Just in case you don’t know, I’m Colombian, More specifically “Barranquillera”, which means i’m from Barranquilla, which is just an hour away from Cartagena. So i guess we can hashtag “I live where you vacation” or at least near. And yes, I go very frequently, how could I not? So here are my top recommendations for you to do, to see, to beach, to stay, to eat, to party, and basically my top reasons for you TO GO.
Visit the Ciudad Amurallada “Walled/Old City”
- Take a stroll on the walls
- Take a ride on a horse carriage
- Enjoy and/or buy some local crafts
- Have a coffee at cozy bookstore Ábaco
- Castillo San Felipe
- Palacio de la Inquisición
- Iglesia de San Pedro Claver
- Las Bóvedas
- Plaza Santo Domingo (Watch out for Botero’s sculpture “La Gorda Gertrudis”)
- Plaza de la Proclamación
- Torre del Reloj
Visit Getsemaní: This is THE upcoming neighborhood of Cartagena. Very laid-back environment, full of colors, cool bars & lovely pizzerias.
If you want the beach experience in Cartagena, I encourage you to take a boat and ride away from the city. The farther you get, the better the beaches. Though there are some beaches in town, I don’t really recommend them, they’re black sand beaches, very crowded and with tons of vendors. There are tons of boat rentals or tours you can catch.
- Tierra Bomba: This is the nearest island, but for that same reason it’s not the best. It’s still better than the city’s beaches though, and you don’t have to rent a boat or a tour to get there. There’s boats and wave runners parked in front of “Hospital Bocagrande” that’ll take you there. There are also plenty of cool beach clubs there, like Fenix Beach, Blue Apple, and Mariana’s Beach, which offer pickup and drop-off services and also whole day packages.
- Barú: This is a bit farther out, but you can get there by car which is very convenient. One of the nicest public beaches is Playa Blanca, but depending on the day it might be very crowded. If you go there, I recommend walking far out from the parking through the beach, so you can reach a more private spot.
- Islas del Rosario: This is it. This is where you’ll find the most heavenly beaches. This might be around an hour or so far from Cartagena’s pier by boat. Depending on the experience you want, one option could be to rent a boat and tour around the beaches (parking at Cholón is very populart, it’s full of boats and you can get some incredible “ceviches” brought over). You could also hire a public boat that takes you to one of the beaches. Another option would be taking a day trip to a hotel, which offer transportation, or even staying at a hotel. (For a luxurious but eco experience i’d recommend Hotel San Pedro de Majagua)
See what I mean by heavenly?
TO EAT ($ / $$ / $$$)
- La Cevichería $$
- Carmen $$$
- María $$$
- Don Juan $$$
- Demente $$
- La Cocina de Socorro $$ (VERY TYPICAL)
- Plaza Fernández de Madrid: Here you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants. My personal favorites: El Kilo and Mistura. $$
- Café Havana: Salsa time! Very traditional place to salsa dance like nobody’s watching.
- El Baron: Small bar with a nice outdoor space in a plaza, good music, good food, and GREAT cocktails.
- Alquímico: First floor or rooftop bar, both equally awesome. Amazing drinks and music, both spaces turn from chill bar to crazy party.
- La Jugada: Right in front of Alquímico, so why not do both? This has multiple floors with various ambiances, and two very cozy and romantic rooftop floors.
- La Movida 2-14: Inside you can find reggaetón and commercial music, and outside you can find some chill & house music with a twist. Always love it.
I’d definately staying in or around the Old City (Walled City). Here are my top picks for luxurious stays:
- Sophia Hotel
- Mansión Tcherassi
- Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa
- Bastión Luxury Hotel
- Sofitel Legend Santa Clara
- Movich Cartagena de Indias
I’d also take a good look at Airbnb, you can get really good prices. Make sure you check out the location and that the host has good reviews.
Side note: this post is based on my personal favorites. If you want more detailed information on Cartagena I highly recommend visiting Lure Cartagena, they have an INSANE city guide on every possible bar, restaurant, and a lot of valuable information on the history of the city. http://www.lurecartagena.com