Cartagena de Indias: All You Need to Plan Your Trip
Cartagena de Indias is a city that attracts tourists from all over the world. This city, located on the Caribbean coast, is an easy and safe destination to visit in Colombia. I spent more than 3 months in Cartagena. Thanks to this guide, you will be able to avoid the mistakes that beginners make and organize your ideal stay.
Cartagena de Indias is a colonial city located on the eastern coast of the Caribbean. With more than 1 million inhabitants, Cartagena is the capital of the Bolivar department and one of the major ports in Colombia.
Travelers come to Cartagena for its beautiful historic center, its delicious restaurants, luxury hotels, and the beautiful islands of Rosario. In 1984, the Walled City was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s one of the most famous places to visit in Colombia.
Best time to visit Cartagena de Indias
It is warm all year round in Cartagena de Indias. Some months are rainier, but this should not bother you to enjoy your stay. Mostly it is heavy but brief showers at the end of the day.
It is more the high season (concerning tourism) that you should consider before visiting Cartagena.
December – April
These are the sunniest months of the year. There is a pleasant breeze, and the heat is more bearable.
From 20/12 to 15/01, it’s the VERY high season. Prices increase significantly, and I advise you to book your accommodation in advance. The same goes for boat rentals.
There is the Hay Festival in January (instrumental music and literature).
Cartagena is one of the most entertaining cities on New Year’s Eve, with an incredible fireworks show and many private parties.
There are some rainfalls in March & April, but most of the tourists are gone — except during the Holy Week (Semana Santa).
The sea is rough in the afternoon.
It rains almost once a day. You just have to seek shelter :). The winds decrease, and the sea becomes calmer.
June – August
The number of rainy days decreases and foreigners start coming again in July. Many Colombian students are on vacation in June.
September – November
This is the low season, and these are the rainiest months of the year (rainy season). Many local tourists celebrate Cartagena’s independence day (11 November) as the city organizes many events. And it’s also the Miss Colombia contest!
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How to get to Cartagena & around
The airport is called Rafael Núñez. It is located in the district “Crespo”. The cab ride to the old town is about 15 minutes. You can also use the private transportation service of our local partner.
Many national and international flights have direct flights to Cartagena: Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Bogotá, Pereira, Neiva.
The Cartagena bus terminal is located outside the city. Count 45min by taxi to reach the walled city.
It is also possible to use a door-to-door shuttle to travel faster to Santa Marta or Tayrona. The companies are Berlinastur and Marsol.
The historic center is the most visited area of Cartagena de Indias. It is composed of 2 districts: El Centro & San Diego (quieter). You will love to walk through its narrow streets in the shade of the colorful facades and flowery balconies.
Don’t forget to stroll through the numerous squares of the city, such as Plaza de La Aduana, Plaza de Los Coches, Plaza de Bolivar, Plaza de San Domingo, or the secluded Plaza San Diego.
And enjoy the sights of the most beautiful monuments: Torre del Reloj, the iglesia de santo domingo, El Santuario de San Pedro Claver & La Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría.
Then, head to Café del Mar at sunset to enjoy the show from the city walls.
The Rosario Islands are an archipelago of thirty coral islands, located 1 hour by boat from Cartagena de Indias in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Because of their beauty, they are very popular with travelers, especially in the high season.
My favorite way to enjoy it is to stay there for at least 2 nights (Isla Grande is my favorite island). You can even rent a private island.
Cartagena, known as the heroic city, built many fortifications to protect itself from pirates. In addition to its large city walls, you can visit two impressive forts: the fort of Bocachica (south of Tierra Bomba) and the fort of San Felipe de Bajas. The latter is the largest fort in South America.
7# Delicious Cooking class or street food tour
The Caribbean coast cuisine has been influenced by different cultures, mainly Spanish and African. Don’t hesitate to stop at the different stands to try fried plantains with cheese, empanadas with homemade hot sauce, or an arepa de huevo (with eggs).
If your Spanish is limited or you wish to know where the best places to order a snack are, you can check this excellent Cartagena Street Food Tour with a local chef.
