Cartagena is where South America’s old-world charm and Caribbean vibes meet.
With colorful buildings decorating the old town, delicious food, and a lively art scene, it’s not hard to see why the city is a mandatory stop in every Colombia itinerary.
Planning a trip to this fascinating and historic city and wondering what about the things to do in Cartagena? No matter your travel style or age, there’s always something for everyone in Cartagena. Here’s all the information you need to plan the perfect Cartagena itinerary, including a unique guide for all our foodie travelers, of course!
HOW TO GET TO CARTAGENA
Unless you’re already in the country, your best option to get to Cartagena is going to be flying. We hopped on a Copa Airlines flight from Toronto and had the bonus of getting to spend 20 hours in Panama City as a layover as well. This is a great way to explore a city before heading off on a flight to Colombia.
Being a Star Alliance member means that Copa Airlines extends the Status bonuses that you might have from our Star Alliances airline partners as well- including lounge access.
WHERE TO STAY IN CARTAGENA
Cartagena has so much to offer when it comes- both in and out of the Old City. On our trip, we opted to stay in the Old City to explore the history a bit more, and have access to all the beautiful colors by foot.
There are a ton of options for accommodations in the Old City and outside, but you’re looking for a few great luxury hotels that will make you feel like royalty, we recommend the following hotels.
Tcherassi Hotels: Casual luxury and a perfect blend of Colonial and modern design. They have two hotels in Cartagena, both founded by Silvia Tcherassi, a famous Colombian fashion designer. We stayed at the larger one and loved every second of our time there. Located in the middle of the old city meant that everything that we wanted to see, do and eat in Cartagena was within walking distance.
Casa San Agustin: A luxurious boutique hotel that combines three colonial houses from the 17th century and turned them into modern luxe hotel with classic architecture (the kind that makes Cartagena such a popular destination). There are 31 rooms, 3 with premium with jacuzzi, and two prestige town-house style villas.
This hotel stole our hearts. Even though it’s located right in a busy section of the old city, on the street lined with shops, and cafes, you’d never know that it by how quiet and luxurious it felt inside. The hotel goes above and beyond for its guests- we witnessed a breakfast band performing for a guest’s birthday.
Las Islas Hotel: Set on a dreamy island 45 minutes away from Cartagena by boat, this luxury resort is more than just a place to stay in Cartagena: it’s also an experience in itself! You’ll get to sleep inside treetop bungalows, sip cocktails on Caribbean beaches, and take part in snorkeling activities. Built by the Avaitur Group, the gorgeous resort has 53 rooms and one presidential boat (offsite) which comes with a private chef.
There are 32 treehouse style rooms. Each bungalow also comes with two bikes to make getting around the resort easier.
Hotel Tonight option: If you’re like us and want to book a place when you land at a new destination, then Hotel Tonight might be another option for you.
Use Fanwar13 to get 20% off your booking as well.
THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA FOR FOODIES
Coffee Tasting at Café San Alberto: Colombia does a lot of things right, but their coffee probably sits right there at the top of that list. Get your taste buds ready and head over to a coffee-tasting tour designed by expert coffee growers! Trust us, you’re in for a treat because learning all about coffee in Colombia should be on the top of your things to do in Cartagena list!
Take a Cooking Class: Colombian cuisine took the back seat for a while, but lately, Cartagena is making headlines for being a foodie destination for all the right reasons. If learning about a destination’s cuisine is your jam, we recommend booking a cooking class at Capilla del Mar Hotel. We got to learn the ins and outs of Colombia’s traditional cooking methods and ingredients (including Creole dishes!).
Chocolate tasting at Sofitel Legend Santa Clara: One of Colombia’s best-kept secrets is their chocolate. While in Cartagena, you can go on a tour to sample some seriously delicious treats! I mean, who isn’t down for an hour of eating your weight in chocolate inside a stunning Colonial hacienda? We also recommend checking out their lounge in the evening for live music and great ambiance. The cocktails are delicious, and the vibe is excellent as well.
