CARTAGENA, ALSO KNOWN AS CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, IS A HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT CITY THAT SITS ALONG THE COLOMBIAN CARIBBEAN COAST. THIS CARTAGENA GUIDE OUTLINES ALL OF THE TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO WITHIN THE COLORFUL CITY.
Located on the tropical Caribbean Coast, the colorful city of Cartagena is one of the most popular - if not THE most popular - places to explore within all of Colombia. The city is a great place to base yourself if you are looking to check out the numerous sunny beaches that dot the nearby coastline (including beaches like Baru and the Rosario Islands), or if you just want to immerse yourself fully in the country's rich colonial history.
If Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias sounds like the kind of spot you want to explore, then keep reading for our in-depth guide on the city, including the best spots to adventure, the top cafes and restaurants and everything else you might need to know to have a great time in Cartagena.
THE ULTIMATE CARTAGENA GUIDE
\\ A Quick History of Cartagena
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by the Spanish - more specifically Pedro de Heredia, a Spanish conquistador - on the site of the one-time indigenous village of Calamari (archeological records put humans living in the area as far back as 4000 BC). Heredia named the city after the Spanish port city of Cartagena, which is located in southeastern Spain.
Soon enough, the city became one of the most important ports in the entire Spanish Empire, as well as a thriving center for political, ecclesiastical (religious), and economic activity (it even had the first fire department in the whole Americas). But because of its economic prosperity and location along the coast, the city was frequently attacked by pirates and privateers, including Sir Francis Drake.
It got to be so bad that eventually King Phillip II of Spain decided to bring in an Italian engineer to draw up plans for fortifications. While it would take two hundred years to complete, eventually the entire city (including the Getsemani neighborhood) would be surrounded by an “impenetrable” wall (many of the walls still stand today, hence the old city is also called the Walled City).
Cartagena would be ruled by the Spanish for 275 years, and it was only until 1810 that the people of the city declared independence (and promptly threw the Spanish governor out of the city). Spain of course retaliated by sending 59 ships, and over 10,000 men to attack the city in 1815. Even though the people of Cartagena won (and were even awarded the title “Heroic City” by the Liberator, Simon Bolivar), the period after the war was not good: due to loss in funding, trading and a terrible cholera outbreak, the city fell into sharp decline.
Luckily, the city started to see vast improvements under the presidency of Rafael Nuñez, a Cartagena native. Under his leadership, the central government invested in a railroad and other infrastructure improvements and modernization. Today, the city relies heavily on maritime and petrochemical industries, and of course, tourism.
Thanks to its lengthy history and well-preserved buildings in the Old City (Walled City), the historic area of Cartagena was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Learn more about Cartagena’s long history here.
The Famous Cartagena Door Knockers
It is very likely that within ten minutes of walking around the Old City of Cartagena you will start to notice the array of intricate, artistic door knockers on all manner of buildings - especially the ones that look like present and/or former residences.
So what do the door knockers - which come in a variety of shapes and sizes - actually symbolize? Well to start, you need to go back in time to the period when Cartagena was known as Cartagena de Indias and it was a thriving port city under Spanish rule. During this period a popular saying came about, "A tal casa tal aldaba,” which translates to something like “to each house its door knocker.” This quote would soon lead to the practice of displaying a person's social status or job on their front door through the design of its knocker.
In Cartagena, common door knocker motifs you can see in the Old City are...
FISH OR SEA CREATURE: meaning the resident worked in some form of the sea trade or sea merchant community
LION: meant the owner worked in the military, or protection service; this motif is the most popular thanks to Cartagena's long history with pirates and attacks
HANDS: the owner was in the clergy
LIZARD: this motif meant the residents were very wealthy and possibly part of the royal family
📣 You can learn more about the history of Cartagena with this 3-hour city tour with Get Your Guide.
And you can find even more Colombian travel tours here.
How Do You Say Cartagena
Cartagena or its full name, Cartagena de Indias, is pronounced as KAR-tə-JEE-nə (hay-na NOT hen-na). We made this mistake many, many times…
CARTAGENA NICKNAMES: The Magic City, The Cosmopolitan City, The Heroic and The Fantastic
\\ Where is Cartagena
Cartagena, Colombia is located along the tropical and hot Caribbean Coast of northern Colombia. It sits about halfway along the northern coast of the country - between Panama to the west and Venezuela to the east. Cartagena is the capital of the large Bolivar Department (the Colombian version of a state) and one of the major cities in the entire Caribbean Region.
