Introducing you to the captivating city of Cartagena, Colombia, one the most famous destinations of the Caribbean Coast, that blends rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning coastal beauty. The city offers a unique mixture of old-world charm and a modern seduction. From its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture to its stylish shops and lively nightlife, Cartagena can easily become your dream trip come true. In this insider’s guide, we’ll unveil some of the hidden gems and must-see attractions that can make it your next destination.

Start with the Walled City’s historic charm

Central to Cartagena’s allure is its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old City. Imagine a place that has witnessed 500 years of incredible tales—piracy, wars, and the legacy of slavery. Each house, every corner, holds secrets and stories from a long time ago. Stepping into its cobblestone streets is like stepping back in time. The pastel-hued facades with ornate balconies, intricate ironwork, and blooming bougainvillea evoke a sense of enchantment. As you explore the labyrinthine alleys, don’t miss the chance to visit the iconic San Felipe de Barajas Castle – an imposing fortress that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.

The cultural scene is as vibrant as the architecture. A visit to the Palace of the Inquisition provides insight into the city’s colonial history, while the Gold Museum showcases dazzling pre-Columbian artifacts. If you like art, the Cartagena Fine Arts Museum features an impressive collection of Colombian and Latin American art, providing a glimpse into the region’s creative soul. And if you’re up for a deep dive into Cartagena’s fascinating past, there are loads of walking tours you can join. Many of these tours work on a donation basis, so it’s really accessible. Most of them start right from the Clock Tower or Plaza Santa Teresa, making it easy for you to step into history’s shoes any day you’re up for it.

More awesome things to see and do in Cartagena

Exploring the Getsemaní Neighborhood

If you’re all set for your Cartagena escapade, make sure you don’t miss out on exploring more than just the Walled City. While that’s like the star of the show, it can also get pretty crowded with tourists. So, here’s a little secret for you: check out Getsemani! It’s like the trendy little sister of the Walled City, and boy, is it worth a visit. Getsemaní, once a gritty neighborhood, has transformed into a hub of creativity and bohemian flair. Street art adorns the walls, and local markets brim with handmade crafts and vintage treasures. The Plaza de la Trinidad is at the heart of this neighborhood, offering an interesting atmosphere with live music, dancing, and a chance to mingle with both locals and fellow travelers. You’ll stumble upon these super cool cafes and bars that are just waiting for you to kick back and chill. So go on, embrace the vibe, and let this neighborhood show you a side of Cartagena you’ll love!

Basking in Sun and Sea

The Caribbean coast’s azure waters and palm-fringed beaches are beckoning. Spend your days snorkeling, diving, or simply unwinding on pristine white sands. In the city, a stroll along the Bocagrande promenade provides an opportunity to enjoy the ocean breeze and admire the luxury waterfront properties. Just on the outskirts of Cartagena, if you’re up for a more serene and chill experience, make your way to Coralina Island or the charming village of La Boquilla. And a short boat ride away from Cartagena, the Rosario Islands and Barú offer a must-live escape, but we’ll talk about this later on. Meanwhile, imagine this: sailing into the bay as the sun sets, enjoying a dreamy dinner on a private boat with Cartagena’s twinkling lights in the backdrop. But wait, there’s more! How about an exclusive day trip that includes your very own private island visit, a seaside lunch, a sweet Cuban serenade by a local band, and the soothing sound of waves?

Nightlife to Remember

As the sun sets, Cartagena’s nightlife comes to life. The city boasts a diverse range of options, from salsa clubs where you can dance the night away to rooftop bars with breathtaking views of the city lights. For a taste of the local nightlife scene, head to Café Havana—an iconic spot known for its live salsa music and energetic atmosphere. Also, imagine soaking in the tropical vibes and stunning views from rooftop bars like Alquimico, or feeling like a local in the classic Donde Fidel. You can also try Mr. Babilla, Andrés Carne de Res and Tu Candela. Spots for every kind of party are popping up all over the city, so bar hopping is an excellent option to later choose your favorite. Feeling adventurous? Try the “Chiva Parrandera”.

