Travel Guide – Cartagena
This post is being co-authored by my travel companion for this trip- Jenie! We just got back from a trip to the captivating city of Cartagena in Colombia!! We are going through some major withdrawals at the moment since the trip was extremely short! We cannot wait to go back and experience more of the Colombian culture!
For now though, we want to share our experience via this post!
Let’s get to it…
Located in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena will leave you enchanted! The city displays a magnificent blend of cultural experience that creeps its way to make a place in the hearts of its visitors.
Cartagena – General Layout
( Included below are some of the places we visited)
El Centro/Old Town
The core of the city! This area is filled with historical (and quite unchanged) churches, palaces and houses. You will also find many plaza’s, retail stores, street vendors, bars, and restaurants coveted in some absolutely stunning palette of pastel backgrounds. The streets take you back to the colonial times and Spanish influence is quite prominent!
Street art swarms this area! You will find an abundance of colorful murals all over the streets and more gorgeous pastel colored houses. This area seems to be popular choice of stay for backpackers so expect to see hostels lining the streets as well.
Bocagrande/ El Laguito
This is where you will see all the high rise hotels and beaches in Cartagena. Quite different from old town, this area houses all of the hotels and restaurants, glitz and glam of the shopping malls and upscale condominiums.
Things to See & Do
Plaza de Los Coches – This place used to be a market for the slaves but is now lined with stands selling sweets (day and night), rooftop bars, restaurants and local vendors. The clock tower (Torre Del Reloj) serves as the backdrop for this sight. You can also find a statue of the founder of the city. However, exercise caution at night time, as it does turn into a shady area that attracts sex tourists.
Plaza de la Aduana – This plaza used to house all the administrative and government offices which is something that can be observed when you visit. The City Hall occupies this plaza which is also the oldest square in town.
Santo Domingo – The famous church hovers over this plaza that is surrounded by bars and restaurants. You will also find the dramatic bronze statue in this plaza of the Gertrudis. Great spot at night time!
San Felipe Barajas – One of the greatest fortress built by the Spanish that oversees the city of Cartagena. You can see the old town and new town (Bocagrande) all in one skyline at different altitudes from here. The tunnels within the fortresses are quite complex and provided strategic benefits to the Spaniards. Entrance fee is about $25,000 COP and well worth it!
This island is a about 1.5 -2.0 hr speed boat ride from old city Cartagena.It is a small beautiful island surrounded by crystal clear blue waters. We were able to try amazing tropical drinks, fresh island food ( both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options) and fresh fruits while we were there. The island had a serene ambience with day beds and tropical trees. Must visit!!
Old Town Streets
Every nook and corner of old city Cartagena is architecturally intriguing. The colors are unique and a visual treat. The sun contributes to the city’s vibrancy by giving the colors a different hue during various times of the day. My friend and I would view the same place with a whole new perspective each time. This town is the gem of this city.
* Many locals recommended that we visit the Island of Baru as well as a landmark called Popa. We did not have enough time but if you do, definitely check it out!
Eat, Drink & Dance
Mirador Cafe – This cafe is a Rooftop bar which is located in the center of the old city. This bar oversees the clock tower which is a prominent landmark in this city. This bar is definitely a place to checkout if you want to explore the local nightlife; however it is important to be cautious while you are here.
This was our favorite place for an ideal night out in Cartagena. The positive note was that this place was air conditioned, unlike most bars there and had free wi-fi. They also had reasonably priced drinks. They played good Latin American and American music. This venue was spacious with multiple bars and had perfect lighting. Babar also has a strict dress code and were particular about who is allowed to enter there. It’s important to keep in mind that they do charge cover on Saturday nights.
This place had a tasteful decor. This is where we had the opportunity to taste the most amazing drink ( La Nina Tulia – order that if you go!). It is a definitely a place to checkout after a hot day of exploring the city. They have Wi-fi here!
The most amazing dessert place in Cartagena. Please do visit! Totally worth the calories! So many options, we wanted it all.
Sunset by the Fortress
Our last night in Cartagena, we witnessed the most beautiful sunset. Being able to watch the sun set into ocean from the top of the fortress- just a spectacular experience! Walk to El Baluarte on top of the fortress to enjoy the perfect breeze, beautiful music and amazing handcrafted cocktails. It was truly a beautiful and peaceful experience and highly recommended. The ambience is mesmerizing!
If you are a coffee drinker, please do not leave Cartagena without trying authentic Colombian coffee!! Soo good! It is different than what you might try in the states but it is a good way to taste how the locals drink their coffee.
If you like seafood, definitely try the variety of options the city offers! Locals and tourists rave about the seafood in Cartagena.
Keep in Mind
U.S. Citizens do not need a visa! Just your passport is enough to grant you an entry into the country.
Bug spray! Bug spray! Bug Spray! Please spray yourselves day and night prior to leaving your hotel and reapply as needed. Remember that bug spray doesn’t always protect you so travel at your own risk. If you are pregnant or are planning to have children within the the next couple of years, we would advise you to re-think about going on a trip here. Zika virus not only has known to cause birth defects but can also bring on a neurological disorder called Guillain Barre in some. You can read more about Zika Virus here.
We travelled to Colombia in May and the temperature was in the 90’s throughout our stay. It is important that you wear a wide brimmed hat and apply plenty of sunscreen. We have learned to appreciate the sun every chance we get as we live on the east coast but the heat can be overbearing at times, so be prepared and stay hydrated!
Please be careful out there. Just like every other country, no place is safe and it is important to be cautious. Hold onto your belongings. Be mindful of the people who approach you and talk to you. At night take cabs everywhere ( cannot stress this enough) .
The currency used here is Colombian Pesos. 1 dollar is roughly 3000 Colombian pesos. Most places do take cards. Cartagena is very affordable!
The one item that is a must -buy are their handmade bags. These bags come in a variety of designs and colors. Make sure you bargain and only buy souvenirs from the streets of old city as they are the cheapest there.
People primarily speak Spanish here and very rarely speak English. Communication was initially an issue but by the middle of our trip, we were able to understand some of the phrases they used and were more confident in communicating our needs.
During day time, if it isn’t in walking distance, cab it. At night time, cab it, it is just safer! Cabs are easily available from the airport into the city as well. Just be sure to decide the price before getting in! We recommend exploring old town by foot during day but at night again, please cab!
We stayed at the Hilton Resort and thoroughly enjoyed it! It was in El Laguito but the hotel is very well maintained and the service is excellent. You must try the breakfast buffet here! If you are looking for accommodations in Cartagena, check out this site for more information.
Colombia does have a reputation for not being safe for tourists ( or atleast this is what everyone kept telling us before we left) but as long as you exercise caution, use common sense and do not wander into the streets at night time alone – it can be wonderful experience!!
Overall, it was a fun and vibrant trip! As we look back, we are grateful that we had the opportunity to visit this beautiful city and look forward to returning one day!
Cartagena Look book : Click here
Have you ever been to Cartagena? Did you have a good time? We would love to hear about it!
Until next time,
-Dhara & Jenie