The city is relatively close to many other popular Caribbean travel destinations; including, Santa Marta, Barranquilla (home to the second largest Carnival festival in the world), and the beach towns of Puerto Escondido and Palomino.
Distances from Cartagena
CARTAGENA TO SANTA MARTA: 4.5 hours
CARTAGENA TO BARRANQUILLA: 2.5 hours
CARTAGENA TO PUERTO ESCONDIDO: 5.5 hours
CARTAGENA TO PALOMINO: 6 hours
ELEVATION: 2 meters or 7 feet above the sea
POPULATION: 1,028,736 in the entire Metro area, Cartagena is ranked 5th in population in Colombia
Weather in Cartagena, Colombia
The weather in Cartagena, Colombia is pretty much the same year-round: hot and humid. In fact, the city falls under a tropical wet and dry climate - similar to areas in central Brazil and central Africa. This type of climate is characterized by high humidity (90%+) and hot temperatures. In Cartagena, the average daytime temperature is roughly 31 C/88 F year-round.
Though, that being said, there are some months where it tends to be slightly drier (January-March) and some that are a bit more wet (mostly October). But even if you choose to visit during the "rainy" season it is likely you will still only experience a few major rain showers (most of which occur at night) during your stay. Similarly, due to Cartagena's location close to the equator, the number of daylight hours also does not fluctuate that much.
💬 INSIDER TIP: because of the often oppressive heat and humidity, we recommend taking a siesta during the main heat of the day (12-4 PM). One of our favorite ways to while away this time was to relax in a coffee shop (see the best ones below).
The Best Time to Visit Cartagena, Colombia
In our opinion, the best times to visit Cartagena are during the months of February and March. During this time of the year you can expect slightly lower temperatures (just slightly) and far less travelers as you would find during the peak holiday season (December and January). Similarly, February and early March are also some of the driest months of the year - meaning the perfect time to explore all of the beautiful nearby beaches. Similarly, you still have the chance to experience a couple of popular festivals in the city.
Finally, during these two months you have the chance to experience a couple of popular festivals in Cartagena. This includes Fiestas de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Feasts of Our Lady of Candelaria) which is celebrated the first week of February and includes a religious parade through the city and Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena (International Film Festival of Cartagena), which is celebrated in March and also includes the Miss Colombia Pageant.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the Easter holidays are a big thing in Colombia, so if you are looking to avoid large number of crowds and higher prices, we recommend booking your stay ahead of time in a less-touristy city.
\\ The Top 10 Places to Explore and Things to Do in Cartagena
Below are the best 10 things to see and do in Cartagena, Colombia. This list includes a good mix of history, culture and of course, adventure.
1. Take in the Famous Cartagena Walled City
The original area of Cartagena is still surrounded by a big limestone and coral wall, an obvious reminder of the cities rougher, pirate-plagued past. Within the walls is where you will find the bright colored colonial buildings that make Cartagena so popular for tourists.
We recommend walking around the Old City (or Walled City) both early in the morning to get photos and really be able to see the beauty of the buildings (make sure to check out the artsy door knockers), and also at night so you get a feel for the liveliness of Cartagena. But be warned: the old city is full of hawkers, so be prepared to be goaded into buying yet another trinket (or sun hat).
Some of the best spots to explore in the Old City are:
| Monumento Torre Del Reloj: a pretty yellow clocktower that was once one of the few entrances to the Walled City. In a darker time, it was also where many slaves were eventually sold. Many tours of the Old City start here.
| Plaza San Diego: this is a small little plaza located in the middle of the Old City. The plaza is home to a famous statue of Jose Fernandez. Also, if you are lucky, you can sometimes see wild parrots here.
| Baluarte de Santa Catalina: is one of the more popular spots to watch the sunset over the ocean. Nearby is Las Bovedas, a one-time prison, and current souvenir shop.
| Plaza de Bolivar: this lush plaza was once the main meeting point for the elite of Cartagena. Just next to it is the (in)famous Palace of the Inquisition, where 767 people were punished for crimes such as blasphemy, heresy and witchcraft (only 5 people were put to death).
📣 If you want to head out and explore Cartagena with a guide, consider checking out this hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
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2. Walk Around the Hipster Barrio of Getsemani
The other historic area of the city, though one with a bit rougher history, is the Getsemani barrio (neighborhood). Once the home to prostitutes and drug deals, Getsemani is today Cartagena’s hippest and most artsy areas - and also one of the rising hipster hotspots in all of Colombia.
