A Complete Guide to the Best Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

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Cartagena, Colombia, is a vibrant coastal city brimming with history, culture, and natural beauty. Known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and stunning Caribbean beaches, Cartagena offers a plethora of activities for travelers of all interests. Whether you’re wandering through its historic streets, lounging on its beaches, or diving into its rich culinary scene, there are countless things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. From exploring the ancient fortresses to enjoying the lively nightlife, you’ll never run out of things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. This guide will take you through the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, ensuring you make the most of your visit to this enchanting city. So pack your bags and get ready to discover all the amazing things to do in Cartagena, Colombia.

Explore the Historic Walled City

The Walled City, or Ciudad Amurallada, is the historic heart of Cartagena. Enclosed by impressive stone walls built in the 16th century, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a maze of narrow streets, colorful buildings, and charming plazas. Key landmarks include the iconic Clock Tower, the bustling Plaza de los Coches, and the magnificent Cathedral of Cartagena. Each of these sites tells a story of the city’s past, from its colonial origins to its role as a major port in the Caribbean.

Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj): As the main gateway to the Walled City, the Clock Tower is one of Cartagena’s most recognizable landmarks. It was originally part of the city’s main gate and served as the primary entrance for centuries. Today, it stands as a symbol of Cartagena, welcoming visitors into the historic quarter.

Plaza de los Coches: Located just inside the Clock Tower, this lively plaza was once a bustling marketplace where slaves were traded during the colonial period. Today, it’s a vibrant hub filled with horse-drawn carriages, local vendors, and the iconic Portal de los Dulces, where you can buy traditional Colombian sweets.

Cathedral of Cartagena: Also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, this grand church dates back to the 16th century. Its construction was interrupted by pirate attacks, and it took over 80 years to complete. The cathedral’s striking facade and impressive interior make it a must-see.

Walking tours are a great way to explore the area while learning about its rich history and cultural significance. Guides often share fascinating stories about Cartagena’s past, bringing the old city to life. Don’t forget to stop by one of the many cafes and restaurants to enjoy local delicacies and soak in the ambiance.

Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Standing majestically atop San Lázaro hill, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress that played a crucial role in defending Cartagena from pirate attacks. Built in the 17th century, this impressive structure offers stunning views of the city and the sea. Visitors can explore the maze-like tunnels and learn about the fortress’s history through guided tours.

History and Significance: The fortress was designed by the Spanish to protect Cartagena from invaders. Its strategic location allowed defenders to spot approaching enemies from a distance. Despite numerous attacks, including a major assault by British Admiral Edward Vernon in 1741, the fortress never fell.

Exploring the Site: The labyrinthine tunnels of Castillo San Felipe are a highlight for visitors. These underground passages were designed for efficient communication and movement of troops. Walking through these dimly lit tunnels gives a sense of the fortress’s defensive strategies.

Tips for Visiting: The best times to visit are early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds. Wear comfortable shoes, as there is a lot of walking and climbing involved. Hiring a guide is recommended to fully appreciate the historical context and significance of the fortress.

Relax at Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca, located on Isla Barú, is one of Cartagena’s most beautiful beaches. With its white sand, crystal-clear waters, and relaxed atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Day trips to Playa Blanca are popular, and visitors can reach the island by boat or car.

Activities: The calm, clear waters of Playa Blanca are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. You can rent snorkeling gear on the beach and explore the vibrant marine life just offshore. Sunbathing on the soft white sand is a favorite activity for many visitors, and there are plenty of spots to lay down a towel and relax.

Day Trips: Boats to Playa Blanca depart from Cartagena’s main port, and the journey takes about an hour. Alternatively, you can drive to Isla Barú via a recently constructed bridge. If you plan to stay overnight, there are several beachside hostels and eco-lodges offering basic accommodations.

Tips for a Day Trip: Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks, as amenities on the beach can be limited. It’s also a good idea to bring cash, as not all vendors accept credit cards. Be prepared for vendors selling everything from jewelry to massages, and feel free to politely decline if you’re not interested.

