Cartagena, also called Cartagena de Indias, is a city located in northern Colombia. The city center is surrounded by an ancient city wall. Within the walls you will find numerous colonial buildings. Often referred to as the most beautiful city in Colombia, Cartagena cannot be compared to Bogotá or Medellín. Its beauty, beaches and the presence of several Caribbean islands just off the coast, makes Cartagena definitely worth a visit. In this article you will find information about the sights you should not miss.
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Where to stay in Cartagena
In Cartagena you will find three good and safe neighborhoods where you can stay.
El Centro is the old town of Cartagena and is also called The Walled City or Old Town. Within the city walls you will find all kinds of colonial buildings and cozy squares with restaurants and bars. Which makes it a great location to stay!
Keep in mind that the prices of accommodations in El Centro are a bit higher than in the other neighborhoods of Cartagena. A great accommodation is Amarla Boutique Hotel. This is a beautiful hotel with a rooftop pool from which you’ll have a fantastic view of the city.
Do you have a slightly larger budget? The best view of the city is from the roof terrace of the Movich Hotel.
Getsemaní is the trendy and colorful neighborhood and is just a few minutes’ walk from el Centro. Here you’ll find street art and colored garlands and umbrellas. Getsemaní is one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city, which makes it a popular neighborhood to stay in.
It is also slightly cheaper to stay here than in El Centro. A good option is Hotel Monaguillo.
Bocagrande is a modern district that is very popular among (American) tourists, because of the large, sandy beaches that can be found here. There are also many (souvenir)stores along the promenade as well as numerous eateries. For example, you will find typical Colombian restaurants, more luxurious restaurants, as well as fast food chains, such as McDonalds. The prices of accommodations here are considerably lower than in the old center of Cartagena, but the district is a bit further away from El Centro.
We ourselves chose to stay in Bocagrande, because here you get a bit more luxury for the same money. In addition, a cab or Uber can take you in a few minuts to the Old City for just a few euros. We stayed for three nights at the OZ Hotel Luxury. A modern hotel with lovely beds!
Things to do in Cartagena
Stroll through El Centro (the old town)
Cartagena’s Old Town, El Centro, is surrounded by a large wall. When you walk into the city wall, you find yourself in the colonial era. Here you will find beautiful, colorful buildings, cozy squares and a magnificent cathedral. It is for a reason that this district has been on the Unesco World Heritage List since 1984.
Tip: Visit El Centro at the end of the afternoon. At this time, it is not that hot anymore and you can combine your visit with watching the sunset from the city wall.
Stroll through the neighborhood of Getsemaní
A few minutes’ walk from the El Centro neighborhood, you will find Cartagena’s most colorful district, namely Getsemaní. In this neighborhood you will find colored houses, street art and all kinds of decorations, such as garlands and umbrellas.
Are you looking for some Insta-worthy spots? Then Getsemaní is definitely the place to be! You will also find numerous restaurants and bars, where you can have a refreshing drink or a bite to eat.
Fort Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a 16th century fort built by the Spaniards in their colonial era. The fort was built at the time to defend the city and is located on the San Lázaro hill, about 40 meters above sea level. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is known as the most impressive defensive complex of Spanish military architecture. Under the fort and in the walls, you will find numerous tunnels. If you visit the fortress, you can walk through some of these tunnels. Do you want to enjoy a beautiful view? From the watchtowers you have an amazing view of the old city.
We paid about 6 euros per person to visit the fort.
A boat trip to the Rosario Islands
A wonderful and relaxing activity is a boat trip to the Rosario Islands. The Rosario Islands is an island group located in the Caribbean Sea, about 30 kilometers southwest of Cartagena. The Rosario Islands, along with the San Bernardo Islands, have been part of a national park since 1996. The islands are known for their beautiful, turquoise waters and coral reefs which makes them good snorkeling and diving locations.
There are several companies offering boat tours to the Rosario Island. We chose for Bona Vida Catamaranes. They have a beautiful, luxurious catamaran and the service on the boat is top notch! After a welcome drink, the boat sails towards the Rosario National Natural Park and San Bernardo Corals. You can take a seat on one of the sofas, either in the sun or shade, or in the net at the front of the boat.
Once in the natural park, the boat docks and you can dive into the turquoise water. If you want, you can snorkel. You can use their snorkel sets and other water toys. While you take a dip, the crew will prepare a tasty lunch for you. Throughout the trip, you can get drinks from the bar. In fact, drinks and lunch are included in the price.
To book this trip, click here!
Spot a sloth (and monkeys) in Parque Centenario
The Centenario park is a public park just outside the city wall of El Centro. If you walk from El Centro to Getsemaní, you will walk through this park. Did you know that some sloths hang out here? If you are lucky, you can spot one! Even though it is not a closed park, and the sloths can actually go anywhere, they have been living in this park for years.
From hearsay, someone once wanted to smuggle some animals in, but changed his mind and left the animals in this park. Since then, sloths, monkeys and iguanas have lived in the park. They are having a great time!
Visit a rooftop bar
In Cartagena you will find several rooftop bars and restaurants, from where you have a beautiful view of the old city. Enjoying good food, a delicious cocktail and a fantastic view, what more could a person ask for!
When we were in Cartagena, the Colombian soccer team was playing. Therefore, we had to reserve a table on time, but the atmosphere was extra fun! We visited Mirador Gastro Bar.
Beaches in and around Cartagena
Want to relax on the beach? In and around Cartagena you will find a number of beaches. Although we really prefer a boat trip, the beaches below can be fun.
One of the most visited beaches in the area is Playa Blanca, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown Cartagena. You’ll find a white sandy beach with turquoise seawater surrounded by swaying palm trees. Keep in mind that this beach can be very crowded. The beach is completely full with sunbeds and there are numerous street sellers walking around, which can make the experience a lot less enjoyable.
Playa de Bocagrande
Another popular beach is Bocagrande beach. This beach became famous in the 1950s, when American oil barons and their families used this beach as their own.
Today, Bocagrande is a public beach, which is very popular among tourists. The beach is surrounded by tall buildings and, like Playa Blanca, is full of sunbeds. There are also many street sellers walking around here, which can be quite pushy. We only had a look around and did not stay there.
Food and drinks in Cartagena
There are numerous restaurants and bars to be found in Cartagena. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Basilica Pizzeria Cafe (Italian)
- Rosa Mezcal – Taquería Mexicana (Mexican)
- Pezetarian Cartagena (Asian/sushi)
- Tacna Restaurante / Tac Restaurante (Caribbean)
- Mirador Gastro Bar (Drinks)