The walled city includes the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna. The oldest part of Cartagena is around Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní. Cartagena's 500-year-old coralstone forts and great parts of its walled city are admirably intact and represent some of the finest examples of civil and military architecture of the Spanish colonial times.

Almost all churches in the historic center are worth visiting, especially Iglesia de San Pedro Claver , in honor of the priest St. Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with slaves; La Catedral , near Plaza de Bolívar and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo

The old town is divided into three parts: El Centro with the cathedral and the many palaces in Andalucian style, San Diego, which was the quarters of traders and bourgeoisie lived and Getsemaní which was the home of the lower classes. The old harbor of Getsemaní, which used to separate El Centro and San Diego, has during the last century been transformed into the old town's new commercial area, La Matuna. Here you can also find the pedestrian area Camellón de los Martires, a good place to start exploring the old town.

colombia travel cartagena

  • 10.42221 -75.55026 2 Plaza de la Aduana . Next to the former, there is another beautiful triangular square, Plaza de la Aduana , surrounded by impressive arcaded buildings.One of these is Casa del Premio real, the house of the Spanish viceroy. This square has a statue as well, of Christopher Columbus. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42168 -75.55104 3 Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver , Plaza de San Pedro Claver , ☏ +57 5 664 4991 . M-Sa 08:00-17:00, Su 08:00-16.30 . Named after Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish Jesuit who worked for 40 years for the rights and the wellbeing of the slaves in the city. He was beatified in 1888, and in 1985 named the patron saint of human rights. His relics are visible in a crystal arch under the altar. Moreover, on the second floor you can visit the room where he lived the last times of his life and died. On the second floor there is also an exhibition of Afro-Caribbean art. COP$6,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42169 -75.55173 4 Museo Naval del Caribe , Calle San Juan de Dios No 3-62 , ☏ +57 5 664 2440 . 09:00-19:00 . In a former Jesuit college right behind the convent. It offers an informative overview of the history of the city and the naval history of the Caribbean. However the exhibits are replicas, not originals. COP$6,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42326 -75.55122 5 Plaza de Bolívar . Some blocks inwards there's the Plaza de Bolívar with an equestrian statue of the liberation hero. Before the independence of Colombia this was known as Plaza de Inquisición, and next to it you can find the inquisition palace. where during two centuries the Catholic church held processes against heretics. ( updated Sep 2015 )

colombia travel cartagena

  • 10.42323 -75.55158 6 Palacio de la Inquisición ( Museo de la Inquisición ), Plaza de Bolívar , ☏ +57 5 664 4570 . M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 10:00-16:00 . The museum of Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) was where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted people accused of crimes against religion.The tribunal was responsible for all of South America and sentenced almost 700 people, including Jesuits opposing slavery. Many of the accused were badly tortured. Today the museum shows some instruments of torture actually used back then. COP$17,000. A tourist guide, in English, can be purchased for COP$15,000. .  
  • 10.42307 -75.55082 7 Museo del Oro y Arqueología , Plaza de Bolívar , ☏ +57 5 660 0778 . Tu-F 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00, Sa 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00, Su 11:00-16:00 . Also at the same square, this museum shows the religious gold artefacts of the Zenú (or Sinú) people who used to live along the coast. Not as large as the gold museum of Bógota, but still very worth seeing. However, the museum's archaeological museum is even more interesting, showcasing the native people's impressive achievements in controlling and canalling Rio Magdalena. Free . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42367 -75.55068 8 Catedral de Santa Catalina . Tu-Su 09:30-18:30 . A three-naved cathedral which is rather crude on the inside, but has an impressive tower. COP$10,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42421 -75.55226 9 Iglesia de Santo Domingo , Plaza de Santo Domingo , ☏ +57 5 664 1301 . Tu-Sa 09:00-19:00, Su 12:00-20:00 . Not far from the cathedral is the oldest church in Cartagena. Santo Domingo on the eponymous square has been here since 1552. You can rent audio guides, available in many languages. COP$10,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.43122 -75.5441 10 Casa de Rafael Núñez ( outside the walls, direction Marbella ), ☏ +57 5 664 5305 . Tu-F 09:00-17:30, Sa 10:00-17:30, Su 10:00-16:00 . This wooden building was the home of the 19th-century poet and president Rafael Núñez (1825-1894). He wrote the text to the Colombian national anthem, and also participated writing the constitution which was in force from 1886 to 1991. COP$4,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42642 -75.54371 11 Monumento a la India Catalina . A landmark dedicated to and named after the city's founder Pedro de Heredia's native translator Catalina. ( updated Sep 2015 )

colombia travel cartagena

  • 10.42273 -75.53908 12 Castillo de San Felipe . 08:00-18:00 . A fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. The largest fort the Spanish ever built in their colonies, this fort was conquered only once by French privateer Baron de Pointis in 1697. It's filled with an extensive maze of tunnels, which you can explore on a guided tour. Don't miss the 24-minutes long video that tells the history of the fortress. COP$30,000 (foreigner). Audio guide COP$10,000 . ( updated Jul 2018 )
  • 10.41918 -75.52554 13 La Popa . Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150-m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria, the patron saint of the city. On the 2nd of February every year, pilgrims celebrate her. Entrance to La Popa is COP$8,000 for adults and a little less for children. Taking a taxi up and down the hill will cost you a shocking COP$50,000. Negotiate this with the driver before going. It is advised that you do not walk up as it can be dangerous.  

Do [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Nearby coral reefs, powdery beaches, impressive mangroves, and waterways complement the historic and urban beauty.

Tours [ edit ]

  • Chiva Bus . afternoons, evenings . Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you've visited Cartagena for even a day you've undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups. There are various pickup locations at mostly tourist hotels (Decameron, Caribe, Hilton, etc.) or just talk your the people to make arrangements. Prices range from COP$18,000-25,000 depending on tour. .  

You can also take a horse and carriage tour, per Get around .

Learn [ edit ]

  • Latin Dance Lessons . Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of Latin dance classes, focusing on Salsa, Meringue and Bachata. There are introductory classes every Friday and Saturday at 17:00 for COP$10,000—for advanced and intensive classes, workshops or other questions visit crazysalasa.net .  
  • Spanish Classes . Cartagena is an ideal city for some extended Spanish language studies—a beautiful but not too large city center, close by beaches and heaps of activities to do. Colombia is also renowned for its pure Spanish which is perfect for learners. There are several Spanish language schools in Cartagena. BABEL International Language Institute is located directly in the old city in one of the picturesque streets. They offer all kinds of group and private classes and also combined Spanish and Salsa packages ( updated Aug 2017 )
  • Casa Cultural Colombo Alemana de Cartagena , Calle 38 No. 5 - 31, Calle Estanco del Aguardiente , ☏ +57 5 6602522 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Nueva Lengua , Calle del Pozo No 25-95 , ☏ +57 5 660 1736 . Located in Getsemaní, this language school offers courses from five days and longer. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42027 -75.54532 1 Raíces: Spanish & Culture , Getsemaní. Del Pozo Street. N° 28-24 Oficna 102. ( Diagonal the Plaza de la Trinidad ), ☏ +57-3183696923 , [email protected] . 09:00-18:00 . The main focus of this Spanish school is immersion courses: their philosophy is that it's more interesting and better for students to learn in a cultural environment that shows the richness of the Spanish language. Flexible schedule, good prices, nice and friendly teachers committed with the learning of their students. ( updated Oct 2016 )

Beaches southwest of Cartagena [ edit ]

The easiest way of going to the beach is heading to the west coast, where there are sand beaches both north of the old town and on the Bocagrande peninsula.

However, there are a couple of beach destinations one or a few hours by boat from Cartagena. Commonly boats leave Cartagena (most near Muelle de la Bodeguita) in the morning and return in the early afternoon. Trips are often available as two-way boat tickets including lunch, but to avoid disappointment don't do business with the wandering ticket touts but buy tickets from a ticket office or kiosk. There is a port surcharge of COP$10,000 not included in posted ticket prices. Also, for these out-of-city destinations you may want to bring some bug spray.

colombia travel cartagena

10.218 -75.6125 2 Playa Blanca is widely regarded as the best beach of Cartagena, but it is not that easy to reach. With its white sand and crystal clear water it is probably one of the best beaches in Colombia. After tour boats leave in the afternoon it is also very peaceful and quiet. It is worth staying on Playa Blanca for at least one night. There are several places where you can rent hammocks, get food and drinks. For example, "Wittenbergs place".

On the beach you will be approached to buy massages, fruit platters, sea food and jewelry among other things — they can at times be rather persistent touting their products and services. Watch out for the vendors selling oysters: they will give you an oyster as a present (regalo) to taste. They will quickly crack the shells and serve you a number of oysters, after which you are told that they each cost COP$2,000. Avoid this COP$30,000 charge and the subsequent argument on the beach. If you are looking for great seafood and Coco Locos, ask around for Nelson Mandela. Sunbathers are often ushered to rent a "stall" for COP$5,000.

  • By boat Take a bus or taxi to “Mercado Bazurto”, the big market of Cartagena about 10 minutes from the center. From there, every day, except Sundays, small cargo-boats (lancha de carga) leave for Playa Blanca. They don't have an exact departure time, be there before 09:00 to be sure. You will have to pay about COP$20,000 each way (December 2008) and the trip takes more or less 1 hour to reach the beach. The way back is much easier, most boats (tour boats) will bring you back for around COP$15,000. The last boats from Playa Blanca to Cartagena leave 14:00-15:00. More comfortable and safer is taking a round-trip from the centre at Muelle de las Pegasos. You can bargain down a one-way-trip without lunch to about COP$25,000 plus COP$8,300 port tax. The tour takes you to Rosario Islands first until it reaches Playa Blanca in the late morning. You can leave the tour there to stay overnight.
  • Overland by public transport (1½ hours): take a bus to Pasacaballos from calle 30 and carrera 17 (in front of the castle - the bus will have a big Pasacaballos sign in front). The bus will leave you either in Pasacaballos or a bit before, under a highway arch; either way, you can take a taxi or mototaxi to Playa Blanca. The bus is COP$1,900 and the taxi is COP$10,000 per person (the mototaxi should be a bit less). The whole trip takes about 1½ hours.

Bay of Cholon . Farther down from Playa Blanca on Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru - a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach.  

colombia travel cartagena

Islas del Rosario . Several agents arrange boat tours to Islas del Rosario, a set of small islands out of the coast. Usually, the tour includes lunch, a visit to an aquarium and a few hours at Playa Blanca, not included in the price is harbor tax and park entry fee.  

Events [ edit ]

Major events take place during the dry season, coinciding with the Northern Hemisphere winter.

  • Fiesta Taurina . 2-6 Jan . Bull fighting festival with fights on Plaza de Toros on Av. Pedro de Heredia outside downtown. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Festival lnternacional de Música . early Jan . Classical music festival with concerts in Teatro Heredia, the convents of Santa Teresa and Santa Clara and public places in the old town. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Hay Festival . late Jan . Literary festival with public readings by authors. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria . late Jan-early Feb . The patron saint of Cartagena is celebrated during several days, the highlight being a massive procession up to the convent on the hill Cerro La Popa each 2nd of February. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • o'Festival lnternacional del Cine . late Feb-early Mar . Traditional film festival featuring Latin American movies and documentaries. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Festival de Música del Caribe . late Mar . As the name reveals, a whole lot of reggae, calypso, salsa and merengue performances. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Carnaval de Cartagena . 11 Nov . The party of the city, a large street festival in Getsemani. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Festival de Jazz Bajo la Luna . Dec . Jazz festival with performances all over the city. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Buy [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Getting money [ edit ]

Most hotels, upscale restaurants take credit cards, but many places, especially taxis only accept Colombian pesos. Some banks may exchange money, but the rates may not be the most convenient. The easiest method for obtaining pesos is to use your debit card at an ATM. Another option is to use a Cambio or currency exchange kiosk, although your exchange rate will be a little higher than by using a debit card. Using a credit card at the ATM will require you to use a PIN number, so contact your financial institution before your trip.

Banks [ edit ]

  • 10.42462 -75.5474 1 Citibank , Av Venezuela, Edificio Citibank ( 1st floor ). M-F 08:00-12:00 & 14:00-16:30 . There is a large Citibank ATM location on calle Venezuela near Barrio San Diego that has a guard out front. ATMs appear to be available 24/7. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42431 -75.54677 2 Banco de Bogotá , Av Venezuela ( Centro Comercial Uno # 105-107 ). M-F 08:00-11:30 & 14:00-16:00, Sa -16:30, Su . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • Giros y Finanzas ( several locations around town ). M-F 08:00-17:00, Sa 08:00-14:00 . Western Union-affiliated exchange office. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Handicrafts [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Handcrafts are fashionable and sophisticated. Emeralds are available for sale all over Cartagena, including polished and uncut loose emeralds and beautiful jewelry. The prices can be reasonable and the variety available is extensive in the old walled city. The stores that sell emeralds and emerald jewelry use various names such as "Taller y Fabrica de Joyas" (workshop and manufacturer of jewelry), "Museo de Artesanias y Esmeraldas" (museum of crafts and emeralds) or simply "Joyeria" (jewelry). Store owners will negotiate and provide a certificate of "authenticity".

  • 10.43011 -75.5464 3 Bóvedas ( next to the city wall, near the Santa Catalina bastion ). Various artesanal goods of good quality. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42495 -75.55105 4 Q Design , Calle de la Iglesia, 4-16 . Design objects. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42223 -75.54963 5 Portal de los Dulces ( near Puerto del Reloj ). Local sweets. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Books [ edit ]

  • 10.42492 -75.55128 6 Ábaco ( corner of Calles de la Iglesia & de la Mantilla No 3-86 ), ☏ +57 5 664 8338 . M-Sa 09:00-20:30, Su 16:00-20:30 . Bookstore and café. Has a good assortment of books in Spanish about Cartagena, and some English books as well. ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42282 -75.5507 7 Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi , Cl. 34 No. 3-37 Edificio lnurbe . Specializing in maps. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Touts [ edit ]

Take some care. Street hawkers are everywhere, ready to lead you to stores that pay them considerable "commissions"; you actually pay them...through higher prices. And many reliable sources report that, without in-depth knowledge of emeralds and ability to recognize 14K and 18K gold, you risk buying fake or "enhanced" stones or gold-plated metalwork at some stores, or paying more for quality items here than you would in reputable stores elsewhere in the Caribbean or at home.