Some can’t-miss spots in Getsemani include Plaza de la Trinidad, one of the oldest squares in the city, Calle de San Juan, with its bright and colorful graffiti, the small alleyways with multi-colored umbrellas off of Carrera 10B and the fantastic restaurants and coffee shops that dot the small neighborhood (some of our favorites were Demente for tacos and Beiyu for coffee and healthy snacks).
3. Explore Other Exciting Cartagena Neighborhoods like Bocagrande, Manga & El Cabrero
While the Old City and Getsemani often top the list of the best places to explore in Cartagena, definitely don’t miss their neighbors Bocagrande, the glamorous, touristy area with lots of skyscrapers, Manga, a quiet, tree-filled neighborhood with some historic colonial-era homes, and El Cabrero, located just outside the Walled City, and home to popular beaches and small, locally-owned businesses (this is where we lived).
4. Cool Down at the Cartagena Beaches
Cartagena is not necessarily known for its beaches, mainly because the sand is volcanic so it always looks gray and kind of dirty (though it isn’t). While there are prettier beaches nearby the city, definitely don’t skimp out on spending at least a couple of hours chilling on the Cartagena city beaches. Our favorite beaches were the four in the El Cabrero neighborhood, mainly because they were either really quiet (empty) or full of local families enjoying the waves.
One important thing to know is that the beaches in Cartagena are very well taken care of, and though the water looks perpetually dirty (due to the color of the sand), we promise they are actually quite clean. In fact, we frequently saw people cleaning up trash on the beaches in the morning. Similarly, the water is very safe to swim in because the beaches were actually built to be little tidal pools (with rocks creating a sort of U-shape).
Other popular city beaches can be found in the Bocagrande neighborhood. But, while the beaches in El Cabrero are very chill, expect the beaches in Bocagrande to be much more touristy.
NOTE: if you are looking for more traditional white(ish) sand beaches, then consider heading to Boquillas and Manzanillo, both of which are located just outside of town to the north (past the airport). Otherwise, you will want to head to places like Baru for stunning tropical beach vibes.
5. Get a Great View at La Popa (& the Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa)
For one of the best views of Cartagena, consider heading up to the top of La Popa - the tallest point in the whole city. From the Convent (and even from the parking lot outside) you can see all of Cartagena, including the skyscrapers in Bocagrande, the Old City and of course the Caribbean Sea farther out.
This beautiful historic religious complex actually dates all the way back to 1607 when the original wooden chapel was erected. A year later, construction began on the present convent (it would take almost 7 years to complete). It was during this period that the original name of Santa Cruz, was changed to its current name: La Popa.
Throughout its history, the convent was a common target for attackers - including the (in)famous privateer, Sir Francis Drake. Similarly, during the early stages of the Republic, the Augustinian Recollects (the religious order that called the convent home) were forced to leave due to safety concerns and the place was actually abandoned for years until it was eventually turned into military barracks - which at one time even housed the famous Liberator, Simon Bolivar. It wouldn’t be until 1961 that the convent would actually be returned to the Augustinians.
| COST: 12000 COP ($3 USD // €2.70 Euros) per person to enter the convent grounds
| GETTING THERE: unfortunately, you cannot walk up to the top of La Popa because it is said to be quite dangerous, especially for tourists (read more about that here). Instead, take one of the waiting mototaxis or taxis to the top. It cost the two of us 50,000 COP ($12.62 USD // €11.17 Euros) to go up and down on a mototaxi (you can expect to pay between 35,000-50,000 COP).
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6. Learn More About the City’s Military History at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Just outside the city sits Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, once one of the most impressive military structures in the entire Spanish Empire (and definitely one of the best preserved). Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the batteries, the tunnels and taking in the views of the surrounding city.
If you are looking to learn more about the fort before visiting, check out this page. Similarly, there are QR codes scattered around the fort itself, allowing you to learn as you wander around.
| COST: 25000 COP ($6.60 USD // €5.60 Euros) per person as a traveler (costs 20,000 COP as a Colombian) to enter. There is also the option to get a tour guide (in Spanish or English), which costs around 20000 COP ($5 USD // €4.50 Euros).
| WHERE: just outside the Old City (you can see it from the wall), and definitely within walking distance. The exact location is here.
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7. Shop Like a Local at Bazurto Market
Located quite a distance from the Old City, Mercado de Bazurto (Bazurto Market), is an awesome spot to get an idea of how the locals of Cartagena often shop. This maze-like market is slightly chaotic - though in all the best ways. Expect tight tunnels, loud music, scooters zipping past and people selling all sorts of items.