Sail Over Cartagena’s Bay At Night: Drink cocktails while you admire Cartagena’s skyline from a sailboat. You’ll get to finish off the day with a fabulous dinner at Club de Pesca, one of Cartagena’s most quintessential restaurants set inside an old fort.
You can also charter a boat for $5000 for four people for four days including activities and meals (snorkeling, SUP, mangrove kayak) and includes a two-person crew included. Other options are 2-hour cruise for $500 and up, and full day options are $1300+ but don’t include food or activities.
Grab an ice cream cone and take a walk at night: One of our favorite places in the old city is Crepes and Waffles– a dessert shop with a great mission (single parents staff the entire business). We recommend grabbing your favorite flavor and heading to the rooftop to get great views of the city.
WHERE TO EAT IN CARTAGENA
Cocina de Pepina: One of the most traditional restaurants in Colombia’s coast. Their menu is filled with delicacies that will take you back in time through centuries of Caribbean cuisine. Make sure to try their ceviche and their Mote de Queso. Trust us; you’re in for a real treat!
Carmen Restaurant: Contemporary seafood inspired by traditional Caribbean flavors and creative cocktails that you’ll love! Tip: Make sure you make reservations if you want to have dinner here during a weekend.
Vedana Restaurant: While the spotlight is set on their Caribbean seafood, they also offer international dishes like New York stake that don’t disappoint.
Marea By Rausch Restaurant: Providing the perfect blend of modern Colombian cuisine with traditional seafood. The restaurant’s walls feature sea-inspired art and a cozy Bohemian terrace. A must-try when dining here is their Pez León dish.
Candé restaurant: This unique restaurant is set inside a stunning colonial building and offers delicious seafood. Every night, dance performances spur the atmosphere at this trendy restaurant in Cartagena.
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES (OTHER THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA)
Check out the graffiti and architectural wonders of Getsemani: Getsemini is a hip neighborhood full of life. With delicious street food, a vibrant art scene, and musicians performing in every corner, you’ll want to make sure to spend at least a few hours strolling through its colorful streets. Getsemani is also famous for its graffiti, so don’t forget to check it out, too!
Take a Salsa Lesson: It’s no secret that Colombia is a mecca of Latin rhythms. A Cartagena itinerary isn’t complete without taking a salsa class! We booked ours at Crazy Salsa, where professional dancers taught us some serious dance moves! Intro classes are $25.
Go Treasure Hunting at The Museo del Oro Zenu: You can’t come to Colombia and not venture into a gold museum- they go together like peanut butter and jelly. One of our favorite things to do in Cartagena is getting a glimpse of the history and historical significance of the El Dorado on the entire region. The Museo de Oro Zenu is a great place to do just that. Besides having a beautiful collection of gold artifacts, they also showcase pottery created by the ingenious Zenu people who were overrun after the Spanish conquest.
Get Your Shopping on at Las Bovedas: The chances are that you’re going to find whatever souvenir you have in mind here is extremely high- from magnets and shot glasses to traditional handbags and local artwork and clothing. The colorful and bustling marketplace was once a prison- although you wouldn’t be able to tell by the bright yellow exterior and the frenzied shoppers hurrying by. We picked up a few clothing items, pieces of jewelry, and snapped a few photos ($2 each) with the colorfully dressed Colombian women roaming the walkways.
Visit the Puerta del Reloj (Clock Tower Monument): Dating back to the 18th century and full of historical relevance clock tower acts as the principal city gate to the historic center and was built to serve as a defense against enemy attack (pirates) on the city of Cartagena. Rightfully so as it was the original entrance to the old city needs to be on your list of things to do in Cartagena of what else is on your list of things Cartagena.
