The Ideal Cartagena Itinerary: 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 Days? [The Truth]

My epic 7-day Cartagena Itinerary and recommendations to quickly decide how many days you should spend here.

🛑 Imagine making the most of your stay, following an optimized Cartagena itinerary created by an expert who knows this city like the back of his hand. 😎

Who is this expert? Me, of course 🙂

I’ve stayed in Cartagena more than a dozen times, sometimes for more than a month, in search of the best experiences this city has to offer.

Depending on what you want to do and your budget, you’ll be happy to stay 2 to 7 days in Cartagena de Indias.

But to get the right answer and dream of your ideal itinerary, you need to read this article.

Here is what you’ll get:

  • How to spend 2 incredible days in Cartagena.
  • Which island paradise can you add to your itinerary if you stay for 5 days.
  • My favorite way to enjoy Cartagena’s nightlife.
  • What is America’s first free city (a UNESCO heritage site), and how can you visit it on the sixth day.
  • Where to find the best beach clubs to end your week in Cartagena.

👉 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.

For readers who don’t like to read.

  • Day 1: Early exploration of Cartagena’s historic center; lunch at Montesacro Resto Bar; vibrant evening in Getsemaní with dinner at Celele or Sambal.
  • Day 2: Morning mangrove tour and crab fishing in La Boquilla with Cathy; afternoon rooftop relaxation; evening dining at Montmartre and nightlife around San Diego square.
  • Day 3: Private boat trip to Rosario Islands; stay at Coralina Island or Eco Hotel Islabela; sunset and starry night on the island.
  • Day 4: Tranquil island morning with kayaking; siesta and snorkeling in the afternoon; swimming with luminescent plankton at dusk.
  • Day 5: Return to Cartagena; ice cream at Paraiso; cocktail class with Romario; nightlife at La Tertulia salsa bar.
  • Day 6: Cultural trip to San Basilio de Palenque; evening walk along Manga bay; dinner at 7 CIELOS rooftop.
  • Day 7: Fun day at Tierra Bomba’s beach clubs; Amare or Blue Apple; end the day at a fine Cartagena restaurant.

What to read next:


Who are we 👋

Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.


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    Cathy's agency specializes in community tourism, where you can get to know the locals. With her, you can organize guided tours of the city, explore the mangroves of La Boquilla or discover the village of San Basilio de Palenque.

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    Olinto is a nature lover who will help you discover a little-known ecosystem: a tropical dry forest. Join him to observe wildlife—monkeys—and combine your visit with a local cumbia concert.

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Over 100 of our readers book their boats in Cartagena with Aymeric monthly. He works only with the best local captains, knows the best spots, and will quickly answer any questions you may have.

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4.8
Description:

Cathy's agency specializes in community tourism, where you can get to know the locals. With her, you can organize guided tours of the city, explore the mangroves of La Boquilla or discover the village of San Basilio de Palenque.

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Romario is a Cartagena chef with excellent facilities to teach you how to cook local specialties, serve unusual cocktails and visit the Bazurto market.

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Olinto is a nature lover who will help you discover a little-known ecosystem: a tropical dry forest. Join him to observe wildlife—monkeys—and combine your visit with a local cumbia concert.

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What I think of Cartagena

Historic center Santa Catalina church cartagena

Is Cartagena worth visiting

My early experiences in Cartagena were underwhelming, marked by the constraints of a tight budget and a sense of it being too catered to tourists. However, experiencing the city many times over the years, with more money, changed my perspective.

Cartagena reveals itself as a city of romance and luxury, boasting vibrant nightlife, gourmet restaurants, and unforgettable boat tours.

This transformation in experience highlighted how Cartagena can offer vastly different experiences based on one’s travel style and budget.

As with any popular destination, there are plenty of tourist traps to avoid.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days in Cartagen

From my experience, one single day is enough to get a good feel for Cartagena’s historic center and Getsemani.

But, if you’re in the mood to sample different culinary delights and are up for a day trip outside the city, stretching your stay to 3 days would be ideal.

Planning to unwind on the Rosario Islands? Then I’d recommend setting aside at least 5 days.

However, I found that after a week, the city’s appeal might wane, particularly if lounging on the beach isn’t your thing.

And if you’re watching your expenses, consider staying just for 1-2 nights and then exploring other spots along the Caribbean Coast.

My Ideal Cartagena itinerary

Here’s the ideal 7-day itinerary to Cartagena de Indias that I recommend, after more than 2 months there.

I’ve included in the first few days the activities I thought were the most important. So if you only have 4 days, for example, you can stop at day 4.

Day 1 in Cartagena

Cartagena travel itinerary

Day 1 in Cartagena: Visit the old city.

Morning in Cartagena

I love starting my Cartagena adventure early, around 7 am, at the Clock Tower Gate. It’s like stepping into the heart of El Centro’s rich history. I wander past landmarks like Santuario de San Pedro Claver and Catedral de Santa Catalina, absorbing the ambiance of plazas like Santo Domingo and Bolivar.

Walking along the historic walls offers breathtaking views, Too.

