Traveling to Cartagena – where to stay, where to eat, and what to do
Cartagena de Indias is located on Colombia’s northern coast on the Caribbean Sea. This is the fun, vacation destination of Colombia where you will see both foreigners and Colombians on holiday. If you are traveling to Cartagena, here is everything you need to know about where to stay, eat, and do while exploring Cartagena de Indias.
The Walled City, with its stone streets and brightly colored buildings adorned with blooming flowers year around is picturesque; and while a bit touristy, it is also easy going and relaxing. You could wander the little streets, stopping at little cafes and shops all day – or like me, for multiple days.
I always end my trips to Colombia here for some sun, sea, and shopping!
Exploring Cartagena de Indias: let’s get acquainted
It might all seem like a big maze at first, but you’ll find its actually not too difficult to navigate because the Walled City really isn’t a huge area. If you want a little help starting out, I love getting acquainted with a city by learning about the history, culture, and architecture, and a free walking tour is the perfect way to do just that!
The historic Old Town or the Walled City
While Cartagena is really a large city with close to a million people living here, the place to visit is the Walled City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Spanish-Colonial architecture. The clock tower (torre del reloj) is an easy to find landmark that also serves as the gate to the city.
This cool, trendy neighborhood is located just outside the clock tower gate. It’s less expensive than the walled city but within walking distance.
Bocagrande is a complete contrast to the old town, with high rises and man-made beach areas it’ll remind you of Miami.
Where to stay
Cartagena offers everything from luxury hotels like the Sofitel, to boutique hotels like Bantú, to hostels and Airbnbs. I recommend staying in the old town if you can, but Getsemani is within easy walking distance.
Exploring Cartagena de Indias: what to eat
Colombian food on the coast is very different than in the interior of the country. Here, you’ll find things like:
- Arepas stuffed with egg, cheese, and meat
- Arroz con coco cooked to perfection
- Fish including – ceviche, mojarra frita (fried), róbalo marino (a white fish)
Breakfast – Epoca
I fell in love with Epoca after my first visit, and ended up going back for breakfast every day of my trip! When you step inside, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. And while the atmosphere is pretty great, the food and coffee really are phenomenal.
Lunch – San Pedro Café
This Café shares the Plaza de San Pedro with the Church of San Pedro Claver, making it easy to locate. My mother took me here on my first trip to Cartagena as she fondly remembered her mother bringing her to this same restaurant when she was younger. You can’t go wrong sitting either indoors or out, sipping a refreshing cocktail, and enjoying a delicious meal.
Dinner – Plaza Santa Teresa in front of the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa
This outdoor restaurant is located on the beautiful Plaza de Santa Teresa. It is the perfect spot to end an evening. You can watch the sunset on the nearby wall, do a little shopping with the street vendors, and then head over for drinks and dinner. Music from the nearby bar will drift down creating one of those moments you’ll wish you could live in forever.
Exploring Cartagena de Indias: what to do
Wander the streets of Old Town, climb up on the wall and walk around, check out the intricately designed doors and take note of the various doorknob designs – each design tells you a little about the profession and status of the family that lived there.
In the day
Iglesia de San Pedro Claver
The Church of San Pedro Claver is located in Plaza de San Pedro Claver. This iconic church is a must see when visiting Cartagena.
Plaza Santo Domingo
Plaza Santo Domingo is a popular square with Fernando Botero’s statue, La Gorda Gertrudis, located prominently in the center. The Church of Santo Domingo was founded in 1551! Inside the church you’ll find the floor is actually made of tombstones.
Plaza de la Merced
Plaza de la Merced is the location of the Teatro Adolfo Mejía or Teatro Heredia. This theatre built in 1911 features a fusion of Italian and Caribbean design.
The Palace of the Inquisition
The Palace of the Inquisition was at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition in Cartagena. This museum of torture focuses on a dark part of history. With grisly tools of torture on display, it is a lot to take in and not for everyone.
One of my favorite things to do in Cartagena is to explore all the shops. Here are some of my favorite Colombian brands:
- Touché features swimwear and resort wear, underwear, and pajamas.
- OndadeMar swimwear and resort wear,
- Veléz leather goods made in Medellín
Cartagena is bustling at night. To start with, dinner begins around 8 or 9; any earlier, and you’ll be completely alone.
- Eivissa is located by the Clock Tower in the Plaza de Los Coches. Many hostels will give you a free entry ticket that includes a drink. Here you’ll find two floors, including a rooftop terrace with electronic and reggaeton music playing well into the night.
- Café Havana is a well-known bar located in Getsemani. It offers live salsa music and cocktails.
You won’t see the beautiful beaches and blue ocean you imagined finding on the Caribbean coast in Cartagena, instead you’ll want to head to some of the nearby islands.
You can visit the islands as a day trip or spend the night. It is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the old town, and they have great beaches, with activities like swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
Skip Isla Barú and its crowded Playa Blanca and head to las Islas Rosario. The Rosario Islands are beautiful with white sand beaches and the clearest blue-green waters. I highly recommend taking at least a day to visit and hang out. Culture Trip has a great overview of all the things you can do here.
If you are staying in Colombia for longer, I recommend heading to Santa Marta and visiting Tayrona and Minca.
Are you planing yet?
Now that you are ready to start planning the perfect trip to Cartagena, you’ll want to think about the rest of your adventure in Colombia. Check out our highlights to traveling around Colombia to get all the details you need to put together an incredible Colombian itinerary.
And of course, if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TravelHive team and Contact us.