When approached by a street vendor, your best bet is to smile and say "no, thank you", and they will more likely leave you alone. If you do it in a harsh way, they are likely going to follow you around for longer.

Eat [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Cartagena features a rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian and other legacies of its inhabitants. Eating set menu lunches and dinners in local restaurants called 'corrientes' costs around COP$6,000. A typical dish consists of fried fish (if you are by the beach), chicken or meat, served with coconut rice (arroz de coco), fried plantains (patacones) and salad. There are many places that sell COP$2,000 fruit juices. Colombia boasts a very good range of exotic fruits that can be mixed with water or milk.

In the old town, dozens of good restaurants can be found dotted around the streets particularly concentrated close to the Plaza Santo Domingo. Beware that many of the city's restaurants are not open on Sundays.

Budget [ edit ]

All these are in the city center:

  • 10.42445 -75.54912 1 Pan de Bono ( corner of Calle del Porvenir and Calle San Agustin ). A bakery where you can get a fresh and inexpensive snack in the form of sandwiches. Try the local cassava bread! ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.423989 -75.549172 2 Torre Fuerte , Cra. 7 #34-66 . ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.424864 -75.54955 3 Restaurante Espiritu Santo , Cl. 35 #6-69 . ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.425274 -75.550594 4 Punto Tropical , Cra. 5 #Cl 36 17 . ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.425545 -75.547533 5 Restaurante 1595 , Cl. 36 #7-122 . ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.423644 -75.546698 6 Pollo tropical , Cl. 32 #8A-29 . ( updated May 2022 )
  • 10.419093 -75.546553 7 La Tertulia Restaurante-Bar , a 10-99,, Cl. 25 #103 . ( updated May 2022 )

Mid-range [ edit ]

  • Crepes & Waffles ( Several locations ). Very nice Colombian franchise restaurant which offers very good dishes to excellent prices. dishes around COP$25,000 .  
  • 10.42177 -75.55065 8 El Corral ( One is located on Plaza San Pedro, 4 others further out. ). Very nice Colombian franchise hamburger chain. Good quality hamburgers for COP$10,000-15,000 for a combo. .  
  • 10.42615 -75.54852 9 Atahualpa , Carrera 7 ( At end of Calle de Tablada at the Plaza de Managua. ). Peruvian place with fresh fish. The menu of the day is great value Set dinner soup, main and juice for COP$12,000 .  
  • 10.425256 -75.549451 10 Juan Valdez University Square , Cl. 36 ( corner of Cl. San Agustin and Cl. de la Universidad, also other locations ). Coffee chain with a large variety of coffees and different cakes. Free WLAN. ( updated May 2022 )

colombia travel cartagena

  • 10.42796 -75.54818 11 La Cevicheria , Calle Stuart 7 ( opposite Hotel Santa Clara ), ☏ +57 5 664-2760 . A great selection of hot and cold ceviches. around COP$25,000 a dish .  
  • 10.42349 -75.55308 12 La Vitrola , Calle Baloco no. 33-201 . Considered the best restaurant in town. Cuban ambiance, good food - high prices. It is on Calle Baloco at the corner front to the historical walls. Mid-range .  
  • 10.39691 -75.56428 13 Restaurante Bar El Muelle ( El Laguisto Beach Club ), Carrere 1 ra. No. 1A - 23 . There are many good restaurants in the Bocagrande area on the beach. The food is of decent quality, but the delight is the water coming up to the restaurant. The host speaks English, Spanish, French, some Portuguese and Turkish! Mid-range .  
  • 10.4262 -75.5467 14 La Mulata , Calle Quero 9-58 , ☏ +57 5 66 46 222 . A choice of a few set lunch options. Different menu every day of the week. Delicious and unpretentious. mains COP$20,000-30,000 .  
  • 10.42409 -75.54861 15 Otro Mundo ( Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria ), Calle San Agustin 6-68 , ☏ +57 5 6602314 . 09:00-00:00 . Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria it is in Centro Historico de Cartagena de Indias, Calle San Agustin 6-68, close Universita de Cartagena (Cartagena University). There you can eat excellent Croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is rustically tip, very clean with excellent service. The price of dishes and pizza is very good. In the local you can use gratis WiFi internet connection. They do also pizza delivery. Croatian Cevapcici COP$18,000; Pasta frutos del mar $20,000; small pizza from $12,000, medium $25,000, large $35,000. .  
  • 10.42791 -75.54756 16 El Balcón , Calle Tumbamuertos No. 28-85 2do. piso Esquina . 2nd floor restaurant that overlooks the Plaza San Diego. Small balcony for seating, but great food, both fish and meat. Good set menus and 2-for-1 specials on cocktails every day from 18:00-21:00. About COP$45,000 with drink .  
  • 10.42029 -75.5478 17 Restaurante La Casa de Socorro , Cl. Larga No. 8B-112 , ☏ +57 5 6644 658 . Traditional restaurant serving typical Caribbean fare: langoustines, crabs, ceviche, fish, all very tasty and well prepared. Popular among locals, especially for lunch. COP$20,000-40,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42787 -75.54744 18 Teriyaki , Plaza San Diego No. 8-28 . Sushi and Thai restaurant. COP$10,000-30,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42789 -75.54752 19 Restaurante Zebra , Plaza San Diego No.8-34 , ☏ +57 5 6642 177 . African-Caribbean fusion, pasta. Mid-range . ( updated Sep 2015 )

Splurge [ edit ]

  • 10.41427 -75.54428 20 Club de Pesca , Avenida Miramar . Fine dining restaurant specializing in the "fruits of the sea". Great seafood and great atmosphere. Located in Manga with view to the bay and marinas of Cartagena. Mains COP$40,000-60,000 .  
  • 10.42364 -75.55223 21 Donde Olano ( Olano´s ), Calle Santo Domingo #33 - 81 ( Near Plaza de Santo Domingo ), ☏ +57 5 6647099 , [email protected] . Great sea food with fusion style, don´t miss the shrimps in passion fruit and coconut rice! Mains COP$30,000-70,000, but does have some more affordable alternatives .  
  • 10.42314 -75.55258 22 Quebracho , Calle Baloco 2-69 . Argentinian restaurant at its best. Good meat, good ambiance. Dishes around COP$55,000 .  
  • 10.42674 -75.54748 23 Cafe El Santisimo , Calle del Torno 39 - 76 . One of the must-see restaurants of Cartagena. Dishes around COP$50,000 .  

Sweet [ edit ]

  • 10.4252 -75.55064 24 Gelateria Paradiso . Has unreal ice cream, with a large assortment of different exotic fruit flavors. Fans of coffee ice cream must stop by for a scoop. Corner of Calle del Cuartel and Calle de la Estrella. COP$4,000 for small cup, $6,000 for medium .  
  • 10.42493 -75.55137 25 Abaco , Calle de la Mantilla . Cafe & Book Store is a great place to relax and get some peace and quiet. Local books on Cartagena in addition to great coffee. Hot beverage and cake around COP$9000 .  

Drink [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Coffee [ edit ]

The most common type of coffee in Colombia is the sweet tinto . This can be bought from street vendors all over Cartagena for COP$500.

Nightlife [ edit ]

Most bars and clubs are found in the old town or at Avenida del Arsenal near the Convention Center. Plaza San Diego is a square with a lot of bars and restaurants, very lively in the weekends.

  • 10.41897 -75.54717 1 La Avenida del Arsenal . La Avenida del Arsenal is located along the bay near the Centro de Convenciones. In its heyday it was the place to be. Now much of the nightlife in Cartagena has moved to the Ciudad Vieja, but this strip of about 10 discotecas is still a raging place to experience on weekends. Entry to most of the discos is COP$10,000-20,000.  
  • 10.4199 -75.5479 2 Mister Babilla . One of the most popular watering holes for local Cartageneros is Mister Babilla, located on the Avenida del Arsenal, near the Centro de Convenciones. This place is great on the weekends and is notorious for having people dancing on the tables and the bar late into the night! A great time!  
  • 10.42446 -75.55408 3 Cafe del Mar , Baluarte de Santo Domingo . Located atop the western wall providing sunset views and cocktails.  
  • 10.42256 -75.5499 4 Salsa Donde Fidel , Plaza de la Aduana ( Right by the clock gate ). Great place to sit and people watch as the night gets going. Indoor and outdoor seating, according to one visitor the indoor is better. Good prices on drinks (beer COP$2500) and the place to meet Cartageneros and tourists alike.  
  • 10.4251 -75.54912 5 Otro Mundo ( Bistrò-Bar.Pizzeria ), Calle San Agustin 6-68 , ☏ +57 5 6602314 . 09:00-00:00 . Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria is in Centro Historico de Cartagena, Calle San Agustin 6-68 and is near Universita de Cartagena. There you can eat excellent Croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is very clean and service is excellent. The price and quality of the dishes and pizza are very good. Every day you can listen good music and taste also good drinks, like beer, cocktails, juice and natural juice, all this with very good price and hospitable service.  
  • 10.42649 -75.54824 6 Zorba Wiskeria , Plaza Fernandez de Madrid . A great little corner bar that offers bottle service and a decent street scene. Very local. Beers are COP$3000 and a bottle of rum will set you back COP$27,000, which is pretty good. Right next door to a Pizzeria and up the street a few doors from a Lebanese Falafel house. Calle de la Tableda.  

Sleep [ edit ]

In the Ciudad Amurallada, the most famous hotels are Sofitel Santa Clara and Charleston Santa Teresa , both old monasteries renovated in the 1990s. Either of them have fabulous facilities - expect prices like Monaco. Otherwise, the newest part of the city, Bocagrande, offers the largest number of hotels of all prices. You should always try to stay in the ciudad amurallada, since this is what makes Cartagena unique, rather than its beaches, which are normally too crowded and not really clean. If you cannot afford the five-star hotels, you may try with colonial houses turned into hostels, but they are rather small and sometimes getting a room there may be a matter of luck.

In some other parts of Latin America, like Uruguay , more expensive hotel rooms may be quoted in US dollars even at the hotel's own web page.

colombia travel cartagena

Budget hotels and hostels can be found in Getsemaní around the Calle de la Media Luna. If you're already in Cartagena just walk along the Calle de la Media Luna and check out the numerous hostals to get an impression of their offering. You'll notice that the 'value for money' differs heavily between the places, even though they're next to each other: for COP$50,000 you can either stay in a really nice private double room or in a dodgy dorm.

  • 10.42277 -75.54561 1 Casa Viena , Calle San Andrés No 30-53 ( Getsemaní ), ☏ +57-5-664-6242 , [email protected] . Popular backpackers place with several 2 to 4 person rooms some with bathroom and a dormitory with arco. Facilities include internet, personal strongboxes, bookswap and a communal kitchen. Information for sailboats to the San Blas islands and Panamá is also available. Dorms from COP$26,000, rooms from COP$35,000 .  
  • 10.42303 -75.54589 2 [dead link] Hostal Real , Calle De La Magdalena No. 9-33 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 664 7866 . Housed in a beautifully restored colonial building filled with color, unique artwork, and lovely gardens for reading and relaxing. The owners are very friendly and happy to help you with any questions or advice. Rooms are rather damp and dated. Cockroaches have been sighted but promised to take care of. dorms beds from COP$21,000, rooms from $40,000 .  
  • 10.42157 -75.54552 3 Hotel Familiar , Calle El Guerrero No. 29-66 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 664 2464 . Run by Jairo Toro, 100 m from Casa Viena and a good second choice. Rooms are bright and clean and prices start from COP$18,000 per person .  
  • 10.42308 -75.54416 4 Hotel Villa Colonial , Calle del las Maravillas No.30-60 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 664 4996 , +57 5 664 5421 , [email protected] . Well kept, clean, friendly and helpful management, rooms with air conditioning and fans, private bathrooms, some rooms without windows. They also have another building on Calle de la Media Luna, which has nicer, more expensive rooms. The staff is very nice and welcoming. Doubles from COP$60,000 .  
  • 10.42351 -75.54571 5 Hostal La Casona , Calle Tripita y Media - Cra. 0 No. 31-32 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 639 5644 , [email protected] . With approximately 30 rooms around a nice courtyard, this hostel offers a good deal for backpackers. Cheap and fast internet as well as tours agency service are available. Air-conditioned rooms with cable TV and a private bathroom from COP$65,000 . ( updated Feb 2015 )
  • 10.42246 -75.54503 6 [dead link] Hotel Marlin , Calle de la Media Luna, Calle 35 No. 10–35 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 664 3507 , +57 5 6601497 , [email protected] . Popular with backpackers, this centrally located, clean hotel with nice rooms with private bathroom and air-conditioned in all dorms, communal kitchen, free internet, free Breakfast, and tours services. Information for sailboats to the San Blas islands and Panamá is also available. From COP$75,000 . ( updated Feb 2015 )
  • 10.42237 -75.54465 7 Hotel La Muralla , Calle de Media Luna ( Getsemani ). Clean, the owners are nice, can be loud on the weekends, not really a tourist place, but one of the cheapest options! Make sure to get a room on the second floor, the first floor rooms are a little musty. From COP$65,000 .  
  • 10.42318 -75.54479 8 Amber Hostel , Calle Pacoa N° 10-103 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 608634 . A very relaxed hostel in which Maude will welcome you within her family. The kitchen is shared with them, which gives a feeling of living in a Cartagena family house. dorm beds from COP$15,000, rooms from COP$40,000 .  
  • 10.4223 -75.54473 9 Hotel La Espanola , Media Luna 10 #10-58 , ☏ +57 5 6604485 . Same price and style of hotel as La Muralla, but the rooms are a little stuffier and darker. From COP$75,000 .  
  • 10.4225 -75.54488 10 Hostel Mamallena , Calle Media Luna ( Viejo Hotel Holiday, Getsemani ), ☏ +57 5 664-0948 , [email protected] . Hostel Mamallena, Cartagena is the first Colombian hostel opened by the Panamanian Hostel Mamallena. We bring to Cartagena our high levels of service, variety of rooms, orthopedic mattresses, free WiFi, garden courtyard and friendly staff. The majority of our rooms have private bathrooms and can sleep from 1 to 5 people. Dorms are large and airy and have private bathrooms as well. Budget tours to the volcano, Playa Blanca and Islas Rosarios are also available. We were the first hostel to start booking boats between Panama and Colombia and we´ve bought that experience to Cartagena. Even if you choose not to stay with us feel free to drop by for whatever you may need. High season: dorm bed COP$50,000, private rooms from COP$75,000 but more if you want AC and/or private bathroom. Low season prices are about a third less. .  
  • 10.42506 -75.54934 11 Hotel El Viajero , Calle del Porvenir No 35-68 , ☏ +57 5 664 3289 . Pleasant hotel with a beautiful inner yard and a guest kitchen, but quite expensive. Without A/C: sgl COP$40,000, dbl $60,000, with A/C: sgl $50,000, dbl $70,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.4346 -75.5391 12 Hotel Bellavista , Av. Santander No. 46-50 , ☏ +57 5 6646411 . Friendly and casual hotel in the district of Marbella, some 15 minutes by foot from the old town. The rooms are spread out in several small one-floor buildings. Rooms have private bathrooms,the more expensive ones have A/C too. Without A/C: sgl COP$40,000, dbl $70,000, with A/C: sgl $60,000, dbl $80,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )

