Welcome Trekkers to Cartagena, a city that is beyond beautiful and one of the most enchanting locations of all time. Situated on the northern coastline and bright blue waters of the Caribbean, Cartagena boasts a rich history, vibrant culture, and an amazing fusion of Spanish colonial architecture and modern amenities. The city, which was founded in the 16th century, is one of the oldest in the Americas and has a unique charm that easily captivates visitors. Whether you’re here to soak up the sun, explore the history or feast on Caribbean cuisine, Cartagena will impress you beyond your wildest dreams.
Upon arrival, the chance to experience one of the greatest Spanish fortresses of all time awaits you, The Castillo de San Felipe - a towering structure located on a hilltop just outside the city with impressive panoramic views. Spend time wandering around the colorful alleys of the inner walled city, which are steeped in history, and marvel at the impressive colonial buildings that date back more than five hundred years. Take a walk to the walls of the city, an architectural masterpiece that was built to ward off intruders and soak up the magnificent view from the wall.
The city’s culinary scene is a feast in itself, with everything from fresh seafood and tropical fruits, to traditional dishes like sancocho and arepas. And when it comes to nightlife, Cartagena has it all. Whether you’re looking to sip on a refreshing cocktail at one of the city’s rooftop bars or enjoy a romantic stroll along the beach under the stars, Cartagena has something for everyone.
In a nutshell, Cartagena is a city full of history, culture, and stunning beauty that will leave you amazed and wanting more. So why not pack your bags and set out on an unforgettable adventure to this destination filled with adventure, color, and life.
Here are 10 things to do while you’re in Cartagena, Colombia
1. Explore the Old Town
Cartagena’s Old Town is a vibrant, energetic and colorful place that simply begs to be explored. The city’s charmingly preserved colonial architecture and its warm and welcoming locals create an ambiance that is both intriguing and enchanting. A walk through the streets of the Old Town is like taking a trip back in time, allowing visitors to soak up the atmosphere of a bygone era while admiring the beautiful architecture.
As you wander through the narrow, winding streets of the Old Town, you will be transported to a world of stunning courtyards, beautiful plazas, ancient churches and fascinating museums. You will also have the opportunity to interact with the friendly locals, who are always happy to share stories about their city’s rich history and culture.
One of the best ways to experience the Old Town is to simply wander around, getting lost in its many enchanting alleyways and alleys. From beautiful colonial homes with their bright and colorful facades to lively markets selling everything from local handicrafts to delicious street food, there is something to captivate and delight every visitor.
The Old Town is an iconic part of Cartagena and provides a unique cultural experience for tourists. Soak up the rich history of this vibrant city, learn about its cultural significance and beautiful architecture whilst indulging in the magnificent food scene. Whether you’re an architecture buff, history enthusiast or simply looking for a unique cultural experience, a trip to Cartagena’s Old Town is sure to leave you feeling inspired and invigorated.
2. Cruise around on a Chiva
If you’re looking for a unique and lively experience in Colombia, hopping on a Chiva bus is a must-do activity. These brightly-decorated buses are unique to the region and are a popular way to take in the city’s sights and sounds while partying with locals.
The Chiva buses are decked out with colorful lights, traditional artwork, and pulsing music, making for a fun and energetic atmosphere from the moment you step on board. The buses usually follow a set route through the city, taking passengers past popular landmarks and attractions while providing ample opportunity to jump off and explore on foot.
One of the best things about cruising around on a Chiva is the opportunity to mingle with locals and experience some of their exuberant culture firsthand. Colombians are known for their love of dance and music, and you can expect lively performances on board as well as plenty of opportunities to join in and show off your moves.
The Chiva bus’s vibrant designs make for a visually appealing journey, and the party atmosphere created on board adds to the overall enjoyment of the experience. This activity can appeal to all ages and group sizes, making it an inclusive way to explore. Additionally, cruising around on the Chiva bus provides the opportunity to discover parts of the city that one might not typically encounter. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group, this is an experience you won’t soon forget.
3. Marvel at the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Built in the 17th century, this fortress stands as a testament to the resilience and foresight of the Spanish colonizers who fought tirelessly to protect their city from the constant threat of pirate invasions. The fortress was designed by a French engineer named Antonelli, who applied advanced military tactics and concepts to create an impenetrable wall of defense against any conceivable pirate attack.
Despite its original purpose, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas has managed to transcend its military heritage to become one of the top tourist attractions in Cartagena. Visitors can climb to the top of the fortress and gaze out over the city and the Caribbean sea, soaking in the breathtaking panoramic views of the city, whilst admiring the architectural techniques used to create such a masterpiece.
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas has a rich history and architecture that is amazing to witness. It is fascinating to learn about how it was used to defend the city against pirates during its time. The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas continues to remind us of the history of Cartagena and how its people had to fight against the odds to preserve their way of life. Visiting the fortress will provide you with the opportunity to learn about the city of Cartagena’s past while also enjoying the beautiful and stunning views of the city.
Do yourself a favour and add this majestic fortress to your list of things to do whilst in Cartagena, and transport yourself back in time to the era of the great Spanish colonial empires.
