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Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Narrow cobblestone passageways, expansive windows embellished with bougainvillea, flamboyant graffiti at Calle de la Sierpe, throbbing nightclubs playing Salsa music, and the warmth of Caribbean Sea may assault your senses at first but Cartagena is as hip as it gets. From achingly beautiful Teatro Heredia in Centro to skyscrapers in Bocagrande, barrios of Cartagena are mystified by its romantic setting and colonial antiquity.

Places to Visit in Cartagena

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – A defining landmark of city’s skyline, this fortress is built on a hill named San Lazaro. The castle premise is spread through the old city of Cartagena as a formidable pattern of tunnels, walls, alleys, cannons, and bunkers. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, depicting Spanish military architecture, can be visited from 9am to 6pm.

Las Bovedas – City’s grandest arcade, with 47 painted archways, lies between forts of Santa Catalina and Santa Clara. These vaults, originally built as dungeons or prison cells, are now prominent tourist attractions.

Convento de La Popa – The convent itself is a gleaming white building with flower-filled courtyard and stone arcades. It sits on a 150-m-high hill – also the highest point in the city – offering exhilarating views of the neighborhoods of Cartagena and shoreline.

Plaza Santo Domingo – Oozing with a spiritual vibe, it is an open-air public space in the old part of the city. Cartagena Cathedral, Iglesia de Santa Domingo, De Oro Y Arqueologico, and Palacio da la Inquisicion are the nearby attractions.

Los Zapatos Viejos, La India Catalina, Iglesia Cristina Rios de Vida, Cartagena Cathedral, and Estadio Jaime Moron Leon are the places you should not miss out.

Things to Do in Cartagena

From learning Salsa and Spanish to embarking on street food tours, the city offers a lot of easy thrills. You can also take day trips to nearby islands, sunset bird tours, mountain bike tours, soar on a Segway while taking some postcard-worthy snaps on a photography tour.

Chiva Tour – Don’t look surprised if a wooden bus (locally known as chiva), packed with musicians and entertainers drive past you. Just hop on this unique bus that takes you to those places only locals are aware of. It’s a great way to check out all the “should-dos” of the city. Afternoon Historical Tours and Chiva Night Rumba Tours begin from 2pm and 8pm respectively. One chiva ride lasts for 3-4 hours and helps you figure out the local ways and means.

Beaches – Beaches in Cartagena may not be the best in South America, however, Playa Blanca, Las Islas del Rosario, and El Laguita are reasonable stretches of white sand well-equipped for travelers.

Shopping – Bikinis, hats, braided sandals, antiques, tribal bags, and maritime artifacts are among the wide range of souvenirs you can buy at Las Bovedas or Centro neighborhood. Being a tourist city, prices here tend to be higher and you should bargain before spending your pesos. You can get fresh seafood and unrefrigerated meats, buy tropical fruits, and grab a quick bite at city’s central market, Mercado Bazurto.

Rosario Islands – Natural landscapes and coral formations, mangroves, exquisite food, and colorful marine life are features of this archipelago. It is located 100 km from the coast of Cartagena. It has a marine aquarium called Oceanarium that exhibits dolphins, reptiles, fishes, and marine plants. Rosario Islands National Park offers a perfect backdrop for water sports like swimming, snorkeling, diving, and fishing.

Cartagena Hotels

For a luxurious stay, you can choose from Sofitel Santa Clara, Bastion Luxury Hotel, Tcherassi Hotel & Spa, and Casa San Agustin. For mid-range accommodations, Hotel ESTELAR Oceania, Hotel Capilla del Mar, Costa del Sol, Centro Hotel Cartagena, and Alfiz Hotel Boutique are good options. El Viajero Cartagena Hostel, Media Luna Hostel, and The Chilli House Backpackers Hostel are some of the value-for-money accommodations.

Cartagena Restaurants

Cuisine of Cartagena is mainly based on seafood tempered with vegetables. You can taste the local dishes such as Ceviche, Mote de queso, and Posta sudada at traditional restaurants like Restaurante La Vitrola, La Cevicheria, Paco’s Restaurant, La Casa de Socorro, and Parrilla Argentina Quebracho. Cafe Havana and Malagana Cafe are usually packed with tanned-travelers and trendy locals.

Where is Cartagena?


Facing the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is located at the northern coast of Colombia.

How to Reach?

By Air – Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) is the gateway to the city and northern region of Colombia. It is connected by flights from Bogota, Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, and USA.

By Sea – Port of Cartagena is important for charter boats between Panama and Colombia. From Panama, you can board private boats that usually leave from Guna Yala or Portobelo area.l

By Road – The bus terminus is located 11 km east of the old city. Frequent buses are available to Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Highway 90 (Caribbean Transverse) connects Cartagena to other areas of Colombia.

Best Time to Visit Cartagena

March to April and June to September are the best time to walk outdoors and enjoy tropical weather in Cartagena.

Cartagena Facts

  • Although natives have lived here since 4,000 BC, the city was founded in June 1533 by Pedro de Heredia.
  • It was the first Spanish colony in the American continent.
  • Cartagena can be separated in two parts: Ciudad Amurallada (the old walled colonial city) and Bocagrande (newest part of the city.)
  • It is the fifth largest urban area in Colombia.
  • The port, the fortress, and the group of monuments were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
  • On last Sunday of every month, travelers have free access to Castillo San Felipe.
  • Tierra Bomba, 15 minutes away by boat, is seemingly a forgotten island worthy of a glance.

Image Credit: Norma Gòmez

Published On: Friday, October 30th, 2015