colombia travel cartagena

  • 10.4086 -75.5511 13 [dead link] Hotel Cartagena Premium , Bocagrande Av. San Martín No. 11-113 , ☏ +57 5 6552355 . Hotel Cartagena Premium offers single room, matrimonial double and twin double with air-conditioning, mini-bar and breakfast. Its facilities and services include swimming pool, jacuzzi, room service and parking. From COP$145,000 .  
  • 10.42337 -75.54981 14 Casa India Catalina , Calle del Coliseo No 5-67 ( Centro ), ☏ +57-5-664-4361 , [email protected] . Spacious rooms, some with balconies onto the street. Decent swimming pool. Simple furnishings. From COP$246,000 .  
  • 10.42165 -75.54447 15 Casa Mara Hostal , Calle del Espiritu Santo No 29-139 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57-5-664-8724 . rates upon request .  
  • 10.3806 -75.5752 16 Vista Heroica , Isla de Tierra Bomba , ☏ +57 3126331825 . Nice hotel on the island of Tierra Bomba (10 min boat from the Hilton Hotel of Cartagena). It's in the middle of a real local village, not far from the beach, and with a great view of Cartagena. Rooms are very clean, 3 beds (2+1), kitchen, individual jacuzzi, air conditioning. Restaurant from COP$10,000-12,000, decent food. COP$100,000 .  
  • 10.3973 -75.5586 17 Hotel Bahia , Cra 4a-Calle 4a ( Bocagrande ), ☏ +57-5-6650316 . From COP$176,000 .  
  • 10.42689 -75.5481 18 Hotel 3 Banderas , Calle Cochera del Hobo #38-66 ( San Diego ), ☏ +57-5-660-0160 , [email protected] . Small colonial hotel. From COP$200,000 .  

colombia travel cartagena

Up-scale hotels can be found in San Diego and El Centro area of the old city.

  • 10.4221 -75.55265 19 Charleston Santa Teresa Cartagena , Centro plaza de Santa Teresa Cra 3ª 31-23 , ☏ +57 5 6649494 , +57 5 6649547 , fax : +57 5 6649448 , +57 5 6649447 . From COP$795,000 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42435 -75.55036 20 La Passion Hotel Lounge , Calle del Estanco del tabaco # 38-81 ( Centro ), ☏ +57 5 6648605 , [email protected] . A boutique style hotel combining ancient architecture and modern commodities. Perfect for romantic escapade. 8 rooms. A beautiful terrace with swimming-pool. Free Wi-Fi. From COP$617,000 .  
  • 10.40258 -75.55536 21 Hotel Ibatama and Hotel Ibatama Real , Avenida San Martin 7 ( Boca Grande ). Hotel Ibatama and Hotel Ibatama Real are really an option for the people in the non luxurious budget. situated on either sides of Boca Grande, the hotels are nice, clean and you get value for money with the AC rooms. Close to the beach and Bocagrande is safe as always.  
  • 10.41994 -75.54618 22 Casa Marta Cartagena , Calle San Antonio # 25-165 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 310 630 6003 , [email protected] . Check-in: Flexible , check-out: Flexible . Casa Marta is a colonial guesthouse/bed and breakfast situated in the city's historic district of Getsemani. The house has been carefully renovated to modern standards and has two bedrooms with a maximum capacity of 4 to 5 people each. Each bedroom has air conditioner, fan, fridge, Satellite TV, and a private bathroom. Internet service and breakfast are included free of charge. A nice plunge pool is also available to all guests. From US$125 . ( updated Feb 2015 )
  • 10.4277 -75.54839 23 Hotel Casa del Curato , Calle del Curato Cra. 7 Nº 38-89 ( San Diego ), ☏ +57-5-664-3648 , [email protected] . The hotel was converted from an 18th-century mansion and opened in Dec 2005. Good breakfasts served by Eufemia. Attractively furnished although regular rooms are small and windowless. Two internet computers for guests. From COP$250,000 (low season), COP$270,000 (high season) .  
  • 10.42733 -75.548 24 Hotel Cochera de Hobo , Calle Cochera de Hobo No. 38-55 ( San Diego ), ☏ +57 5 664 3384 , +57 3002153828 . In the heart of Cartagena's old walled city. It has four rooms. The hotel has a restaurant, room service, free wifi for guests, two terraces with beautiful views of the historical city center, and a third terrace with a BBQ. The rooms have air conditioning, minibar, plasma TVs, and satellite TV. From US$90 .  
  • 10.39399 -75.55963 25 Hilton Cartagena , Avenida Almirante Brion ( El Laguito ), ☏ +57 5 6650660 . From US$129 .  
  • 10.42409 -75.55074 26 Agua , Calle Ayos, No 4-29 ( Centro ), ☏ +57 5 664-9479 . A beautiful boutique hotel with rooms reportedly from COP$500,000 plus tax in low season. rates upon request .  
  • 10.42331 -75.54986 27 Hotel Alfiz , Calle Cochera del Gobernador, No 33-28 ( between Plaza de la Aduana and the cathedral ), ☏ +57-5-660 0006 , [email protected] . A romantic hotel in the old city. From COP$550,000 .  
  • 10.42607 -75.54833 28 Hotel Casa la Fe , Calle segunda de badillo #36-125 ( Centro ), ☏ +57-5-664-0306 , [email protected] . This small beautifully restored hotel thst has been recommended in the New York Times travel section. The hotel is English owned and run. Guests enjoy free WiFi and a PC work station. From COP$265,000 .  
  • 10.4285 -75.54799 29 Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara , Cr 8 No 39-29, Calle del Tomo ( San Diego ), ☏ +57-5-664-6070 . Nice hotel with decent prices for its category, though a bit generic. From COP$720,000 .  
  • 10.42641 -75.55124 30 [dead link] La Merced Hotel , Calle Don Sancho No 36-165 / Cra. 4 , ☏ +57 5 6647727 . A boutique style hotel. from US$249 .  

Stay safe [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

The touristed old town is not more dangerous than a city in the first world, but going off the beaten path to the periphery of the city there is a real risk of getting robbed. Be very careful when walking at night specially around lonely parts of the city. Locals are in general helpful and kind. The street vendors can be very annoying, but a simple "No quiero nada" in Spanish will keep them away.

Getsemani where a lot of the budget hotels are located is safe during the day but it does become very seedy at night, with a lot of aggressive beggars as well as lowlife individuals who make a living by talking to all tourists and selling drugs or asking for tips for minor things, such as walking with you to the store, when you didn't even ask him to do so. These people are very aggressive and will follow you around, do not support them by giving them money.

Aggressive beggars

As of Oct 2016 aggressive beggars are a major annoyance in Cartagena, they will follow people around relentlessly harassing tourists to give them money. Sometimes when you are shopping in the supermarket, a lady beggar will ask you to buy bread for her, despite having her shopping cart full already. If you leave the tourist areas you might be surrounded by delinquent looking 12-year-olds demanding you give them your coins. They don't ask, they demand, it's short of a robbery, more like taxation through intimidation. Do not give to these people ever or you are encouraging them to continue. Do not give in, stay polite and they'll just go away.

Possession of illegal drugs in Colombia can lead to criminal charges. There is a scam going on where tourists are lured into buying illegal drugs. If you try to buy, "police" (the rest of the con gang) will emerge in a minute, drag you off to the nearest ATM and demand that you withdraw astronomical sums to pay "fines" or even kidnap you.

Money-changing magicians [ edit ]

Those street vendors offer you a very good exchange rate. After you have counted the money you will recognize that a small amount is missing, and after complaining he will put exactly that amount on top again. In the same move they will take some big notes from the bottom. Most people won't count their money a second time, and first think they made a good deal but in fact got ripped off.

Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca [ edit ]

The tours offered to visit Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be quite a let down. You'll be offered a price for a tour which "includes" either snorkeling or entrance to the aquarium and a meal at Playa Blanca for about COP$50,000. Once on the trip you find out that you have to pay extra for the aquarium or the snorkeling - COP$15,000. Make sure the tour guides on the boat are told by the person who sold the tour what is included in order to avoid disagreements.

The best way to book a tour is going inside the marina and avoiding the "sales" people outside. They are getting a cut for the sales and have no responsibility to you. Once inside ask for Elizabeth ('La negra Liz"). She owns several boats, will give you the best price, and most importantly her word. You can rent your own small boat for COP$700,000 or secure a seat for COP$75,000. Ask them before hand about the itinerary. Her company in particular has its own "resort" in the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean, nice and has good food for a reasonable price. Their beach access is limited and less than spectacular. Her boats will insist on taking you there, but you have a choice.

Playa Blanca is by far the best beach, but it can be overwhelming with the locals trying to sell you their products.

More upscale destinations include the Baru Island and private resorts owned by the big hotels (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). In most, you are allowed to spend the day at the beach. Every tour boat has their own agenda.

Long-distance buses [ edit ]

If you plan to take a bus to Santa Marta from bus terminal, it is advised to approach ticket counters and buy tickets directly there. Otherwise be aware: normally there is a bus service with connection in Barranquilla, where you will have to change a bus and pay a new fare to Santa Marta again, even if you have already paid it in a previous bus and even if you were promised that this was an absolutely direct bus to Santa Marta. If you happen to have this kind of connection in Barranquilla, make sure that you keep your tickets with you (even though they are being collected shortly after departure) and make sure that the guy, who will meet you in a bus and guide to another bus during a connection was clearly notified by a bus driver that you have already paid your fare to Santa Marta.

Stay healthy [ edit ]

Colombia has an outbreak of the Zika virus , which is hazardous for pregnant women since it can severely damage the baby in the womb. The Colombian government is advising its residents to avoid pregnancy and various other governments advise women who are or might become pregnant to avoid travel to the area. Here is the travel advisory from the US government Center for Disease Control.

Hospitals [ edit ]

  • 10.3974 -75.5562 2 Hospital Bocagrande ( corner of Carrera 6 and Calle 5 ), ☏ +57 5 6655 270 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.41662 -75.55039 3 Hospital Naval de Bocagrande , Carrera 2 No. 14-210, Base Naval , ☏ +57 5 6655 361 . Also has a decompression chamber for diving accidents. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Connect [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

Post [ edit ]

  • 10.42469 -75.54737 4 Deprisa , Av Venezuela ( Centro Edificio Citibank, local B1 ), ☏ +57 5 664 7822 . M-F 08:00-12:30 & 14:00-18:00, Sa 08:00-13:00 . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.42488 -75.5455 5 Adpostal , corner of Calle 34 and Av. Luis Carlos López ( in La Matuna, Centro Comercial Galerias ). Here you can buy stamps. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Sending postcards to Europe is expensive; a stamp costs COP$6,800.

Internet [ edit ]

  • 10.42267 -75.54423 6 Contact Internet Café , Calle de la Media Luna No 10-20 , ☏ +57 5 664 0681 . 08:00-21:00 . COP$1000/hr . ( updated Sep 2015 )
  • 10.425 -75.55086 7 Micronet , Calle de la Estrella No 4-47 , ☏ +57 5 664 0328 . 09:00-21:00 . COP$1500/hr . ( updated Sep 2015 )

Cope [ edit ]

  • 10.4182 -75.5346 8 DAS , Carrera 20B No 29-18, Pie de la Popa , ☏ +57 5 666 0172 . M-Sa 08:00-12:00 & 14:00-17:00 . The immigration authority, where you need to go if you wish to extend your visa. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Consulates [ edit ]

Libraries [ edit ].