In San Diego, the streets are an enchanting mix of colors and simplicity. I never miss out on a refreshing street-side juice and a hearty breakfast at places like La Brioche or Epoca.

To top off the morning, I explore the Naval and Gold Museums for a dive into Cartagena’s storied past.

Lunch: Montesacro Resto Bar is my choice for lunch. The grilled octopus and shrimp pasta there, enjoyed on a breezy balcony, are delightful.

Afternoon in Cartagena

After a rest at the hotel to escape the midday heat, I head to Getsemaní around 3-4 pm.

This neighborhood’s transformation from a quiet morning to a lively evening is fascinating.

I explore its vibrant street art, from Calle de la Sierpe to the whimsical Calle de las Sombrillas, and enjoy the cultural performances in Plaza de la Trinidad.

Evening in Cartagena

Getsemaní’s energy at night is infectious.

I grab a cocktail in Callejon Ancho, joining locals in the street-side festivities. For dinner, a fusion of Colombian flavors awaits at Celele or Sambal—remember to book in advance!

Day 2 in Cartagena

Cartagena itinerary

Day 2 in Cartagena: La Boquilla and rooftops.

Morning in La Boquilla

I start my day early at 7 am, heading to the Boquilla Mangrove with Cathy.

The journey from Cartagena’s historic walls to the humble fishing village is a stark contrast and an adventure in itself.

The mangrove tour is a serene experience, navigating through the Chago tunnel and learning about the ecosystem.

Crab fishing follows, where I catch crabs using sardines in traps – a simple yet engaging process. Lunch is an authentic treat with a local family cooking with fire wood, enjoying dishes like fish, coconut rice, patacones, and, of course, the crabs I caught.

I’ve done this on two occasions and never managed to finish my dish.

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Cartagena's culture and history with Cathy
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Afternoon in Cartagena

Post-lunch, I retreat to my hotel for a rest. Want to know my secret to enjoying Cartagena? Stay in a hotel with a swimming pool.

Later, around 5 pm, I visit the Movitch rooftop. It’s a fantastic spot in the historic center, ideal for Instagram-worthy pictures and enjoying a refreshing cocktail with a stunning view at sunset.

Evening in Cartagena

My night begins with a delightful dinner at Montmartre, a French restaurant offering excellent value.

Then, I immerse myself in the vibrant nightlife around San Diego square, visiting spots like El Coro Lounge Bar for cocktails, Botika for its rooftop ambiance, and La Juma for a more relaxed setting with draft beers.

Day 3 in Cartagena

Cartagena itinerary

Day 3 in Cartagena: Rent a boat to the Rosario Islands.

Full day in the Rosario Islands

My day begins with a comfortable yet adventurous private boat trip, arranged through Aymeric.

Setting sail at 9 AM, this journey offers a personalized experience exploring the picturesque Rosario Islands.

I revel in the turquoise waters and white-sand beaches, with options for snorkeling and visiting exclusive beach restaurants like Pa’ue. The onboard amenities, including a sound system and cooler for drinks, enhance this opulent sea adventure.

As the afternoon approaches, I ask the captain to drop me off at my hotel in Isla Grande around 3:30 PM.

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  • Pay local prices at no extra cost.
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For my stay, I choose the Coralina Island hotel on Isleta, near Isla Grande. It’s a romantic retreat with rooms boasting private decks overlooking the Caribbean, offering a blend of French-Colombian culinary delights. Alternatively, for a more budget-friendly option, Eco Hotel Islabela provides serene bungalows with a private beach and warm hospitality, perfect for a relaxed island experience.

As the sun sets, I immerse myself in the tranquil beauty of the Caribbean ocean, watching the sunset from the comfort of Coralina Island.

Later, the starry night sky above the Rosario Islands provides a stunning backdrop, perfect for a peaceful end to an eventful day.

Day 4 in Cartagena

Cartagena Itinerary

Day 4: Enjoy Isla Grande.

Morning on the island

On this paradise island, I embrace the “tranquil life”.

My day starts with a hearty breakfast, enjoying the cool shade of the trees, with a good book and a view of the ocean.

I then pick a kayak or paddleboard to explore the waters around my hotel. It’s a morning of peaceful exploration, perfectly blending relaxation with a touch of adventure.

Lunch is a delightful affair, included in my stay. The local flavors, fresh ingredients, and the gentle sea breeze make it the perfect meal.

Afternoon on the island

Post-lunch, I indulge in a siesta, interspersed with refreshing swims and snorkeling. I’m cautious of the occasional boats passing by.

As dusk sets in, I prepare for a unique experience – swimming with the luminescent plankton in the lagoon of Isla Grande. Nights with a new moon are particularly magical due to the presence of Noctiluca scintillans, an algae that emits luminous flashes with the movement of the waves. It’s like swimming among the stars.

Day 5 in Cartagena

Cartagena Itinerary

Day 5 in Cartagena: Come back from the islands to join a cocktail class and enjoy Cartagena nightlife.

Morning on the island

On my last morning in paradise, I take it slow. Even slower than yesterday. If I’m in the mood, I might book a fun dive.

