Create Your Cartagena Itinerary, 2023: Expert Tips & Local Spots

Crafting the perfect Cartagena itinerary can be exhilarating yet overwhelming. 

Where should you start? Is this information reliable? Is it worth it? Where are the tourist traps?

As your trusted Colombia expert since 2015, I am here to guide you. 

Whether you have just one day or a luxurious 5 to 7 days to spare, I will unveil the best experiences, from exploring colonial neighborhoods to indulging in mouthwatering cuisine, discovering hidden gems, and creating cherished memories. 

Let’s embark on a journey through Cartagena, where every step promises enchantment and adventure.

Colombia Experts

Who are we 👋

Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Every year, I spend thousands of euros to find the best experiences and allow you to contact these agencies directly!

👉 Want to know everything about Cartagena? To learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Cartagena de Indias.

Cartagena itineraries: TakeAway + Map

  • Explore on foot: Cartagena is a walkable city, especially in the charming neighborhoods of Getsemaní and the walled city. Discover the vibrant street food scene, colorful street art, and charming architecture. 1 to 2 days are enough.
  • Visit the nearby Rosario Islands: For a better beach experience, head to the Rosario Islands near Cartagena. The pristine beaches and the stunning Caribbean Sea make the trip worthwhile. 2 nights will be perfect. You can also rent a boat.
  • Consider day trips: If you have more time, add day trips to your itinerary. Explore the historic village of San Basilio de Palenque, hike in Los Montes de Maria, or enjoy a fishing trip in La Boquilla for a unique experience outside the city.
  • Stay vigilant: Be mindful of petty theft and price gouging. Negotiate prices with taxis, agree on fares upfront, and keep your belongings secure to ensure a safe and hassle-free trip.

Articles you should read to plan the perfect Cartagena trip

Casa Claver Cartagena
Credit: Casa Claver Cartagena

Here are our top-notch Cartagena guides:

How to Get to Cartagena

Plane to Riochacha La Guajira

If you’re not already close to Cartagena (meaning you’re not on Colombia’s Caribbean coast or nearby), flying is the most convenient option. You can reach Cartagena directly from various cities, including:

  • In the US: New York, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando.
  • In Canada: Toronto and Montreal.
  • In Central and South America: San José, Costa Rica, Santo Domingo, Lima, Balboa, Panama City, Santiago (Chile), Guayaquil, São Paulo.
  • In Europe: Madrid, Amsterdam.
  • Within Colombia: Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Pereira, San Andres, Bucaramanga.

Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport is about 15 minutes north of the walled city. A taxi or Uber from the airport will cost around 15,000 COP. 

If you prefer bus travel, direct services are available from most Colombian cities, including major ones with dozens of daily buses. However, be prepared for lengthy journeys – at least 18 hours from Bogotá and around 8 hours from Medellín.

The bus terminal is in the eastern part of the city, and it takes 30 to 45 minutes (or more) to reach the city center, with transport costing approximately 25,000 COP.

Exploring Cartagena

Castillo felipe bike tour (1)

Cartagena de Indias is a highly walkable city, particularly in the picturesque neighborhoods of Getsemaní and the walled city. With their narrow, colonial streets, exploring these areas on foot is best.

You can easily walk east of Getsemaní to Manga over the bridge. Bocagrande and Laguito, on the other hand, are more car-friendly but still great for walking. Exploring Cartagena on foot allows you to appreciate its vibrant street food scene, colorful street art, charming architecture, and unique spots like Café del Mar.

To reach the closest beaches, you’ll probably need to take a taxi or Uber. The main urban beaches in Cartagena are at the end of Bocagrande or, to the north, Marbella. However, these beaches can be overcrowded and not as clean as one might hope. For a better beach experience, head to the nearby Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario), where the Caribbean Sea is even more beautiful.

When taking a yellow taxi in Cartagena, agreeing on the price with the driver before the trip starts is customary. Most rides should cost between 10,000 and 15,000 COP.

One Day in Cartagena: A Thrilling Itinerary for Time-Pressed Travelers

Getsemani Cartagena

Whether on a whirlwind tour or watching your wallet, you can still experience the vibrant beauty of Cartagena, Colombia, in just one day. 