  • 10.42291 -75.55183 12 Biblioteca Bartolomé Calvo , Cl. de la lnquisición 23 . M-F 08:30-18:00, Sa 09:00-13:00 . The city library. ( updated Sep 2015 )

Go next [ edit ]

colombia travel cartagena

  • You can get to Santa Marta for COP$80,000 with Berlinastur (Feb 2021). Buses leave every twenty minutes and the trip lasts about 5½ hours and passes through Barranquilla (US$16 if you stay there; departures every hour, half of the buses stay here and half continue to Santa Marta). In Cartagena, their terminal is at Crespo, on the way to the airport. Many colectivos passing by the India Catalina can let you just at their door for COP$1,500. They also have buses to Cúcuta, Bucaramanga and Bogotá.

colombia travel cartagena

  • About 45 km northeast of Cartagena on the road to Barranquila is the Volcán del Totumo , a 15 m high mud volcano. You can enter the crater and take a mud bath (entrance COP$2,000), which is enormous fun and highly recommended. The nearby laguna then serves as a natural bath for washing off the mud.
  • Botanical gardens Jardin Botanico de Guillermo Piñeres — A pleasant escape from the city rush, 18 km out of Cartagena close to "Turbaco", a small town 20 km from the center of Cartagena. Take a bus to the bus terminal and get of at "la Bomba de Amparo", a big gasoline station 25 minutes out of the center. From there, are leaving buses to "Turbaco"- get off (ask the driver) a bit before Turbaco and walk to the right, about 20 minutes straight on. Together with your entry ticket you get leaflet which lists about 250 plants identified in the gardens, including some varieties of coca plants.
  • Punta Arena — A fishing village 10 minutes by boat on the island of "Tierrabomba", in front of "Laguito" (Bocagrande). You reach it by boats (lanchas), leaving from "Muelle de los Pegasos" or with boats in "Laguito" next to the Hilton Hotel. Punta Arena has probably the nicest beaches close to Cartagena. There are restaurants where you can get food and drinks. Enjoy a day, hanging out under palm trees with a fantastic view of the skyline of Cartagena.
  • La Boquilla — A fishing village (pueblo de pescadores) close to Cartagena. Take a bus for COP$1,600 (March 2013), from India Catalina (Avenida Venezuela), if you get off of the bus at the end of the ride you can rent a canoe which brings you to a nice beach (Playa de Oro) passing trough lagoons and mangroves – pay for the boat once you are back. Riding a bike is a great way to get there and should take around an hour. Once you get past the end of the airport turn on to the beach and you can ride along the sand to La Boquilla.
  • Bocachica - a fishing village on the island of "Tierrabomba" (pueblo de pescadores)
  • Los Montes de María — This is a sub-region in the Colombian Caribbean that is in the south, 2 hours away from Cartagena by car. It's composed of mountains whose highest point is about 1,000 m above sea level. This region is of great ecological importance, one of the last remaining dry forests still intact in the Colombian Caribbean, with around 280 species of birds and 44 species of mammals, among which the Red Howler and the cotton top tamarin (an endemic monkey species). This ecosystem (dry forest) is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. The Montes de María is also famous because of the Gaita Music, the Hammocks and its indigenous history (It has one of the oldest pottery made by cultures in America), an interesting region to hike, to see wildlife and to learn from this unique culture of the Colombian Caribbean

colombia travel cartagena

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Nomadic Matt's Travel Site

Travel Better, Cheaper, Longer

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 to Cartagena

Cartagena Colombia | Travel Guide  Advice

When to go to Cartagena

Cartagena moves into fifth gear for New Year. Wealthy Colombians invite a glittering crowd to stay with them in their historic mansions, throw glitzy NYE parties on the 17th-century walls, party til dawn and then whisk them away on yachts to their island retreats. The fun continues well into January and February with the Summerland Dance Festival , the classical music , literature , art and film festivals lined up until the end of March .

Why you should go to Cartagena

Home to the happiest people on earth, the Colombian national sport is to obliterate outdated stereotypes about their country with their irrepressible zest for life. Passionate about their collective mission you're guaranteed a good time with your newfound friends. Explore the city's conveniently contained colonial architecture on foot, gorge yourself on a rich culinary scene being fuelled by Colombian chefs happy to be home after well-spent stints in Michelin restaurants abroad and cut a rug with the rhythmically blessed locals. The historic quest for gold and emeralds that put Cartagena on the map has given way to a modern-day pleasure hunt for more contemporary treasures - brilliant Caribbean beaches, a vibrant cultural scene and laid-back, effortless indulgence. Cartagena has nothing to envy its Caribbean neighbours when it comes to matching the expectations of a globetrotting glitterati. Whatever your tastes for living the high life - be it hip colonial casas , exclusive rooftop pool parties, gourmet restaurants and island hopping in your own private yacht - there's myriad ways to live it up like royalty in Colombia's Caribbean gem.

colombia travel cartagena

By Stanley Stewart

A house in the Getsemaní barrio

Things to do in Cartagena

The colonial grid of the walled city was made for exploring on foot. Take in the city's rich history by simply getting lost in Cartagena's 234 picturesque streets. To get under the skin of the city, there are a series of private walking tours that cater for every taste. Popular walking tours that explain the city's 500-year history or how the city inspired Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Looking for something different try an art tour that takes in the city's best galleries, contemporary dance workshops, street art and artist studios to an in-depth exploration of the city's remarkable architecture or a photo tour with an award-winning photographer that will take your holiday snaps to another level.

The pool at Casa San Agustin

From December to April , international festival organisers line up to make the most of Cartagena's intimate colonial setting, welcoming population and the cooling trade winds that mark Cartagena's summer (dry season). The Getsemani Street Art Festival starts the season in the first week of December followed by the Classical Musical Festival and the Hay Festival Cartagena in January. Carnival in nearby Barranquilla and Latin America's oldest Film Festival draw a showbiz crowd to town in February , March and April. The first Contemporary Art Bienal took place in 2014. A second installation is scheduled for February 2016.

For the full Caribbean experience skip town to explore the Rosario Islands National Park, an idyllic archipelago of 30 islands, 45 minutes southwest of the city. The picture postcard Caribbean setting - crystal clear waters and platinum sands - provides the perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of life in Cartagena's colonial centre.

INDEPENDENCE DAY FESTIVITIES

Cartagena celebrates its independence from the Spanish in November with a week of Carnival-esque celebrations that coincide with the annual Miss Colombia beauty pageant. The anachronistic battle of the babes still draws a well-dressed crowd to town for a string of parties. The highlight is the Balleneras, a riotous, nautical themed parade with scant concern for health and safety in which every yacht and boat in Cartagena gets rented out by fans looking to get a glimpse of the girls doing their thing.

BIZARRE FOODS & BAZURTO MARKET

From gourmet restaurants to scintillating street food, Cartagena offers gourmands a glorious array of culinary experiences. Adventurous types that like their food bizarre should follow in the footsteps of Travel Channel's intrepid culinary explorer, Andrew Zimmern, on a bush tucker tour of the Cartagena countryside. Take in the city's post-apocalyptic market and eat jungle rat, crocodile, armadillo and some wild Colombian fruits. Fix all your ailments with a visit to the witch doctor in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Palenque, the first town founded by escaped slaves in the Americas.

SUMMERLAND DANCE FESTIVAL

Top DJs from the world descend on Cartagena for three days of mayhem to the north of the city in the first week of January. David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren and Swedish Hour Mafia have all headlined. Eight thousand people get into the electronic swing of things every night.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote odes to the city's seductive charms for decades and who would argue with the Colombia's Nobel Laureate on Cartagena's romantic kudos. Canoodle like love-struck teenagers in the historic walls at sunset, whisk your loved one off to your own deserted island, or arrange a romantic evening sailing around the bay before dropping anchor at a spectacular waterfront restaurant. Your powers of seduction will never have been stronger.

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Where to eat out in Cartagena

Cafes & ice cream, ely gourmet.

A classy cake shop molded to satisfy the sticky desires of Cartagena's sweet-toothed populous. Ely is a prized, air-conditioned hideout for lovers of healthy salads and sandwiches that drop the sugary pangs of guilt down a notch or two. The three-layered coconut, vanilla and walnut cake drizzled with Colombia's version of dulce de leche, arequipe (caramel) works wonders with a mid-morning macchiato. Getsemani, Calle Larga No. 8b-126, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 5707; elygourmet.com )

ÀBACO LIBRERIA & CAFÉ

Cartagena's most cultured café serves up stimulating espressos and cheesecake to a bohemian crowd of writers, photographers and artists. Feed your brain with something from the café's excellent literary collection - a new copy of Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Love in the Time of Cholera in English or one of the lofty tomes on Cartagena's colonial architecture. Centro, Esquina Calles de la Iglesia and Calle de la Mantilla. 3-86, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 8290; abacolibros.com )

MILA PASTELERIA

The undisputed queen of the afternoon sugar rush, eponymous owner Mila Vargas earned a black belt in the dark chocolate arts in the cafés of Buenos Aires and Paris. She shipped a winning mix of chic interior design and sassy snacks home to cater to visitors accustomed to a more cosmopolitan version of café culture. Her fame for delivering a different level of candy-covered means you will have to fight the farandula - Colombia's soap star set - for a mid-afternoon macchiato or a slice of Mila's signature Porteño chocolate cake in high season. Centro, Calle de la Iglesia 35-76, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 4607; mila.com.co )

GELATERIA PARADISO

Maria Nevett's glorious gelato parlour, Gelataria Paradiso pairs French floral boudoir frills with homemade ice cream thrills to create the ultimate place to chill in Cartagena. Perfect for Cartagena's sugar-rush hour - around 15.00 - Nevett's fruity selection is made with 100% natural ingredients including a colourful kaleidoscope of Colombian fruits, zapote , corozo , passion fruit, costeño cherry and lulo as well as organic cacao-rich chocolate treats. For a sensationally refreshing treat, try the sorbet version of the classic Cartagena drink, the Coconut Lemonade. Centro, Calle del Cuartel Esq with Calle de la Estrella, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 4945; facebook.com/gelateriaparadiso )

RESTAURANTS

El boliche cebicheria.

Talented chef Oscar Colmenares fine-tuned his ceviche skills working in the three Michelin-Star kitchen of Martin Berasategui's eponymous San Sebastian restaurant. He added a few tricks with later stints at Peruvian stalwarts Astrid & Gaston and Rafael Osterling before going solo with his 16-seat Cartagena debut in 2011. Only fish caught by artisanal fisherman gets chopped into the city's best tasting ceviche creations in this petite but perfectly formed diner. Every dish is a well-crafted blend of Colombian tropical fruits, traditional coastal flavours and ultra-fresh seafood. For an explosive, tangy, taste sensation try the spicy tamarind ceviche or the king prawns grilled with local butifarra sausage and quails' eggs. San Diego, Calle Cochera del Hobo 38-17, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 0074; ticartagena.com/elboliche )

CARMEN CARTAGENA

Carmen serves up serious food for gourmands with high expectations. With a plethora of taste sensations on every platter, Rob Pevetts and his muse Carmen Angel have taken on two al fresco areas and an air-conditioned salon of the contemporary colonial chic boutique hotel Ananda. An array of complicated reductions, accomplished culinary concoctions crafted from top ingredients plucked from every corner of Colombia is prepared with a delicate Asian touch. Everything on the menu is great but the spicy Caribbean prawn tacos, the succulent pork fest and the deconstructed seafood 'cazuela' top the bill. Don't miss the cocktails made with fruits you will have never met before, such as the Granadilla Pisco Sour. Centro, Calle de Cuartel 36-77, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 6795; carmencartagena.com )

After passing through the kitchens of San Sebastian's uber-chefs Martin Berasategui, Pedro Subijana of Akelare and Juan Mari Arzak, Latin food lover, Juan Felipe Camacho, set himself up as top dog in Cartagena's culinary circles. Celebrating a K.I.S.S approach to cooking, Don Juan's unfussy style includes the best, grilled octopus in town, a simple yet sublime entrecote and a prawn and lobster risotto that will send you into orbit. If you can't bag a table there's a younger crowd eating equally well next door in his second, more laid-back venture named after his better half, Maria. (Calle del Colegio # 34-60 Local 2, 00 57 316 524 70 46; www.mariacartagena.com) Centro, Calle del Colegio No. 34-60, L. 101, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 38 57; donjuancartagena.com )

TRATTORIA DI SILVIO

Di Silvio put hip and happening Getsemani on the map for al fresco locals looking to sample the unique atmosphere and street art of Cartagena's thriving cultural quarter. Great thin-crust pizzas, fresh sea bass in lemon sauce and the salmon ravioli with lashings of Parmesan cheese light up the menu. Popularity forced Di Silvio to add an extension carved cleverly from one corner of a former soap factory, the inspired minimalist, open-air architectural intervention has an illuminated tree and live music at its heart. Getsemani, Calle de la Sierpe con San Juan esquina, 9A-08, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 2205; disilviotrattoria.com )

MAREA BY RAUSCH

Navigate your way through Cartagena's conference centre to discover the city's premier waterfront dining option. Far from the typical canteen grub served up in most corporate hospitality bunkers, Marea by Rausch serves inspired seafood creations by Colombia's most famous culinary double-act, Jorge and Mark Rausch. The ocean-fresh interiors include fishy themed hand-painted walls but the outside terrace wins for romantic trysts with a privileged view of Cartagena's up-lit cupolas. Order the Peruvian-style seafood rice infused with turmeric or the clever, re-engineered fried fish classic. Getsemani, Centro de Convenciones, Cartagena (00 57 5 654 4205; mareabyrausch.com )

EL SANTISIMO

Federico Vega's culinary institution boasts nearly two decades as one of the city's top culinary destinations. Its saintly reputation has been built on a fusion of Caribbean flavours, flamboyant French flair and tongue-in-cheek religious interiors. Vega earned his gourmet stripes in the cordon bleu kitchens of Paris and London. Order La Santisima Trinidad: king prawn grilled and served in a light coconut-based sauce and served with coconut rice and plantain soaked in the local soft drink Kola Roman. San Diego, Calle del Torno 39-62, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 1532; elsantisimo.com )

It's tough getting a table at this old-school, Cuban-style restaurant when Colombia's heavy-hitting chequebooks are in town. Cartagena's most popular maitre'd Gregorio Herrera has been keeping a strict control on the guest list since the restaurant put the historic centre back on the culinary map in 1999. The city's fast-moving gourmet offering has left La Vitrola's menu feeling a little jaded but the 'jukebox's' intoxicating mix of live Cuban song, mean mojitos and popular tucker makes this a compulsory stop on the authentic Cartagena experience. Centro, Calle el Baloco 2-01, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 8243)

Plenty of Peruvian pretenders have tried to muscle in on Cartagena's ceviche scene in recent years but La Perla - the first to put Cocina Novoandina on the menu in La Heroica - still takes some beating. Inexpensive, slick interiors and lip-smacking ceviches and tiraditos are the trademark but don't miss out on Lomo La Perla, a sirloin steak served with a Roquefort-laced sauce on a bed of creamy mushroom rice or the slow-cooked, suckling pig. Centro, Calle de Ayos No. 4-42, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 2157; ticartagena.com/laperla )

Where to drink in Cartagena

El baron café & liquor.