Afternoon in Cartagena

In the afternoon, I take the hotel’s boat back to Cartagena, arriving around 4:30 pm.

I usually stay at the same hotel, having left my larger bag there. On my way back, I treat myself to a delicious ice cream from Paraiso, a perfect sweet note to my journey.

Evening in Cartagena

After a quick shower at the hotel, I’m ready for Cartagena’s nightlife.

My evening starts with a cocktail class with Romario, from 6 to 8 pm, where I get to learn about and enjoy Colombian spirits and local fruits.

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Cooking and cocktail classes with Chef Romario
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Afterward, depending on my mood, I might visit the Town House rooftop, El Baron, or Alquimico for more exquisite cocktails.

Around 10 pm, I head to La Tertulia, a less crowded salsa bar in Getsemani with a live band and a cover of around 10 USD. Over the years, I’ve learned a few salsa steps. I can now hold a whole song without sweating from stress. Yippee! It’s the perfect ending to my evening, and I take a taxi back to my hotel after a night of dancing and enjoyment.

Day 6 In Cartagena

Cartagena Itinerary

Day 6 in Cartagena: learn more about its African roots.

Day in San Basilio de Palenque

Today, I delve into the rich history of slavery linked to Cartagena with a day trip to San Basilio de Palenque.

Founded by escaped slaves, this village is the first free town in America and a UNESCO heritage site. It’s a place where African traditions are vibrantly preserved through dance, music, language, and food. The unique language, Palenquero, and the medicinal practices passed down from Africa offer a deep cultural experience.

Upon arriving, I’m welcome with a presentation of medicinal plants, a testament to the community’s deep connection with nature. The day is filled with exploring the village’s rich history, learning about its resilient people, and even meeting local artisans who sell homemade sweets—palenqueras.

For lunch, we eat a traditional meal of Mojarra fish with coconut rice, served on a banana leaf, along with salad and agua panela. This authentic meal is eaten with a spoon made from totumo and fingers, offering an immersive cultural experience.

I’m back in Cartagena around 4 pm.

Evening in Cartagena

I don’t like staying in Bocagrande, but it’s pleasant to walk along the well-arranged bay facing Manga.

The path is bustling with people engaging in sports and enjoying the pleasant breeze. For dinner, I head to 7 CIELOS, a new restaurant with a rooftop, offering a delightful dining experience to end the day.

Day 7 in Cartagena

Cartagena Itinerary

Day 7 in Cartagena: Pick a beach club in Tierra Bomba.

Day in Tierra Bomba island

My last day in Cartagena takes me to Tierra Bomba. While the beaches and water color aren’t as stunning as in other areas, it’s still a fun destination, especially at places like Blue Apple Beach and Amare Beach Club.

I prefer using the hotel’s boat for the 15-minute journey from Bocagrande or Castillete, making the trip easy and enjoyable.

Amare Beach Club offers a laid-back vibe, focusing on alcohol, food, pool, and music. The day pass offers great value with its credit system for food and drinks. During the week, they offer an open bar deal at an unbeatable price.

Evening in Cartagena

To celebrate the end of my stay, I need to pick a fine restaurant. I choose between Carmen’s degustation menu, the romantic ambiance of Alma, or Kero Gastrobar.

Deciding where to stay in Cartagena depends on your preferences and itinerary. Here’s a breakdown based on different needs:

  1. For a Luxurious or Romantic Stay: The Old Town, comprising El Centro and San Diego, is ideal for luxury and proximity to top restaurants, though it can be pricey and noisy.
  2. Vibrant and Budget-Friendly: Getsemaní offers a lively atmosphere with plenty of hostels, boutique hotels, bars, and restaurants, perfect for those looking to party and meet people.
  3. Modern and boring Areas: Bocagrande, Laguito & Castillogrande resemble a mini-Miami with large hotels and beaches, offering a better price-quality ratio but lacking the magical Cartagena vibe.
  4. Authentic Residential Experience: Manga is becoming popular for its affordability and authenticity, ideal for longer stays and those avoiding the tourist crowds.

If you’re only staying a few days and it’s your first time in Cartagena, I’d recommend staying closer to the tourist attractions (Historic center & Getsemani).

Understanding Cartagena’s climate and seasons is key to planning your visit:

  1. Seasons: Cartagena has two main seasons – dry (December to April) and rainy (May to November)—although even in the rainy season, there’s plenty of sunshine. The heaviest rains are in September and October.
  2. Temperature: Expect daily highs around 31-32°C (88-93°F) and nighttime lows rarely below 25°C (77°F), with little variation throughout the year.
  3. Humidity: It’s high year-round, around 80% in the dry season and up to 100% in the rainy season.
  4. Crowds: Peak tourist times are mid-December to mid-January, Holy Week, mid-June to July, the October break, and around Independence of Cartagena (11/11).
  5. Special Occasions: The city’s festive mood peaks around Independence Day (11/11) and New Year’s Eve. Honeymooners might prefer the first half of December or February to April for fewer crowds.
  6. Shoulder Seasons: April, May, November, and early December are ideal for lower prices and thinner crowds.

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

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