Cartagena, Colombia: Our detailed 2020 guide about how to get there, the best tours, must-sees and much more!
Cartagena is known for its sun, art and history. Its glorious past is built into the walls of the Ciudad Amurallada (the Walled City) and its modern spirit is alive in the graffiti of the Gethsemane neighborhood, the fashion stores, and party atmosphere that is felt throughout the streets.
Located in front of the Caribbean Sea and founded in the 16th century, Cartagena de Indias resisted siege from conquerors, pirates, and privateers for centuries, as it was the main port of the Americas. From there comes its spectacular military fortifications.
You can arrive by plane to the Rafael Núñez International Airport of Cartagena de Indias and take a taxi to the vicinity of the Ciudad Amurallada, which is where most of the tourist activity is found. Be careful when taking a taxi from the airport.
You can also take a bus from Santa Marta, it is about 4 hours away and you can enjoy the spectacular landscapes of the Colombian Caribbean coast.
For those planning to arrive at Cartegena by bus, it’s highly recommended to use Colombia Hop. Colombia Hop’s unique hop on hop off the style of service allows travelers to see the country’s best-hidden gems with a totally flexible itinerary.
Colombia Hop offers a safe option for making your way to Cartegena with stops along the way to appreciate the real beauty of Colombia. With a variety of passes to choose from, all counting with an onboard bilingual guide to assist you, you will be glad to have discovered so many gems on the road to Cartegena. Best of all, Colombia Hop will drop you off right at your hotel/hostel’s door in Cartegena.
Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in Cartagena, so there is much to do in the city and its coasts.
Rosario Islands Tour
This archipelago made up of 43 islets can be accessed by boat with stops on paradisiacal beaches. It is the ideal place for snorkeling and diving to admire corals and marine life in the crystalline waters.
To make your visit even more perfect, you can stay on one of the islets with a hotel. You will have an extraordinary view of the city and the walls from the islands.
Everyday is a beach day in Cartagena. You can go to dozens of beaches on the coast such as Playa Marbella, Bocagrande, Crespo, La Boquilla and Manzanillo del Mar.
One of the busiest beaches is Playa Blanca, on Barú Island which is reached by a tour with land transfer (it’s actually a peninsula but is called an island)
Volcano of Totumo
Have you ever been inside a volcanic crater? 45 minutes away from the center of Cartagena you will have the opportunity to visit the Totumo Volcano, climb to the top and bathe in mud which is full of minerals at the mouth of the mountain.
The place is managed by the local community so you will have to pay a small entrance ticket. ($ 3)
Cerro de la Popa
Cartagena is mostly flat but from the Cerro de la Popa you can see a panoramic view of the city, its walls, and its beautiful bay.
At the top of the hill is the Convent of La Candelaria, which is also worth visiting. It is advised that you go with a tour or by taxi, not to go up or down by foot.
Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower)
This is considered to be the entrance to the Walled City and a meeting point for the locals. To get there you will have to go through the Customs Square where they sell handicrafts and you will see women dressed in colorful traditional costumes carrying their fruit baskets on their heads. Most will be happy to let you take a photo in exchange for a few dollars.
Castillo de San Felipe (San Felipe Castle)
This military fort built on the San Felipe hill at the time of the colony is more than five centuries old and is one of the main attractions of the city. It is the largest military building in America and it is worth taking a guided tour to understand its history.
Muralla (The wall)
The wall itself is a must-see, and recommended walk. In the company of the sea breeze, you can walk through the Naval Museum and the Barracks of the Vaults, or have a drink at the Casa de la Cerveza (House of Beers).
You will love the views of the city from the wall, so we recommend going just before sunset so that you can enjoy the nightfall.
Barrio de Getsemaní (Gethsemane Neighborhood)
A 5-minute walk from the Ciudad Amurallada is the popular neighborhood of Getsemaní Cartagena. Here there are plenty of backpackers hostels, bars, street art and partying. Walk its streets and enjoy graffiti and stay until nightfall to watch the sunset from Plaza Trinidad.
This place has an international reputation for the Street Art festivals that have taken place in the city, attracting national and international artists who fill Cartagena to leave their mark on the walls of this popular neighborhood.
Café del mar
Another incredible place to watch the sunsets in Cartagena is the Café del Mar, located in the Bastion of Santo Domingo in the Ciudad Amurallada. A regular spot for tourists in the city.
It is slightly more expensive than average, and so some choose to go to the “coffee next door” which is not really a place but an area of the street where you can sit and have a beer that you bring yourself or you can buy it from a street vendor.
If you are staying in Bocagrande, the most modern and luxurious area of the city you can have a drink at the SkyBar of the stellar hotel at 51 stories high. It is a unique view of the city and you can stay for dinner.
Naval Museum of the Caribbean
This museum provides a fun and educational experience for you to learn about the history of the Colombian sea in the last 500 years since the creation of the city of Cartagena. If you travel with children or if you just want to know more about the city you visit, this is a good place to go.
Museum of Modern Art
Located in the Historic Center of Cartagena, in the Pedro Claver Square of the walled city, it has more than 400 works by Colombian and international artists.
Cartagena International Film Festival
This international festival dates back to 1959 and regularly brings together 140 films from 36 countries. He specializes in Latin American cinema and is one of the most important festivals in the region.
Cartagena Music Festival
At the beginning of each year, the city hosts hundreds of musicians from all over the world for this renowned festival and for a week there are concerts throughout the city.
Cartagena and Gabriel García Márquez
Although the winner of the Literature Nobel Prize in 1982 was not born in Cartagena, it was in this city where he began his journalistic and writing career. The city inspired him to write “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985) and “Of Love and Other Demons” (1994).
He built his house here, on the street of Curato de Santo Toribio, and asked that his ashes rest in Cartagena. Much of that literary vibe that inspired one of the best Latin American writers can still be felt in the city.
Being such a popular city for tourists, the options for fun at night in Cartagena are very good.
The best thing is that almost all of the city’s nightlife is concentrated in the same place: the Walled City and the Getsemaní neighborhood. If you are staying in Bocagrande you should take a taxi to this area of the city.
Almost all party options focus on Latin music because you are facing the Caribbean Sea! But you can also get places with electronic music areas and a more European atmosphere.
We leave you some options:
This is the place to find live salsa music and a spacious atmosphere to dance. The drinks are delicious, and the beers are cold and cheap. Good place.
This is an unbeatable location near the Clock Tower, complete with good music and excellent cocktails. It has a small balcony with a beautiful view of this area of the city.
If you need a break from Latin music, this bar is the perfect break: good rock selection, live alternative bands and great service.
Frequented by tourists who want to live the Caribbean experience in this Cuban style bar, salsa is danced, drinks are drunk and the atmosphere is alive.
A much more exclusive club, access is reserved at the door and it is more expensive than average, but the rumba dancing lasts until dawn and they have varied rhythms, from Latin to pop hits and international music.
For drinks in a quieter environment are the Alquímico, El Barón and El Arsenal bars. If you want to go out at night for cocktails, we recommend the terraces of the Movich Hotel or the Town House Cartagena.
As in any tourist city in the world, Cartagena works to ensure the safety of its visitors, particularly in the busiest areas such as the Historic Center, Bocagrande, Laguito, and Castillo Grande. However, you must always be sure that you look after your belongings.
The Gethsemane neighborhood has undergone a very positive transformation from being a dangerous place to being one of the centers of tourist activity. However, it is important to stay in the busiest streets and places with a lot of people.
In this sense there are some safety recommendations in Cartagena that you should keep in mind to better enjoy your trip without unforeseen events: