Cartagena is like an open air museum that includes so much more than just culture and history. As of recently, it has also become well known for its modern ports and a construction boom that is turning it into one of the most luxurious places to live in Colombia. While it's true that many people come here to experience the city’s colonial history and great nightlife, the reality is that there are a number of things to do in Cartagena suitable for all types of travellers. Fine dining, great bars, and beautiful beaches in every direction make up the landscape of the most important city on Colombia’s caribbean coast.
Whether you are coming for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a trip with friends, this list of things to do during your trip to Cartagena will definitely be of interest to you. There are a wide number of attractions listed below that will surely make you consider booking a few extra days into your trip.
1. Get Lost in Getsemani
Getsemani, the most classic neighbourhood of the city, is full of history and colour, and was the location of the first protests for the independence of Cartagena in 1811. At night, the neighbourhood becomes even more interesting when both locals and tourists alike gather in this bohemian and alternative neighbourhood far from the glamour of the walled city.
- Plaza de la Trinidad at night
- Basílica Pizzería
- Demente Bar de Tapas y Pizzas
- Café del Mural
2. Walk and walk the Walled City
The old city is surrounded by walls which took two centuries to complete due to the continuous storms and pirate attacks that ravaged the city. In 1796, the walls were finally completed, just 25 years before the Spaniards were finally expelled from the city. The best way to explore this part of the city is on foot or by bicycle, as it gives you the freedom to move unhurriedly through the colonial streets. Don’t limit yourself to only looking for the main attractions here, as there are many interesting places that you will find as you explore around all corners of the walled city.
- Santo Domingo and San Diego square
- La Catedral
- Museo de la Inquisición and Zenú Gold Museum
- Restaurante La Cevicheria
3. Baru and Rosario Island
Baru and Rosario Islands are located only 45 minutes from Cartagena. They are, without doubt, two places that you have to visit during your trip to Cartagena if you want to see what a Caribbean beach actually looks like.
Baru was a peninsula that was separated from Cartagena during the construction of the Canal del Dique. Today, it is accessible by both land and sea. Its most popular beach is Playa Blanca, a vast public space which is famous for its white sand and crystal clear blue waters.
Read here tips to get the most out of your visit to Baru
Rosario Islands, an archipelago made up of 25 islands and declared a national park in order to protect the coral reefs and marine life that inhabit the area, is located 45 minutes by boat from Cartagena. The islands have a wide variety of hotels of different prices where you can spend the day or stay the night if you want to enjoy more of this natural paradise.
Things to do:
- Practice snorkeling, diving, or Stand Up Paddle.
- Go to Isla Grande
- Relax and enjoy the beach
Castillo de San Felipe
Entering San Felipe Castle in Cartagena is like going back in time. It was built by African slaves under the command of the Spanish military. Cartagena was the most important port in the caribbean for the Spanish colonizers and they needed to protect the city from their enemies because of the treasures they kept here. For this reason, inside the castle they built a complex system of tunnels, which you can still walk through today, to allow the spanish troops to move from one location to another.
A good plan for after your tour is to watch the sunset from the top of the castle, which provides an impressive view of the city.
You can easily walk to the castle, as it is only steps away from Getsemani and about 10 minutes from the clock tower in the old city. If you prefer to take a taxi, it will cost about $2.5USD or COP$7.000.
- Adults 14-61 years old: COP$25.000
- The ticket price includes a map of the castle.
- A tour guide or audio guide is not included in the price. These can be rented from the ticket booth for COP$10.000
- Persons with a disability
- The last Sunday of every month except for January, Holy Week, June and December.
- Free entrance on Sundays is from 8am to 5pm
Book this activity as part of a guided Private city tour.
5. Beach Day at Punta Arena
Only 10 minutes away from Cartagena by boat, the colour of the sand and water change drastically. From the beaches of Castillogrande you can see the island of Tierra Bomba where you will find Punta Arena, a beautiful beach with white sand and turquoise water where you can spend an entire day trying the local food and enjoying the panoramic view of the city from the other side of the water. You can get to Punta Arena from the beach at Castillogrande, behind the hospital of Bocagrande where there are boats ready to transport tourists throughout the day. You can even coordinate your return trip with the person that takes you out to Tierra Bomba.