We recommend coming here to do a bit of your own shopping - for the prices are tough to beat (especially the local produce), and they likely have everything you could need (spices, home goods, clothes, shoes, furniture). We even found a whole bag of chia seeds at a very decent price.
| GETTING THERE: the market is located off of Avenida Pedro de Heredia, just over 4 kilometers from the Old City. We recommend taking the public bus (Transcaribe) to reach the market instead of walking (the stop is called BAZURTO). The exact location of the market is here.
📣 TOUR: you don’t need to take a tour (we didn’t) but we understand how helpful it would be to have someone with in-depth knowledge of the market show you around. This tour looks great.
8. Drink Delicious Local Coffee (Lots of Coffee)
While Cartagena is not located near the coffee growing region, it does still have some darn good coffee - plus, some super hip cafes. Many of the best coffee shops are located in either the Walled City or the Getsemani barrio.
Plan to spend a bit of time exploring different spots to find which one fits your taste. Just know that many cafes do not open early (the earliest we saw was 7 AM and that is really only if the café owner feels like it). You can also get a small cup of coffee (like a shot size, known as tinto) from people selling them on the streets in colored thermoses. We never tried this so we couldn’t give you an accurate idea of the cost (but it is probably quite low).
Some of our favorite cafes in Cartagena were:
| Bozha, in the Old City by the Centro bus stop
| Folklore, in the Old City by the yellow clocktower
| Café San Alberto, in the Old City by Plaza Santo Domingo
| La Esquina de Pandebono, not really a café, but they do serve cheap (about $0.50 per cup) and good coffee in the morning, plus they have quite tasty baked goods
| COST: between 5000 - 7500 COP (~ $1.70 USD // €1.30 Euros) for a coffee; less if it is just a plain drip or Americano
| HEALTH: some of the more touristy cafes (Folklore, Bozha) do offer alternative milks, like almond or soy (leche de soya)
9. Eat the Street Food
Now before you get super excited about street food in Cartagena, know that if you are thinking it will be like Thailand or Vietnam, be prepared to be a bit disappointed. But that being said, the street food in Cartagena is actually quite tasty - if all just the same.
The most popular foods being sold on the street are deep (deep) fried arepas, usually with egg (traditional), cheese, some meat or a combo of the three, empanadas, long pieces of rope-like cheese bread (very tasty), deep fried potato balls with cheese, and a couple of small, hand-sized fried yucca bites. Really just expect fried food usually with cheese in the middle.
Now we hope we don't come across as disliking the street food - in fact, we really enjoyed it! We feel it is just important to let you know that most of the common street foods are relatively the same (fried and/or cheesy). Though there are also options in terms of fresh juices (very common) and fresh produce available.
| COST: between1500-2000 COP each (less than $0.50 USD // €0.30 Euros)
| WHERE: the best spots to get street food are near the Exito supermarket by La Serrezuala Mall, in Plaza San Diego and near the clock tower in the Old City
📣 TOUR: if you don’t know where to start, or just want a locals knowledge of the BEST street food in Cartagena (we feel ya) then consider joining this tour (it also gives you some great insider knowledge of Cartagena’s history)
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10. Watch the Sunset Along the Old City Wall
A perfect way to end a day of exploring Cartagena is definitely to head up to the historic wall and watch the sunset out over the Caribbean. This is a popular pastime for travelers and locals alike, so expect some crowds, people selling drinks (mostly bottled water and soda), and some snacks (like arepas).
| WHEN: because of Cartagena’s proximity to the equator, the sun usually sets around 6:30 PM (year-round).
The Best Cartagena Day Trips
Due to Cartagena's central location along the Caribbean Coast, you can head out on numerous exciting day trips - including to places like Baru (a nice tropical beach), the Aviario Nacional de Colombia (The Colombian National Aviary) - one of the largest in the country, the Cartagena Botanical Garden, the famous Mud Volcano up north and even out to the historic town of Palenque, the first freed slave town.
READ MORE ABOUT THE BEST CARTAGENA DAY TRIPS HERE.
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CARTAGENA | THE NITTY-GRITTY
\\ How to Get to Cartagena
Because it is such a popular city, both internationally and within Colombia, Cartagena is relatively easy to get to. Below are the most common ways.
All flights into Cartagena, Colombia land at Rafael Nunez International Airport, which is located about 20 minutes from the Old City. It is a small airport, so expect minimal security lines and an easy immigration process. Learn about the Colombian entry requirements here.
