Cartagena de Indias, the Magic City, the Jewel of the Caribbean. There are many nicknames for it, and every traveler wants to visit it when traveling to Colombia.

While the old city center is undoubtedly a gorgeous colonial district to explore, visitors can be a bit disappointed during their stay in Cartagena.

Indeed, tourists and street sellers invade the city center every day, beaches aren’t pleasant, and there is not so much to do in the surroundings – except visiting the Rosario islands (which are also crowded).

That being said, there are some cool activities to do in the walled city. You just need to be smarter than ordinary tourists. It means don’t book a day trip to Isla Baru or Rosario islands, visit the old center at 7 am and avoid Cartagena during the high season (Mid-December to Mid-January) or a Colombian public holiday. 

After Cartagena, you can take a boat to live a few days on the San Bernardo Islands or experience wonderful beach life in Rincon del Mar. Another option is to take a door to door shuttle to Santa Marta.

 

Our Cartagena Itineraries:

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Where to stay in The Old City Center

The Old City Center is the loveliest - and most expensive - part of Cartagena. Large balconies made of wood and decorated with gorgeous flowers overlook the colorful streets. There are many little squares where you can sit down when the heat is too oppressive, although the best is to find one of the many secret courtyards inside the large colonial houses.

  • Republica

    Hostel

    Republica

    Famous 3-floor hostel with a swimming pool and a rooftop. Daily social events. Be ready to party.
    Get the best price
  • Makako

    Hostel

    Makako

    The best economical option in the old town. Great atmosphere and social events. Backpacker style.
    Get the best price
  • Bourbon

    Hostel

    Bourbon

    Excellent upscale hostel, all you need to sleep like a baby after a day exploring Cartagena.
    Get the best price
  • India Catalina

    Casa

    India Catalina

    Excellent value for money, with a little swimming pool and welcoming staff. Perfect location.
    Get the best price
  • Gastelbondo

    Casa

    Gastelbondo

    No kid. Perfect location in a quieter street. Lovely pool on the rooftop. Tasty breakfast.
    Get the best price
  • Santo Toribo

    Hotel Boutique

    Santo Toribo

    Luxury hotel for an affordable price. Well decorated. Perfect location. Rooftop and two little pools.
    Get the best price
  • TownHouse

    Luxury

    TownHouse

    A luxury hotel for young travelers. Fantastic events on the rooftop, live music. Cool modern decoration.
    Get the best price
  • San Agustin

    Luxury

    San Agustin

    Top-Notch luxury hotel. Excellent services. Gorgeous building with many relaxing areas. Fall in love.
    Get the best price
  • Bastion

    Luxury

    Bastion

    Spa & huge rooftop pool. Fantastic staff & breakfast. Perfect for an unforgettable stay.
    Get the best price

Where to stay in Getsemani

Getsemani is the new hype district. Streets are less busy during the day and street vendors are fewer. Alleys are colorful because of the many graffitis on the walls. Backpackers love Getsemani as the cost of living is a lot cheaper than in the walled city, and the nightlife funkier. 5-10 min walking distance from the old city center. Safe.

  • Life is Good

    Hostel

    Life is Good

    Social hostel with plenty of events. Comfortable rooms. Great staff who is always ready to help.
    Get the best price
  • One day

    Hostel

    One day

    An excellent choice for people who travel on a shoestring budget. Friendly atmosphere.
    Get the best price
  • Monaguillo

    Hotel

    Monaguillo

    Great decoration for the rooms and comfy beds. Lovely rooftop. Perfect location. Only 7 rooms.
    Get the best price
  • Casa pizzaro

    Hotel

    Casa pizzaro

    Excellent money for value. Swimming pool and great rooms. Welcoming staff. Rooftop.
    Get the best price
  • Capellan

    Luxury

    Capellan

    A gorgeous building with larges rooms, well decorated. Top-notch services. Great rooftop.
    Get the best price
  • Casa Lola

    Luxury

    Casa Lola

    Fantastic hang out areas and well-decorated. A few meters from bars and restaurants.
    Get the best price

Where to stay in Manga

Manga is a good option for people who want to stay away from other travelers. The district is safe, with a mix of modern buildings and colonial houses. It's a residential area, so there are not many restaurants. However, Getsemani is just on the other side of the bridge, a short 10 min walk. It's safe.