Find the Historic Charm of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: Located on the Hill of San Lazaro, and built by the Spanish in 1536 and expanded later in 1657, the castle is positioned perfectly to protect the city from the land and sea, and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Cartagena. You’ll find that the location has become a little more tourist friendly with the abundance of street vendors.
Meet Flamingos at the National Aviary of Colombia: While not in Cartagena specifically, this is one of our favorite things to do in Cartagena as Colombia has 1935 different types of birds! There are over 1,800 birds, 138 different species including beautifully colored parrots, elegant flamingos, sassy toucans, a scary looking harpy eagle and a pair of Andes condors among others waiting for you to discover them. If you love birds and nature walks, you will fall in love with this place.
The Aviary is home to several species of wild birds and has three different eco-systems- rainforest, coast, and dessert and all the birds that reside there. The stars of the show are, of course, pink flamingos! All the birds at the aviary are rescued or donated.
Get some sun: People watch at the city’s main beach, Bocagrande, or escape from the crowds at Castillogrande. If water sports is your jam, then head to El Laguito. Alternatively, hop on a boat to the exquisite beaches of the nearby Rosario Islands or beautiful Playa Blanca on the city’s largest island. With so many options of beaches to choose from, we’re confident you’ll find the perfect spot to get some sun![easy-image-collage id=3241]
Take in the sights at Convent of Santa Cruz De La Popa: While the convent is small, the views of the city are unparalleled. The good thing is that you can make there from Getsemani and back in 2 hours so you can go about the rest of your day.
Hang with the locals: We highly recommend spending an evening at Plaza De La Trinidad. Grab a drink, listen to live music and pick up a few pieces.
Walk the walls: One of the best ways to get the cultural impact of the walls in Cartagena is by going for a walk in the evening. You’ll mingle with locals by stopping by one of the many places playing live music.
THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA AT NIGHT ( CARTAGENA’S NIGHTLIFE)
Party on the Chiva bus: You know those colorful wooden buses with party lights and loud music cruise the streets of Cartagena at night? Yeah, jump on one do those to find the best places to get your party on. Fair warning- they are not going to find lounges, but places where you can your groove on.
People watch at Cafe del Mar: Not the best idea for dinner, but a great place to catch the sunset and grab a drink.
Mingle at pubs in Getsemani: We’ve mentioned this above, but grab a drink and start your night at Plaza De La Trinidad. Chances are that you’ll find your way to Quiebracanto and Cafe Havana- two of the best clubs in the city.
Wander the car-free streets in the Old City: The combination of the 1920s-style decor, experimental cocktails, and the fairy-lit rooftop makes Alquímico THE place to go. Be sure to check out every floor for a different type of experience.
WHERE ELSE TO CHECK OUT IN CARTAGENA
GETSEMANI: Only a 10 minute walk away from the Walled city, Getsemani is where you like a thriving coworking and nightlife scene. You’ll find some great restaurants that suit every budget, a vibrant arts and graffiti scene that is unlike anything else in the city.
If budget is a concern, then staying one of the many hotels in Getsemani is undoubtedly an option.
MANGA: If architecture from the Republican era is your jam, then Manga is a place that you need to check out. The area is an Instagrammer’s dream. You’ll also find San Sebastian Fortress and great places to eat here.[easy-image-collage id=3242]
HOW TO GET AROUND CARTAGENA:
While most of the city can is easily covered on foot, you will need to get around a bit easier by taking local transport or a taxi.
Taxi: While Uber and Lyft isn’t a legal option, taxis are easy to find. Tip: make sure you agree on a fare before getting in because taxis are not always metered. For reference, getting from Bocagrande to the old city is about COL$10,000 each way.
Car: We don’t recommend renting a car if you’re planning on staying in the city, but we recommend renting a car from the airport if you’re going to explore the smaller towns outside Cartagena.
Needless to say, Cartagena is the perfect destination for all types of travelers. If you love culture, Caribbean beach goodness, delicious food, and colorful architecture, you’re bound to fall in love with this vibrant city!