Indulging in Culinary Delights

Cartagena’s culinary landscape is a feast for the senses. Traditional Colombian cuisine mingles with international flavors, resulting in a gastronomic experience like no other. Sample arepas and empanadas from street vendors or dine in upscale restaurants offering a modern twist on local dishes. Sink your teeth into Cazuela de mariscos—a hearty seafood stew that’s a total fisherman’s delight. And if you’re all about the buzz-worthy eats, you’ve got to try the famous ceviche at Pescadito. It’s like a burst of flavor that’ll make your taste buds dance! But beware of “tourist traps”, expensive restaurants that look really good but won’t really meet your expectations. You’d better follow our recs or ask local friends.

Carmen
If you’re craving a fancy feast with local flavors, you’ve got to hit up Carmen. This spot is all about taking traditional eats to the next level, and their seafood dishes are just wow. Plus, the whole vibe is super elegant—perfect for a special night out.

Celele
Now, let’s talk about Restaurante Celele, a hidden gem in the Getsemani neighborhood. It’s like the foodie haven of Colombia, seriously. The menu here is a burst of creativity, mixing up European, African, and indigenous influences that you won’t find anywhere else. Their tasting menu is a must-try!

Oh La La
If you’re up for a touch of French flair, Oh La La Bistrot in Getsemani is your spot. It’s not just a restaurant—it’s like a lesson in crafting top-notch ceviche. And fun fact: the building’s got some serious history, once owned by a super cool Afro-Caribbean governor. His pictures still hang on the walls, giving the place a cozy vibe.

La Cocina de Pepina
A fantastic spot to indulge in the local favorites cherished by the residents, La Cocina de Pepina offers traditional coastal dishes bursting with rich flavors. The menu is showcased on a blackboard within the main dining area, offering reasonable prices, and fostering an environment where you’ll find yourself dining among both Colombians and foreigners.

Colombitalia
Colombitalia Arepas blends Colombian and Italian influences, offering a range of arepas, a cherished choice among Colombians. These cornmeal bread variations come with diverse fillings, sparking debates over the best regional style. Cartageneros favor their thin version with egg fillings. Colombitalia Arepas lets you explore and decide. The menu features Italian-inspired options like salami and mozzarella, alongside local classics such as chorizo, chicken, corn, and cheese.

Club de Pesca
Oh, and for all you seafood lovers, Club de Pesca is a dream come true. Imagine dining right by the water, soaking in the stunning views. Just remember, this beauty’s open for dinner, so you can enjoy the scenery without the daytime heat.

Choose your Accommodation

When seeking the best accommodation in Cartagena, there are some exceptional options that stand out among the many others that come and go along each season. The following promise unforgettable stays in the city, each offering its unique blend of luxury, history, and impeccable service.

Casa San Agustin
A gem among Cartagena’s lodgings, Casa San Agustin encapsulates colonial charm and modern luxury. Nestled within the historic walled city, this boutique hotel offers a placid stay with its lush courtyards, beautifully restored architecture, and personalized service.

Sofitel Santa Clara

A true testament to grandeur, the Sofitel Santa Clara resides within a converted 17th-century convent. With its captivating blend of history and opulence, this luxury hotel boasts lavish rooms, an indulgent spa, and a stunning pool area. Its privileged location allows for seamless exploration of Cartagena’s vibrant surroundings.

Casa Pestagua

An exquisite mansion turned into a boutique hotel, Casa Pestagua exudes elegance and refinement. This meticulously restored property showcases period details, exquisite decor, and an intimate ambiance. The rooftop terrace offers breathtaking views of Cartagena’s skyline, making it an idyllic retreat.