You can fly into Cartagena directly from international cities such as Panama City, Panama; New York, USA; Fort Lauderdale, USA; San Jose, Costa Rica: Lima, Peru: and Rome, Italy. Similarly, you can also fly into Cartagena from other popular Colombian cities, such as Bogota, Cali and Medellin (all non-stop), and from many other larger cities with one layover.
COVID UPDATE: as of August 2021, you do not need to present a negative COVID test, proof of having COVID previously, or proof of a COVID vaccine to enter the country. Learn more about Colombia's COVID response here.
TAKING A PLANE TO SAN ANDRES
Located quite far off of the coast of Cartagena (about 750 kilometers or 466 miles to be exact), are the beautiful tropical islands of San Andres and its two neighbor islands Providencia and Santa Catalina. These three coral islands are technically (politically) part of Colombia, though they are actually much closer Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
If you are looking to truly escape the hustle and bustle of Colombia - and much of the world for that matter - and also want to explore a truly stunning bit of the marine world, then consider booking a flight from Cartagena to San Andres, which should cost around $35 USD (€31 Euros).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: in 2000, the three islands were declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In total, the reserve covers a marine area of 300,000 square kilometers or 120,000 square miles.
Almost all major bus companies in Colombia will have routes to and from Cartagena. If you are looking to either enter or leave Cartagena by bus then you will have to transit through the city's main bus station (terminal de transportes), which is located on the outskirts of the city and takes about 30 minutes to reach by taxi or public bus.
COMMON BUS ROUTES
| Medellin to/from Cartagena | $37 // €33 Euros, 14 hours)
| Santa Marta (Tayrona National Park) to/from Cartagena | $13 // €11.50 Euros, 4.5 hours
| Bogota to/from Cartagena | $31 // €27.50 Euros, 22 hours (maybe more)
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: Colombia is known to have some pretty nice highways, but it is also often plagued by landslides which can cause hour-long delays. When booking a bus ticket, make sure to give yourself a couple of hours of leeway for arrival time. We took many buses throughout Colombia and almost none of them arrived at the expected time.
The best way to buy a bus ticket is either through the app Busbud or directly at the bus station itself.
If you are feeling adventurous, there is also the option to take a passenger sailboat from Panama to Colombia. But because there are no fixed schedules for ferry travel, you will need to coordinate with a booking agent in advance to find out exact departure times and dates.
The route between the two countries usually takes between 3-6 days and costs up to $600 USD (€530 Euros) depending on the boat, the exact route, and the activities provided by the provider (sometimes these activities can include snorkeling and scuba diving).
Learn more about taking a boat to Cartagena here.
NOTE: because the Darien Gap (the bit of land between Panama and Colombia) is impassable due to safety concerns, some of the ferries allow you to bring motorcycles and bikes across. Though if you have a vehicle (like a car or van), you will likely need a bigger ship.
\\ How to Get Around Cartagena
The easiest way to get around Cartagena - especially if you are just planning to spend your time exploring the Old City (Walled City), the city beaches and the Getsemani barrio - is to simply walk. Most of the exploring we did consisted of us heading out early in the morning, walking to our destination and then chilling inside during the heat of the day (or hanging out at a beach) before walking around again later in the evening, especially around sunset.
If you want to explore places a bit further out of the Old City "circle" - like La Popa and the Bazurto Market, then your best bet would be to either take the public bus (learn more on how to do that here) or to flag down a regular car taxi or mototaxi.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to explore outside of Cartagena - like head to some nearby beaches and smaller towns (or the mud volcano) then your best bet would be to rent a motorcycle for the day or week. We only found one spot that rented motorcycle in Cartagena - learn about them here.
\\ Where to Stay in Cartagena
Because we planned on spending a full month in Cartagena working, we knew we needed a spot that was quiet and with all of the long-term amenities we would need (a stocked kitchen for one). So we went with a nice apartment in the El Cabrero neighborhood, which we found on Airbnb. Learn more about our spot, as well as many other places to stay in Cartagena below.
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This hopping hostel is found in the Old City in a one-time colonial house. The street it sits on is relatively quiet and surrounded by colorful blooming flowers, balconies and historic plazas. The hostel is also close to many cafes, restaurants, and an Exito supermarket.
