Known as the crown jewel of the Caribbean coast, Cartagena brings together the best of colonial charm. It all started in 1533 when the Spanish caught sight of the area, which was then inhabited by tribal people, and since then it took off.
The city of Cartagena began to flourish, squares, monasteries, cathedrals, forts, and fine townhouses were built, and to this day you can still enjoy the well-maintained remains of one of the world’s best-preserved colonial cities, which have acquired a beautiful touch of color with the brush over time.
The city acts as a magnet for people with a penchant for the good life, and it is not without reason that it is often referred to as Colombia’s counterpart to Miami. Many of the beaches around the city are as graceful as the city itself, and on a boat trip to the surrounding islands, the Caribbean really comes into its own.
However, you don’t have to go far to experience local life in a more traditional sense, because just a stone’s throw from the city awaits both mangrove forests and fishing villages, where life is lived a little slower.
To sum it up, Cartagena should be prioritized in any Colombian travel itinerary and is a popular destination amongst locals and foreigners. On my trip to this charming town, I fell in love with the cobbled streets, the colors, and the ambiance. Here I will share the best places to visit in Cartagena that will keep any traveler happy and entertained for days.
1. Walk around the Old Town
Cartagena’s charming old center is small and best enjoyed by walking. Marvel at the many grand colonial homes in this area. Many are still owned by Cartagena’s old elite. Take your time to walk around the old cobbled streets of the Old Town and have a look at the many colored houses and shops. All of which stand as they did centuries ago.
Everything within the old wall is the old town of the city. Make sure to have a walk along the wall and stop by at the Torre Del Reloj. This old regal clock tower marks the entrance to the old part of the city.
If you are interested to hear more about the city’s history, there are many great walking tours you can join for a few hours.
Finally, the old part of the city is also a preferable place to stay because of its central location and since it’s full of both hotels and hostels.
2. Visit Getsemani
The Getsemani area is another popular spot that you should make sure to add to your itinerary. There is always something going on in this cultural and political hub which is full of happy visitors, music, and amazing street art.
On top, you also find many great art shops and vendors selling their stuff in the colorful streets during the day. Finally, Getsemani is a great place to enjoy an evening in Cartagena since the area is full of music, restaurants, and bars.
3. Enjoy music and nightlife
Both The Old City and the Getsemani area come alive at night with fun and vibrant nightlife. If you wish to brush up on your dancing skills you have great opportunities to do so in Cartagena.
For salsa visit Crazy Salsa for spectacular salsa lessons. The teachers here are all professional and friendly. They truly make sure everyone has a great time while being introduced to the popular Latin American dancing style.
For a unique music experience head to Café Havana. This Cuban-style bar offers a band and a dance floor for salsa music. The place is located in the party center of Getsemani and offers many neighboring bars and restaurants.
Café Havana pulls a mix of both locals and foreigners who go to enjoy the talented live salsa bands and dance their hearts out. Even if you do not wish to dance, Café Havana is a great place to enjoy a (very strong) mojito at the bar, the music, and the dance moves of happy visitors.
4. Go partying in a chiva
Something very Colombian and surprising is the Chiva busses going around the city. These party buses are very popular amongst the younger crowds and a fun experience to have while in Cartagena. Be prepared for live musicians, endless amounts of drinks, and dancing from start to finish.
The party starts on the bus but works as a pub crawl since you are dropped at various bars. Finally, the Chiva will drop you off at a larger nightclub to leave you drinking and partying for as long as you wish. You can either join a Chiva by stopping it on the street or by organizing via your hostel.
5. Visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
You almost can’t visit Cartagena and not visit this ancient castle overlooking the city. This magnificent military fort was constructed over 150 years starting in 1639. Since it was completed, the castle has been the city’s biggest landmark and is now a popular tourist attraction. Visit this place to admire the grand architecture and visit the narrow underground passages.
6. Spend time in Las Bovedas Market
This popular market is a fun and colorful place to spend a few hours. Shop amongst the crowds here for souvenirs and mochila bags.
Las Bovedas market is a sight even if you are not buying anything. As one of the last structures constructed within the old city walls, it is impressive with its arches and domes.
Previously, it served as an ammunition store and dungeon before it became a charming marketplace. Always take good care of your things when visiting the markets in Cartagena, and make sure to have good travel insurance.
7. Coffee Tasting
As you probably know, Colombia is a country of coffee and Cartagena offers some great options in terms of tasting some cups of the popular beverage.
If you have a passion for coffee then doing a tasting at Cafe San Alberto is a great experience. As one of the most awarded specialty coffee growers, they teach how to grow, process, and enjoy coffee to the fullest. After the class, you visit the cafe below where you can buy some high-quality beans to take home with you.
Cafe de Mural is another great place to learn about coffee making in Colombia.
8. Enjoy the culinary scene
Cartagena has a great and growing culinary scene that should be enjoyed while in town. Local and fresh food is found all over the city of Cartagena and no matter your taste, you will find something you like in Cartagena.
For some of the best ceviche in town head to La Cevichería. This place offers a variety of fresh ceviche and great cocktails. Expect to wait for a little for a table.
Make sure to try some arepas with cheese while in Cartagena. This local specialty is served at various street vendors in the central area of the city. You can take a street food tour with a local guide to make the best of it.
9. Take an Island day trip
Cartagena is a beautiful city but the beaches in the city itself are not as impressive as the ones of the islands around. Here, taking a trip to the Rosario Islands provides a beautiful Caribbean experience. There are companies offering day tours to the islands that are approximately 100 kilometers offshore. Enjoy the fresh seafood, clear blue skies, turquoise oceans, and white sand beaches for the day.
10. Enjoy Playa Blanca
Another great day trip that you can take from Cartagena is to visit Playa Blanca. Situated on Barú island, this beach is one of the most beautiful in Colombia. The trip is either a 45-minute boat ride from the port or a 2-hour drive from the center of the city.
Enjoy crystal clear water and the stunning white sand beach. You have plenty of opportunities to enjoy a relaxing day here. Eating fresh seafood or enjoying a massage right on the beach. Visiting this beach is almost a must for anyone spending a few days in Cartagena.
Author Bio: Josephine Remo
Josephine Remo is a former flight attendant of seven years, whose biggest passion is traveling. For the past ten years, Josephine has dedicated all her spare time to travel and is currently living as a digital nomad.
Having lived in four different countries before the age of 25, she knows all the tips and tricks for experiencing new cultures. Josephine writes travel guides and travel tips from places she has visited all over the world on her blog, josephineremo.com. You can follow Josephine and her journey on Pinterest and Instagram.
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