Good-looking locals love to get the evening off on a well-heeled foot mingling with out-of-towners in this small but perfectly formed speakeasy on the Plaza San Pedro. Cartagena's standout mixologist, Noah Matthies, applies the alchemist touch mixing local infusions with a refined selection of spirits to a bang-up-to-date soundtrack that hits all the right notes for well-traveled hedonists. Centro, Plaza San Pedro Claver 31-7, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 3105; elbaron.co )

DEMENTE TAPAS BAR

Owner Nicolas Wiesner's rocking chairs and Cuban cigars took Cartagena's coolest district, Getsemani, to another level when he opened his trendy bar, Demente, in the Plaza de la Trinidad in 2013. With a delicious mix of top tapas, high design, brilliant drinks and the city's friendliest bar staff, Demente has pulled a cultured crowd of knowing locals and hip out-of-towners into the heart of happening Getsemani. Getsemaní, Plaza de la Trinidad, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 3105; ticartagena.com/demente )

MALAGANA CAFÉ & BAR

Design-centric sisters Diana and Maria Carolina Herrera helped put Getsemani on the map when they opened their stylish hangout in late 2011. Eclectic tunes, cocktails made with a scintillating selection of Colombian fruits and a lively rooftop terrace draw a trendy crowd. The friendly hosts throw Cartagena's best street party to celebrate the bar's birthday in the first week of December. Getsemani, Calle Tripita y Media 31-55 (00 57 5 660 1360)

CAFÉ DEL MAR

Sitting pretty on the historic walls on Cartagena's western tip, the Baluarte Santo Domingo was built to repair the damage done by Sir Francis Drake. Three centuries later, Café del Mar has weaved its way into Cartagena's rich history as the undisputed spot to take in the sunset. The 17th-century fortifications, uninterrupted views of the sun sliding into the Caribbean and all-year-round breezes underpin the bar's enduring appeal with an international crowd not scared off by the bar's New York prices. Centro, Baluarte Santo Domingo, Cartagena (00 57 313 853 2535; cafedelmarcartagena.com.co )

BAZURTO SOCIAL CLUB

DJs and live bands keep the playlist fresh and local at this hip resto-bar in the heart of Getsemani's golden triangle of late-night drinking dens. Soak up the city's Afro-based musical heritage with a sweaty mix of Champeta, Telapia, Cumbia and Reggae. Brush up on your salsa moves with free dance classes on Wednesday nights. Live music at the weekends. Getsemaní, Av del Centenario, Cra 9 30-42, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 3124; bazurtosocialclub.com )

EL LABORATORIO

A welcome addition to Calle Media Luna, Cartagena's busiest nocturnal thoroughfare, El Laboratorio's slick mix of rum-based cocktails infused with Colombia's tropical fruits, DJ sets and unfussy interiors that don't obliterate the house's republican heritage, keep Cartagena's hipsters happy on Wednesdays and weekends. Getsemani, Calle de la Media Luna 10-20, Cartagena (00 57 318 8364877)

DONDE FIDEL

An ideal spot to get your nocturnal bearings, this legendary bar tucked behind the Clock Tower has been dishing up classic salsa beats beneath the city's historic walls for three decades. Owner Fidel Leottau's open-air bellwether is perfect for a little street theatre and some world-class people-watching while you plot your evening over a fairly priced cold beer or a bottle of rum. Centro, Between Plaza de los Coches and Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena ( ticartagena.com/dondefidel )

Rub shoulders with the city's beau monde in stylish surrounds. The strict filter at the door makes for a good-looking crowd that would be confined to the catwalk in most other countries. The international playlist in the open-air patio offers some respite for gringos tired of being mocked for their lame salsa skills. Get your name on the door here. Centro, Calle Baloco 2-14, Cartagena (00 57 5 660 6126; ticartagena.com/lamovida )

CAFÉ HAVANA

The 'World Famous' Cafe Havana transformed perceptions of the rundown district Getsemani by luring a ritzy crowd off the beaten track to enjoy live salsa sets by a brilliant 12-piece band, cracking mojitos and a deliciously sweaty atmosphere. Getsemani, Corner of Calle de la Media Luna, Calle Guerrero, Cartagena (00 57 310 610 2324; cafehavanacartagena.com )

A view across Cartagena's old town

What to see in Cartagena

El castillo de san felipe.

The most formidable fortification built by the Spanish to defend their stronghold in the Americas, the San Felipe castle took slaves 220 years to complete. Explore the complex maze of tunnels and learn about the city's most famous military battles with English and French pirates. Pie de la Popa, Avenida Arevalo, Cartagena (00 57 5 666 4790; fortificacionescartagena.com )

PALACIO DE LA INQUISICION

A glorious palace built for the Spanish Inquisition houses a macabre collection of replica torture instruments and a small exhibit of the city's history. The palace's impressive salons are also used for fine art exhibitions. Centro, Plaza de Bolivar, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 7381)

LA PRESENTACION CASA MUSEO ARTE Y CULTURA

A former convent and school, the Casa Museo is a hidden gem. The sprawling property in San Diego is home to art exhibitions, antiques and a farmers' market once a month. Centro, Calle Estanco del Aguardiente 5 -63, Cartagena (00 57 317 675 7135; ticartagena.com/lapresentacion )

MUSEO DEL ORO

A charming colonial house on the Plaza Bolivar rescued by Colombia's central bank, the Zenú gold museum gives insight into the pre-Colombian culture of the Caribbean. Centro, Plaza de Bolivar (00 57 5 660 0778; banrepcultural.org/gold-museum )

Cartagena's fiercely traditional barrio maintains a strong link to its rich history through the colourful characters that have lived in the same houses for more than three generations. Soak up a unique atmosphere on Sunday when the historic walls on Avenida Pedregal become a 17th-century Shea Stadium for a baseball and salsa extravaganza, and visit the studios of artists that have made this district the city's thrusting cultural quarter.

PARQUE BOLIVAR

A statue of Simon Bolivar, the man that liberated the Americas from the Spanish sits at the heart of all Colombian cities. The airy square that takes its name from the great liberator is one of the most democratic spaces left in the historic centre. Play chess or snooze with locals during the day or take in the street theatre in the evenings.

HISTORIC WALLS

Started in 1586 and completed in 1633, Cartagena's historic walls stretch 4km around Cartagena's historic centre, San Diego and Getsemani. At sunset couples use the parapets formerly used to fire at pirates for a little intimacy.

TEATRO ADOLFO MEJIA

This former church was converted into a theatre in 1911 to celebrate 100 years of independence from the Spanish. Lovingly restored in 1988, it now hosts the city's most glittering cultural events and festivals. Centro, Plaza de la Merced 38-101, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 6023; ticartagena.com/adolfomejia )

IGLESIA SANTO DOMINGO & COOPERACION ESPAÑOLA

Cartagena's largest church and the adjacent former convent host the city's most glamorous weddings and cultural events. The Spanish government restored the cloister to be used by the cultural attaché of the ministry foreign affairs to showcase its activities in the region. The courtyard and architecture is now used for poetry readings, concerts, art exhibits and a children's library. Centro, Plaza Santo Domingo (00 57 5 664 0904)

Tickets for most activities can be booked via This Is Cartagena .

Where to shop in Cartagena

Casa chiqui.

This Ali Baba cave in the historic centre is the go-to retail destination for the biggest wedding lists in town. There's Mexican ceramics, Indonesian lamps and jewellery from Jordan. But if you have room for just one big item in your suitcase it should be the rugs and cashmere hammocks weaved by Colombian design house Hechizoo. This is the only place Jorge Lizarazo stocks his creations in Cartagena. Centro, Calle de la Universidad 36-127, Cartagena (00 57 5 668 5429; casachiqui.com)

Norha Haime's Cartagena extentions to her gallery in New York showcases some of Colombia's greatest talents including the gilded tapestries of Olga de Amaral, paintings by Alejandro Obregon and sculptures by Nadin Ospina and the politically charged work of home-grown local artist Ruby Rumie. The gallery has been instrumental in fuelling Cartagena's burgeoning art scene with a hand in organizing events such as the first International Biennial of Contemporary Art in early 2014. Centro, Playa de la Artilleria, 33-36, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 0561; nhgaleria.com )

LUCY JEWELRY

Colombia is the world's largest producer of emeralds. Jeweller Lucy Sanchez has built a formidable reputation delivering high quality stones set in sleek designs with elegant price tags. She doesn't pay commission to hawkers, preferring to pass the savings on to her customers. Centro, Calle Santo Domingo 3-19, Edificio Cuesta, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 4255; lucyjewelrycartagena.com )

Cartagena's first designer destination showcases Colombian brands from high-end fashion, art and interior design. Hip menswear brand Juan Project has a great line in tropical shirts while other picks include the intricate jewellery designs of Claudia Trejos and a collection of great coffee table books of the city. Centro, Calle Santo Domingo 33-70, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 0197; stdom.co )

THIS IS CARTAGENA - THE SHOP

Stocking the best local products for socially conscious visitors, The Shop, carries work by local artists, organic coffee produced in specialist farms in the north coast of Colombia and socially responsible craftwork that ranges from colourful handmade hammocks from San Jacintoi and the Guajira to hand crafted leather bags by JJ Leathersmith. Calle Estanco del Aguardiente 5 -63 (00 57 5 660 0969; ticartagena.com/theshop )

ÀBACO LIBRERIA & CAFE

Flick through a strong collection of books on the best art, photography and architecture in Cartagena or lose yourself in an English version of one of the Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's extensive bibliography with a cup of joe. For an inside glimpse of the author's Cartagena try Love in the Time of Cholera or Love and other Demons , both set in the city that inspired so much of his work. Catch poetry readings and other intellectual gatherings every Wednesday evening. Centro, Esquina Calles de la Iglesia and Calle de la Mantilla. 3-86, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 8290; abacolibros.com )

The town's cathedral which was once attacked by Sir Francis Drake

How to get to Cartagena

Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Nuñez de Cartagena de Indias ( sacsa.com.co )

AIRLINES FROM THE US

JetBlue (00 1 800 538-2583; jetblue.com ) Avianca (00 1 800 2842622; avianca.com ) Spirit Airlines (00 1 801 401 2200; spirit.com )

Cartagena Colombia | Travel Guide  Advice

TOURIST INFO

Tourist information.

One of a handful of tourist information offices spread around Cartagena de Indias staffed by the local tourist board. Open Monday to Sunday 7am-11pm. Plaza de la Aduana ( cartagenadeindias.travel )

"MINUTOS"

Every street corner has someone selling 'minutos' or 'llamadas' - the makeshift telecommunications centres sell calls to any local number or cell phone for as little as 5¢ a minute.

TRAVEL TIPS

Don't change money on the street: you could end up with a fistful of fake bills. Cartagena is very safe in the historic centre, Bocagrande and Castillogrande but visitors are advised not to walk up to La Popa Convent. Wear a hat and drink plenty of water.

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3 days in Cartagena, Colombia

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cartagena colombia itinerary

Welcome to this itinerary for 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia.

Cartagena is a coastal city located along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and is one of the most popular destinations to visit in the country.

Table of Contents

3 Days in Cartagena

We recommend a minimum of 3 days to explore Cartagena, which includes time to see the best sights in the city.

This also allows you to head on some great day trips within the region.

The itinerary included in this article is designed specifically so you have enough time to see the best landmarks and historical sites.

You’ll also have time to relax on some of the best beaches in Colombia.

Follow the itinerary along with our sustainable travel tips and you’ll be well on your way to a memorable stay on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Best Time to Visit Cartagena

Cartagena is consistently hot throughout the year, however, there is a contrasting wet and dry season that should be noted.

The dry season runs from December until April and has average daily temperatures of 80-82°F.

Highs can reach up to 87°F, with lows sitting around 76°F (January is the coolest month to stay in Cartagena). Rainfall is at its lowest this time of year, with between 0-1.5 inches falling each month.

The wet season begins in May and continues until November. Average temps during this time range from 82-83°F, with highs of 88°F and lows of 78°F (May to September is the hottest time to visit Cartagena).

Rainfall is much higher this time of year, with between 3.5-6 inches falling throughout each month.

Overall, the best months to visit are between January and March, where there is little rainfall and hot temperatures perfect for soaking up the sun.

Cartagena, Colombia Itinerary (3 days)

Now let’s take a look at our 3 day itinerary which we feel will give you the best overall experience of Cartagena.

Day 1 in Cartagena

Arriving in Cartagena, we’ll make our way to the accommodation in the walled city to unload bags and get ready for a busy first day.

We’ll first head to the historic center, where we can wander around and see the best sights including the Catedral de Santa Catalina , as well as walk on top of the fortified walls of Baluarte de Santo Domingo.

getsemani cartagena

Next up we’ll walk for 10 minutes to reach the hip neighborhood of Getsemani, where we’ll have lunch. Check out the menus at both local restaurants and street food stands to see what looks best.

After waiting for the midday Sun to dip, we’ll then head to the cute Plaza de la Trinidad with its yellow church, and also explore some incredible murals along the streets of Lomba and Pozo.

In the evening you can head out to one of many bars in the Getsemani, or board the infamous Chiva party bus for an unforgettable night out.

Day 2 in Cartagena

On our second day we’ll jump on a tour to El Totumo , which will pick you up from your accommodation early in the morning.

Here you’ll be able to relax in the naturally heated mud baths, whilst then get a wash-down by indigenous women in the nearby river (you’ll be expected to leave a tip for the service).

With lunch included, you’ll head back to Cartagena for mid-afternoon.

bocagrande cartagena

Once here, we’ll then head to the Fort of San Felipe. Known as the most formidable fort of the Spanish Empire, you’ll be able to explore the massive structures and cannons that line the viewpoint.

It’s also a fantastic place to watch the sun go down over the historic area of Cartagena.

Day 3 in Cartagena

On our last and final day, we’ll get up early and take a ferry over to Playa Blanca. See this all inclusive tour for ease and to save precious time.

Known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia, we’ll arrive in the island of Baru and have the day to deservedly lounge on the beach and swim in the turquoise waters.

Here there’s many small food shacks and small restaurants near the beach for when you start to feel peckish.

Once ready you can then take the ferry back to the mainland and to your accommodation to pick up your belongings.