4. Wander through the Botero Museum
The museum is home to some of Botero’s most famous works, including his exaggerated, voluminous figures that have become his signature style. Botero’s work often depicts exaggerated and voluptuous figures that are both playful and satirical. You’ll be drawn to his famous sculpture of a massive, naked woman known as “La Gorda” - “The Fat Lady.” You’ll also see paintings and sculptures of political figures, musicians, and daily life depicting Colombian and Latin American culture.
The exhibition also includes pieces from other famous artists from around the world. As you wander through the space, you’ll also find works by other iconic artists, such as Picasso and Renoir. The museum’s collection is a testament to the creative genius of Colombia and its artists.
One of the most remarkable things about the Botero Museum is that admission is entirely free. This means that art enthusiasts, as well as everyday people, can come and appreciate this unique gallery. So what are you waiting for? Come to the Botero Museum and immerse yourself in the beauty and creativity of Colombian art. It is the perfect place to sample Colombia’s rich culture and explore its arts scene.
5. Take a dip in the Caribbean Sea
For those seeking a more active experience, swimming in the Caribbean Sea is a must-try activity. The water is clear, calm, and relatively shallow in most areas. You can easily see the vibrant and diverse marine life teeming below the surface, from colorful schools of fish to majestic sea turtles. Some beaches even offer opportunities for snorkeling or scuba diving, where you can explore the underwater world in more detail.
The beaches in this region are world-renowned for their beauty, featuring powdery white sands and lush vegetation lining the coastlines. Whether you prefer secluded and intimate retreats or more bustling destinations, there is a beach for every type of traveler.
One of the beaches you can visit is Tayrona National Park. This park is known for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush tropical forests that are home to a diverse range of wildlife. Visitors can hike through the park’s trails, take a dip in the park’s refreshing natural pools, or relax on the park’s beaches. The park is also home to several indigenous communities, and visitors can learn about their culture and way of life through guided tours.
The nearby beaches are perfect for relaxation, sunbathing, and enjoying the breathtaking views of the ocean. A refreshing swim in the crystal-clear water is an amazing way to cool off and enjoy the tropical weather. The sea is also known for its diverse marine life, which makes it a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Whether you are looking for relaxation or adventure, the clear, refreshing waters of this iconic body of water are the perfect destination for your next travel adventure.
6. Learn about gold history at Museo del Oro Zenú
The Museo del Oro Zenú in Cartagena is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in history, culture, and art. This museum houses an impressive collection of gold artifacts from the pre-Columbian era, showcasing the incredible craftsmanship and artistry of the Zenú people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits and learn about the Zenú culture, their way of life, and their beliefs through the intricate gold pieces on display. The museum provides insightful information on how the gold objects were created, the significance of each piece, and how they were used in everyday life.
The Museo del Oro Zenú is an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn about a different aspect of Cartagena’s rich history. The exhibits are beautifully curated, and the artifacts are stunning to behold. The museum’s knowledgeable guides provide insightful commentary on the Zenú culture and their relationship with gold.
For those interested in taking a piece of history with them, the museum also has a small gift shop selling replicas of the gold objects on display. This is a great way to bring home a unique and meaningful souvenir from your trip to Cartagena.
In short, visiting the Museo del Oro Zenú is a must-do activity for anyone interested in history, culture, and art. It offers a window into the past and an opportunity to learn about the Zenú people’s rich legacy in Colombia. So come and explore the museum’s exhibits, marvel at the intricate gold objects on display, and gain insight into the region’s fascinating pre-Columbian history.
7. Sip on some Aguardiente
One of the best ways to delve deeper into the culture of Colombia is by trying their national liquor - Aguardiente. This anise-flavored alcoholic beverage is a staple at local bars and restaurants, and it’s deeply ingrained in their social scene. If you’re looking for a traditional Colombian experience, sipping on a glass of Aguardiente should be on top of your list.
The name Aguardiente translates to “firewater,” and it is a fitting name for the potent punch that it packs. It’s made by distilling sugarcane, anise seed, and other spices, giving it a unique flavor that’s exclusive to the region. You can try it straight-up or mix it with water or Coca-Cola, a popular way to consume it in Colombia.
One of the best places to indulge in Aguardiente is in Cartagena, where you can find it in ample supply at every street corner. At night, the city comes alive with the sound of music and laughter, and locals can be seen enjoying their national drink. You’ll find bars and restaurants aplenty in Cartagena, serving up delicious local delicacies such as ceviche or arepas. Sipping on Aguardiente while enjoying the Colombian cuisine is a quintessential experience that you can’t miss out on.
A highlight of the Aguardiente drinking experience is the traditional ceremony of “el brindis,” in which you raise your glass and salute your drinking companions with a heartfelt “Salud!” If you’re lucky, you might even get the chance to join in on the festivities at a local gathering, where you’ll be treated to a night of dancing, singing, and copious amounts of Aguardiente. Drinking this national liquor is not just about consuming alcohol; it’s a way to connect with the people and culture of Colombia.