Experience Rosario Islands

The Rosario Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Cartagena, are a paradise for nature lovers and water sports enthusiasts. Known for their coral reefs and clear waters, the islands are ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: The Rosario Islands are home to vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. Diving and snorkeling here offer the chance to see colorful fish, sea turtles, and even shipwrecks. Several dive shops in Cartagena offer day trips and certification courses for beginners and experienced divers alike.

Boat Tours: Numerous boat tours offer island-hopping experiences, allowing visitors to explore different islands, each with its unique charm. Popular stops include Isla Grande, known for its stunning beaches and clear lagoons, and Isla del Pirata, a small island perfect for a quiet escape.

Oceanario: A visit to the Oceanario, a marine life aquarium, is highly recommended. Located on Isla San Martín de Pajarales, the Oceanario offers guided tours and dolphin shows. It’s a great way to learn about the local marine ecosystem and see sea creatures up close.

Tips for Visiting: Book tours in advance, especially during the high season, to ensure availability. Bring water-resistant sunscreen, a hat, and a swimsuit. Some tours include lunch, but it’s always a good idea to bring extra snacks and water.

Stroll Through Getsemaní

Getsemaní is a vibrant neighborhood just outside the Walled City, known for its bohemian atmosphere and colorful street art. Once a working-class area, Getsemaní has transformed into a cultural hub with trendy cafes, lively plazas, and a thriving nightlife.

Street Art: One of Getsemaní’s most striking features is its vibrant street art. Murals depicting local life, historical figures, and abstract designs cover the walls of many buildings. A walk through the neighborhood is like visiting an open-air art gallery.

Plaza de la Trinidad: The heart of Getsemaní is Plaza de la Trinidad, a lively square where locals and tourists gather to enjoy live music and street performances. The plaza is surrounded by cafes and bars, making it a great place to relax and people-watch.

Cultural Significance: Getsemaní has a rich history as the birthplace of Cartagena’s independence movement. The neighborhood’s rebellious spirit is still evident today, making it a fascinating place to explore.

Local Experiences: From impromptu salsa dances to neighborhood festivals, there’s always something happening in Getsemaní. Don’t miss the chance to try local street food like arepas and empanadas, and visit the many artisan shops selling handmade crafts and souvenirs.

A Complete Guide to the Best Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Enjoy Local Cuisine

Cartagena’s culinary scene is a delightful fusion of African, Spanish, and indigenous influences. Must-try dishes include Arepas (corn cakes), Ceviche (fresh seafood marinated in lime juice), and Posta Negra (slow-cooked beef in a rich sauce).

Arepas: These versatile corn cakes are a staple of Colombian cuisine. They can be grilled, fried, or baked and are often stuffed with cheese, meat, or eggs. Try them at street food stalls or local cafes for an authentic taste.

Ceviche: Cartagena’s coastal location makes it an ideal place to enjoy fresh seafood. Ceviche, made with marinated fish or shrimp, is a refreshing and flavorful dish that’s perfect for the tropical climate. Head to La Cevichería, a popular spot praised by Anthony Bourdain, for some of the best ceviche in town.

Posta Negra: This traditional dish features beef marinated in a rich sauce made from panela (unrefined cane sugar) and spices, then slow-cooked to perfection. It’s typically served with coconut rice and fried plantains. La Mulata is a highly recommended restaurant to try this local specialty.

Food Markets: For a true taste of Cartagena, visit the bustling Bazurto Market. Here you can sample a variety of local delicacies, from exotic fruits to freshly caught seafood. The market is a sensory overload, with vibrant colors, sounds, and smells that provide a glimpse into daily life in Cartagena.

Recommended Restaurants: In addition to La Cevichería and La Mulata, other notable restaurants include Carmen, offering a modern twist on traditional Colombian dishes, and Marea by Rausch, known for its elegant seafood and waterfront views.

Take a Sunset Cruise

A sunset cruise on Cartagena Bay is a magical way to end the day. As the sun sets over the Caribbean Sea, enjoy the breathtaking views of the city skyline and the gentle sea breeze.

Luxury Yacht Tours: For a luxurious experience, consider booking a private yacht tour. These tours often include gourmet meals, open bars, and attentive service. They’re perfect for special occasions or simply treating yourself to a memorable evening.

