I didn’t like the city the first time I went to Cartagena.
It was not my fault.
All the “Best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia” articles on the internet were terrible.
Fortunately, this will not happen to you.
During my last trip to this jewel of the Caribbean coast, I stayed for more than 2 months to create the best possible list of things in Cartagena de Indias.
Thanks to this post, you’ll be able to:
- Quickly find your favorite experiences.
- Decide how long you wanna stay.
- Have direct contact with our favorite local partners — we test for you the best experiences in Colombia.
Ready to plan the perfect trip?
Desde 2015, Adrien, Alejandra y yo (Tom) ayudamos a los viajeros a explorar Colombia. Aquí, encontrarás todo lo que necesitas para enamorarte de este hermoso país fácilmente.
Best Things to in Cartagena, Colombia: My top 7 tips
I know that your time is precious.
If you don’t wanna read the full list of the best things to do in Cartagena de Indias, read at least this section.
- Cartagena islands are beautiful but often crowded. Your best move would be to stay overnight on the Rosario Islands or rent a private boat for the day.
- There are nice places to watch the sunset; the city walls, the Movitch rooftop, or the Terraza Municipal are 3 good options.
- Because of mass tourism, Playa Blanca is not as cool as it used to be. If you want to discover off-the-beaten-path activities, ask Olinto.
- 2 days in Cartagena are enough for budget travelers. The city is cool only if you are willing to spend money.
- Exploring the mangroves of La Boquilla by canoe and crab fishing is a must when visiting Cartagena. Ask Cathy to organize it for you.
- I ate some delicious meals thanks to Romario’s cooking classes (and you can drink cocktails too).
- Cartagena is very Instagrammable. To make the most of it, walk around 7 am in the walled city.
👉 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.
Best Things to do inside the Walled city
El Centro and San Diego are the two most prestigious and glamorous areas of the historic center.
1# Wander in the walled city
Cartagena was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1984. Trust me, you’ll love walking through its multi-colored colonial buildings, impressive churches, and shady squares.
3-4 hours are more than enough time to take pictures and drink a nice coffee.
Enter through the Clock Tower and turn left to see the beautiful San Pedro Claver Church. Then head to Plaza de Santo Domingo to touch the imposing buttocks of Botero’s statue (it is said to bring good luck).
Afterward, allows you at least 1 hour to stroll in the quieter district of San Diego. There, you’ll find 2 pleasant places to have a quick break: Plaza San Diego and Parque Fernández Madrid.
Around 5 pm, walk towards the western walls of the old city to enjoy the sunset.
2# Sunset at Cafe del Mar (or elsewhere)
The music is good but the place is a bit too touristy for my taste. If this is your case too, you can buy a cold beer from the street vendors and find a quieter spot on the wall.
The most romantic location to enjoy the sunset is the Movitch rooftop (here).
3# A walking tour of the old city
The history of Cartagena is fascinating and explains many details that you can see in the city: strange knock doors, wooden or cement balconies, gigantic entrance doors, forts, cannons, and more.
Depending on your budget, you can book:
- A free walking tour. Beyond Colombia also does a great job. The tour lasts 2.5 hours.
- A paid shared tour. Prices are good and you’ll share your guide with fewer tourists. You can check out this one.
- A private tour. It’s the perfect option if you can afford it. Ask Cathy to plan it for you.
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4# Frenzy shopping
In Cartagena, you’ll see people with beautiful colorful clothes.
Don’t have one in your suitcase?
The old center is full of small shops selling swimwear, dresses, and handicrafts that will fit perfectly into your living room.
- Silvia Tcherassi: World famous designer from the Caribbean Coast.
- Beatriz Camacho: Beautiful creations for women inspired by nature and feelings.
- Las Bóvedas: Ideal to buy cheap souvenirs.
- Portal de los dulces: Paradise for candy lovers.
5# Show of traditional African dances
If you think the sunset will not be great because of the clouds, change your plans and head for Bolivar Square (around 5h30 pm). Every night, a group of musicians and dancers come to perform for about fifteen minutes. They also stop in front of the Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría.
This is a simple and pleasant thing to do in Cartagena.
6# Become a top model
During your stay in Cartagena, you will have hundreds of opportunities to take beautiful pictures. It is without a doubt one of the most photogenic cities in South America.
The problem is that being a photographer, you will never be in the pictures.
It’s a pity, especially if you come here to celebrate a special occasion.
Why not ask someone to take amazing shots?
👉 I did a great Cartagena photography tour with Marina. And yes, it was fun!