COST: the base price is $8.79 USD (€7.80 Euros) for a dorm, $25.71 USD (€22.75 Euros) for a private single room
CASA MOVIDA HOSTEL
Another hostel located within the Old City - though this time a bit more in the heart of the historic center - is Casa Movida. This spot was recently renovated and presently has an outdoor pool, coworking space and a shared kitchen.
COST: the base price is $11.34 USD (€10 Euros) for a mixed dorm bed, $82.81 USD (€73.30 Euros) for a private 4-person suite
CASA DEL PUERTO
This hostel is housed in a newly renovated mansion in the much quieter Manga district of Cartagena. In fact, Casa del Puerto is a great option for travelers looking to find a bit of peace and quiet in the otherwise loud and busy city. Amenities include breakfast, a pool, and an outdoor terrace.
COST: the base price is $11.84 USD (€10.45 Euros) for a 4-bed mixed dorm suite, $48.17 (€43.10 Euros) for a private suite with a king-sized bed
You can find even more hostels in Cartagena at Hostelworld.
We really enjoy staying at Airbnb's because it gives us the peace of mind of knowing that it will have everything we need for remote work (a dedicated work space, constant internet) and for long-term living (a stocked kitchen and quiet living area). Plus, you get the added bonus of having a local host to talk to about specific questions like: how fast is the internet? Where is the closest grocery store? Do you know where to rent a motorcycle?
Here are a few great Airbnb's to check out in Cartagena (including the one we stayed at).
LOFT IN BOCAGRAND
This is definitely a more higher-end property, especially since it is located in the upscale Laguito neighborhood. But for the high price, you get great views of the Caribbean and of the Cartagena skyline (plus easy beach access), a pool, a patio, super fast Wi-Fi, two bathrooms, and a dedicated workspace. You can learn more about the space here.
COST: $947 USD (€838 Euros) /MONTH
ENTIRE SUITE IN THE HISTORIC CENTER
If you are looking to be right in the action of the Old City, then this rental unit is a great option. Located in a converted historic Republican-style building, the unit has 12-foot high ceilings, strong Wi-Fi, a washer and dryer, A/C, and a kitchen. Learn more about the space here.
COST: $895 USD (€792 Euros) /MONTH
AIRY APARTMENT IN EL CABRERO
This is the spot we rented for the whole month of July. We really loved the location - close enough to the Old City (a 5 minute walk) but far enough away that it was super quiet and it felt very local (we saw two travelers during the whole month). Plus the hosts were incredibly friendly and helpful. The Wi-Fi was strong, the views and access to the beach were great, but the real plus was the small tienda and restaurant downstairs (don’t skimp out on the cheese bread and falafel shawarma). Learn more about the space here.
COST: $590 USD (€522 Euros) /MONTH
If you are looking to be close to all the touristy sites and don’t mind a bit of noise, then definitely look at staying in the Old City or the Getsemani neighborhood. If you want something a bit quieter and more local, then El Cabrero and Manga are great options. Finally, if you want more luxury and shopping - and easy beach access - then head to Bocagrande.
NOTE: the prices per month will change depending on which month you are looking to visit. This is just a rough estimate.
Many of the more upscale hotels will be found in the Old City (think historical, renovated old mansions and buildings), the Bocagrande area (fancy, modern high-rises) or farther outside the city along the coast (more standard, modern high-rise hotels).
Prices can range from the low $70s to around $300 (USD), with many of the more expensive hotels being on the beach in the Bocagrande barrio.
If considering staying in a hotel, we recommend checking out Trip.com for the most up-to-date prices.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: due to Cartagena's location along the beautiful Caribbean Coast, you can easily find numerous all-inclusive beach resorts within an hour of the city. One great option is the Hotel Las Islas, a super eco-friendly resort located on the beach near Baru. Learn more about Hotel Las Islas here.
\\ Where to Eat in Cartagena
Cartagena has a wide array of restaurants to choose from. From small hole-in-the-wall eateries, to uber fancy rooftop restaurants with views of the Caribbean. Below you will find a somewhat comprehensive list of some of the places we really enjoyed in Cartagena, as well as an idea on the top foods and drinks to try while visiting Cartagena.
Top Foods and Drinks to Try in Cartagena
Thanks to Cartagena’s location along the Caribbean Coast, many of the popular local foods have a tropical vibe to them. Some of the most common (and delicious) foods to try include the aforementioned arepas (with egg/huevo being the most traditional), coconut water from an actual coconut (find men selling them on the beaches or in the Old City) and one of our favorites, coconut lemonade (fresh-squeezed lemonade with coconut milk is a life changer).