As your local travel expert, I’ve crafted a thrilling one-day itinerary that ensures you’ll make the most of your limited time in this captivating city. 

Rise and shine early, and let’s go!

Morning: Stroll Through Colonial Neighborhoods and Visit Iconic Landmarks

Main square Cartagena de Indias Aleja
  • Begin your day by 7am, exploring the charming streets of the colonial neighborhoods, starting in El Centro and ending in San Diego.
  • Marvel at the stunning architecture of the Cathedral of Santa Catalina and San Pedro Claver Church.
  • Grab breakfast at Epoca, la Esquina del Pandebono, or Cafe San Alberto.
  • After visiting San Pedro Claver, climb the steps to the top of the old city walls at Baluarte de Santo Domingo for a bird’s-eye view of the historic old town.
  • Wander through the bustling public plazas, including Plaza Bolívar and Plaza Santo Domingo, to soak up the local atmosphere.

Midday: Indulge in Local Flavors and Discover the City’s History

  • Visit the Naval Museum to learn about Cartagena’s rich history and strategic importance in the Caribbean.
  • Order a “menu del día” in a nearby restaurant, then treat yourself to a scrumptious gelato from a local vendor as you continue exploring—La Palettería.
  • Savor the freshness of Colombian fruits by purchasing some from the colorful “palenqueras” in the area.
  • Sample traditional Colombian sweets at Plaza de los Coches.

Afternoon: Admire Street Art and Explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site

  • Head over to the vibrant Getsemaní neighborhood to admire the captivating graffiti.
  • Visit the impressive Castillo de San Felipe, the largest colonial fort in Colombia and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Evening: Sunset Views and Authentic Caribbean Cuisine

La Popa Cartagena
  • Watch the sunset over the city from the Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa—you’ll have to find a taxi and ask him to wait 1 hour at the Convent.
  • Return to the walled city and indulge in mouthwatering Caribbean cuisine at Celele or Alma.

This itinerary can be completed independently or with a private tour, shared tour, or free walking tour. Whichever option you choose, you’re sure to have a fantastic day exploring the enchanting city of Cartagena. 

A Blissful 2-Day Itinerary in Cartagena, Colombia

If you’re looking to bask in Cartagena, Colombia’s rich history, vibrant culture, and delectable cuisine, then this 2-day itinerary is perfect for you.

You should follow the itinerary I presented in the previous section but more relaxedly, adding a few easy-to-achieve experiences.

  1. Relax at a Rooftop Bar: As the sun sets, head to Cartagena’s trendy rooftop bars and indulge in a refreshing cocktail while taking in the breathtaking skyline. I recommend Townhouse or Movich.
  2. Learn to Cook Local Delicacies: Start your second day by immersing yourself in Cartagena’s culinary culture with a hands-on cooking class. Our local partner, Romario, offers fantastic classes where you can learn how to prepare scrumptious seafood dishes, Cartagena’s famous coconut rice, patacones (fried green plantains) with shrimp and “hogao,” stuffed mini-arepas, and a unique local fish dish cooked within the leaves of the “bijao” plant, accompanied by a cassava purée called “yuca.”
  3. Shake Up Some Cartagena Cocktails: After mastering the art of Cartagena cuisine, let Romario show you how to concoct some of the city’s best cocktails. You’ll be mixing up creative and delicious drinks in no time!
  4. Embark on a Street Food Tour: For lunch, treat your taste buds to an unforgettable street food tour. This guided experience takes you to at least nine different stops where you can sample mouthwatering local favorites like kibbeh, shrimp cocktails, patacones with cheese, arepa de huevo (an arepa stuffed with an egg and sometimes other surprises), lemonade, traditional sweets, and “mango biche” (underripe mango served with lime and salt). This tour ensures you won’t miss out on any hidden gems in the bustling central areas of Cartagena de Indias.

And there you have it – a blissful 2-day itinerary allowing you to experience Cartagena, Colombia’s magic fully. 

From strolling through the historic Walled City to learning the secrets of the city’s culinary scene, you’re sure to leave with a treasure trove of memories and a newfound appreciation for this captivating destination.

A 3 or 4-Day Itinerary to Cartagena: Include exciting day trips

If you have 3 or 4 days in Cartagena de Indias, adding one or more day trips to your itinerary is worth considering. 