Day Trips from Cartagena, Colombia

Doing a day trip from Cartagena will give you the opportunity to see more than you usually would but all within a much shorter time frame.

Tierra Bomba Island

The closest island to Cartagena, here you’ll find a much more relaxed beach scene compared to the hectic Bocagrande that lines the city.

Here you can chill along the beach in Punta Arena, which is the best town of the four in the island.

Whilst here make sure to try typical Caribbean-Colombia food such as patacones, fried fish and coconut rice.

Playa Blanca

This beach is absolute must-visit when in Cartagena, and can be reached by taking a 2-hour ferry that departs hourly from the coastal city.

rosario islands colombia

Aside from lounging on the white-sand beach, you can also do water-sport activities such as jet-skiing, or the famed plankton tour at night.

Whilst snorkeling is great here, we recommend heading further out to the nearby Rosario Islands for an unforgettable underwater experience.

El Totumo Volcano

Known as one of the smallest volcanoes in the World, Totumo is best known for its heated mud at the surface, which has some really great health benefits.

It’s located around an hour outside of Cartagena, and the easiest way to get here is on a day trip or tour from the city. Along the way you’ll also visit some other small gems.

Things to do in Cartagena

With many attractions to see, we’ll start by looking at the popular activities that you wouldn’t want to miss during a visit to Cartagena:

Explore the Walled City

Like many of Latin America’s previously colonized cities, Cartagena too also has its own historical centre.

cartagena walled city

This one is very unique though, with large stone walls forming a dome around to protect the city from planned attacks and invasions.

San Felipe Castle

This fort is a must visit, with it being known as the most formidable defensive structure ever created by the Spanish.

san felipe castle colombia

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this castle is one of the must-sees when in this historically important city.

Mercado de Bazurto

A sprawling market located within the Magdalena Sector, Bazurto is a great way to experience the real Cartagena.

bazurto market cartagena

With an incredible array of exotic fruits, seafood and more, get ready for a hectic yet enticing visit, with stalls that surround and welcome you from every corner.

This artsy and bustling neighborhood is the true beating heart of Cartagena.

Here you’ll find postcard-perfect streets and lots of striking murals lining its cobblestone paths. It’s also the best place to experience Cartagena’s authentic nightlife.

Cartagena Travel Tips

  • The best area to stay within Cartagena is Getsemani, which is a very artsy neighborhood. Another good area is within the historic centre, both of which are quite safe.
  • If you’re on a budget or traveling to Cartagena solo: check out these top rated hostels for some stylish rooms during your stay.
  • When exploring Cartagena, avoid heading further east than the San Felipe Castle, unless you know the area or directly take Ubers from destinations. This is because it can get quite unsafe in these areas.
  • Consider heading to Baru Island independently. This way you’ll have more time to spend here as you wish, as well as saving a lot more money than if going with a tour company.
  • In places like Cartagena, always carry sunscreen like this one to protect your skin’s appearance and health from harmful UV rays.
  • For those looking for a good night out, then hop aboard a Chiva Bus. With all drinks included you’ll speed around the city with music on-board, and is a perfect way to enjoy Cartagena’s vibrant nightlife.
  • Get your FREE travel insurance quote from SafetyWing to receive fully comprehensive support when it comes to unforeseen travel complications.
  • Consider spending more time in Cartagena, where you can then head on a day trip (or multiple day trip) to the beautiful Rosario Islands just off the coast of the city.

As well as knowing the best time to visit, you now have some great ideas on how to spend your precious time in this charming city.

Got more time in Colombia or South America?

Why not read this South America itinerary which looks at other factors you may went to consider when traveling to this continent.

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This South American City Is One of the Best Places to Travel in 2024 — Here's How to Visit

Cartagena, Colombia, has something for everyone.

Piero Damiani/Getty Images

As the boat sped away from Cartagena, I held on a little tighter to the handrails, watching the city line quickly diminish on the horizon. In a matter of minutes, I could only see the Caribbean Sea and lush mangroves lining small undeveloped islands. When I finally got to my destination — a private beach in Isla Barú —  I was in a beachy oasis with no signs of Cartagena de Indias, the bustling city I was actually visiting.

It’s exactly this juxtaposition that makes this Colombian city — named one of the best places to travel in 2024 by Travel + Leisure editors — so special. If you want a beach vacation, you can visit white-sand beaches and turquoise waters that the Caribbean is famous for. If you want more culture, then the walled “Old City” — a UNESCO Heritage Site — is teeming with history. Elsewhere in Cartagena, towering new buildings spotlight just how much the area has modernized and its potential for growth. (Colombia, as a whole, saw a 222 percent increase in international tourists between 2010 and 2022.)

In Cartagena, growth in 2023 included the debut of Casa Pestagua , a historic 17th-century mansion that underwent a $15-million renovation in the Old City. The owners also opened up overnight bungalows at Acasi — a private beach in Barú that is a popular day-trip spot. Next year, Disney's “Encanto”-themed tour of Colombia will include a stop at Cartagena and the city is slated to welcome a Four Seasons hotel.

Susmita Baral/Travel + Leisure 

“Cartagena has something to offer everyone,” Boris Seckovic , a T+L A-List advisor and co-founder of Amakuna , told T+L. “There's ample architecture and history, and high-end dining, Cartagena being home to some of Colombia’s leading chefs. Cartagena is also known for its nightlife, particularly around the holiday season.”

Back in the Old City, I couldn’t get enough of the charming cobblestone streets lined with colorful walls, quaint wooden doors with whimsical doorknockers, and diverse architecture. (According to Seckovic, the city has a mix of classicist, baroque, neoclassical, and republican architecture.) Vendors set up shop on the corners selling the likes of arepas , limonada de coco , and fresh coconuts. Even while aimlessly roaming the area, I stumbled upon street performers, vibrant murals, the iconic "La Gorda Gertrudis" sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, and countless boutiques. 

Susmita Baral/Travel + Leisure

During my recent visit, I went on a walking tour of the city with Galavanta , which offered both fun tidbits of trivia and important historical context about how Cartagena became the city it is today. I learned that the aforementioned whimsical doorknockers that I couldn't stop taking pictures of symbolized the resident’s profession back in the day. A lion, for example, meant the home belonged to a military family.

I also learned that Cartagena was once Spanish America’s largest slave port. David Wheat, an associate professor of history at Michigan State University, told T+L that at least 100,000 were trafficked through the city between 1570 and 1640 from the likes of Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Jose Palacios Preciado, the former director of the Colombian national archives, told The Atlanta Black Star that 1.1 million Africans were trafficked through Cartagena.

After learning about the city's history, it became hard not to see Afro-Colombian culture in everything from the music to the art. "The music we listen to is called champeta and it is African beats-based," Alex Rocha, an Afro-Colombian who owns Experience Real Cartagena , told T+L. "We have poets like Candelario Obeso and writers like Manuel Zapata Olivella , the author of ' Changó, el gran Putas .'"

Rosie Irene Betancourt/Getty Images

I would soon learn that even the eye-catching palenqueras , who sport bright dresses with bowls of tropical fruit on their head, were instrumental in rebelling against slavery. Fernando Rivera, a guide working with Galavanta, told me that many enslaved people ran away to create their own villages that the Spanish government called palenques . "Women were crucial in aiding in the escapes. They knew the enslaver’s lifestyle and were able to time the best moment for the escapes,” Rivera said. “Women could also move throughout the city, which made them the perfect messengers and guaranteed the palenques would be safe."

These contributions led to the formation of San Basilio de Palenque , which made history in 1713 as the first free town for Africans in the Americas. Today, centuries later, palenqueras sell fruit throughout the Old City. (Though, they likely sell more photo-ops to tourists than actual fruit — a clever pivot amid the city’s growing tourism scene.)

Both Rocha and Rivera noted there are plenty of sites and landmarks to experience and honor Cartagena's Afro-Colombian culture, including Plaza de San Pedro Claver, San Basilio de Palenque, La Ruta del Esclavo, Monumento a la Palenquera, Mercado de Bazurto, Plaza Joe Arroyo, and Plaza Benkos Bioho.

atosan/Getty Images

Even Cartagena's food scene carries strong past influences. "Our African ancestors left the legacy of the various foods such as coconut rice; patacones (fried plantains); and different types of fruit-based sweets like dulce de papaya, dulce de coco, dulce de yuca," Rocha said. "There's also sancocho , which is a stew cooked in a pot with vegetables plantains, potatoes, corn, yuca, and fish or beef." (Pro-tip: Roche recommended dining at La Cocina de Socorro , La Picúa , Kiosko El Bony , and La Mulata to explore Afro-Colombian cuisine.)

Don't miss popular mainstay restaurants like Celele , Alma , La Cevicheria , Carmen , and Donjuán Cartagena . In 2023, chef Heberto Eljach, the brains behind Alma, debuted Ánima in Casa Pestagua , focusing on the ancestral traditions of Colombian cuisine. “Ánima's relationship with Colombian cuisine is focused on ancient techniques of traditional cooking — this includes preservation methods (cured, salted, fermented, canned, smoked, pickled), the use of local products, artisanal fishing, organic products from the Montes de Maria, Amazon, and other regions of Colombia," Eljach told T+L. 

F.J. Jimenez/Getty Images

And, of course, no culinary tour of Colombia is complete without a coffee experience. After all, Colombia is the leading producer of wash Arabica coffee .

My first visit to Cartagena entailed daily visits to Epoca Coffee , coupled with a desperate impulse purchase of coffee beans so I could attempt to replicate this tradition back home. But during my second trip, I joined a coffee experience at  Café San Alberto . Here, I learned about Colombia's coffee scene and explored the flavor notes of different beans — I left with a greater appreciation of all the elements at play in making a batch of coffee beans.

At the end of my recent visit, I couldn't help but compare my two visits to Cartagena. So much had changed in the four years between my trips — and yet, there was still a rich culture that permeated throughout the city. I found that I was able to relive what I loved from my first visit while also dabbling in new experiences and, ultimately, I was able to curate a trip that had a little bit of everything.

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Travel Advisory January 2, 2024

Colombia - level 3: reconsider travel.

Reissued with updates to the country summary.

Reconsider travel due to  crime  and  terrorism . Exercise increased caution due to civil unrest  and  kidnapping . Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Do Not Travel to:

  • Arauca, Cauca (excluding Popayán), and Norte de Santander departments due to crime and terrorism.
  • The Colombia-Venezuela border region due to crime, kidnapping, and risk of detention when crossing into Venezuela from Colombia.  

Country Summary: Violent crime, such as homicide, assault, and armed robbery, is widespread. Organized criminal activities, such as extortion, robbery, and kidnapping, are common in some areas.

Terrorist groups and criminal organizations continue operating and carrying out attacks in Colombia. They may attack with little or no warning, targeting transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, police stations, military facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, airports, other public areas, and U.S. government facilities.

Demonstrations occur regularly throughout the country and can be about a variety of political or economic issues. They can shutdown roads and highways, often without prior notice or estimated reopening timelines. Demonstrations and road closures may significantly reduce access to public transportation and may disrupt travel within and between cities. Protests can become violent and can result in fatalities and injuries.

U.S. direct-hire government employees must adhere to the noted restrictions:

  • They are not permitted to travel by road between most cities.
  • Colombia’s land border areas are off-limits to U.S. government personnel unless specifically authorized.
  • They may not use motorcycles.
  • They may not hail street taxis or use public buses.

Read the  country information page  for additional information on travel to Colombia.

If you decide to travel to Colombia:

  • Avoid protest areas and crowds.
  • Monitor local media for breaking events and adjust your plans based on new information.
  • Keep a low profile.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Enroll in the  Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)  to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Follow the Department of State on  Facebook  and  Twitter
  • Review the  Country Security Report  for Colombia.
  • Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the  Traveler’s Checklist .

Arauca, Cauca, and Norte de Santander Departments – Level 4: Do Not Travel

Violent crime, including armed robbery and homicide, is widespread. Terrorist groups are active in some parts.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens as U.S. government-personnel travel to these areas is severely restricted due to security concerns.

Colombia - Venezuela Border – Level 4: Do Not Travel

U.S. citizens are advised not to travel to the border of Colombia and Venezuela. U.S. citizens are at risk of detention when crossing into Venezuela.

The Colombia-Venezuela border is not clearly marked, and U.S. citizens should not go near the border due to the risk of crossing into Venezuela accidentally.

U.S. citizens attempting to enter Venezuela without a visa have been charged with terrorism and other serious crimes and detained for long periods. For more information, see the Venezuela Travel Advisory.

Visit our website for  Travel to High-Risk Areas .

Embassy Messages

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Quick Facts

Must be valid at the time of entry and for the duration of stay.

One page required for entry stamp unless enrolled in Migración Automática, a program for frequent travelers.

Not required for stays 90 days or less.

Yellow fever vaccination is required for travelers coming from certain countries or visiting certain national parks.

10,000 USD maximum.

Embassies and Consulates

U.S. Embassy Bogota

Physical Address:  Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50, Bogotá, D.C., Colombia Mailing address:  Carrera 45 No. 24B-27, Bogotá, D.C. 110111, Colombia Telephone:  +(57) (601) 275-2000 Emergency after-hours telephone:  +(57) (601) 275-2000 and press 0 Email:  [email protected]

U.S. Consular Agency Barranquilla Calle 77B No. 57-141, Suite 511 Centro Empresarial Las Americas 1, Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia Telephone:  +(57) 605-353-2001 and +(57) 605-369-0149 Emergency after-hours telephone:  +(57) (601) 275-4021 Email:  [email protected]

For hours and services, please visit the  U.S. Embassy Bogota website . 

Destination Description

See the Department of State’s website www.state.gov for information on U.S. - Colombia relations.  

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements

Travelers must complete Migración Colombia’s Online Check-Mig Form  within 72 hours of boarding an inbound or outbound flight from Colombia. There is no fee to complete the form.

All U.S. citizens who do not also hold Colombian citizenship must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and leave Colombia. U.S. citizens do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist or business stay of 90 days or less, or for cumulative stays of 180 days or less per calendar year. Before your 90-day stay expires, you may request an extension of up to 90 additional days from the Colombian immigration authority ( Migración Colombia ). You will face a fine if you remain in Colombia longer than allowed, and you may not be able to leave Colombia until the fine is paid. 