7# Visit the best Cartagena museums
Cartagena is not famous for its museums.
Still, there are 2 that are worth visiting.
- Museo Naval: An excellent way to discover the history of Cartagena de Indias. It combines perfectly with a city tour. Some guides speak English | 2 hours | here.
- Museo del Oro Zenú: It’s a small gold museum. Its main interest is to learn about the Zenú people and their life. The main museum has been under restoration for several years and there is just a mini-exhibition (free) at the moment. Check Google before you go.
Towards Simon Bolivar Square, you will also find the Palace of the Inquisition. It is a museum that shows the tools of torture used during the Spanish inquisition. I find it quite disappointing.
8# Take pictures with the Palenqueras
Originally, the palenqueras come from the village of San Basilio de Palenque. They commute every day to Cartagena to sell fruits, and sweets and have their picture taken with tourists.
I must admit that their colorful dresses are beautiful.
Be sure to ask the price before taking your picture (15-20,000 COP).
9# Do you know Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
Gabriel Marquez is a famous Colombian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, rewarding a singular writing style, a mixture of realism, and a skillful touch of surreality. The Caribbean coast has been a source of inspiration for the writer.
👉 Discover his story as you wander through the alleys of Cartagena.
10# Delicious cocktails and cooking classes with Romario
These two activities were my favorite things to do in Cartagena de Indias.
The cocktail course uses spirits and fruits from Colombia. The combinations are surprising, and it’s a great way to start the evening.
As for the cooking class, it was one of my favorite meals! Romario offers a variety of menus to choose from, and you can even include a trip to a market to buy your ingredients.
👉 Discover Romario’s profile.
Best things to do in Getsemaní
Getsemaní is also part of the walled city. It was a poor neighborhood during the Spanish colonization. Today it is a lively and still authentic area (compared to the historical center).
Let’s see what you can do in Getsemaní.
11# Admire Getsemaní street art
Numerous graffiti are scattered throughout the streets of Getsemaní. In addition to their visual beauty, they carry messages to denounce the problems of Colombia. It is the artists’ way of educating the inhabitants and the tourists.
Allow 1 to 2 hours to walk around Getsemaní.
👉 And if you want to get more information about the messages behind this street art, don’t hesitate to book a graffiti walking tour.
12# Hang out on Trinidad Square at night
Plaza de la Trinidad is a hotspot to start your evening in Cartagena.
Every night, a hundred travelers and locals gather to listen to music, drink a beer, or chat. This attracts many street performers, from a Michael Jackson look-alike to a cumbia band and a hip hop show.
You can come around 7 pm. It’s here.
13# Walking tour in Getsemaní
The Getsemaní neighborhood has less impressive Spanish colonial buildings—it was a poor neighborhood.
However, there are some interesting anecdotes to discover. For example, did you know that it was from Trinidad square that the Cartagena people protested to obtain their first independence?
There are also many lovely and authentic places to discover. It’s up to you to look for them or hire a local guide.
👉 Ask Cathy to plan the best Getsemaní walking tour.
14# Look for the monkeys in Centenario Park
Centenario Park, located between Getsemani and the old city center, was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the independence of Cartagena. Among trees, you’ll find a small colony of monkeys — capuchin explorers and chip lovers.
They can be hard to spot, so don’t hesitate to ask the street vendors around.
15# Biking in Cartagena
The distances between the different tourist sites in Cartagena are short. And it’s not necessarily the easiest city to explore by bike (lots of cars and traffic).
It can still be a fun activity to do in Cartagena if you have little time and want a quick visit.
👉 You can book a bike tour or just rent the bikes.
16# Become a rum expert
In Colombia, the most famous alcohol is… El Aguardiente.
Its aniseed taste appeals to only a few travelers.
Fortunately, the country also has a good reputation for its rum. The most famous are: El Dictador, La Hechicera and Rum Parce.
Are you curious about it?
The trendy bar El Arsenal the rum box offers a rum tasting with chocolate. You’ll get 8 rum paired with delicious surprises.
Best things to do in Bocagrande and around
The most exciting places to visit in Cartagena de Indias are between Getsemaní and the historic city. You can do everything on foot.
There are still 4 cool things to do outside these areas.
17# Walking at night along the bay of Bocagrande
Bocagrande, Castillogrande, and Laguito are the modern districts of Cartagena. This peninsula of 4-5 long streets is bordered by crowded beaches and the city’s bay.
There is little point in going there unless you want to take a night stroll along the quays. The space is well arranged for pedestrians, and the sight of the skyscrapers is quite impressive.