In Punta Arena you will find accommodations, restaurants, and sun loungers where you can spend the day. We recommend that you go mid-week and walk towards the right side of the beach (with your back towards the city view) once you get there. After walking for 5 minutes you will find larger beach space with less people.
Price per boat ride per person: between COP$10.000 and COP$15.000 each way.
Or save your spot in one of our favourites beach clubs there
6. A Night of Salsa Dancing
In Cartagena there are many restaurants, bars and clubs that host salsa nights all over the city. Salsa dancing is a must do activity for at least one night during your trip. Even if you don’t like to dance, you can just watch and enjoy. Every Night locals and visitors meet up in well known spots around the city to take part in traditional salsa dancing which is so ingrained in Colombian culture.
To dance or listen:
Donde Fidel: This bar is located in la plaza de los coches, one of the most traditional corners of the walled city. The bar owner and creator, Fidel, has spent more than 30 years delighting all his visitors with his lineup of classic salsa music. The bar is open from 1pm to 2am. The volume of the music inside this bar is very loud. If you are not used to loud music, there are tables available outside the bar, but you have to arrive early, as they are always full.
Quiebra Canto: This bar is located in the Getsemani neighbourhood, only a few metres from the clock tower. In an informal atmosphere reminiscent of the 1970’s, you can listen to great salsa music and watch movies from the same decade. Quiebra Canto is open every day, but on weekends there is a cover charge of COP$10.000.
Cafe Havana: Also located in Getsemani, this bar specializes in Cuban salsa and is a neighbourhood classic. The best part, however, are the bands that play here. The cover charge is COP$20.000 but it's worth it. Cafe Havana is open from 8pm to 3am from Thursday to Saturday, but the bands only arrive after 11pm.
7. Watch the Sunset Atop the City Walls
After spending an afternoon in the old city, a good plan would be to sit down and watch the sunset. You can find your favourite spot on top of one of the walls or inside its holes. If you prefer a more comfortable spot, head to Cafe del Mar, a bar with the most spectacular view of the horizon where you only need to watch the sunset as you enjoy a drink.
Other recommended spots to view the sunset are the beaches of Bocagrande and Castillogrande where you can try out a Paddle Board which you watch the sun go down. You can also go to the Bocagrande Plaza shopping centre and watch the sunset from their balconies. Wherever you end up going, the only important thing is that you are facing the horizon.
8. Visit the Bazurto Market
The Bazurto Market is not a place for inexperienced travellers. However, this market is a favourite among those who know where to find the best local ingredients and how to face the chaos and crowds of the market in order to get them.
Taste and smell are the two elements here that mix and spread in all directions, where you can find the most fresh fish, exotic fruits, and all sorts of electronic devices. You can also try the local cuisine, including turtle, shark and cow’s tongue. It truly is an example of authentic culture and local gastronomic.
The market is located only 15 minutes from the centre of the city. You can get there by taxi (COP$7.000) or by the new public transport system TransCaribe (COP$2.000) which will leave you at the stop with the same name as the market.
You’ve probably read many warnings about Bazurto Market, but there are many more good things here than bad ones, and you should not let this stop you from going to one of the best places in Cartagena.
If you dare to give it a try, we recommend you walk through the market accompanied by a local bilingual guide. If you consider yourself an Indiana Jones an expert traveller, and want to go on your own, we recommend that you don’t bring any valuables with you.
9. Visit the Modern Neighbourhoods
Far from the walled city and Getsemani, to the southeast of the city you will find the “new” neighbourhoods where almost all of the city's hotels are located. The neighbourhoods of Bocagrande and Laguito, aside from being known for their high rise buildings, are also home to the beaches inside the city. Castillogrande has an even more extensive beach than the others, and shares a bay with the Manga neighbourhood, which is one of the more residential areas of the city.
10. Take Time for Shopping
In the old city you can find an excellent selection of artisanal shops that sell handicrafts from all over Colombia. The walled city is also the place where you can find artisans that show off their work in the streets as well. Additionally, Cartagena also has many shops for those looking to buy emeralds.
In other nearby parts of the city you can find about 4 shopping centres that are home to major brand name and chain stores.
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