Any traveler entering with a Colombian visa of any type (as opposed to visa-free entry described above) with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a Migración Colombia office or online within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines. You may be denied entry to Colombia if you do not have a return ticket. Visit the  Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism  website for the most current visa information.

Visit the  CDC Traveler View  website for vaccination information, and the  Colombian Ministry of Health  website for Yellow Fever vaccination requirements.

Special Entry/Exit Instructions for U.S. Citizens Born in Colombia:  All Colombian citizens—regardless of dual citizenship—MUST present a valid, non-expired Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia. Colombian citizens traveling with non-Colombian passports may be unable to depart the country until they obtain a Colombian passport. 

Be aware that any person born in Colombia or of Colombian parentage may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such.

Be aware as well that all U.S. citizens, regardless of dual citizenship, must present a valid U.S. passport upon returning to the United States. Persons who are both U.S. and Colombian citizens MUST travel between these countries with both passports, presenting the Colombian passport upon departing Colombia and the U.S. passport upon arrival in the United States. 

Additional Exit Requirements for Minors:   To prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented special exit procedures for Colombian children under 18 (including dual nationals) who depart the country alone, without both parents, or without a legal guardian.  For detailed information regarding exit requirements for minors with Colombian nationality please visit Migración Colombia's website  (in Spanish only).

Lost or Stolen Passport: If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen in Colombia, you must  obtain a new one before leaving the country. You can report the loss or theft on the Colombian National Police  website .

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Colombia.

Find information on  dual nationality ,  prevention of international child abduction , and  customs regulations  on our websites.

Safety and Security

Terrorism : Terrorist groups and those inspired by such organizations are intent on attacking U.S. citizens abroad. Terrorists are increasingly using less sophisticated methods of attack – including knives, firearms, and vehicles – to more effectively target crowds. Frequently, their aim is focused on unprotected or vulnerable targets, such as:

  • High-profile public events (sporting events, political rallies, demonstrations, holiday events, celebratory gatherings, etc.)
  • Hotels, clubs, and restaurants frequented by tourists
  • Places of worship
  • Shopping malls and markets
  • Public transportation systems (including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights) 

Terrorist groups and criminal organizations continue operating and carrying out attacks in Colombia.  

For more information, see our Terrorism page.

Crime : Crimes and scams against tourists, and those perceived to be wealthy, are common and well-coordinated in urban areas, including in affluent neighborhoods. Firearms and knives are prevalent in Colombia and often used in muggings and robberies under the threat of violence. Drive-by motorcyclist snatchings of cell phones, bags, and valuables are extremely common. Victims are often identified well in advance of the robbery based on visible jewelry, high value wristwatches, and general attire while in public places such as shopping malls, restaurants, and airports.  

Narco-trafficking groups, including the Clan del Golfo frequently engage in violence against civilians and security forces. 

Dating App Robberies/Drugging/Homicides: Criminals use dating apps to lure victims to meet in places such as hotels, restaurants, and bars, and then later assault and rob them. Numerous U.S. citizens in Colombia have been drugged, robbed, and even killed by their Colombian dates. You should be cautious if using dating apps in Colombia. If meeting with a stranger, you should strongly consider meeting only in public places and avoiding isolated locations, such as residences or hotel rooms, where crimes are most likely to occur. Tell a friend or family member of your plans, including where you are going, details of the person you are meeting, and the app you used to meet them.

ATMs : There have been instances of fraudulent charges or withdrawals from accounts due to “skimmed” cards. If you choose to use credit or debit cards, you should regularly check your account to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions. Travelers should limit the amount of cash they carry in public, exercise caution when withdrawing cash from ATMs, and avoid ATMs located on the street. ATMs inside shopping malls or other protected locations are preferable. 

Taxis : U.S. government employees are prohibited from hailing taxis on the street due to the risk of assault or robbery. U.S. citizens have been killed during robberies while using taxis. Use a dispatch service or cell phone app whenever possible.

Disabling Drugs : The Embassy receives regular reports of criminals using drugs to temporarily incapacitate unsuspecting victims and then rob or assault them. Scopolamine, a fast-acting incapacitating drug, is often surreptitiously applied to food, drinks, and hand sanitizer vials by criminals to rob or assault their victims. Victims of scopolamine-related crimes are often targeted in bars, night clubs, or through dating apps. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and refuse offers of something to eat or drink from a stranger.

Ayahuasca/Hallucinogens: Traditional hallucinogens, often referred to as ayahuasca, can be marketed to tourists as “spiritual cleansing,” and typically contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a strong psychedelic that is illegal in the United States and many other countries. Risks to hallucinogen users while intoxicated include robbery, assault, illness, or death. People claiming to be shamans or spiritual practitioners are neither licensed nor regulated.

Demonstrations :   Protests and demonstrations occur frequently, particularly in Bogota. They may take place in response to political or economic issues, on politically significant holidays, and during international events.

  • Demonstrations can be unpredictable; avoid areas around protests and demonstrations.
  • Check local media for updates and traffic advisories.

International Financial Scams :   See the  Department of State and the  FBI pages for information.

Internet romance and financial scams are prevalent in Colombia. Scams are often initiated through Internet postings/profiles or by unsolicited emails and letters. Scammers almost always pose as U.S. citizens who have no one else to turn to for help. Common scams include:  

  • Romance/Online dating
  • Money transfers
  • Lucrative sales
  • Gold purchase
  • Contracts with promises of large commissions
  • Grandparent/Relative targeting
  • Free Trip/Luggage
  • Inheritance notices
  • Work permits/job offers
  • Bank overpayments
  • Posing as U.S. government officials soliciting payment for services.

Victims of Crime:  U.S. citizen victims of sexual assault are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. Report crimes to the local police by dialing 123 and contact the U.S. Embassy at +57 (601) 275-2000 or +57 (601) 275-4021 after hours. Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes.

See our webpage on  help for U.S. victims of crime overseas .

  • Help you find appropriate medical care.
  • Assist you in reporting a crime to the police.
  • Contact relatives or friends with your written consent.
  • Provide general information regarding the victim’s role during the local investigation and following its conclusion.
  • Provide a list of local attorneys.
  • Provide our information on  victim’s compensation programs in the United States.
  • Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution.
  • Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home.
  • Replace a stolen or lost passport.

Domestic Violence:  U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence are encouraged to contact the Embassy for assistance. Help in domestic violence situations is available, in Spanish, by calling 155 (*155 from a cell phone).

Tourism : The tourism industry is unevenly regulated, and safety inspections for equipment and facilities are uncommon. Hazardous areas/activities are not always identified with appropriate signage, and staff may not be trained or certified by the government or by recognized authorities. In the event of an injury, adequate medical treatment may only be available in or near major cities. First responders may only be able to provide basic medical treatment and may be unable to access areas outside of major cities. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance .

Venezuelan Border : The U.S. Department of State has categorized Venezuela as Level 4: Do Not Travel due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens without due process or fair trial guarantees. U.S. citizens are at risk of detention when crossing into Venezuela from Colombia. The Colombia-Venezuela border is not clearly marked, and U.S. citizens should not go near the border due to the risk of crossing into Venezuela accidentally and being detained for illegal entry. If you still choose to travel to Venezuela, do not attempt to enter Venezuela without a visa. Visas are not available upon arrival. U.S. citizens attempting to enter Venezuela without a visa have been charged with terrorism and other serious crimes and detained for long periods. The Maduro regime does not notify the U.S. government of the detention of U.S. citizens and the U.S. government is not granted access to those citizens. The U.S. government has extremely limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela.

Local Laws & Special Circumstances

Criminal Penalties : You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be arrested, imprisoned, or expelled.  

Individuals establishing a business or practicing a profession that requires additional permits or licensing should seek information from the competent local authorities prior to practicing or operating a business. 

Customs Regulations : If you enter or exit Colombia possessing cash or other financial instruments worth more than $10,000USD, you must declare them and be able to prove the legal source of the funds. The Embassy has received reports of customs officials confiscating high-value jewelry that was not declared upon entry.

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms and ammunition into Colombia. Colombian law also restricts the importation of plants and animals (and some related products).

Artifacts : Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes. U.S. customs officials are obliged to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork brought into the United States.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the United States, regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on  crimes against minors abroad  and the  Department of Justice  website.

Arrest Notification : If you are arrested or detained, ask police to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. See our  webpage  for further information.

Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long pre-trial detention and lengthy prison sentences under harsh conditions. Colombian law may require that released offenders serve a lengthy period of parole in-country, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work.

Colombia uses comprehensive screening procedures to detect narcotics smuggling at its international airports. Travelers are occasionally questioned, searched, fingerprinted, and/or asked to submit to an abdominal X-ray upon arrival or departure. Most airport inspectors do not speak English.

Counterfeit and Pirated Goods : Although counterfeit and pirated goods are prevalent in many countries, they may still be illegal according to local laws. You may also pay fines or have to give them up if you bring them back to the United States. See the  U.S. Department of Justice website   for more information.

Faith-Based Travelers : See the following webpages for details:

  • Faith-Based Travel Information
  • International Religious Freedom Report  – see country reports
  • Human Rights Report  – see country reports
  • Hajj Fact Sheet for Travelers
  • Best Practices for Volunteering Abroad  

LGBTQI+ Travelers : Colombia has one of the strongest legal frameworks in Latin America defending the rights of LGBTQI+ people; however, in practice protections remain a long way from full enforcement and harassment persists, especially in rural areas. In many parts of Colombia, violence against trans people exceeds levels of violence against any other members of the LGBTQI+ community. Criminals do utilize dating apps to target potential victims of theft, so travelers should use caution on such apps. Certain regions, especially in rural areas, experience higher instances of harassment/violence against LGBTQI+ communities. In 2022, there was an uptick of homicides specifically targeting gay men in Medellín. LGBTQI+ associated and friendly establishments exist mostly in metropolitan areas, especially Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. 

See our  LGBTQI+ Travel Information  page and section 6 of our  Human Rights report  for further details.

Travelers with Disabilities : The law in Colombia prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities, but the law is not fully enforced. Social acceptance of persons with disabilities is not as prevalent as in the United States. Many public places and transportation are not adapted to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. The most common types of accessible facilities may include restrooms, ramps, and elevators. Expect accessibility to be limited in public transportation, lodging, communication/information, and general infrastructure, including sidewalks, intersections, buses, and taxis. There is a significant difference between the capital (and other large cities) and the rest of the country. 

Repair and replacement parts for aids/equipment/devices are available. Sign language interpreters or personal assistants are available for hire. 

Students : See our  Students Abroad  page and  FBI travel tips .

Women Travelers : See our travel tips for  Women Travelers .

Cruise Ship Passengers : See our travel tips for  Cruise Ship Passengers .

For emergency services in Colombia, dial 123 from any mobile phone or land line.

Ambulance services  are available in larger cities, but training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards. Injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.

We do not pay medical bills .  Be aware that U.S. Medicare/Medicaid does not apply overseas.  Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance.

Medical Insurance : Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See  our webpage  for more information on insurance coverage overseas. Visit the   U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website  for more information on the type of insurance you should consider before you travel overseas.

We strongly recommend  supplemental insurance  to cover medical evacuation.

Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. Travelers can check with the Embassy of Colombia in the United States to ensure the medication is legal in Colombia.

Vaccinations :  Be up-to-date on all  vaccinations  recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Visit the  CDC Traveler View  website for vaccination information, and the  Colombia Ministry of Health  website for Yellow Fever vaccination requirements. Childhood vaccinations are required by Colombian law for children ages six and under.  Visit the Ministry for Health and Public Safety website for a list of required childhood vaccinations.

Further Health Information :

  • World Health Organization
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

Air Quality : Visit AirNow Department of State for information on air quality at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

The U.S. Embassy maintains a  list of doctors and hospitals .  We do not endorse or recommend any specific medical provider or clinic.

Health Facilities in General :

  • Adequate health facilities are available throughout the country, but health care in rural areas may be below U.S. standards.
  • Hospitals and doctors often require payment upfront prior to service or admission. Credit card payment is frequently, but not always, available.
  • Medical staff may speak little or no English.
  • Patients bear all costs for transfer to or between hospitals. 
  • Psychological and psychiatric services are limited, even in the larger cities, with hospital-based care only available through government institutions.

Medical Tourism and Elective Surgery :

  • U.S. citizens have suffered serious complications or died during or after having cosmetic or other elective surgery.
  • Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry. People seeking health care overseas should understand that medical systems operate differently from those in the United States and are not subject to the same rules and regulations. Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling and visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  website for more information on Medical Tourism. 
  • Visit the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  website for information on medical tourism, the risks of medical tourism, and what you can do to prepare before traveling to Colombia.
  • We strongly recommend  supplemental insurance  to cover medical evacuation in the event of unforeseen medical complications or repatriation in the case of untimely death.
  • Your legal options in cases of malpractice are very limited in Colombia. 
  • Although Colombia has many elective/cosmetic surgery facilities that are on par with those found in the United States, the quality of care varies widely. If you plan to undergo surgery in Colombia, carefully research the doctor and recovery facility you plan to use. Make sure that emergency medical facilities are available, and that professionals are accredited and qualified. Share all health information (e.g. medical conditions, medications, allergies) with your doctor before surgery.

Pharmaceuticals :

  • Exercise caution when purchasing medication overseas.  Pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and requiring prescription in the United States, are often readily available for purchase with little controls. Counterfeit medication is common and may prove to be ineffective, the wrong strength, or contain dangerous ingredients.  Medication should be purchased in consultation with a medical professional and from reputable establishments.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration are responsible for rules governing the transport of medication back to the United States. Medication purchased abroad must meet their requirements to be legally brought back into the United States. Medication should be for personal use and must be approved for usage in the United States. Please visit the  U.S. Customs and Border Protection  and the  Food and Drug Administration  websites for more information. 
  • Colombia does not allow the sale of certain psychiatric medications.  Travelers should carry a sufficient supply for their trips. Please review the Colombian government’s open data website for drug unavailability.

