When it comes to vacationing in Colombia, there are endless things to do in Cartagena. You’ll see in this Cartagena travel guide just why this bustling city is the darling of South America’s coastline.
After spending five days in the walled city, it was easy to fall in love. The culture is vibrant — music is playing everywhere. Brightly painted walls, bougainvillea pouring out over balconies, and plenty of drinks to stay refreshed paints a picture perfect postcard. Cartagena has turned into a traveler’s hotspot and for good reason. The city is walkable, beautiful beaches are nearby, and a whole culinary world waits to be discovered. Pair this with the locals’ friendly welcome, there has never been a better time to visit Cartagena.
The Ultimate Cartagena Travel Guide
What to Know Before Traveling to Colombia
Safety. Of course this is a topic I cannot avoid so I will address it according to my time in Cartagena only (Medellín will be addressed in that guide). I felt safe the entire time there — it’s a widely visited place, with many tourists. Yes you need to be careful as always when traveling internationally. Safety precautions like not going out solo at night and not showing off valuables is still encouraged. With all of this in mind, we went out at night, danced, and enjoyed the liveliness of Cartagena. I always encourage to check local news before arrival and during trips as well as any US announced travel precautions.
Money. You will need cash on hand for some of the restaurants. Credit cards are accepted at most places as well. I would pull out cash at a trusted bank’s ATM and not exchange at the airport.
Transportation. 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. Getting between major cities in Colombia itself, flying is the best option. I flew from Medellín for around $60 USD one way on Avianca. Cartagena also has an international airport with direct flights to major cities in the US in Florida, New York, and more.
Travel Insurance. I recommend having it for all international travel. My preferred insurance is World Nomads.
Amount of Time Needed. It completely depends on what you plan to do in the Old City and nearby day trips. Three nights in the Old City was nice with one night out on an island. You could easily spend a week here if you plan to visit more nearby.
Packing. I did the trip in a carry-on — here’s a look at what I packed for Colombia.
When it comes to weather in Colombia, Cartagena, the temperature is average year round. You’re not going to get snow in Cartagena for instance, but you may get wind and precipitation during certain months. With sunny and cloudy days, you tend to have humidity all year round.
The hottest months of the year are June-September where severe heat is at its highest. The forecast rarely varies and it feels pretty hot out. The coolest months are January – March, but it is also the time of year that can be most crowded.
I went in February and found the temperature to be just right, especially coming from the United States where it was freezing. I checked the forecast before arrival and though it predicted storms, when I arrived it was clear skies. Be sure to take a look at the weather networks before travel.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
- Casa Pombo: No doubt one of the most beautiful buildings in Cartagena, Casa Pombo is an oasis tucked behind grand doors. Staying here for two nights was the highlight of the time — the design is stunning. Booking a three bedroom apartment, I loved the airy space. Spending most afternoons at the rooftop pool, it was the perfect place to escape the heat of the day.
- Hotel Las Islas Barú: For one night, we took a boat out to this luxury eco-hotel. Near the Rosario Islands, it has a great location for time on a small, private beach. The rooms are well appointed and the high price point is worth it for the seclusion. I only wish we would have stayed a few more nights.
- Casa San Agustin: My second choice hotel in the Old Town that I would have booked would be Casa San Agustin. The design-forward hotel is in a central location, making for a great base for discovering Cartagena.
Best Restaurants in Cartagena
What took me most by surprise in Cartagena was how international the cuisine was. Yes you can find great local food here, but there is a ton of restaurants that specialize in other food. For the top places, you will want to reserve in advance.
- El Kilo: Arguably this was our favorite meal. Their ceviche is incredible (try the El Kilo) and they had wonderful cocktails. This was one of those gems that we stumbled upon and would take this over some of the other popular ceviche spots.
- El Barón: We originally came here for cocktails (amazing!) and they also have good food as well for a quick bite.
- Zaitún Cartagena: Another one of those meals that took us by surprise was Zaitún. Firstly the cocktails are incredible and then they had Lebanese food which blew my mind. I would definitely eat here if you’re looking for something different.
- Coffee at Epoca Espresso Bar (their breakfast is also delicious).
- Demente: One dinner here was great for lighter bites that were Spanish tapas style.
- Restaurant Palenqueras Getsemani: This space was really fun and good, classic dishes like whole fish and plantains. It gets really lively at night as well with their second floor and patio.
- Alma: This is an awesome venue for upscale Colombian food. *Reserve in advance.
- Restaurante Bar La Vitrola: If you’re craving Italian food, come here.
Things to Do in Cartagena
Days in Cartagena are rather relaxed. It gets pretty hot so most of the time you’ll want to spend time near the water. I would highly recommend having a hotel with a pool at the very least. Here’s a few things to do in Cartagena:
- Explore the Walled City: This is the highlight — exploring the endless streets and discovering gems.
- Shop local designers: There are some incredible design shops here so much so I wish I had brought a bigger suitcase. Favorite shops included Mercedes Salazar, Silvia Tcherassi, Loto del Sur (candles), Chiqui House Boutique (local designers), St. Dom, and Colombia Artesenal.
- Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Head here early to beat the crowds and visit this enormous castle from 1639.
- Walk through Mercado de Bazurto: For an opportunity to get a look at local life, the market is one to walk through.
- 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 eats.
- Take a free walking tour with Free Tour Cartagena.
- More things to do in Cartagena in this post.
Possible Day Trips from Cartagena
Though I stuck to staying in the Old Town and the overnight to Barú, I wanted to provide some other day trips available. Researching a few of these before hand, they all looked wonderful for a day out of the city.
- Take a boat ride to the Rosario Islands. (most Tourism Agencies can arrange a boat tour or ask your hotel)
- Spend a day at Playa Blanca. (taxi or Uber here)
- Tayrona National Park
Save this post for later on Pinterest:
PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: