Colombia! While this South American city may not be a popular as other areas, it's a place worth adding to any travel bucket list! Dating back to the 1600's, this port city is full of charm, adorned with cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings. Here's how to spend your next vacation in Cartagena:
Where to stay?
Just like any major city Cartagena has many neighborhoods. Choosing which neighborhood to stay in will be your biggest decision.
Located in the northeast of Cartagena & is known for its more casual atmosphere. Many hotels with lower rates can be found here with pools as well!
Centro Located in the middle of all neighborhoods in Cartagena. Being in this area you will be in the heart of Cartagena! Bustling with tourists, history & colorful architecture. Staying here can get noisy with all the tourists but also will be a quick walk to any restaurant and/or bar! Main attractions here include San Pedro Claver Church & Cafe Del Mar with the best view of sunsets and Cartagena!
Getsemani Located in the southern part of Cartagena. Known for murals, umbrella alleys & a more hipster vibe. Filled with street music, arepas and cervesa’s! A good neighborhood for a laid back stay for artists and musicians.
Located in the western part of Cartagena, otherwise known as the “Miami beach” of Cartagena. If you want big buildings with the beach and ocean within a five minute walk or less, this is your area.
I stayed at Penthouses Palmetto in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom penthouse on the ocean. The penthouse was clean & had an incredible view of the coast!
Castillogrande Located at the end of Bocagrande and filled with mansions and most likely celebrities! With only 16 blocks, this area is usually only occupied by residents with a few apartments for rent.
What to do
Visiting the fruit ladies is a MUST while in Cartagena! However, just taking a picture (without fruit purchase) does come at a cost. They usually take any amount - I gave them 10 pesos. These ladies became famous years ago when they would travel BY FOOT with fruit on their head to sell in Cartagena to make money. Once this became popular they became a staple!
Boat to the Rosario Islands - There are over 25 to choose from, accessible within 15-60 minutes.
Galavant through all of the neighborhoods to discover Cartagena’s many different vibes!
Arepas, arepas and more arepas! Don’t forget to try this yummy treat located all over the city!
Try their staple: CEVICHE!
Drink some of the best coffee in the world!
Visit the murals and picturesque streets of Getsemanif!
Take a bike tour of the city and everything it offers!
Stop by Cafe Del Mar around sunset to capture the BEST view in Cartagena.
Taste test Colombian chocolate at Choco Museo. You can book a tour or simply go in and try all their flavors! They even have Colombian coffee to taste & purchase.
Plenty of shopping! Find a shopping guide here.
Since Cartagena is located on the ocean they have access to many islands within a boat ride 60 minutes or less! The Rosario Islands are comprised of over 25 beautiful and vibrant islands. Usually you will meet at the Bodeguita dock (located in the middle of Cartagena). Some booking agents offer hotel pickup. Most excursions are day trips to one island but you can find some that visit multiple. If you’re into island hopping multiple would be ideal! All excursions include round trip boat ride & lunch (choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian). Most have accommodation if you want to spend a night or more (highly suggest spending at least one night on an island).
Here are the four islands I visited:
Not to be confused with the actual location of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. This island is about a 45 min boat ride from Cartagena pier. Included in the boat ride price is a bed that can be upgraded for an additional charge. There is a professional photographer for service as well! The beach water is a beautiful turquoise, but be cautious as it is very shelly. As for the boat ride back, PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Everyone on the boat was drenched and very choppy waves made for an incredibly uncomfortable ride back to Cartagena. All in all, it was worth the relaxing day on an island.
Playa Blanca aka Isla Baru
Technically this isn’t an island, but referred to as such by locals. For me, this famous beach lived up to its expectations! It’s very crowded on the weekends, but have no fear a chair will be available! The beach spans about 17 miles, so there’s plenty of room for the crowds it receives. On this day of our trip we were supposed to visit Isla Encanto, but the government issued a “red flag”, meaning no boats were able to travel to the Rosario Islands. This was worth it for the fury friends we met during lunch! They were carnivores for sure!
We decided to spend the night on this island in a gorgeous bungalow, staying in Blue Apple Beach House for the night. This boutique hotel was trendy, carefree, beautiful & CLEAN! Being terrified of spiders I was hesitant to stay inside a bungalow in fear of the possible “Colombian spider”. While I have no idea if that exists I also was lucky enough to not have spotted one. The resort also has cute animals roaming around that are their “furry staff”, each one named, rescued, and taken care of by the waitstaff of Blue Apple! I HIGHLY suggest a day and/or night stay here - and make sure to catch the sunset.