Party Boats: If you’re looking for a livelier atmosphere, opt for a party boat cruise. These cruises feature music, dancing, and drinks, creating a festive vibe as you sail into the sunset. They’re a great way to meet fellow travelers and enjoy Cartagena’s nightlife from a different perspective.

Romantic Sailing Trips: For a more intimate experience, consider a romantic sailing trip. These smaller boats offer a peaceful and romantic setting, perfect for couples. Enjoy the sunset with a glass of champagne and the sound of the waves lapping against the boat.

Booking Tips: Book your cruise in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Check what’s included in the price, such as food and drinks, and be sure to bring a light jacket as it can get cool on the water after sunset.

A Complete Guide to the Best Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Visit the Palace of the Inquisition

The Palace of the Inquisition is a striking colonial building that once served as the headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition in Cartagena. Today, it houses a museum showcasing artifacts and exhibits related to the Inquisition and Cartagena’s colonial history.

Historical Background: The palace was built in the early 17th century and was used to prosecute and punish heretics and other offenders. The building’s architecture is a fine example of colonial design, with its grand facade and intricately carved wooden balconies.

Exhibits and Artifacts: Inside, the museum displays a variety of artifacts, including torture devices used during the Inquisition, religious relics, and historical documents. These exhibits provide a sobering look at this dark chapter in history.

Visitor Information: The museum is open daily, and guided tours are available in both Spanish and English. These tours offer in-depth information about the Inquisition’s impact on Cartagena and its people. Be sure to visit the courtyard, which features a beautiful garden and a well that’s said to have been used for executions.

Explore the Convento de la Popa

Perched on the highest hill in Cartagena, the Convento de la Popa offers panoramic views of the city and the bay. This 17th-century convent is dedicated to Our Lady of Candelaria, the patron saint of Cartagena.

History and Significance: The convent was founded in 1607 by Augustinian monks and has since been a place of pilgrimage and worship. Its name, “La Popa,” refers to its location on a hill that resembles the stern (popa) of a ship.

What to See Inside: Inside the convent, you’ll find a beautifully preserved chapel with a stunning altarpiece dedicated to Our Lady of Candelaria. The convent also houses a small museum with religious artifacts and historical exhibits. The courtyard, with its colorful flowers and peaceful ambiance, is a highlight of the visit.

Views from the Top: The views from the convent are some of the best in Cartagena. You can see the entire city, the bay, and even the Rosario Islands on a clear day. It’s a perfect spot for photography and taking in the scenery.

Tips for Visiting: The convent is accessible by taxi, and the scenic drive up the hill is part of the experience. It’s best to visit in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat. Wear comfortable shoes, as there are some steps and uneven paths to navigate.

A Complete Guide to the Best Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Shop at Las Bóvedas

Las Bóvedas, a series of arcades built into the city walls, is a historic market where visitors can shop for souvenirs, local crafts, and jewelry. Originally used as storage vaults and later as a prison, Las Bóvedas is now a bustling market filled with colorful stalls.

Types of Goods Sold: The market offers a wide range of items, from handcrafted jewelry and leather goods to traditional Colombian textiles and ceramics. It’s a great place to find unique gifts and souvenirs that reflect the local culture.

Bargaining Tips: Bargaining is common at Las Bóvedas, so don’t be afraid to negotiate prices. Start by offering a lower price and work your way up to a mutually agreeable amount. Be polite and friendly, and you’re likely to get a good deal.

Shopping Experience: The arcades themselves are worth exploring, with their high ceilings and historical significance. Take your time to browse the stalls and chat with the vendors, many of whom are local artisans. The market is a lively and colorful place, offering a glimpse into Cartagena’s vibrant culture.

Conclusion

Cartagena is a city that captivates visitors with its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty. From exploring the historic Walled City and majestic fortresses to relaxing on pristine beaches and savoring local cuisine, there’s no shortage of things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or a beach lover, you’ll find countless things to do in Cartagena, Colombia that will leave you enchanted. As you plan your trip, make sure to immerse yourself in the local culture and discover all the exciting things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. With its diverse attractions and activities, Cartagena promises an unforgettable experience, filled with unique and memorable things to do in Cartagena, Colombia.

Kyle Davis
Kyle Davis
Be exclusive, Be Devine, Be yourself.

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