Similarly, many of the popular local dishes include seafood. Some common ones you will see are cazuela de mariscos, a seafood stew in a coconut milk sauce, camarones al ajillo, shrimp served in a garlic and butter sauce, and sancocho de pescado, a very popular soup with fish (sancocho can be made with many types of meat). But by far the most common is a simple fried fish plate. This staple meal includes a whole fried fish, coconut rice and patacones - a deep fried plantain that almost tastes like a potato chip. You can find this traditional meal at small mom-and-pop shops in and around the city (we tried our first plate at Baru) or at fancy, upscale restaurants in the Old City.
While seafood reigns supreme in Cartagena, there are a few smaller treats that are worth trying, including pandebonos - a small rounded ball that tastes like a quasi-gummy saltine cracker (thanks to it being made of salty cheese and yucca starch) and any sort of bread that has cheese in the middle. Oftentimes, you can find the latter at the local street food stalls, at panaderias (bakeries) or even small local grocery stores.
Finally, you cannot leave Cartagena (and Colombia in general) without trying all the local fruits. Some of the tastiest fruits in Cartagena are pineapple, bananas, guava and avocados (aguacate). Oftentimes, the best place to buy fresh produce is from small individual fruit stands and carts around the neighborhoods.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: overall the price of food in Cartagena seemed to be significantly higher than other areas in Colombia. If Cartagena is your first stop on your exciting tour of Colombia, don't let the price of food (and goods for that matter) turn you away. We promise other places are much more affordable. Get an idea of the cost to live in Cartagena for a month in this insightful article.
Now time to explore some of the top restaurants in Cartagena.
The Best Up-Scale Colombian Food: Andres
This is by far the most high-end restaurant we tried in Cartagena. Located on the top floor of the fancy La Serrezuela Mall (near the edge of the Old City), Andres is a riot in color and design. Plus the food is absolutely incredible.
If you are looking to try local specialties, including the aforementioned seafood soups, at a fancier restaurant, this one should be near the top of your list. While the price of the food is quite a bit higher than other restaurants in Cartagena, we thought the flavors of the food were totally worth it. Plus, the vibe is just coooool.
| COST: the prices are definitely closer to what you would pay in America or Europe. For the two of us, it cost 174,680 COP or $45.76 USD // €40.50 Euros
| WHERE: Andres is located on the top floor of La Serrezuela Mall. Find the exact location here.
| ORDER: the Sancocho de Pescado, the patacones (with cheese or meat), coconut lemonade and the veggie empanadas
Best Italian Food: Felice Pasta
This small corner restaurant is located in a quieter part of the Old City (very close to Bozha). Stop in for a dinner of fresh, homemade pasta (the pumpkin ravioli is amazing) or a sweet treat (try the chocolate croissant). If going for dinner, try to get the table outside so you can people watch.
We visited Felice twice and both times the staff was nothing but warm and welcoming. Plus, they were super friendly and even spoke good English. Definitely recommend this restaurant for a cozy date night in the city.
| WHERE: located in the quieter part of the Old City, find the exact location here.
| ORDER: all the pasta is homemade so you can't really go wrong; but, we loved the pumpkin ravioli and lasagna.
Best Asian Food: My Sushi Delivery
Located outside the Old City in the much quieter El Cabrero neighborhood, this small, hip sushi spot serves up some great rolls at affordable prices. We ordered the Sailboat, which was the perfect amount for two sushi lovers (we were stufffffed afterward), which cost 90000 COP ($22.50 USD // €20 Euros) total. This is a fantastic spot to try the local seafood in a different way - plus, because it is outside the Old City you will likely only find locals eating there.
| WHERE: close to the beach in El Cabrero, find the exact location here.
| ORDER: if you like seafood and want to try all their unique rolls, go for a combo (we liked the Sailboat).
EXPLORE MORE | WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT THE TOWN OF FILANDIA - HOME TO THE BEST RESTAURANT IN COLOMBIA
Best Vegetarian Food: Pezetarian
We found this spot on Happy Cow (a great app for finding vegetarian and vegan restaurants), and were pleasantly surprised at just how tasty the food was. We ordered the Colombiano hot bowl and the arroz de la huerta (a vegan rice bowl with vegetables). Both were absolutely delicious. If you are looking for a hip spot in the Old City for some healthy food, definitely check Pezetarian out.
| WHERE: in the heart of the Old City off Carrera 7. Find the exact location here.
| ORDER: honestly everything looked good! But the coconut lemonade for sure, as well as any of the rice bowls (so fresh!)