Assisted Reproductive Technology and Surrogacy :

  • If you are considering traveling to Colombia to have a child through the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) or surrogacy, please see our  ART and Surrogacy Abroad page .
  • Surrogacy is currently neither prohibited nor permitted under Colombian law. Although surrogacy agencies/clinics claim surrogacy is legal in Colombia, there is no legal framework for foreigners or same-sex couples to pursue surrogacy. As a result, surrogacy agreements between foreign or same sex intending parents and gestational mothers may not be enforced by Colombian courts.

Water Quality : 

  • In rural areas, tap water may not be potable. Bottled water and beverages are generally safe, although you should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Be aware that ice for drinks may be made using tap water.

Altitude : 

  • Many cities in Colombia, such as Bogota, are at high altitude. Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and take precautions before you travel. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about  Travel to High Altitudes .

Adventure Travel : 

  • Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about  Adventure Travel .

General Health :

The following diseases are prevalent:

  • Chikungunya
  • Yellow Fever

In Chocó, Nariño, and Córdoba, use the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended mosquito repellents, and sleep under insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets. Chemoprophylaxis is recommended for all travelers in the Amazon region, even for short stays.

HIV/AIDS: Travelers should bring medication sufficient for their entire stay.

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about Resources for Travelers regarding specific issues in Colombia.

Air Quality :

  • Air pollution is a problem in several major cities in Colombia. Consider the impact smog and heavy particulate pollution may have on you and consult your doctor before traveling if necessary.  
  • Infants, children, and teens
  • People over 65 years of age 
  • People with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema 
  • People with heart disease or diabetes 
  • People who work or are active outdoors 

Travel and Transportation

Road Conditions and Safety : Due to the security environment in Colombia and poor infrastructure, U.S. government employees and their families are not permitted to travel by road between most major cities. They also cannot use inter-city or intra-city bus transportation or travel by road outside urban areas at night. Follow these same precautions.

Road travel in Colombia can be dangerous, especially at night. Some roads are poorly maintained, or vulnerable to heavy rains and mudslides. Mountain roads may lack safety features such as crash barriers or guard rails, and conditions are frequently made more treacherous by heavy fog. Highways are often unmarked and unlit, and do not have signs indicating destinations. Slow-moving buses and trucks frequently stop in the middle of the road unexpectedly. In the countryside, livestock is often herded along roads or left to graze on roadsides. Due to a lack of sidewalks, roads are also used by pedestrians.

The use of motorcycles and bicycles is widespread throughout Colombia. U.S. government employees may not use motorcycles because of security concerns.

Traffic Laws : Traffic laws are often ignored and rarely enforced, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians. Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers in a private vehicle. Car seats are mandatory for children, and a child under ten years old is not permitted to ride in the front seat. It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving.

If you are involved in an accident, you MUST remain at the scene without moving your vehicle until the authorities arrive. This rule is strictly enforced and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.

Public Transportation : Do not hail taxis on the street. U.S. government employees may not hail street taxis or use public transportation in Colombia because of security concerns. U.S. citizens have been killed during robberies while using taxis. Use a dispatch service or transportation app whenever possible.

See our  Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the Colombia national authority responsible for road safety, the  Instituto Nacional de Vias .

Aviation Safety Oversight : The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Colombia’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the  FAA’s safety assessment page .

Maritime Travel : Mariners planning travel to Colombia should also check for U.S. maritime  advisories  and  alerts . Information may also be posted to the  U.S. Coast Guard homeport website  and the  NGA broadcast warnings .

Tourist Vessels : Exercise caution when embarked on small tourist boats off the northern coast between Cartagena and the nearby islands. During the months of December and January, the seas off the northern coast can be dangerous for small boats. U.S. citizens have died in boating accidents. Check for lifejackets and safety equipment before boarding a tourist vessel.

For additional travel information

  • Enroll in the  Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)  to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Call us in Washington, D.C. at 1-888-407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1-202-501-4444 (from all other countries) from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
  • See the  State Department’s travel website  for the  Worldwide Caution  and  Travel Advisories .
  • Follow us on  Twitter  and  Facebook .
  • See  traveling safely abroad  for useful travel tips.

Review information about International Parental Child Abduction in Colombia .  For additional IPCA-related information, please see the  International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act ( ICAPRA )  report.

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Cartagena Colombia

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Live luxuriously in Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena is truly one of the most beautiful and magical cities in the world. Nestled on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena has a unique and spell binding mix of cultures to fall in love with.  Are you ready for a Cartagena vacation?

It’s not everyday you can live in a beautiful private villa, take a short walk to dine and party in a UNESCO heritage city, then head to a Caribbean island for a day of sun, snorkelling and so much more!

To live in the moment is to live like a Cartagenero. Let us help you explore the history, culture food and excitement of the city and its surroundings, with a dedicated Concierge to save you time and stress, so you can truly let go.

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A concierge for every need in cartagena.

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Tailored for Friends and Family, our service creates customized experiences for your group with unforgettable moments and shared experiences, fostering joy and connection.

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Our Wedding and Concierge teams will work with you and your guests to create the wedding of your dreams, limiting your stress to fitting in your dress!

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We’re on the ground searching for the house, lot or renovation option to match your needs.  We get you access as soon as that investment property comes to market.

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START EXPLORING CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

Find a beautiful villa, hire a boat, getaway to the beach, or book an experience. Get in touch anytime and we’ll curate a vacation that’s tailor-made for you.

PLAN YOUR STAY IN CARTAGENA

Our private villas are the perfect place for groups on vacation, whether you’re visiting together for fun, or for a special occasion, like a bachelor party or destination wedding. We can recommend one villa for your group or multiple villas for events and larger groups.

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Villa Angel

An amazing 11 bedroom newly renovated house in the center of the old city, boasting a rooftop pool with sunbeds and an amazing view.

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A huge 21 bedroom mansion with private pools and roof terrace in the center of the Old City of Cartagena in Colombia.

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Casa de las Flores

Located in the centre of Cartagena, this remodeled house has 2 private pools, 15 bedrooms and expansive living spaces

PLAN YOUR ADVENTURES IN CARTAGENA

Our boat rentals are a great choice for groups on vacation, whether you want to see the sunset for a few hours in the bay or a day-trip to the Rosario Islands. We can recommend one boat for your group or multiple boats for events and larger groups.

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Free Land Yacht

55 feet luxury yacht, featuring 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, plus plenty of space to relax or party.

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Todomar Speedboat

This luxurious 38-foot speedboat is perfect for groups of up to 15 people.

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Sailing Cat Catamaran

Huge 65 feet catamaran perfect for receptions in the bay, or a day trip to the islands.

You’re unique, and so is your trip. There’s no one size fits. We tailor-make your vacation so it’s your dream come true. We will take care of everything from house and yacht rental to dining and custom experiences.

INSPIRATION FOR YOUR VACATION IN CARTAGENA

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Best Place to Stay in Cartagena Colombia

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Colombia’s ELN guerrillas say peace talks have been “frozen”

Guerrillas oppose separate peace process with eln unit in southwest colombia.

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Colombia’s longest-living guerrilla group ELN said that peace talks with the government were suspended for the remainder of April.

In a post on social media platform X, the ELN’s peace negotiators said that “a demobilization operation in Nariño put the peace talks in a paused state.”

The rebel negotiators referred to negotiations between the authorities and ELN commander Gabriel Yepes of the Comuneros del Sur unit that operates in the southwestern province.

Yepes reportedly contacted the Peace Commissioner’s Office in August last year to negotiate the possible demobilization of his unit without the involvement of the ELN’s formal negotiators.

During the month of March, the government’s decisions continued with the double handling of the peace process with the ELN, in which it attends this Dialogue Table, while underneath it it promotes the demobilization in Nariño, conduct contrary to the fair play and good faith that should characterize the peace talks.

The ELN statement was published ahead of a meeting between the two peace delegations in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.

According to the guerrillas, their negotiators traveled to Caracas to listen to their statist counterparts and “clarify what follows.”

The ELN’s top commander, “Antonio Garcia,” said last month that the talks with the Nariño guerrillas is a “show” that seeks to present his guerrilla organization as divided.

The peace talks with the ELN are the most advanced of multiple government attempts to negotiate an end to armed conflict with the illegal armed groups that are active in the country.

The government has also been negotiating with illegal armed groups that were formed by dissidents to peace process with the now-defunct guerrilla group FARC and the now-defunct paramilitary organization AGC .

On top of that, government emissaries have been negotiating the demobilization of urban gangs in the cities of Medellin , Buenaventura and Quibdo.

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COMMENTS

  1. Discover what to do in Cartagena de Indias

    Discover Cartagena de Indias, a jewel of world heritage Cartagena is a city that is located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, in the northwestern part of the South American continent. If you are wondering where is Cartagena in Colombia, it is located in the north of the country and is the capital of the Bolívar region. The city has several archipelagos and islands around that are paradises ...

  2. Cartagena travel

    Cartagena. Colombia, South America. Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a historic city of superbly preserved beauty lying within 13km of centuries-old stone walls. Best Things to Do. Day Trips.

  3. The 12 best things to do in 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 ...

  4. 21 Things To Know Before You Visit Cartagena

    Obviously, there will be quite a few travel styles and travel budgets spread across those diverse groups, but Cartagena is slowly evolving to try and cater to them all. Nevertheless, whichever group you belong to, most of your time will be spent staying in and exploring around 'old Cartagena' which is split into two neighbourhoods only a ...

  5. Visiting Cartagena: 18 Things To Know Before You Go

    16. Cartagena is Expensive. Cartagena was by far the most expensive place of the areas we visited in Colombia. From the food to its drinks and places to stay, Cartagena is definitely on the higher end of things when compared to other places in Colombia you may be exploring. But expensive is relative to you as a person.

  6. The Ultimate Travel Guide to 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.

  7. The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide

    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.

  8. Cartagena Travel Guide

    The best way to get around Cartagena is by taxi. Taxis make it easy to get between distinct points in the city, including Cartagena's Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG), while short jaunts ...

  9. Cartagena Travel Guide: Best Things to See and Do

    An epic destination for a Colombia trip, here are our essential Cartagena travel tips for safety, solo travelers, the best times to visit, what to do and what to avoid. ... Honestly speaking from all my experience traveling in Colombia, Cartagena ranks as one of the more expensive cities for traveling in Colombia. In fact, it is probably the ...

  10. 36 Hours in Cartagena, Colombia

    8:30 p.m. Eat sorbet out of a pomelo. Celele, an intimate restaurant on a calm Getsemani backstreet, feels like a visit to someone's home, with simple wooden tables, earth tones and exposed ...

  11. Cartagena's Secret Delights: A Foodie & Explorer's Travel Guide To Colombia

    Cartagena is one of my favorite travel destinations in Latin America. Located right on the Caribbean sea, Cartagena is a vibrant city with a nice mix of old and new, and once you visit, you'll realize why this Colombian city has become such a popular destination over the last few years! It has a rich history, so a little backstory—Cartagena de Indias was colonized by the Spanish in the ...

  12. Cartagena, Colombia: 10 Things Travelers Need to Know ...

    Cartagena, Colombia ranks right in the middle when it comes to budget-friendly cities for travelers. Setting your travel budget will depend on what kind of excursions you want to do and where you want to stay. For starters, staying in the middle of the historic Old Town is more expensive than the nearby neighborhood of Getsemani.

  13. Cartagena (Colombia)

    22 Casa Marta Cartagena, Calle San Antonio # 25-165 ( Getsemani ), ☏ +57 310 630 6003, [email protected]. Check-in: Flexible, check-out: Flexible. Casa Marta is a colonial guesthouse/bed and breakfast situated in the city's historic district of Getsemani.

  14. Cartagena Budget Travel Guide (Updated 2024)

    Cartagena Travel Costs. 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.

  15. Cartagena Explorer

    Hola! My name is Adam McConnaughhay. I came to Colombia in 2011 as a volunteer teacher near Cartagena. After that first year, I lived in Cartagena until 2022. During that time, I fell in love with its historic charm and culture, not to mention fell in love with my beautiful wife Susana.

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    Her fame for delivering a different level of candy-covered means you will have to fight the farandula - Colombia's soap star set - for a mid-afternoon macchiato or a slice of Mila's signature Porteño chocolate cake in high season. Centro, Calle de la Iglesia 35-76, Cartagena (00 57 5 664 4607; mila.com.co)

  17. 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia

    Average temps during this time range from 82-83°F, with highs of 88°F and lows of 78°F (May to September is the hottest time to visit Cartagena). Rainfall is much higher this time of year, with between 3.5-6 inches falling throughout each month. Overall, the best months to visit are between January and March, where there is little rainfall ...

  18. Cartagena, Colombia, Is One of the Best Place to Travel in 2024

    Elsewhere in Cartagena, towering new buildings spotlight just how much the area has modernized and its potential for growth. (Colombia, as a whole, saw a 222 percent increase in international ...

  19. Descubre todo sobre Cartagena de Indias

    Descubre Cartagena de Indias, una joya del patrimonio universal Cartagena es una ciudad que está ubicada a orillas del Mar Caribe. Sus calles coloridas llenas de encanto la hacen la puerta de entrada a Suramérica. En Colombia, se encuentra al norte del país, y es la capital de la región de Bolívar. 'La Heroica', como la llaman, contempla a su alrededor varios archipiélagos e islas ...

  20. Colombia Travel Advisory

    Read the entire Travel Advisory. Do Not Travel to: Arauca, Cauca (excluding Popayán), and Norte de Santander departments due to crime and terrorism. The Colombia-Venezuela border region due to crime, kidnapping, and risk of detention when crossing into Venezuela from Colombia. Country Summary: Violent crime, such as homicide, assault, and ...

  21. Colombia International Travel Information

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  23. Colombia's ELN guerrillas say peace talks have been "frozen"

    Colombia's longest-living guerrilla group ELN said that peace talks with the government were suspended for the remainder of April.. In a post on social media platform X, the ELN's peace negotiators said that "a demobilization operation in Nariño put the peace talks in a paused state.". The rebel negotiators referred to negotiations between the authorities and ELN commander Gabriel ...