  • Casa del Puerto

    Hostel

    Casa del Puerto

    Funky & party hostel with a great central swimming pool. Apartments and private rooms.
    Get the best price
  • Peregrinos

    Hostel

    Peregrinos

    Lovely colonial house, good value for money, with comfortable rooms. Quiet area, near Getsemani.
    Get the best price

Where to stay on Isla Baru & Isla Tierra Bomba

Isla Tierra Bomba is the closest island near Cartagena - 25 min boat ride. While it doesn't have crystal blue water and white sand beach, it is still a good option if you want to escape the city for 1 day or 2. Isla Baru/Playa Blanca is the most famous island in the area. The place is overcrowded on the weekend, and most of the accommodations are basics but expensive, with electricity and water restrictions. However, we recommend you to spend the night there if you want to get a better chance to enjoy this well-known piece of paradise.

  • Blue Apple

    Tierra Bomba

    Blue Apple

    Best luxury hotel on Tierra Bomba. Day club where people come to have fun. Quiet at night.
    Get the best price
  • Playa Scondida

    Isla Baru

    Playa Scondida

    Charming little eco-lodge, perfectly located. A bit loud because of the party boats on Cholon.
    Get the best price
  • Las Islas

    Isla Baru

    Las Islas

    Luxury cabins, surrounded by crystal blue water. Far away from the tourists. Many activities
    Get the best price

Where to stay on Isla Grande

While we don't recommend you to book a 1-day tour to Rosario Islands (it's just a waste of time), some of the hotels there will blow your mind - and your wallet. Most parts of the island are private and owned by hotels. Pick your accommodation carefully as you won't find much public space to hang out.

  • Carolina island

    Luxury

    Carolina island

    Secret little paradise. Fantastic tours, services, and food. You won't be able to leave
    Get the best price
  • Isla del sol

    Luxury

    Isla del sol

    Great private bungalows. You must share the fantastic facilities with daytrippers. Beautiful.
    Get the best price
  • Isabella

    Luxury

    Isabella

    Peaceful and beautiful area with a private beach you have to share with daytrippers. Private bungalows.
    Get the best price

How to decide among all these stunning places?

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Things to do in Cartagena

The main activity in Cartagena is to stroll early in the morning among the colorful alleys of the Walled City and Getsemani. Then, pick a delicious restaurant with a lovely and flourish courtyard. Museums aren't a thing in Cartagena, and most of them are quite disappointing, with very little information (almost inexistent in English). However, there are some cultural tours which are worth it! Cartagena isn't famous for its beaches neither. Plan a multi-day trip to the Rosario islands if you look for white sand beaches and crystal blue water.

  • Walking tour

    Private Tour

    Walking tour

    2 independence dates, tens of colonial buildings, pirates. Learn about the history of Cartagena.
    Get the best price
  • Old City Center

    Walk

    Old City Center

    Wake up early and stroll among the alleys of the old city center at 7h30 am. Fresh air and fewer people.
    Learn more
  • Bazurto

    Private Tour

    Bazurto

    Visit the biggest open market of Cartagena to get a clear insight into Colombia's culture. We loved it.
    Get the best price
  • San Felipe

    Castle

    San Felipe

    A fortress built by the Spaniard to protect Cartagena from pirates. Learn about its secrets.
    Learn more
  • Cooking class

    Private tour

    Cooking class

    Caribbean meals are flavorful, cooked with fresh ingredients and love. Bring back this at home!
    Get the best price
  • Sunset

    Tour

    Sunset

    Enjoy a great Cartagena sunset from the walled city at Cafe del Mar or from a sailboat.
    Get the best price
  • Centenario

    Park

    Centenario

    Located in front of the Torre del Reloj. Try to spot the few monkeys and sloths. Good luck
    Learn more
  • Become a Star

    Tour

    Become a Star

    There are many Instagrammable shoots in Cartagena. Hang out with your personal photographer
    Get the best price
  • Street dance

    Show

    Street dance

    Go to Plaza Bolivar to watch a beautiful street show with Colombian dancers from the coast. 6 pm.
    Learn more
  • Getsemani