What a view! This is the perfect island to grab a new Instagram photo, with plenty of room to swim or kayak (free of charge) around the entirety of this small island surrounded by crystal clear water!
Where to eat
Cartagena has so many options for food, but I’d highly recommend ordering the Arepa’s, ceviche and sushi while out. The American dollar goes very far in Cartagena, so make sure you bring a hungry belly! In addition, the cocktail options in this city are amazing, so don’t forget to stop by a bar to try one (or more, we’re not here to judge).
Here is a list of restaurants I checked out while in Cartagena:
This is hands down the best sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to. A cute little restaurant in Centro neighborhood that was friendly and clean! If you’re a big sushi guru, this is your stop! The sushi is very fresh and delicioso! Rolls ordered were: mozzarella, perú fusion, tropical and kiuri!
This gastropub in the Getsemani neighborhood offers a huge selection of rum that you can taste & order, as well as fun rum inspired cocktails. This restaurant is not just renowned for their cocktails - the food was delicious as we decided to get a variety of tapas including: albóndigas (their famous meatballs & a must), orzo al pesto, green tomatoes apanados and plantains with pork and cheese.
Located in the Centro neighborhood, this is an exciting rooftop restaurant with live music! In addition to outdoor dining, they also offer inside seating on two separate floors. This night we ordered a plantain pizza (very interesting), nachos and crab cakes!
This restaurant was made famous by Anthony Bourdain, which as you can imagine made this place very hard to get into, especially considering they don’t offer reservations. Try and go during the early afternoon, around 2-3pm. This is a big ceviche restaurant, so make sure to try this popular South American dish while visiting!
Located in Getsemani, we stopped into this restaurant when their purple sushi caught my eye! This small, but unique restaurant is paired with cool vibes and a giant menu, which ranges from ceviche, to sushi, poke bowls, and salads. While here, we tried an assortment of goodies, including the purple sushi, as well as the edamame paired with popcorn!
This place was another trip favorite, their menu offering Bolivian meets Austrian fusion meals. This place was recommended to us from a group we met while in Tierra Bomba, and we were ecstatic that we didn’t miss out on this place. Spend some time chatting with the owner who loves to hear how you found the place, since it is on the edge of Getsemani. Our meals consisted of the mozzarella w/pears and watermelon, roasted artichokes, Shashka (Bolivian dish) which is beef loin w/peanut purée, finished with German donuts to top it all off. The food and drinks here were to die for!
Located in Getsemani, you’ll spot this place for their mural of a man on a rocking chair! I’ll admit, pizza is hard to rate when you’re from New York and used to a certain style, so be prepared for their variation with very thin crust and sauce that’s orange in color. However different, we found this place to be delicious! A caesar salad and cheese pizza were on the menu this night!
This was our last meal in Cartagena and one of my favorite stops for coffee. If you are obsessed with coffee like I am, you MUST get their signature beverage, the Carajillo Epoca. It is a smoked coffee with vodka prepared cold. The waitstaff will even come over and smoke the glass before pouring the coffee into it.
What To Know
We drove from Albany, NY to Newark and parked at Parkway Parking, which is less than a mile from the airport (they have 24/7 shuttles running to and from the airport from this location). We parked for 7/8 days and the price after taxes was $102.
For US citizens no visas are needed to get into Colombia.
You can exchange money while you’re there. I exchanged at the airport, but have heard it can be cheaper once you’re in the city. Most businesses take credit card, but you will need cash for taxis, street food and the islands.
Since Colombia is a known drug capital, they will ask you a series of questions when you depart back to the States. They’re just making sure you weren’t bribed into bringing any drugs back or hiding any in your luggage or person.
There is no need to download any car service apps while here, as taxis are readily available in all locations throughout Cartagena.
Taxis are super cheap and shouldn’t cost more than $8 USD.
$1 USD = ~$3,500 COP Check current exchange rates here.
This is not as big of a coffee location as I thought - You’ll find those locations in the middle of the country.
Food and beverage are cheap!
DO NOT drink the tap water! I even brushed my teeth with bottled water.
Beaches in Cartagena aren’t the cleanest & mostly used by locals. I’d suggest going to the islands if you want more of the beach atmosphere.
Would you ever travel to Colombia? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
This article was written by Featured Wrighter, Danielle Wills (@traveltheworldwithd)