You can start from here and then walk to the Laguito lake. It should take no more than 30 min.
18# Admire the city view from la Popa
La Popa is the highest mountain in Cartagena. It is named after its shape, which looks like a boat’s bow.
On top of it, there is a beautiful convent with a flowery inner courtyard and a chapel. It’s up to you to decide if you want to enter or not (approx 12,000 COP, 20 min are enough to visit it).
From La Popa, the view of the city is impressive. I particularly recommend it for the sunset.
Locals said it’s not safe to walk there from the old city. It’s a bit far, and you’ll pass by poor neighborhoods. The easiest way to do it is to pay for a taxi approx 50,000 COP. He will drive you there, wait 1 hour, then bring you back to your hotel.
19# Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Cartagena had developed many stratagems to protect itself from attacks by sea. The only way left for the pirates was to arrive by land. Hence the construction of Fort San Felipe.
This fort is one of the biggest in America and can impress travelers who are not used to visiting these impressive fortifications—people from Europe might want to skip it.
It takes 1 hour to visit. You can enter with or without a guide. The entrance fee is around 25,000 cop for foreigners (20,000 COP for Colombians).
There are few explanations, but you can explore the various tunnel and admire the city from the top of the fort.
More information here.
20# Explore the Bazurto Market
Lots of things are going on in Bazurto Market.
Some are fixing mechanical components. Others are designing colorful posters to announce Champeta’s new hype night. Even a small restaurant had the honor to receive the chef Anthony Bourdain.
The visit to the Bazurto market is not for the faint of heart. The stalls are in the open air, the atmosphere is stifling, and the environment is not very hygienic.
Still, it is an experience worth the detour if you are curious to know another side of Cartagena.
I don’t see the point of going without a local guide as you’ll miss all the fun.
👉 Ask Cathy to plan your Bazurto Market tour.
Best Cartagena day trips
Now it’s time to have a look at the surroundings of Cartagena.
Island hopping, cultural trips, animal watching… You’ll learn everything in this section.
Let’s start with the famous Cartagena islands.
👉 Don’t forget to read our Rosario Islands Travel Guide.
The Rosario Islands are located 1 hour by boat from Cartagena. They are heavenly, and if you can, I advise you to sleep there for 2 nights.
Don’t you have the time?
There are still several boat tours from Cartagena to enjoy it in one day.
21# Rent a private boat and explore the Rosario Islands
Many boat owners rent their boats to tourists in Cartagena. If you know the right people, you can get away with it for a reasonable budget and enjoy a much more fun experience than a group tour.
We give you several tips to find the best Cartagena boat rentals.
Your boat will leave around 9 am from the port in front of the old city, and you will be back around 4 pm. Trust your local captain to show you the best beaches of the islands.
You can also decide to party in Isla Cholón with your friends.
It’s one of the best things to do in Cartagena if you can’t stay overnight on the Rosario Islands.
👉 You can ask Aymeric to help you. He is our boat expert in Cartagena.
22# Catamaran day trip
Can’t you afford to rent a private boat in Cartagena?
I’ve still another option you might like.
The biggest drawback with most group tours heading to the islands is that you will be crammed onto a small boat for 2-3 hours.
But what if you can take advantage of the crossing to sunbathe, dance, and drink delicious cocktails?
👉 This is what this cool Catamaran tour offers.
Moreover, they include snorkel gears, lunch, and free fresh juice.
It’s one of the best Cartagena tours you could book during your stay (if you like group tours).
23# Sunth bath on the famous Playa Blanca beach
I bet you’ve already heard of Playa Blanca in Isla Barú.
It is the most famous and beautiful beach in Cartagena.
The problem is that there are now too many people. It’s a bit of a mess between the tourists, the jetskis, the street vendors, and the bars.
Your best option is to stay overnight in one of the basic huts on the beach. You’ll have the place for yourself till 9 am by doing so.
👉 To get there, you can book private transportation or a taxi. It takes 1 hour.
👉 Or you can book one of the numerous tours. This one would be the best option for the moment.
24# Explore the South of Isla Barú
Want to avoid tourists on Isla Barú?
It’s still doable — although it’s every year getting harder.
Few travelers decide to venture south of the island for a day trip from Cartagena. It’s pretty far (1.5 hours), and there are no indications on the internet.
Fortunately, there is Oli.
Aboard his 4*4, accompany him to visit the village of Barú. You will discover a strong culture, proudly defended by the descendants of enslaved people who came to seek refuge from their persecutors.
