The ‘Queen of the Caribbean Coast’— Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities in South America. A colorful, vibrant city— this gem combines well-preserved colonial architecture with plenty of cultural charm. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the symbol of the city are its Palenquera fruit sellers, who skillfully balance bowls of tropical fruits on their heads. Furthermore, Cartagena’s Caribbean beaches cater for even the most discerning sunseekers.
Colombia might sound intimidating for many, but Cartagena is not the reality of Colombia. This gorgeous walled city has turned into a traveler’s hotspot for a ￼good reason.
Make sure to include Cartagena on your next trip to Colombia, here is why?
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO COLOMBIA
We’ve all heard some crazy stories about safety in Colombia, but I will address it according to my personal experience in Cartagena only.
If you follow these basic safety rules, you’ll be fine:
- Don’t carry items like jewelry and cash in plain sight. If you have expensive gadgets, consider using an unremarkable bag to carry it and check your surroundings before using it.
- When you walk on the side of the road, don’t carry your bag on the side facing the street. Robberies are not something that usually happens in Cartagena, but being cautious is always better than being sorry.
- Don’t use (unlicensed) street taxis. Download the Uber or Cabify app to order taxis. The drivers are registered and so is every single ride you take.
- Don’t walk around at night in areas like Getsemaní, Bocagrande, Castillogrande or Manga, use a taxi.
Overall, I felt safe the entire time. Since our hotel was located in El Centro, the city’s historic center is filled with many tourists, this area is the safest. Surely, no matter where you are, you need to be careful as always when traveling internationally.
You will need cash in many restaurants, bars and cafes. Credit cards are accepted at most places as well. A personal tip: pull out cash (COL$) at a trusted bank’s ATM and not exchange at the airport.
It’s important to book transport you can trust. I recommend having your hotel call a taxi and using the taxi line at the airport. Uber also works here and is great for getting around locally. Flying is the best option, and Cartagena also has an international airport with direct flights to major cities in the US in Florida, New York, and more.
Having travel insurance for international travel is always recommended.
HOW MANY DAYS TO PLAN FOR CARTAGENA?
It all depends on what you plan to do and how much budget you’ve planned for Cartagena. We stayed 5 nights in the old city, and it was enough to explore El Centro and also also make day trips to the beach. If you want to explore more islands nearby, you can easily spend a week or 10 days in Cartagena.
WHAT TO WEAR?
Cartagena’s weather is very warm and humid. I packed a lot of colorful dresses, hats and swimwear.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?
Cartagena has mostly sunny and cloudy days, and humidity all year round. The warmest months of the year are June to September, but I would recommend visiting Cartagena between September and January.
WHERE TO STAY?
My number one choice hotel in the Old Town where I would like to stay is Casa San Agustin. The design luxury boutique hotel offers world-class service and accommodation experience. Located in the heart of Cartagena’s historic center, this boutique hotel makes a great base for discovering Cartagena.
A beautiful oasis in the heart of the Old Town, Casa Pombo is another gem in Cartagena. Gorgeous interior, with a beautiful rooftop pool, it’s a perfect place to stay in Cartagena.
Another gorgeous boutique hotel in Cartagena, offers tailor made accommodation experience.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN CARTAGENA
Ranked No. 49 in the Latin America 50 Best Restaurants, Celele is one of my favorite restaurants in Cartagena. Two talented Colombian chefs Jaime Rodríguez and Sebastián Pinzón have created a culinary dream in a small house in the Getsemani neighborhood in the historic district of Cartagena de Indias.
Rodríguez and Pinzón spent years exploring the Caribbean coast of Colombia to perfect their proposition before opening, meeting indigenous people and discovering flavors and ingredients they had no idea existed. Try the Caribbean Flower Salad, followed by Catch of the Day main course and Celele style Merengón. Make a reservation here.
My second favorite restaurant in Cartagena, offers the best of Caribbean cuisine created by renowned veteran Chef Heberto Eljach. Try the Ceviche Coco Woods, and you’ll be blown away! Every dish is an extraordinary experience you’ll never have anywhere else in Cartagena. Food, service, ambience and cocktails are one of a kind. I highly recommend this restaurant.
Carmen is another exclusive dining experience in Cartagena. The restaurant offers elegant and modern ambiance and contemporary cuisine with international influences and fresh, Colombian ingredients. Carmen was founded by a Colombian-American family looking to offer a different dining experience in Colombia.
Another great restaurant spot, where you can taste the best Caribbean dishes. Amazing as well as delicious ice cream must be tried here.
Their ceviche is incredible and they offer wonderful cocktails.
Lovely Caribbean atmosphere, beautiful interior, great service, and exquisite food, La Única is a wonderful restaurant.
For great coffee and breakfast, visit La Bottega de Fritz.
For best brioche and croissants, have a great breakfast and perfect coffee at La Brioche.
Probably one of the best bar’s I have ever visited, no wonder why Alquimico has been ranked in World’s 50 Best Bars. Located in the Historical Walled City in a colonial palace, Alquímico brings an innovative bar concept to Cartagena. Awaken your senses with inventive cocktails, experimental liquor infusions and a gastronomic offering that draws on authentic home-cooked recipes and fresh, local ingredients. All in all an unforgettable and unique experience.
If you are looking for the best view over the roofs of Cartagena, Movich Rooftop bar is the place.
One of my favorite rooftop bar’s in Cartagena, Buena Vida is a perfect Instagrammable place for sunset drinks.
WHAT TO DO IN CARTAGENA?
- Explore the historical center: the highlight of Cartagena is exploring the endless streets and discovering gems.
- Discover Getsemani: One of the other neighborhoods to explore is just outside of the walled city. The neighborhood is filled with incredible street art, great bars, and good local eat.
- Shop local designers: There are some incredible Colombian designer boutiques in Cartagena, but I wished they were not so expensive. Favorite shops included Agua by Agua Bendita, Mercedes Salazar, Silvia Tcherassi, Chiqui House Boutique (local designers), Juan Dedios, Eugenia Fernandez and BAOBAB swimwear.
- Cartagena Bay Sunset Cruise by Catamaran
- Day trip to Rosario Islands – Bora Bora Beach Club (most Tourism Agencies can arrange a boat tour or ask your hotel)
- Day trip to Isabela
- Day trip to Isla Coralina
- Day trip to Pedro Majagua
- Day trip to Fenix Beach Club
Fenix Beach Club
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All photo (c) DisiCouture
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