Most travelers are drawn to the white sand beaches of the Islas del Rosario, off the Caribbean coast. But with so many options, choosing the right one is challenging. 

Day Trips: Beyond Playa Blanca

While Playa Blanca is the most popular beach destination, many visitors are disappointed by the crowds, loud music, and persistent beach touts. Instead, I highly recommend this Catamaran day trip. The 40-foot private vessel is perfect for having fun while enjoying the Rosario Islands.

Everything is included in this trip, except for alcoholic drinks. Although the catamaran doesn’t stop at any beaches, there’s ample time for snorkeling and swimming. 

Remember that many boat trips from Cartagena can be crowded, disorganized, and unsafe, so renting a private boat is the best option to avoid mass tourism and set your schedule.

Book with locals
Rent A Private Boat With Aymeric

Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.

  • Avoid the crowd
  • Best Prices. Quick answers.
See his profile Our Review
Book with local agencies we trust.

Fishing Trip to La Boquilla

For a unique experience, consider a fishing trip to the tranquil village of La Boquilla, just 30 minutes from Cartagena. 

I personally had a blast on this trip! 

You’ll fish from a small canoe in the peaceful mangroves, catching crab, sardines, and other seafood, depending on the season. Afterward, enjoy lunch in the village and participate in a local music and dance workshop. 

Book with locals
Cartagena's culture and history with Cathy

Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.

  • Tours with excellent local and bilingual guides.
  • Cultural and social experiences.
See her profile
Book with local agencies we trust.

Cultural Excursion to San Basilio de Palenque

Palenque walls local (1)

If you prefer a land-based adventure, a day trip to San Basilio de Palenque, the first colony of escaped slaves in the Americas, is a must. Here, you’ll learn about the rich history and culture of this UNESCO-listed village.

Nightlife: Salsa Dancing and Craft Cocktails

Cartagena Nightlife - restaurant

There’s no shortage of nightlife options in Cartagena. For a taste of the local salsa scene, try one of these popular clubs:

  • Café Havana, on Carrera 10 in Getsemaní
  • Donde Fidel, next to the clock tower, right off of the Plaza de Las Aduanas
  • San Nicolas, on Calle 25 in Getsemaní
  • Quiebra Canto, right around the corner from San Nicolas on Carrera 8b

If you’re more interested in craft cocktails, head to El Barón or Alquímico for their top-notch creations. 

Remember to make reservations in advance at popular restaurants, as they tend to fill up quickly.

A 5 to 7-Day Itinerary to Cartagena: Experience the Beach Life

If you’re lucky enough to have 5 to 7 days to spend in Cartagena, Colombia, you can immerse yourself in both the vibrant city life and the serene beaches. 

With this amount of time, there’s no need to cram in day trips. You can leisurely explore the Rosario Islands, particularly Isla Grande, and more secluded shores, as well as the historic city of Cartagena.

To make the most of your time, divide your stay between the islands and Cartagena, dedicating at least 2 days and 1 night to the islands

Trust me, as someone who has been many times in Cartagena, staying overnight on the islands is an absolute must. You’ll get to bask in the magical late afternoon and early morning hours, free from throngs of tourists and touts, not to mention escaping the harsh midday sun.

To optimize your experience, visit the Rosario Islands during the week and explore Cartagena over the weekend. This way, you can avoid the crowds and truly savor the best of both worlds.

Craft Your Cartagena Itinerary Like a Pro

Bona Vida Catamaran Sunset in Cartagena(3)

In this comprehensive section, I’ll share some expert tips to help you create your perfect Cartagena itinerary. 

We’ll cover everything from where to stay and eat to how to stay safe and healthy in Cartagena, Colombia – one of South America’s most captivating tourist destinations.

Where to Stay in Cartagena

Cartagena is a city brimming with diverse neighborhoods, each boasting its own unique charm. To make your decision easier, let’s narrow it down to the top areas that will ensure an unforgettable stay.

The Walled City: El Centro and San Diego

Cartagena Historic center San Diego

The most exclusive option is the historic walled city, known as “la amurallada” in Spanish. This area consists of two distinct parts: El Centro and San Diego

El Centro is the city’s bustling heart, while San Diego offers a more peaceful atmosphere. 

