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If you’re thinking of traveling to South America, then you definitely should consider Cartagena. These travel tips for what to do in Cartagena are a few of the incredible experiences to be had.

With blue Caribbean waters lapping up against the walled city, it is a quintessential Colombian escape. A trip to Cartagena includes time on the beach, exploring colonial architecture, amazing street food, and great day trips. So whether you pop in for the week or in for the day on a cruise stop, there is so much to love about this coastal city.

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

What to Do in Cartagena

  • Take a street food tour: Of course there is plenty of food in Colombia to try and there are food tours that offer an opportunity to taste local bites. I would recommend booking on Viator for a trusted source.
  • Join a free walking tour: There are some free walking tours available within the city walls. They don’t charge anything for the tour and only ask for tips. I didn’t have the time to do one but this one came highly recommended from a few friends.
  • Explore within the Old Walled City: One of the best things I did was to wake up early and explore the colonial architecture in the walled city. You can’t get lost and it’s so peaceful in the early hours. It’s the best time for photography as well!
  • Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: A sight you can’t miss is this impressive castle outside of Cartagena. Local vendors or taxis can take you there.
  • Street Art in Getsemani: If you’re looking to go explore on your own, the streets in Getsemani just outside the walled city, has great street art. It’s one of the things I loved about this neighborhood was how fun it was to spend a morning exploring.
  • For more on what to do in Cartagena and where to stay, take a look at the full city guide here.

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Main Sights in the Old City

  • Iglesia San Pedro Claver: Within the city walls, San Pedro Claver is a beautiful church to stop by within the city.
  • Plaza Santo Domingo: Santo Domingo is a bustling square in the old city that can’t be missed.
  • Gold Museum: Also known as Museo del Oro Zenú, if you want to see pre-Colombian relics with a focus on gold, head here.
  • Clock Tower: A famous monument in the center of the old town. At night, you’ll find many performers in the area showcasing live dance and music.
  • Plaza de San Diego: Another bustling square in the city to take a peak at.

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Beaches

One of the most challenging things to find were good beaches in Cartagena. The city beaches nearby are historically not the best which is why most people head out on a boat elsewhere. I opted for a night on Barú for a private hotel and beach at Las Islas Hotel. If you’re looking for other beaches nearby, consider:

  • Rosario Islands
  • Barú
  • Playa Blanca
  • Tierra Bomba (Punta Arena)
  • Castillogrande

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Nightlife

One of my favorite parts of traveling to Cartagena was getting to experience the lively nightlife. On every corner there is a bar playing music, and it is so energetic. Popping into a few rooftop bars and clubs, here are a few to consider:

  • El Barón: Come here for craft cocktails.
  • Demente: Great bar in Getsemani.
  • La Movida: For dancing and late nights.
  • Cafe Havana: In Getsemani and great for salsa.

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Day Trips

  • Visit the Rosario Islands : This is a great day trip if you’re looking to get out on the water. Many boats do full day tours, you can book on Viator or ask your hotel for a preferred vendor.
  • Pop over to Tierra Bomba Island: Directly across from Cartagena, this least visited island is a great spot to come hang for scenic views and fresh seafood.
  • La Boquilla and Mangrove Swamps: northeast of Cartagena is the fishing village, La Boquilla. Head here for an intimate experience, a chance to take a tour on canoes through the mangrove swamps, and more. You can book this with local vendors or tourism agencies.
  • Take a boat to Playa Blanca: It’s one of the most popular beaches near Cartagena to visit. It does get quite packed but still a beautiful city escape. Grab a tour or boat ride at the Bazurto Market docks.
  • Stay at a hotel on the Local Islands: There are hotels available to stay at on islands. I booked a night on Hotel Las Islas Barú which was well worth the price.
  • Soak in the hot mud at Volcan del Totumo: Another traveler’s favorite is an afternoon spa session in the mud in this volcano.

Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

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Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

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 for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or 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.

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  1. Brit on the Move Reply

    Hi there,
    I went to Bogota in April of this year and loved it! I now want to visit Cartagena. One of the items on my list is the pink river/sea about an hour away that blooms from Feb – April. Did you get a chance to visit it? Also, what makes you say some of the beaches are not desirable? Are they dirty or not safe? I am asking this as I own a timeshare and there is an option on the beach but having read this I am wondering… Last one for yah, how do you get over to the islands? Thanks in advance Nikki

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Hey! I didn’t get a chance to visit it, unfortunately, so not too much I can share on it!

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