8. Shop at the bustling markets
The bustling markets are always full of life, and you can find almost anything you need or want, from souvenirs to fresh produce. The markets are a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and meet friendly and welcoming locals. You can practice your Spanish and haggle for the best prices on beautiful handmade goods, including jewelry, textiles, and ceramics.
Some of the most popular markets in Cartagena include Mercado de Bazurto, a sprawling market where you can find everything from fresh seafood to local delicacies and traditional crafts. Another popular market is the Plaza de la Trinidad, located in the heart of the Getsemani neighborhood. This market is a great place to shop for handmade souvenirs and listen to live music performances.
This is the perfect place to immerse yourself in local culture, explore exotic tastes, and find one-of-a-kind souvenirs. As you explore the market, you will be able to witness the hustle and bustle of the locals conducting their daily business. You’ll see vendors eagerly marketing their wares, shoppers haggling over prices, and in the background, the melodic sounds of traditional music being played.
You can also excite your taste buds by trying a sampling of local cuisine, such as freshly grilled street food, succulent fruits, and baked goods. The wafting aromas of spices and cooked meats will be an irresistible enticement to sample the local delicacies.
Undoubtedly, the markets are the beating heart of the city, a vibrant and welcoming space that showcases local culture and provides a memorable and authentic experience. When you visit the markets, you’ll leave with not just souvenirs but also a sense of the place and its people.
9. Party it up in Getsemani
Getsemani is a vibrant and eclectic neighborhood in Cartagena that offers an endless array of opportunities for tourists to experience the city’s nightlife like never before. This neighborhood is where classic meets contemporary, and where you can indulge in the exotic and cosmopolitan at every turn. Whether you’re looking for a chill and laid-back evening, or a high-energy party with new friends, Getsemani offers something for everyone.
The nightlife in Getsemani is nothing short of legendary. Locals and tourists alike flock to this neighborhood to soak up the colorful and eclectic vibe that can be found in bars, lounges, and clubs scattered throughout its narrow streets. The energy here is infectious, and it’s impossible not to be swept up in the excitement of the people and the music. Whether you’re a fan of live music, karaoke, or dancing until the wee hours of the morning, you’ll find everything you need in Getsemani.
In addition to its vibrant nightlife scene, Getsemani also offers some unique cultural experiences. Visitors can learn about Cartagena’s rich history by taking a nighttime tour of the famous walled city, where they can see the stunning architecture and monuments illuminated by streetlights. Or, you can immerse yourself in the local culture by trying the traditional food and drink that float around the bars and street vendors of Getsemani.
Overall, a night out in Getsemani is an experience that you won’t soon forget. The energy of the neighborhood, the people, the music, and the unique experiences all combine to make for an unforgettable night in Cartagena.
10. Watch the sunset from the top of La Popa Hill
Perched high on a hill overlooking Cartagena, the Convento de La Popa is one of the city’s hidden gems. Take the winding road up to the top of the hill, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the sea beyond. But the real magic happens at sunset, as the sky turns vivid shades of orange, pink, and gold.
As the day draws to a close, join the locals and tourists alike who flock to La Popa to watch the sun sink below the horizon. With the city spread out at your feet, you’ll feel as though you’re floating in mid-air, suspended between the heavens and the earth. The colors of the sky reflect off the bay and the rooftops below, creating a beautiful mirage of light and color.
As you bask in the beauty of the sunset, take a moment to appreciate the historical significance of La Popa. This ancient monastery, dating back to the early colonial period, has seen centuries of Cartagena’s history unfold. Its white-washed walls and red-tiled roof are an important part of the city’s architectural heritage, and its peaceful cloisters offer a serene escape from the bustle of the streets below.
Watching the sunset from the top of La Popa Hill is a truly unforgettable experience, one that will stay with you long after you’ve left Cartagena behind. As the sky turns to night and the stars come out, you’ll feel grateful to have witnessed one of the world’s most beautiful moments, in one of its most beautiful settings.
Visiting Cartagena is an unforgettable experience that offers a perfect mix of culture, history, and nature. From the stunning colonial architecture and colorful streets of the Old Town to the pristine beaches and natural wonders of Tayrona National Park, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city.
The Old City, also known as Cartagena’s walled city, is a must-see attraction. Its narrow streets and picturesque squares overflow with colonial architecture and historical landmarks. Among the most famous are the imposing San Felipe Castle, the majestic Clock Tower, and the fascinating Palace of the Inquisition, which houses a museum that chronicles the history of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia.
Apart from its rich history, Cartagena is a lively and dynamic city with plenty of modern amenities. The Bocagrande neighborhood is a great place to indulge in shopping, dining, and nightlife activities. The golden sand beaches of Playa Blanca, just a short boat ride from the city, are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and watersports.
And let’s not forget the warmth and hospitality of the locals who will welcome you with open arms and share their rich and diverse culture with you. One of the most appealing features of Cartagena is its local culture. From delicious street food to traditional musical performances, there is always something happening in this city.
In short, Cartagena is a destination that will captivate you with its history, culture, and beauty. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit this unique and unforgettable city.