Things to Do
Stroll around Old Town (Centro and San Diego): You can walk down every street in the Centro and San Diego district multiple times and catch something new every time. The streets are a photographer's dream with radiating life with vibrant colors and old-world charm. This magnificent city is bursting with music, art, cafes, shops-walk the streets and enjoy its liveliness. Make sure to stop by the street markets, where you can purchase delicious fresh fruit or ceviche, or beautiful handcrafted art pieces from the local Colombians.
Walking around Getsemani: This is the old “commons people” section of Cartagena. The area has a bohemian identity, with street art covering every other wall, coffee shop, and restaurant.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: The largest New World fortress built by Spanish colonizers. The fort is impressive and towers over the city and seashore. The audio tour and entrance ticket are around $45 together and make the tour more worthwhile. The whole audio tour takes about 60-90 minutes. Avoid coming in the middle of the day because the fort gets HOT.
Convert de la Popa: This old monastery offers the best view of Cartagena. We recommend calling a taxi to take you there, and depending how long you want to visit, see if they'll wait to take you back.
Palace of the Inquisition: Their in-house museum is beautiful and provides a tremendous, in-depth history lesson of the city.
Other Must-See Places in the City
-Torre Del Reloj
-Plaza de Santa Teresa
-Plaza de Bolivar
-Plaza Santo Domingo
-Plaza de Fernandez de Madrid
-Plaza de San Diego
Hit the Beaches
Group tour of the Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca: From a hostel you can book a complete day tour which includes transport to Baru, snorkeling in Rosario Islands, a boat ride, two private beaches, and transport back for about $65. Or, you can take a taxi to Isla Baru and there are some other options, but the tour is great because it takes all the stress out of the travel and organization and lets you relax at the beach!
Isla Baru/Playa Blanca: The iconic white sand beaches you'll see on the postcards. Packed with tons of restaurants, bars, and beach resorts. The water is so clear and there is so much to do, absolutely worth the visit.
Islas Rosarios: Another astounding island that you can find group trips for! Just a 30 minute boat ride from Baru. Snorkeling was fun and you are able to see lots of small tropical fish.
Sundays: Getsemani throws a local party at Plaza Trindad. There have live dance classes, local music, and street performers. Hang out in the square, eat street food, and buy beer at the local stores for an affordable local experience.
Visit the Rosario Islands: The Rosario Islands are an archipelago located only about an hour from Cartagena. These islands are beautiful, relaxing, and well worth a visit. Whether you want to sip a cool drink while eating fresh fish or you'd like to kayak through the mangroves-there is so much to do. Stunning sunsets and some incredible scuba diving are other popular activities.
Scuba Diving: Cartagena Divers, their staff was professional and the dive operation was well managed. We had a lovely experience diving with them and they're great for divers of all levels. Highly recommend this shop.
Places to Eat
Fruit Bowls: The best meal was buying a fresh fruit bowl from street vendors. They have fresh mangos, pineapples, watermelon, you name it. Hint, make sure you settle on a fair price before they start working. Grab a bowl and eat it in one of the many squares or parks in the city for a crisp, fresh meal.
La Cevicheria: Near Plaza Fernandez de Madrid and San Diego, this trendy Ceviche restaurant sports delicious drinks and delectable food. A little pricy if you're trying to make your money stretch, but definitely worth it. We recommend getting some fresh seafood and the coconut rice.
La Mulata: This is a small restaurant covered in local art right off the main square, where locals dine. Very reasonable prices for everything on menu. Grab some local seafood dishes that are famous in Cartagena, the octopus is incredible.
Malanga: This restaurant is located on the San Diego Square where you can eat outside and people watch. Local dishes and Colombian favorites, the Fish Dish of the day was a meal to write home about. Price is moderate.
Alma: Delicious and very creative food and drinks. The live local festive music is a nice touch. No matter what you order, you won't be disappointed. The cocktails are worth trying, regardless of dining at this restaurant.
Cafe Stepping Stone: Prepare yourself for the most delicious & hearty breakfast on a colorful street. The menu was clearly labelled with lots of vegan options as well as can be accommodating to gluten free or other allergies. The chai lattes and avocado toast were real treats.
Ely: This neighborhood café in Boca Grande had huge menu and lots of options. The breakfast choices are all fabulous and we enjoyed a lovely coffee and smoothie while sitting on the comfortable patio outside.
Zaitún Cartagena: This Instagram worthy Lebanese restaurant was one of our absolute favorites in Cartagena. The food and service were both impeccable and were beautiful complimented by delicious cocktails and live music in the evening.
Arepas are on every street and they are delicious. Also, snag some empanadas, tequeno, and tostones. Street food is cheap and can be found everywhere for an affordable lunch or dinner.
You can’t go wrong eating in Cartagena! The food is fresh and full of local flavors. The fruit and street food is delicious, authentic, and abundant. Throughout the city, restaurant prices are good but not extremely cheap. Go to a place with other locals and choose to sit outside.
Places to Drink
Café De La Mar: This is a very touristy restaurant on the old walls and overlooks the Caribbean Sea during sunset. They have live music and plenty of patrons. We suggest getting there a little before 5 so you can find a prime table to sit back and relax. Stay for an extra hour after sunset when the music gets louder the place turns into a local hangout and a party.
Movich Hotel: Grab a drink on the pool deck for the best view of Old Town. Drinks are well-priced and refreshing. Great thing about here is there's no charge or cover to get on the rooftop even if you aren't a guest. You can also buy a day-pass to use the pool and facility if you want a nice, relaxing day in the Old Town.
Overall: Cartagena is a destination city and a party hub. There is no shortage of places to go out, so check out as many clubs and discos in the city as you want.
Alquimico Bar: Best place for cocktails, and one of the best bars in Colombia. Top quality drinks for reasonable prices. Make sure to check out all the levels, especially the roof. Highly recommended!
El Barón: Excellent cocktails with a beautiful setting in a central location. Delicious and reasonably priced. Wonderful staff. Must add to your list!
Places to Stay
Most major hotels and Airbnb's are in Bocagrande. We do not recommend this route. The life of Cartagena is in the old walls, so stay inside the walls. This way, you'll be able to walk around at whatever time of night it is, feel safe, and feel the culture of the city.
These three areas have hostels for backpackers that fit this bill: Centro, San Diego, and Getsemani.
Hostel De La Republica: Cheaper hostel with a bar, pool, and party atmosphere. We love this option because the hostel was extremely clean and in the best part of town.
Movich Hotel: This is a nice hotel with a pool deck that overlooks the Old Town. Friendly staff and a great location. If you are feeling fancy this is the place to stay in the city.
Taxis are cheap, but make sure you settle on a price before getting in. Taxi to and from the Airport is 15,000 Colombian Pesos and a fixed price, do not pay more. The airport is extremely close to the city center, but the bus terminal could not be farther out.
March weather was perfect. You avoid the heat of the summer as it was HOT, even in March. If possible, avoid the rainy season. It will monsoon hard and frequently.