Charleston Santa Teresa

Combining colonial heritage with modern comforts, Charleston Santa Teresa is an iconic choice. Its prime location within the walled city grants easy access to historic landmarks and cultural attractions. The hotel’s elegant rooms, lush gardens, and rooftop pool create an enchanting haven.

Exploring Cartagena’s Enchanting Extensions: Barú and Islas del Rosario

Now, let’s talk about these gems. Welcome to the sun-drenched paradises that extend the allure of Cartagena—Barú and Islas del Rosario. These captivating destinations, located just off the coast, offer a haven of relaxation, adventure, and natural beauty that perfectly complements your Cartagena experience. In this extended insider’s guide, we’ll unveil the hidden treasures and must-visit attractions of Barú and the Islas del Rosario, completing your ultimate Colombian coastal getaway.

Tranquility and Adventure on Isla Barú

A short distance from Cartagena lies the pristine Isla Barú, a tropical escape known for its crystal-clear waters and serene beaches. One of the most famous attractions on the island is Playa Blanca—a stretch of powdery white sand that seems straight out of a postcard. Spend your days basking in the sun, swimming in the inviting sea, or engaging in water sports like snorkeling and kayaking. For a touch of adventure, make your way to the mangroves! Glide through winding waterways, surrounded by lush mangrove forests that are teeming with diverse wildlife. It will be a unique ecotourism experience that offers a unique perspective on the island’s natural ecosystems.

Stay at the Sofitel Calablanca

With its breathtaking beachfront, elegant accommodations, and world-class amenities, Sofitel Calablanca seamlessly combines the natural beauty of the island with the most refined indulgence. Whether you’re basking in the sun on the white sandy beaches, enjoying a rejuvenating spa treatment, or savoring exquisite cuisine, every moment at Sofitel Calablanca is a journey into serenity and sophistication.

Stay at Las Islas hotel

Individual bungalows perched above the clear waters create a dreamlike setting, enhanced by the attentive staff’s regal hospitality. The cuisine, a blend of local and international flavors, can be savored while overlooking the ocean. The commitment to eco-friendliness aligns seamlessly with the pristine environment. Whether snorkeling around vibrant coral reefs or unwinding by the infinity pool, every moment at Las Islas offers a world of serenity and luxury.

Enchanting Islas del Rosario Archipelago

A true gem of the Caribbean, the Islas del Rosario Archipelago is a collection of idyllic islands known for their vibrant coral reefs and marine life. Embark on a boat tour from Cartagena to these islands, and prepare to be mesmerized by the underwater wonders that lie beneath the surface. Snorkeling or diving in these waters reveals a colorful world of coral formations, tropical fish, and even the occasional sea turtle. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Oceanario—a state-of-the-art aquarium on Isla San Martín. Here, you can observe marine life up close and even swim with dolphins—an experience that’s sure to create lasting memories. You can also stay at one of the islands’ hotels if you want to feel the vibe a little longer!

Helpful tips for exploring Barú and Islas del Rosario

– Getting There: Ferries and organized boat tours are available from Cartagena to both Isla Barú and Islas del Rosario. Be sure to book your transportation in advance.

– Accommodation: Isla Barú offers a range of accommodation options, from luxurious resorts to eco-friendly lodges. Similarly, some of the islands in Islas del Rosario have boutique hotels for overnight stays.

– Day Trips vs. Overnight Stays: While Isla Barú can be explored as a day trip, consider staying overnight to fully immerse yourself in its beauty. The Islas del Rosario also offers options for day trips or extended stays.

– Eco-Conscious Travel: Both Isla Barú and the Islas del Rosario are eco-sensitive areas. Respect the natural environment by following local guidelines for waste disposal and preserving marine life.

Incorporating Barú and the Islas del Rosario into your Cartagena adventure provides a well-rounded experience that combines relaxation, adventure, and exploration of marine wonders. Whether you’re seeking tranquil beaches, vibrant marine life, or a mix of both, these extensions to Cartagena will elevate your Colombian journey to new heights.