💬 INSIDER TIP: you can find more vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Cartagena and around the world on the app Happy Cow.
\\ Where to Work in Cartagena
Thanks to Colombia's rapid ascension in the eyes of digital nomads, there has been a sharp influx of great spaces to get work done - including a good number of top-notch coworking spaces. Below are a few great spots to work from in Cartagena.
SELINA CARTAGENA COWORK
Located in the Old City, this colorful and hip coworking space is a great place to focus, but to also meet fellow digital nomads. Amenities include: personal lockers, fast Wi-Fi, standing desks, an onsite Airbnb, a pool, a yoga studio, free coffee/tea and an outdoor terrace. Plus it is open 24/7.
| COST: $13.51 per day, $48 per week for a hot desk (open seating); $126.24 per month for a private office
| WHERE: Calle Larga (25) #8B-148, (in the Getsemani barrio)
Located in the Bocagrande area, this coworking space is a great option for people looking to network and meet up with fellow team members. Its amenities include: an outdoor terrace, fast Wi-Fi, free coffee/tea, ergonomic chairs, a kitchen, networking events, workshops and community lunches.
| COST: $11.37 per day, $49.25 per week for a hot desk (open seating); $467.28 for a private office for a month (for 4 people).
| WHERE: Bocagrande Calle 6A #3 32, Cartagena, Colombia
Thanks to the increase in travelers, and especially remote workers and slow travelers, there has been a steady rise in coffee shops that cater to people looking to work on their laptops. Today, many of the popular (touristy) coffee shops will have fast internet, ample seating, and of course, great coffee.
One great spot to check out is Café Quindio, thanks to its super strong internet, high number of tables and chairs, good food, ample power outlets, of course, delicious coffee. Just note that the only Café Quindio in Cartagena is in La Serrezuala Mall, and that it opens at 10 AM.
Other great cafes to work from are Bozha and Folklore. Find our full café list above.
\\ Is Cartagena Safe
Overall, we both felt quite safe during our personal experience of living in Cartagena for a month. So much so that Madalyne would actually feel comfortable enough to head out early in the morning to take photos of the city - especially the Old City and Getsemani district.
Now obviously we don't want to come across as naïve and think all places in Cartagena are safe no matter the time of day. Like almost everywhere in the world, there are better times than others to go exploring - especially if you are doing it alone. We would suggest being more careful at nighttime, especially in the Old City area for there were a lot of people and hawkers around. Similarly, we would also suggest that you make sure all of your belongings are carried in a smart manner, especially purses, wallets and cell phones.
Just like anywhere else, be smart and don't put yourself in a compromising and dangerous situation.
Cartagena is a beautiful and exciting city located in the heart of the Colombian Caribbean Coast - making it a great location to base yourself for lots of tropical adventures. The city is a lively and boisterous place with a very rich (and somewhat turbulent) history. And today because of that, it has plenty of character and culture.
Hopefully, this in-depth Cartagena Travel Guide helped you plan your own adventure to the beautiful and historical "Magical City."
If you have any questions about Cartagena, or Colombia in general, feel free to leave us a comment below or reach out to us here! And if you don't want to miss any more off the beaten path and adventure travel guides, then consider subscribing to Backroad Packers.
YOUR INTERACTIVE TRAVEL MAP OF CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
THIS INTERACTIVE MAP SHOWS THE TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA + IMPORTANT TRANSPORTATION POINTS LIKE THE AIRPORT AND MAIN BUS TERMINAL
LIKE IT? PIN IT!
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PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR COLOMBIA
| Reusable water bottle: we cannot imagine traveling without our LARQ water bottles thanks to their fancy rechargeable filter that eliminate up to 99% of bio-contaminants.
| Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.
| Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.
► Find our full sustainable travel packing list here.
STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD
| SafetyWing: make sure you are staying safe with this easy-to-sign-up health insurance that is specifically meant for digital nomads. You can even sign up once you are already abroad.
| WayAway: this flight aggregator helps travelers find the best rates on airline tickets to tons of different locations.
| BusBud: explore millions of bus routes and destinations in one easy-to-use search; plus, you can compare prices and book your tickets online (in your language).
| Rentalcars.com: check out the world’s biggest online car rental service that is available in over 150 countries.
| iVisa: this site helps make sure you have all of the necessary documents and entry requirements while traveling.
| Wise: this app makes it super easy to transfer money between currencies while abroad, keeping you from worrying about whether you are getting the right exchange rate or not.