👉 Ask Oli to plan this experience.
25# Stay overnight in Isla Grande
For me, Isla Grande is the best Cartagena island.
It takes 1 hour to get there.
👉 You can also stay on a beautiful private island 🙂
26# Beach clubs in Tierra Bomba
Don’t like the idea of spending several hours in a boat?
There is still a solution.
Tierra Bomba Island is located 15 min by boat from Bocagrande. Cool beach clubs (including Blue Apple) offer full-day tours (transportation included) for dancing on the beach and drinking cocktails.
Note that the scenery is not comparable with Isla Grande.
27# Visit La Boquilla, a fishing town in the mangroves
Visiting La Boquilla is an excellent option to avoid the crowd and do something different in Cartagena.
With the city’s rapid expansion, this small fishing village, located 20 min from the old town, is now surrounded by numerous buildings. This does not prevent the inhabitants from doing their best to preserve their culture.
Aboard a canoe, you will be able to enter the mangroves to observe the fauna and flora. This trip leads to peaceful lagoons where you can forget about the city noise.
Depending on the tour you choose, you can cook with the locals or go crab fishing.
Count 4 to 7 hours.
👉 Ask Cathy to plan this experience.
28# Learn about San Basilio de Palenque
San Basilio de Palenque is the other main cultural day trip in Cartagena. The city was an important slave port, and some of them managed to escape to live together in Palenques.
During this tour, discover how the inhabitants have adapted while preserving their African heritage.
San Basilio de Palenque is an hour and a half drive away, and the weather is scorching. Come prepared 😉
👉 Ask Cathy to plan this experience.
29# Moutain bike in Tierra Bomba
It is ideal for sporty travelers who stay many days in Cartagena.
Valerie will take care of all the logistics to transport you to Tierra Bomba and organize a 4-hour mountain bike tour. This will allow you to visit the famous fort of Bocachica and eat delicious fresh fish.
After this activity, you still have a couple of hours to enjoy the Playa Linda beach and order homemade gin cocktails at Amare. This is a new affordable beach club with great music.
Learn more about my Tierra Bomba adventure.
30# Diving in Cartagena, Colombia
Between shipwrecks and coral reefs, there is plenty of fun to be found in the depths of the Caribbean Sea.
The best dives are around Isla Grande.
31# Hiking and monkey watching in the Montes de María
Do you know anything about Tropical Dry Forest?
It is an ecosystem that is gradually disappearing because of humankind. The fauna and flora that make up this environment have adapted to the long periods of drought.
Our friend Oli offers several hikes around Cartagena to note these developments – and with a bit of luck, observe monkeys in the area.
You can also take the opportunity to discover the village of Jacinto, the birthplace of Cumbia in Colombia.
👉 Ask Olinto to plan this experience.
32# Beautiful birds at the National Aviary
I loved the Nacional Aviario.
It is a private organization that takes in birds that are victims of illegal traffic or in danger of extinction.
You will observe many species such as toucans, vultures, and the famous harpy eagle. Even a couple of Andean condors gave birth to a baby!
The circuit is well laid out, and you will need about 3 hours to complete it.
At 11:30 am and 3:30 pm, there is a show with the birds (don’t worry, they are well treated and not forced).
It is best to arrive in the morning around 9:30 am to avoid the heat and attend the 11:30 am show.
There is no public transportation to get to the Aviary. You will have to take private transport or go on a tour.
👉 Ask Cathy to plan this experience.
33# Sunset in Cartagena’s bay
It’s an easy and romantic thing to do in Cartagena.
The boats usually leave around 4-5 pm from the tourist pier and stop between Tierra Bomba and Bocagrande.
👉 You can decide to join other travelers – 2 hours.
👉 Or rent a private boat with Aymeric.
Best things to eat and drink in Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena is a city full of delicious restaurants and cocktail bars.
Thanks to this section, you will become an expert on the subject.
34# Devour delicious Caribbean dishes
There are delicious specialties to taste in Cartagena.
First, the seafood.
In addition to the lobsters, you can order Camarones a l’ajillo (shrimps with garlic) or ceviche of Corvina. It will be fantastic with tasty coconut rice.
For meat lovers, the posta negra (see picture) is one of the specialties of Cartagena. It is a piece of beef cooked in a slightly sweet wine sauce.
Here is the list of good restaurants to eat Caribbean specialties:
- Lobo de Mar (ceviche)
- La cocina de Pepina (posta negra)
- Celele (upscale restaurant with creative dishes)
- La Mulata (great quality/price)
- Candé (live music and dances)
👉 You can also ask Romario to teach you how to cook delicious Caribbean dishes.