Here are some travel recommendations to keep in mind when visiting Cartagena

– Weather and Clothing: Cartagena has a tropical climate, so pack lightweight and breathable clothing. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the strong sun.

– Hydration: The heat and humidity can be intense, so stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Consider carrying a reusable water bottle with you.

– Currency: The local currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). It’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller purchases, but credit cards are widely accepted in most places, as in other South American destinations, Visa and Master Card are the preferred ones.

– Language: While Spanish is the official language, many people in the tourism industry speak English. Learning a few basic Spanish phrases can still be helpful and appreciated.

– Safety: Cartagena is generally safe for tourists, but like any popular destination, be cautious of pickpocketing and keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas.

– Transportation: Taxis and ridesharing services like Uber are convenient and safe ways to get around the city. Negotiate the fare or ensure the meter is running before starting the ride.

– Local Cuisine: Don’t miss the opportunity to try local dishes such as arepas, ceviche, and seafood. However, be cautious with street food and stick to reputable establishments to avoid any stomach issues.

– Bargaining: Bargaining is common in markets and with street vendors. Polite haggling can lead to good deals, but know the value of the item before negotiating.

– Health Precautions: Consult your doctor about necessary vaccinations and any health precautions before traveling to Cartagena. Consider using insect repellent to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses.

– Cultural Respect: Respect local customs and traditions, especially when visiting religious sites. Dress modestly when entering churches and other religious buildings.

– Tipping: Tipping is customary in Colombia. In restaurants, a 10% service charge might be included, but leaving an additional tip is appreciated.

– Local Events: Check for local events, festivals, or holidays that might coincide with your visit. These can provide unique cultural experiences but might also lead to crowded areas.

How to get there

Getting to Cartagena is relatively easy, thanks to its popularity as a tourist destination. Here are the common ways to reach Cartagena.

– By Air: The most convenient way to reach Cartagena is by flying into Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG). This airport receives both domestic and international flights. If you’re already in Colombia, you can take a domestic flight from various major cities like Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and others to Cartagena. There are frequent flights offered by various airlines. If you’re coming from abroad, you can book direct international flights to Cartagena from some major cities in North and South America, as well as Europe.

– By Land: If you’re in Colombia and prefer overland travel, you can make a long-distance road trip to Cartagena from cities like Bogotá or Medellín. The journey will be quite lengthy, but it’s an option if you want to experience the landscapes along the way.

– By Sea: Another unique way to reach Cartagena is by cruise ship. Cartagena is a popular port of call for many cruise lines operating in the Caribbean, so you might have the opportunity to include it as part of your cruise itinerary.

When to go

A good time to visit Cartagena is during its dry season, from December to April. These months usually offer sunny weather and pleasant temperatures, ideal for exploring the city, beaches, and nearby islands. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds. The rainy season, usually from May to November, can still be enjoyable with fewer tourists and lush landscapes, but occasional heavy rainfall. Ultimately, choose the time that aligns with your preferences for weather, crowd levels, and budget.

How to design my ideal itinerary in Cartagena, Baru and Rosario Islands?

This is our recommendation for a one-week trip to Cartagena:

Day 1: Arrival in Cartagena. Relax at the hotel.
Day 2: Walking Tour in the Old City. Experiential activities (art, cooking or salsa)
Day 3: Day for a sailing excursion to Rosario Islands.
Day 4: Transfer to Barú. Accommodation and relax at the hotel.
Day 5: At leisure in Barú, beach day. Night outdoor dinner experience.
Day 6: Return to Cartagena. Bar-hopping in Boca Grande or Getsemaní.
Day 7: Departure or transfer to your next Colombian destination.

Remember that Cartagena offers a wonderful blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, so take your time to explore and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere. Whatever is your dream trip, we can help you design it using our personal knowledge and experience traveling around.

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