Both areas are upscale and steeped in history, but staying in San Diego means you’ll have a short 5-minute walk to reach the main monuments.

Getsemaní: The Heart of Nightlife

Getsemani street fruits Cartagena

For a more budget-friendly option with a vibrant nightlife scene, consider Getsemaní. This trendy neighborhood is buzzing with energy, but it may be too noisy for some travelers. 

While you won’t find luxury hotels here, there are plenty of stylish boutique hotels that cater to a range of tastes. As a self-confessed Getsemaní enthusiast, I can’t recommend this area enough.

Bocagrande and Laguito: The Modern Side of Cartagena

Bocagrande sunset

Heading west from downtown, you’ll find the contemporary neighborhoods of Bocagrande and Laguito. Reminiscent of Miami’s skyline, these areas offer clean, safe streets and some good deals on “modern” accommodation. 

However, they lack the charm and atmosphere of Cartagena’s more historic neighborhoods. 

Keep in mind that you’ll need to take a vehicle to reach the old town from here.

Where to Eat in Cartagena

No matter how many days you’ve planned for your Cartagena, Colombia adventure, you’ll want to indulge in the city’s finest cuisine. 

To make your culinary journey easier, I’ve compiled a list of some of the top eateries in Cartagena. 

Eating in The Old Town

Restaurant candé cartagena (1)

Where the most classy and romantic restaurants are in Cartagena.


My second-favorite dining spot in Cartagena is Carmen, nestled in the San Diego area of the old city. This restaurant delights its patrons with creative dishes influenced by traditional local cuisine and utilizing fresh, local ingredients. You’ll go far beyond the standard fried fish and coconut rice at Carmen.

Carmen is a popular choice, so I recommend booking your reservation as soon as you arrange transportation and accommodations.


In the city center, you can find Alma, another old town gem. This upscale eatery offers delicious ceviches, salads, and my personal favorite, the lobster empanadas. Enjoy live Cuban music every night from 7:30 to 10:30 pm.

Café del Mar

Though currently closed, the iconic Café del Mar is worth mentioning for its prime location atop the city walls and stunning ocean and city views. Keep an eye out for its reopening!

Espíritu Santo

For a taste of classic Colombian fare, visit Espíritu Santo on Calle 35, or Calle del Porvenir. This lunch-only establishment offers hearty dishes and accepts cash payments only.

Cancha Cevichería

Cartagena is known for its mouthwatering ceviche, and Cancha Cevichería, where Calle 32 becomes Carrera 7, is my top pick for this seafood delicacy.

El Gobernador

Lastly, don’t miss El Gobernador, located inside the Bastión Luxury Hotel on Calle del Sargento Mayor and Carrera 6. This restaurant serves an eclectic array of dishes inspired by local, national, and international cuisines, such as the salad topped with beef loin medallions and the “pescado al cabrito” made with locally-caught fish.

Eating in Getsemaní

Getsemani Cartagena Nightlife

Cheaper and still delicious.

San Nicolas Restaurante-Bar

If you find yourself in the Getsemaní neighborhood, be sure to visit San Nicolas Restaurante-Bar in the heart of the area. This incredible spot offers food, drinks, and dancing, entertaining guests with a lively salsa band. San Nicolas is a place where tourists and locals mingle freely.


Another fantastic local spot is Celele, located near the bridge to Manga Island. Once again, fusion dishes made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are a highlight.

Espíritu Santo (Getsemaní Branch)

There’s also a Getsemaní branch of Espíritu Santo, temporarily closed for renovations but expected to reopen soon with a refreshed menu.

La Cocina de Pepina

In the heart of Calle 25, you’ll find La Cocina de Pepina, a Colombian-style bistro offering pub grub, craft beers, and, of course, incredible Colombian coffee.

👉 Pro-tip: Follow in the footsteps of the late Anthony Bourdain and visit Cartagena’s main farmer’s market, Bazurto Market. This bustling, open-air market is filled with small local eateries offering some of Cartagena’s best (and cheapest) food. The market is chaotic, crowded, and noisy, so head there early to avoid unpleasant odors. If you don’t speak Spanish, consider joining a tour to make the most of your experience.

Is Cartagena Safe?

