Cartagena, Colombia, is a beautiful Caribbean city with a walled Old Town – where most tourists will spend the majority of their time. Old Town is full of boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, nightly buskers, and excellent people watching! If you’re planning a trip through Colombia, visiting Cartagena is a must. But let me warn you, there is danger involved when visiting this city: the danger of falling in love with the colorful colonial architecture, Caribbean weather, and hip nightlife! If you’re like me, you may never want to leave! Go visit and use this Cartagena travel guide as your sidekick.
Cartagena Travel Guide
If Cartagena was a luxury buffet, the old town would be the delicious main course. You could spend weeks exploring the walled city and still end up discovering a hidden cafe with innovative coffee drinks. And with the prices being incredibly affordable for tourists from the USA, you can really go crazy here. Activity-wise, this destination is all about relaxation and cultural immersion. I spent three days in Cartagena and below you will find my top recommendations.
Where to Stay?
There are a variety of hotels and hostels located in the Old Town (the walled city), but they tend to be too luxurious and expensive for my taste. Instead, I chose to stay in the nearby neighborhood of Getsemaní (10-minute walk from the walled city) in a backpacker hostel for a fraction of the price. Getsemaní is an up-and-coming area, with several small restaurants and bars surrounding the vivacious Holy Trinity Square. To find the best accommodations, visit Hostelworld or book a private residence through Airbnb (use this link to receive a $40 discount).
Cartagena Travel: Top Things to Do
Walk the Wall at Sunset
Buy a few beers from a local carrying a cooler (they won’t be hard to find) or a convenience store, then head up to the wall just before sunset to catch a stunning 360-degree view of the city of Cartagena and Old Town. My local favorite beer was the Club Colombia Roja, but they have different kinds! Or, if you want a fancy expensive cocktail, grab a seat at Cafe Del Mar, an outdoor bar located on the wall, but don’t expect quick service.
Get Lost in Old Town
You can’t go wrong just wandering the streets of old town. The colonial architecture is stunning, and the eclectic variety of restaurants, shops, bars, and cafes pouring delicious Colombia coffee, is nearly overwhelming. At night, the town comes alive. You can take a horse and carriage ride through the city, watch street performers, or bar hop! One of my favorite stumble-upon discoveries was the Abaco Cafe, which is an adorable bookstore with a full bar and cafe. I enjoyed a wine-based cocktail and browsed through their collection of books. These are a few of my fav-or-ite things!
Nightlife at Holy Trinity Square in Getsemaní
As I mentioned earlier, Getsemaní is a hip neighborhood located just outside of the walled city. On the weekends, the square comes alive with locals and tourists alike (mostly backpackers). During my visit I witnessed local street performers dance, juggle, and play music, while children bounced on a trampoline that had been positioned in the middle of the square. Locals were mixing cocktails and serving empanadas out of food carts, as people congregated in groups or watched from balconies and stoops. It was intoxicatingly fun (or maybe that was the Club Colombia Rojas doing their work)… but either way, I had a great time. It reminded me of my visit to New Orleans.
Take a Boat to a Nearby Island
If you’re looking for a relaxing day on the beach, you have several options, many of which involve taking a boat ride to a nearby island. I chose Isla Del Encanto, which is a private beach resort. The boat ride was rocky, thrilling, and not for the faint of heart. Upon arrival, we were set free to do as we wished for the morning and afternoon. A buffet lunch was included and I packed some beer in my backpack so I didn’t have to order from their expensive menu. Activities offered for an additional cost included massages and snorkeling, but it was my last day in Colombia and nothing sounded more appealing that laying on my beach bed and listening to the sounds of the ocean.