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.


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Where is Cartagena de Indias

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.

Carte Cartagena Colombie

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.

May

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

  • How to get to Cartagena

    Airport

    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.

  • How to get to Cartagena

    Buses

    The Cartagena bus terminal is located outside the city. Count 45min by taxi to reach the walled city.

    It is also possible to use door to door shuttle to travel faster to Santa Marta or Tayrona. The companies are Berlinastur and Marsol.

    You can also use the private transportation service of our local partner.

  • How to get to Cartagena

    Boats

    The tourist port of Cartagena is located in front of the walls of the old city, 5 minutes walk from the Clock Tower.

    Most of the boats leaving for the Rosario or San Bernardo islands are located there. A tourist tax of approx 19,000 COP/pers is charged.

    Ask Tranqiteasy to head to the San Bernardo Islands (2 hours). You can also book a private boat (local captains included) to explore the Rosario Islands.

  • How to get to Cartagena

    Taxis

    The cabs in Cartagena do not have a taximeter. And they will probably try to raise the price if you are a foreigner.

    Rides between Bocagrande, Getsemaní, and the old town should cost 10,000 COP on average.

    It will be a lot more expensive if you plan to travel outside the city.

    You can also use the private transportation service of our local partner.

  • How to get to Cartagena

    Car rental

    There is no point in renting a car in Cartagena. There is limited parking available, and cabs are affordable. 

    If you want to rent a car to move around the Caribbean coast, Localiza (near the airport) has a good reputation. Be careful; Colombians have a driving style that can worry foreigners.

    You can also use the private transportation service of our local partner.

Things to do in Cartagena de Indias

1# Visit Cartagena’s historic center

San Diego Aleja

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.

👉 Are you looking for a local guide (bilingual) to visit the historic center? You can use our local contact, Cathy.

👉 Cartagena is one of the most photogenic cities in South America. We had the chance to meet Marina, a professional photographer from Cartagena.

👉 Another great option would be to join a group tour.

2# Visit Getsemaní in Cartagena, Colombia

Street art Getsemaní Cartagena

Getsemaní is the third district that forms the walled city of Cartagena de Indias. It is only a 5-10 min walk from the Torre del Reloj (cross the Parque Centenario to get there faster).

This neighborhood is characterized by a more authentic atmosphere, with locals playing dominoes and beautiful street art that denounces the social challenges in Colombia.

It is also a district with more attractive prices, and locals and tourists meet in the early evening to drink beers on the Plaza Trinidad.

👉 Looking for a local guide (bilingual) to visit the Getsemaní? You can use our local contact, Cathy.

👉 Another great option would be to join a group tour.

👉 We also did a fun and short bike tour in Cartagena.

3# Beaches in Cartagena de indias

Beach Sol y Papaya Isla Grande

Many tourists are content to lounge on the beaches of Bocagrande and Laguito. This is far from being my favorite option.

The best Cartagena beaches aren’t in the city.

To enjoy paradise-like scenery, you will have to go to the Rosario Islands (see next point).

Playa Blanca, located on Isla Barú, is the most famous white sand beach. Unfortunately, It is not that great because of mass tourism anymore.

To find a more peaceful beach location, you can stay in the south of Barú Island or go to Isla Grande.

👉 Want to enjoy Playa Blanca? This tour will be your best option.

4# Explore the Rosario islands

Sunset Isla Grande

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.

If you do not have time to sleep there, another interesting option is to rent a boat in Cartagena.

👉 Read this article to stay where to stay in the Rosario Islands.

👉 Would like to rent a boat? Aymeric is our local boat expert. I’m sure he will be able to help you.

👉 You can also decide to have a fantastic time on a catamaran. Read my reviews of the best Rosario Island day trip.

5# Chill on Isla de Tierra Bomba

Tierra Bomba Amare beach

Tierra Bomba, located 15 min away by boat from Bocagrande, is not part of the Rosario Islands.

The color of the water and the sand is a little less paradisiacal, but it remains a better option than the beaches of Cartagena.

The island is mostly famous for its beach clubs.

6# Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

San Felipe de Barajas

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

Cooking class Cartagena patacones

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

La Boquilla Aleja

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.

👉 Wanna explore the surrounding of Cartagena? You can use our local contact, Cathy.

👉 Or plan an off-the-beaten-path day trip with Olinto.

Where to stay in Cartagena de Indias

  • Where to stay in Cartagena Districts

    Historic center

    This is the most romantic and expensive area of Cartagena. You will find beautiful colonial buildings turned into luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. Almost no locals live in this area.

    Find your hotel now.

  • Where to stay in Cartagena Districts

    Getsemaní

    It’s a 5-10 minute walk from the historic center. You will find more affordable accommodation, ranging from small boutique hotels to hostels. I found the atmosphere in Getsemaní more authentic.

    Find your hotel now.

  • Where to stay in Cartagena Districts

    Manga

    A safe and residential area near Getsemaní. A suitable option for travelers who want to get away from tourists. Good prices but you won’t find many things to do.

    Find your hotel now.

  • Where to stay in Cartagena Districts

    Bocagrande & Laguito

    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.

    Find your hotel now.

  • Casa Isabel

    Getsemaní

    Casa Isabel

    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.
    See availability
  • Casa la Cartujita

    Historic Center

    Casa la Cartujita

    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!
    See availability
  • Casa San Agustin

    Historic Center

    Casa San Agustin

    Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or traveling with a larger group, Hotel Casa San Agustin offers 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.
    See availability
  • Sofitel Santa Clara

    Historic Center

    Sofitel Santa Clara

    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.
    See availability
  • Casa del Puerto

    Manga

    Casa del Puerto

    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.
    See availability
  • El Viajero

    Historic Center

    El Viajero

    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!
    See availability
  • Las Islas

    Isla Barú

    Las Islas

    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.
    See availability
  • Isla del Encanto

    Isla Barú

    Isla del Encanto

    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. 
    See availability
  • Islabela

    Isla Grande

    Islabela

    Eco Hotel Islabela does 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.
    See availability
  • Coralina Island

    Isla Grande

    Coralina Island

    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.
    See availability

Is Cartagena Safe?

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.

To help you have a worry-free trip, I have published a list of the best Cartagena safety tips.

👉 I also invite you to read our post about the Best Colombia Travel Insurance.

Going out in Cartagena

  • Where go out in Cartagena

    Romantic restaurant

    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.

    • 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)
  • Where go out in Cartagena

    Good deals

    The menu of the day is a great way to eat well and save a few bucks. Here are my favorite places:

  • Where go out in Cartagena

    Cocktails & Rooftop

    There are several places in the old town to enjoy a cocktail at sunset. It’s even better when you are strategically positioned on a rooftop.

  • Where go out in Cartagena

    Nightclubs and bars

    Between the salsa bars and the trendy VIP clubs, there is plenty of fun in Cartagena. Here is a small list to have a good time:

Book the best Cartagena experiences

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