During my last visit to Colombia, when I was in Medellin, is when I first heard about Cartagena from locals. I did research and looked into it and the beauty of the city with its colorful streets, colonial architecture, tropical climate and beautiful islands drew me in to want to book a trip there asap.
I didn’t have a plan when I flew to Cartagena (I bought a one-way ticket) but I ended up staying two months! Unfortunately my first impression of Cartagena wasn’t the best. There were rappers and vendors following me.
They followed me down the streets, tried to sell me drugs and I got robbed all within the first few days I was there. Honestly, if I hadn’t booked a long-term stay I would have probably not stayed in Cartagena much longer.
But, I am so glad I did! Because the longer I stayed in Cartagena the more beauty I saw in the city and its people. I fell in love with Cartagena over time because of the people I met and the friends I made along the way.
This isn’t to deter anyone from visiting, it’s a beautiful city full of culture. I just personally think it’s not the best place for solo travel. Cartagena is much safer/better traveling as a couple or with a group of friends.
My Favorite Place in Cartagena: Getsemani
Cartagena is a charming city indeed. If you love things like culture, colorful places and historic charm then Cartagena should definitely be on your bucket list. It’s truly a beautiful place with so much history on offer. My favorite place in the city had to be the neighborhood of Getsemani.
This was due to the colorful murals, live performances, street food and authenticity. I love the local experience when I visit places, so if you want to get a real feel for how the locals live this is the place to experience it.
11 Best Things To Do in Cartagena
1. Explore the Colorful Neighborhood of Getsemani
Take a day to walk around and explore the colorful streets of Getsemani. If you are a fan of street art and lots of colors then this is the place for you!
2. Get a Photo with the Palenqueras
In the old town you will find the Palenqueras – charming women walking the streets of Cartagena all dressed in colorful traditional dresses with their friendly smiles selling exotic tropical fruits. You have gotta get a photo with them, they are the symbol of Cartagena! I know it’s touristy but it’s worth it.
3. Experience the Vibrant Nightlife of Cartagena
The vibrant nightlife in Cartagena is one of the major drawcards of the city. The music and dancing and partying, it’s all a thrilling cultural experience.
4. Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
If you love history then you have to check out this fort. You can take a guided tour or self-explore, and the city views from the fort are incredible!
5. Spend a Night in One of Cartagena’s Boutique Hotels
Their boutique hotels are so unique and there are many around the city. I will detail a few of my favorite stays in Cartagena later on in this guide.
6. Enjoy the Lively Rooftops of the City
Cartagena has so many amazing rooftops to enjoy a few drinks, food and the views but the most unforgettable view of the city is at the Movich Hotel.
7. Spend a Day at the Rosario Islands
Join a boat tour and head to the islands for the day. It’s a bit of a trip from Cartagena but it’s totally worth it for the crystal clear blue waters you will find there! My favorite beach club in the Rosario Islands is Bora Bora.
8. Have a Beach Day at Eteka Beach Club
Located about 10 minutes from the city of Cartagena is the island of Tierra Bomba where you can find Eteka Beach Club. This was one of my favorite experiences during my time in Cartagena. If you have ever visited Tulum, Mexico then you will love it because it has total Tulum vibes!
Eteka is the perfect place to relax and get away from the city for a day. And if you can’t stay the night they offer a day pass for about $51 USD – which includes everything from your transportation to and from the island, to a welcome drink and a 3-course meal. It’s the perfect Cartagena day trip.
9. Watch the sunset at Cafe del Mar, Cartagena
This restaurant is located on a section of the wall (in the walled city) with live music and cocktails. Definitely a great spot to watch the sunset.
10. Hang Out at Plaza de Santo Domingo
Here you can find ‘the real Cartagena’ and see how the locals really live. It’s a lively square with street vendors, break dancers, live music and dancing.
11. Take a Walk around the Walled City
Cartagena is nicknamed ‘The Walled City’ because of the stone walls (which surround the city) that were built back in the day by the Spaniards. They are still intact today and you can walk on them around the city.
Culture, People & Food of Cartagena
I spent a whole two months in Cartagena and I met so many amazing people and made so many friends that I‘m sure I will keep for life. The people of Cartagena are very different from other parts of Colombia that I have been to – it’s more of a Caribbean culture. It’s a completely different experience than cities like Medellin or Bogota.
The food scene in Cartagena is amazing too. There are so many great restaurants and rooftops to enjoy. Here are a few of my favorite places and I know this is a lot to recommend, but seriously the food scene is that good!
- Restaurants/Rooftops: Mar y Zielo Gastro Bar, Townhouse Boutique Hotel & Rooftop, Carmen Restaurant, Buena Vida Marisqueria, Mama’s Pizza at Casa Movida Hostel, Hotel Movich Cartagena de Indias, 51 Sky Bar, Cafe del Mar, Agua de Leon, Montesacro Resto Bar and Soloio.
- Cafes: Epoca Espresso Bar, Hadasa Bistro and Abaco Libros y Cafe.
- Bars/Nightclubs: Alquimico Bar, La Jugada Club and Cardinal Bar.
Best Boutique Hotels in Cartagena
Like I mentioned above, Cartagena has a bunch of gorgeous boutique hotels to book. I highly recommend staying at one instead of an Airbnb or something else solely for the experience. Each boutique hotel is extremely unique and all the buildings are old and colonial. It’s such a different vibe.
Some of the boutiques are so small that they only have about eight rooms in total, so you really get that personalized experience. I truly felt like I was at home staying in these hotels, and the service is above and beyond. They were absolutely amazing! My favorite boutique hotels in Cartagena are:
Need to Know Before you Go
If you are planning to visit Cartagena for the beaches you might be a bit disappointed to be honest. The main drawcard to Cartagena is definitely the old town with its colorful streets, beautiful architecture and rich history.
The beaches in Cartagena aren’t the best in the world. In order to see a nice beach you have to take a boat and it’s a bit of a trip to the islands. So unless you plan on visiting the islands this really isn’t a beach destination.
Walking through the old town is beautiful but be prepared for vendors and aspiring rappers wanting to get a few pesos off of you. They can be quite aggressive and usually won’t leave you alone until you pay them.
When walking around keep your phone in a safe place like your pocket or purse. I had mine in my hand and a guy on a motorbike driving by reached out to grab it from me. No bueno! So always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk around at night alone. Try to take a cab when you can. Enjoy!