An even better option would be to book a cooking class in Cartagena. I did it with Romario, and I loved it. This friendly chef offers various experiences and dishes — including a fun cocktail class with Colombian spirits.
In any case, you can’t leave Cartagena without eating good grilled fish with coconut rice. That would be a crime!
👉 Would you like to cook Caribbean dishes for your friend? Ask Romario, our favorite chef in Cartagena.
8# Cultural and nature trips outside Cartagena, Colombia
In addition to the Rosario Islands, you can visit towns rich in culture and history.
Head to La Boquilla to explore beautiful mangroves on a canoe and learn an exciting crab fishing technique.
You will also have the opportunity to go to San Basilio de Palenque, one of the first free towns in South America (founded by runaway African slaves).
And if you like walking in nature and animal watching, I invite you to contact Olinto. We organized a beautiful hike around Cartagena with him in the dry tropical forest of Montes de María.
This is the modern area of Cartagena, with skyscrapers built along the beach. You will find more attractive rates and some rooms have a great skyline view. On the other hand, there is not the romantic atmosphere of the other areas.
Isla Baru is a tropical paradise known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and diverse marine life. It offersa range of accommodations, from budget hostels to luxury resorts, catering to various travel preferences.
Casa Isabel is a small boutique hotel located on a quiet street in Getsemaní. The friendliness of the staff, the delicious breakfast (with lots of different options), and the views of the bay make it one of the best hotels in Cartagena. The quality/price ratio is excellent. I recommend you book a room with a balcony.
With only 7 rooms, Casa la Cartujita is the perfect option for travelers who want to plan a comfortable stay without breaking the bank. This former convent turned boutique hotel is located on one of my favorite streets in Cartagena. Don't hesitate to ask the staff for recommendations!
Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or traveling with a larger group, Hotel Casa San Agustinoffers elegant suites in colonial-style buildings to fit your party. The central courtyard features a tranquil pool with outdoor seating to enjoy sightseeing, fine dining, and a spa and wellness center.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is built in a 17th-century convent with beautiful colonial architecture. The magnificent courtyard centers around an impressive swimming pool surrounded by lush tropical greenery. You will also find one of the trendiest restaurants for a romantic dinner.
As the winner of the best swimming pool category, Casa del Puerto Hostel & Suites is an excellent option for those looking to explore and want an area to come back to for relaxing and decompressing. Between the inflatable buoys, the original decoration of the rooms, and the poolside bar, you are sure to have a great time.
As the winner of the social award and an excellent option for those looking to get to know new people, el Viajero Cartagena Hostel provides a great place to stay long and short-term. Between the free dance lessons, the beautiful exterior, and the abundant nightlife, you won’t want to leave when your stay is up!
The perfect mix of nature and luxury makes for an unmatched vacation experience. Las Islas lies in vibrant nature, surrounded by mangroves and facing the ocean sea. Winding staircases lead to upscale bungalows with gorgeous views. On-site, guests have access to a private island and can book several quality activities to enjoy the day.
Isla del Encanto is one of the best beach resorts for families. The fantastic pool area is decked out with a plethora of seating and exceptional service. The high, wooden ceilings and hardwood floors make for a clean, relaxing stay. There are also beautiful bungalows available to relax amongst the peaceful island vegetation.
Eco Hotel Islabeladoes it right. Several comfortable bungalows are scattered among the vegetation and face a small private beach. The staff, inhabitants of the Rosario Islands, serve tasty meals with big smiles. Later, grab one of the paddles (free) and venture around the mangroves or chase the colorful fish among the reefs.
Coralina island is a hotel in the Rosario Islands that will suit couples looking for privacy. Each room has its private deck overlooking the turquoise Caribbean waters. The chef excels in combining French recipes with Colombian flavors in the kitchen. It is a delightful place where you've got the feeling of being cut from the world.
Yes, Cartagena is a safe city to visit, especially if you stick to the tourist areas that are Getsemaní, the historical center, Bocagrande, and Laguito. You can walk around during the day and in the early evening without worrying. Late at night, I always recommend taking a cab.
In Cartagena, the most common scams are on prices and services offered by street vendors. Always confirm the price before accepting anything.
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