35# Book a table at a romantic restaurant
Cartagena is a fantastic destination for couples.
Some restaurants are located in beautiful colonial buildings, especially those in the walled city.
The best restaurants in the town are often full-booked. I advise you to make your reservation at least one day in advance —especially on weekends or during the high season.
Here is a list of romantic restaurants in Cartagena:
- Club de Pesca (nearby the ocean, in the marina).
- Alma (located in Casa San Agustin, the best luxury hotel in Cartagena).
- Restaurante 1621 (luxurious garden and a 400 year old building)
36# Look for the best street food
To eat on the go or save money, there is nothing better than street food.
And between the Spanish, African and Lebanese influences, there is a lot to enjoy in Cartagena.
Let’s start with the fried stuff.
While in Cartagena, you must try:
- Patacones (a fried, crushed and then fried again platain) with costeño cheese.
- Empanadas (Corn flour dough filled with tomato, onions and meat that is fried in abundant oil)
- Arepa con huevo (round dough made of corn and fried with an egg inside)
- Ceviche with a secret sweet sauce
- Mango biche (mango pieces mixed with salt, pepper and lime juice)
Don’t be afraid to try them all!
👉 Another option is to book a Cartagena street food tour.
37# Find the best Cartagena rooftop
Maybe your Cartagena hotel won’t have a rooftop.
There are several cool rooftops where you can go in the city.
Here is my secret list:
- Movitch hotel: perfect for sunset.
- Selina: to start the evening.
- Town house: to listen to good music.
- Mirador Gastro Bar: Best view on the clock tower.
38# Sip good cocktails
It’s never easy to find good cocktails. Here are three places where you won’t be disappointed:
- TownHouse rooftop.
- Alquímico: inventive, bizarre and delicious.
- Barón: classic and good.
- The Arsenal: the rum box.
Be ready to pay from 25 – 40,000 COP for those cocktails.
Is this out of budget?
I’ve got another excellent option.
Go to Trinidad square after 7 pm and look for Trinity Cocktails. It’s a small stand under a tree in the middle of the square. Delicious, strong and cheap cocktails.
39# Dance Salsa in Cartagena, Colombia
On the Caribbean coast, salsa is not as popular as Champeta. But since Cartagena is a tourist city, you won’t have any trouble finding a salsa bar.
My favorite spots are:
40# Where is my good Colombian coffee
There are several nice cafes where you can take a break during your stay in Cartagena. And most of them are air-conditioned!
- Cafe del Mural (see photo): Owner passionate about coffee and machines. If you want to have a deep discussion on the subject, he’s the one to meet. He also offers a very affordable coffee tasting tour.
- Ábaco Libros y Café: Peaceful atmosphere surrounded by books. It reminds me a little bit of Harry Potter #Idontknowwhy.
- Epoca Espresso Bar: Two locations. A chic and elegant atmosphere to order a coffee with your brunch (or a cocktail).
Best events in Cartagena, Colombia
Depending on when you arrive, there may be a fantastic event planned. Check it out in this section.
41# Cartagena’s Independence Day
November 11 is the independence day of Cartagena. The locals take this event very much to heart. Many concerts, parades, and parties are organized around this date. There is even the election of Miss Colombia!
42# The Hay Festival
It’s one of the most significant Cartagena events. The city organized a mix of concerts, workshops, and discussions on instrumental music and international literature in beautiful locations.
It’s in January.
43# Celebrating New Year’s Eve
In Colombia, New Year’s Day is an important event celebrated with the family. Then some of them go out to the nightclub after midnight.
It’s a bit different in Cartagena.
Locals set up tables and chairs in front of the ramparts, and the party goes on all day and night. Lots of fancy restaurants and bars plan their private events too.
And at midnight, there is a superb fireworks show.
On the downside, Cartagena will be super crowded at this time of the year.
Where to stay in Cartagena, Colombia
Depending on the atmosphere you are looking for and your budget, there are different areas where you can book your hotel in Cartagena.
- Travelers looking for luxury and romance will love El Centro and San Diego.
- Those who have a smaller budget and would like a more authentic area will be happy to stay at Getsemaní.
- Travelers who love big modern hotels with swimming pools and breakfast buffet should search their hotels in Laguito and Bocagrande.
- Finally, beach lovers will be disappointed by Cartagena and should stay at least two nights on the Rosario Islands.
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)