    Walk

    Getsemani

    The city paid many artists to redecorate the streets of Getsemani. Many fantastic graffitis.
    Learn more
  • Street dance

    Show

    Street dance

    Every night, street performers go to Plaza Trinidad in Getsemani. Cheap beers and a great atmosphere.
    Learn more
  • Dance

    Tour

    Dance

    Champeta is the favorite dance on the Caribbean Coast. But it's not a reason to stop dancing salsa.
    Get the best price
  • Coffee

    Tour

    Coffee

    Colombian coffee is one of the best you can drink on the planet. Learn how to prepare and enjoy it.
    Learn more
  • La Popa

    Viewpoint

    La Popa

    La Popa is the highest point in Cartagena. Book a taxi for 50 000 COP (round trip) and enjoy the view.
    Learn more
  • Rafael Nuñez

    Museum

    Rafael Nuñez

    Visit this gorgeous Colonial building, home of Rafael Nuñez, an important man in Cartagena.
    Learn more
  • Gabriel Marquez

    Tour

    Gabriel Marquez

    Gabriel Marquez got a Literature Nobel Prize and was in love with Cartagena. Learn about his life.
    Get the best price
  • Food tour

    Tour

    Food tour

    Join a bike tour to taste a maximum of street food in the alleys of Getsemani and the Old City Center
    Get the best price
  • Chocolate making

    Museum

    Chocolate making

    Learn about the Colombian cacao and make your own chocolate. Perfect for having a fun family moment.
    Get the best price
  • Make a jewelry

    Workshop

    Make a jewelry

    Emeralds are a big thing in Colombia. Make 4 pieces of jewelry and keep the one you like the most.
    Get the best price
  • Horse riding

    Romantic

    Horse riding

    Plan an exciting gallop on the beach of Manzanillo with a well-trained and obedient horse.
    Get the best price
  • Palenque

    Day trip

    Palenque

    Basilio de Palenque is the first free slave town in South America. Learn about its history & culture.
    Get the best price
  • La Boquilla

    Day trip

    La Boquilla

    La Boquilla is a small fishing village. Fish with locals in the mangroves and cook what you've got.
    Learn more
  • Los Colorados

    Day Trip

    Los Colorados

    Wildlife sanctuary, located 2 hours away from Cartagena. Perfect for escaping the city and the noise.
    Learn more
  • Birding

    Day trip

    Birding

    There is an aviary in Isla Baru. Thousands of birds easy to spot. Enjoy a colorful experience.
    Learn more
  • Rosario Islands

    Multi-day trip

    Rosario Islands

    Pack a small bag and visit Isla Baru or Isla Grande. White Sand beaches and crystal blue water.
    Learn more
  • Isla Cholon

    Party

    Isla Cholon

    Rent a boat with friends and party on Isla Cholon with all the other boats. Biggest fiesta on Sunday.
    Learn more
  • Boat

    rental

    Boat

    Rent a private boat with a group of friends and ask the captain to show you some secluded beaches
    Get the best price
  • Scuba diving

    Colorful reef

    Scuba diving

    Grab your fins and your tank and go exploring the Submarine world. Shipbreakers, fishes, and reefs.
    Get the best price

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We spent almost 3 weeks in Cartagena and wrote about our travel experiences

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Articles we recommend

Some travel blogger friends wrote some terrific content about Cartagena. Don't hesitate to consult them!

  • P.Wanderlust

    Travel guide to Playa Blanca & Isla Baru.
    Playa Blanca & Isla Baru
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  • Pauline travels

    A travel guide for exploring Getsemani
    Visit Getsemani

Partners we recommend

Some local partners we have met, tested and approved during our stay in Cartagena,

  • Cartagena Connection

    A top-notch local travel agency that organizes many tours in Cartagena.
    Learn more
  • Cartagena Insider

    A local travel agency 100% implicated in sustainable tourism.
    Learn more
  • Blue Apple Beach club

    A trendy place to spend a fun and lazy day on the beach. Tasty food and good music
    Learn more

Find the best bars and restaurants

For us, good restaurants and exciting nightlife are important when traveling. We gathered our favorite picks on an interactive Map. Download the APP "Mapstr" and look for "Colombia Insider"!

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Eastern Caribbean Coast

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