Colombia is such a diverse country, and with so much to see and do, it’s hard to decide where best to spend your time. In my opinion, no trip to Colombia would be complete without a visit to Cartagena.
Cartagena is located in the north of Colombia by the Caribbean Coast and is one of the oldest port towns in the country. The tropical climate also makes it a great beach destination and there are plenty of beaches and small islands to choose from.
The old town of Cartagena is where the magic happens – Surrounded by a historic wall, this colonial town with cobbled streets and colourful buildings make this a picture-perfect destination.
Where to stay
There are tons of places to stay in Cartagena depending on your budget. The most expensive places to stay are within the old town wall and places become cheaper the more “out of town” you go.
We booked a double room in a shared apartment which was located within a gated community, a 15-minute walk from the old town. We chose this place as it was a great price and had a kitchen, essential when you are travelling long term. You can check the place out here. Miguel is a great host and offers plenty of helpful tips for enjoying your time in Cartagena.
Things to do
The main attraction in Cartagena, is without a doubt the old town. You could spend days wandering around the idyllic colonial streets, taking in the colourful houses and stunning architecture. Our favourite part of the city was Plaza San Diego which is a square surrounded by bars, restaurants and churches.
Walk around the city wall and take in the views from a different angle, there are plenty of places to sit, take a rest and watch the local people go about their daily lives.
Enjoy sunset at Café del Mar. The area around Café del Mar is a public space so if you and watching the pennies and don’t fancy splashing out in the bar, you can buy a beer from a local vendor, perch on the wall and enjoy the beauty of the sun setting over the Caribbean Ocean. The view from this part of town is quite special, as you have the historic old town on one side and in the distance, you can see the skyscraper hotels of the new town in Bocagrande.
San Felipe de Barajas Castle
A trip to San Felipe de Barajas Castle is a great way to spend half a day. It’s best to visit early in the morning or later in the day when the sun isn’t as strong. The castle is a fortress which is located on the hill of Lazaro, you can learn a lot about the colonial history of Colombia. The castle is huge and very impressive! You can even walk through many of the original tunnels under the castle which is pretty cool. Entrance to the castle costs 16,000 COP and you can also pay extra for a guided or audio tour.
Visit one of the many nearby Caribbean Islands or beaches. We didn’t actually make it as we loved spending time in the told town but we heard that Playa Blanca is worth a visit or if you have time, head out to Isla de Rosario which is supposed to be stunning!
Casa en el Agua
Casa en el Agua is a small island located a 2 hour boat ride from Cartagena. This small eco-hotel gets booked up months in advance so you need to plan ahead if you want to spend the night there. We obviously didn’t plan ahead and the ‘casa’ was fully booked when we were in town. You can see what all the fuss is about here.
Places to eat and drink
Eating and drinking in Cartagena isn’t cheap, it’s a popular cruise port so expect to pay a lot more than the typical prices in Colombia. We decided to eat in most nights to save some cash, there are plenty of supermarkets to buy food and groceries from.
We found some great happy hour bars to enjoy 2-4-1 margaritas in Plaza San Diego as we people watched. You can also buy beers from the local shop and find a seat in the park if you are on a budget.
La Cevicheria is one of the best restaurants to eat at in the city. This hidden gem can be found in our favourite spot Plaza San Diego and serves the best ceviche in the city.
The Clock Pub is located in Plaza de los Coches which is a cool little plaza with cute balconied houses. We stopped off at The Clock Pub to escape the torrential downpour and enjoyed a few beers at this Irish themed bar.
A few last things to mention
The tap water in Cartagena is safe to drink. If you are just arriving into South America it may take a few days for your stomach to adjust but we had no problem with the drinking water.
Make sure you have a document to prove your exit from Colombia – this can be a flight out of the country or a bus ticket. We were stung at the airport in Costa Rica as we only had a flight to Colombia, so had to quickly book a flight to Peru in 30 minutes otherwise they wouldn’t let us board the flight. Not everybody will check you have transport booked to leave the country, we were just unlucky on this occasion but better to be prepared
Cartagena is a place we would love to go back to one day, but not on a backpacker budget!
Have you ever wanted to visit Colombia? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep on wandering! X