Cartagena; it’s the most beautiful town of Colombia. This port city is home to a preserved colonial old town with beautiful beaches and the eternal sun. I chose to visit this city over Bogota and I am so glad I did.
Flights to Cartagena take two hours from Miami, so very quickly you can find yourself in a Caribbean city in South America. Here’s my ultimate guide to stunning Cartagena.
When is the best time to visit?
This beautiful city is located on the Caribbean coast and has nice weather all year round, so pack plenty of shorts, swimsuits and flip flops. The hottest, most crowded and most expensive months to visit Cartagena are from June to September. I visited at the end of April and it was already extremely hot! Find more ideas for places to visit in South America here.
How to get around in Cartagena
Cartagena is a big city but as tourists, you don’t need to explore it all. There is no point travelling to the downtown parts of the city, which tend to be poor and dangerous areas.
Depending on where you are staying, most attractions are within walking distance. But, for those further afield, taxis and Uber are available and the prices are pretty good.
Where to stay: hotels in Cartagena, Colombia
There are really two different places to stay in Cartagena, which will suit different types of travellers.
This is a modern area with a Miami beach vibe. It’s here that you’ll find luxury hotels like the Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, perched right beside the beach. If you want to fill your days with cocktails by the pool, luxurious bedrooms and Instagram-worthy views, this is the place for you.
Venture into the Old Town and you’ll find a few smaller hotels and hostels. But the best way to stay in the Old Town is to rent one of the stylish, colonial homes where you can feel the real atmosphere of the city, while being in the centre of what’s going on.
Things to do in Cartagena
Castillo de San Felipe
Take in the majestic sight of this powerful fortress, full of tunnels and traps that historically made the city unbeatable. Behind it you can find Monumento a los Zapatos Viejos, which honours old shoes.
Cartagena Walled City
Step inside the Old Town, which is protected by a fortress built to defend against pirates and storms. Today, Cartagena’s Walled City has become a popular tourist attraction, known for its searing sunsets.
San Pedro Claver Church
This is a beautiful church built between 1580 and 1654, great if you like to visit historical attractions on holiday.
Plaza de la Aduana
This is the square where the city’s administration buildings stand. There’s a big statue of Christopher Columbus in the middle.
If you want to experience Colombian nightlife, head to this colourful area inside the walls. It’s a regular haunt for Cartagena’s younger population, with more restaurants, bars and nightclubs than you could visit in a week.
This beach is lapped by turquoise waters, which make it well worth the two-hour drive from the city. Fancy taking a short cut? Jump on a boat and you’ll reach this sandy paradise in only 45 minutes.
If you’ve got time to spare, book a trip to Tayrona National Park near Santa Marta. Rainforest and stunning beaches await.
Arrive at this charming archipelago of small islands and you’ll immediately feel the Caribbean climate. It’s just a short sail by boat from Cartagena.
I have to admit that before booking my flight to Colombia, I was a little scared. We’ve all heard the horror stories and watching the first episode of Narcos, when a shooting happens over dinner in a nice restaurant, only made it worse.
But, in reality, Colombia is definitely getting better and I would say Cartagena is safe even for solo travellers. You have to watch out for pickpockets and, just like in Brazil, it’s best to keep any expensive items out of sight. Limit your exploration to the Old Town, as the rest of the city is dirty, poor and unsafe.
What to eat
This is a combination of raw and cooked seafood, doused in lemon and lime and garnished with herbs and other spices. I don’t normally eat raw fish or any other seafood, but the tuna I ordered was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Tuck into one of these fried pastries that ooze with meat or cheese. You’ll find them being sold at stalls on street corners.
I didn’t personally try anything too unusual, but you will see lots of stands with all kinds of intriguing-looking fruits to taste.
This is technically Spanish food, but it was still amazingly delicious in Cartagena, so it made it onto my list.
Red Snapper with Coconut Fish
This is reported to be the best thing you can eat in Cartagena!
Useful tips when travelling to Colombia
The currency in Cartagena is the Colombian Peso. They start from 1,000, so make sure you pay attention to your cash. Some of the coins look very similar and are easy to mix up.
It was easier to communicate in Cartagena than Rio de Janeiro, but the majority of people only speak Spanish. Luckily, with the help of a phrase book, most people can manage a few words.