As a seasoned traveler to Colombia, I often hear concerns about safety in Cartagena, influenced by shows like “Narcos.” But let me reassure you the likelihood of experiencing violence in Cartagena is low, especially if you follow some basic safety tips.

Your primary concern should be petty theft, like phone snatching or pickpocketing. To minimize this risk, stay in well-lit areas with people around, avoid wandering around intoxicated, and keep your belongings secure.

Another issue to watch out for is price gouging, especially from street and beach vendors. Always negotiate prices up-front and agree on taxi fares before setting off.

Regarding neighborhoods, San Felipe Castle serves as a helpful marker. Generally, avoid venturing too far east of it, as some areas can become sketchy at night.

The Tinder Factor

While I understand anyone’s desire to connect with locals, using Tinder in Colombia can be risky. Some unscrupulous individuals use it to target foreigners for robbery, often by slipping a drug like scopolamine into their food or drink.

Instead, I recommend meeting people organically and asking them out in person. There’s no safe shortcut for dating in Colombia.

Best Time to Visit Cartagena

Boat rosario island with Ameryc Cartagena 9

Cartagena experiences hot and humid weather year-round, with a wet and dry season. 

The dry season (December through April) is ideal for visiting the city. However, the sea will be calmer from April to October if you plan to take a boat to Playa Blanca or beyond.

September and October can be quite rainy, making it a good time for budget travelers to capitalize on lower prices. 

My favorite time to visit is November, as a lot is happening without the crowds that arrive in December.

Regardless of when you visit, protect yourself from the equatorial sun with sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves.

Extraordinary Experiences in Cartagena

Cartagena, a world-class city, brims with abundant amenities and options for travelers. Explore some of my favorite hidden gems in this vibrant city:

Best Spots to Watch the Sunset

Terraza municipal sunset getsemani Cartagena
Terraza Municipal
  • Movich Hotel rooftop: Enjoy panoramic views of the city and the ocean.
  • City walls: Discover multiple bars and restaurants while enjoying the stunning sunset.
  • Laguito Beach: Head south and west of downtown for an unforgettable beach sunset.
  • Terraza Municipal: This lively space is perfect for sunset views.
  • Convento de la Popa: A historic site that offers picturesque vistas.

👉 After the sun sets, be sure to catch live performances by street dancers, musicians, and rappers in downtown and Getsemaní areas. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Cartagena Shopping

Getsemani Art Cartagena
  • Las Bovedas Market: Ideal for picking up unique souvenirs and gifts.
  • Bazurto Market: A bustling market for non-perishable food items and other goods.
  • Top Malls: Check out Bocagrande Plaza, Paseo de la Castellana, and Mansion Mall for trendy clothing and accessories.

👉 For those looking to capture unforgettable memories, consider joining a citywide photo tour. This experience will guide you to the most Instagram-worthy spots in Cartagena.

Escapes from the City

  • San Basilio de Palenque: A must-visit for history buffs, learn about the first free town in the Americas.
  • Hiking Excursions: Contact my local partner, Olinto, to arrange a guided hike in areas such as Montes de María, the Howler Monkey Trail, or around the Canal del Dique.
Book with locals
Nature excursions around Cartagena with Olinto

Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.

  • A mix of animal watching & culture.
  • Olinto is the friendliest guide ever.
See his profile Our Review
Book with local agencies we trust.

For those seeking a sea/beach adventure, there are several options:

  • Tierra Bomba: A historic site with naval battle remnants, shipwrecks, and beach clubs like “Blue Apple.”
  • Rincón del Mar: Located 3-4 hours from Cartagena by boat, this tranquil spot offers pristine beaches, coral reefs, and excellent fishing opportunities.
  • San Bernardo Islands: Venture further to Tintipán Island, where mangrove forests meet white-sand beaches and bioluminescent plankton.

Bottom line: Create your Cartagena Itinerary

As we conclude your journey through this captivating guide, let the vibrant spirit of Cartagena continue to resonate within you. 

With its colonial charm, mouthwatering cuisine, and hidden gems waiting to be discovered, Cartagena beckons you to create an unforgettable itinerary. Embrace this city’s rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking beauty. 

So, what are you waiting for?

The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss


Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)

Pozos naturales San Jose del Guaviare

Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)

Tomplanmytrip’s sections


I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.