A few years ago, I was watching a Netflix series set in Cartagena de Indias. Instantly, I fell in love with this colorful city. And bam, straight to the top of my list of Colombian cities to see at least once in a lifetime! Years later, I discovered the city in person, and wow! A beautiful city, extraordinary inhabitants, a relaxed pace of life… All the ingredients are there to return again and again to this sublime destination. Cartagena Colombia: what to visit?

Cartagena Colombia in a nutshell

This port city on the Colombian Caribbean coast attracts thousands of tourists every year, curious to discover its fortified old town founded in the 16th century.
Colonial-style buildings, lively squares, and cobblestone streets welcome visitors in a warm and humid climate, reminding them that the beach is never far away.
Established on the Amerindian village of Calamari, “de Indias” is added to distinguish it from Cartagena in Spain. Quickly, it becomes the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast.
Thanks to its strategic position, it becomes an ideal place for storing wealth, which also makes it a perfect target for pirates. Despite a tumultuous history, the city continues to develop, offering a unique heritage and beauty.

What to See in Cartagena? 10 must-visit places

Discovering Cartagena Colombia is letting yourself be carried away by its more relaxed and tranquil way of life while appreciating its impressive colonial beauty.

1. Get lost in the walled city

The old city of Cartagena is sublime. Pink, yellow, blue… The facades compete in colors to seduce tourists who wish to take photos.
The colonial architecture is magnificent and invites you to take your time to stroll looking up and admire the beauty of the place, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are many tours to discover the city center. Here are 3:
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cartagena Colombia
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2. Discover the city's square

Cartagena de Indias has several charming squares where you can admire the local architecture or enjoy a drink on a terrace. Here are a few of them.

La plaza Santo Domingo

Here is where the church of the same name is located. Unfortunately, it is often closed. Therefore, I couldn’t enter to admire it. This square is also known for displaying a statue by the famous Colombian artist Botero: “La Gorda Gertrudis.”
The ballet of tourists wanting to take photos with the artwork is incessant, but it’s not impossible to take a photo without anyone with a bit of patience and quickness.
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La plaza Bolivar

The old Plaza de la Constitución has a very sad history. This is where executions were carried out during the Inquisition. In the late 19th century, it was renamed Plaza Simón Bolívar. In its center, indeed, stands an equestrian statue of the former president.
The square is a pleasant place to sit for a while and also to admire the Mapalé dancers, a traditional dance of Afro-descendant populations, who perform here from time to time.
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La plaza San Pedro Claver

San Pedro Claver, who gave his name to the square, was the priest who played an important role in the liberation of African slaves in the region.
In the square, there is a statue depicting him conversing with a slave. His body rests in this church built by the Jesuits.
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La Plaza de los Coches

This is another renamed square, as it was the setting for some dark moments in the country’s history. The former Plaza de los Esclavos served as the slave market. It’s worth noting that Cartagena was considered the most important slave port in South America.
Today, it’s a lively place, ideal for buying sweets from one of the vendors under the arches.
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3. Stroll along the walls

The walls are one of the most important attractions in Cartagena Colombia. They were built to protect the city from pirate attacks.
You can walk along a large part of them and enjoy the view. It’s also the ideal place to enjoy the sunset.
cartagena Colombia

4. Wander through Getsemani

The colonial buildings and street art make the neighborhood of Getsemaní very pleasant. It’s definitely another perfect place to take photos for your Instagram account.
By the way, if you’re interested in urban art like I am, don’t hesitate to take a guided tour to learn more about the local graffiti.
The Plaza de la Santísima Trinidad is the heart of the neighborhood. Formerly called Plaza de la Libertad in honor of the residents of the neighborhood who initiated the “cry for independence in 1811″.
That is to say, from here the movements that led to the independence of what was then New Granada began.
cartagena Colombia
cartagena Colombia
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5. Visit the Fuerte San Felipe de Barajas

Located on the hill of San Lázaro, it’s a fantastic place to admire the view of the entire city. But not only that! The symbol of the city is the largest construction ever built by the Spanish colonizers.
Corridors, walkways, underground galleries, drawbridges, this must-see monument is a real maze where you’ll learn more about the history of the city. It’s essential to include this fortress on your list of places to see in Cartagena.
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6. Explore the catedral Santa Catalina

The Cathedral of Santa Catalina is one of the most emblematic monuments of the city. Unfortunately, it’s not always open. Built in 1577, it’s one of the oldest cathedrals on the continent.
Its bright colors will catch your eye from the surrounding streets. Inside, you’ll discover three aisles decorated in a sober manner, as well as a main altarpiece covered in gold leaf.
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7. Admire the Torre del Reloj

The Torre del Reloj is another of the emblematic places in the old town. It’s also the main entrance gate to the walled city.
Its post-classic style architecture is enhanced by Tuscan columns and Roman semicircular arches. For the record, the clock was imported directly from Switzerland.
cartagena Colombia

8. Shop for crafts at Las Bóvedas

Las Bódegas comprise 47 arches and 24 vaults, which give a unique charm to this colonial building, which was formerly an old prison. Today, it’s local merchants who occupy the cells, mainly to sell crafts and souvenirs.

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9. Observe animals at Parque del Centenario

Right near the Torre del Reloj, you’ll find a small park that might go unnoticed: Centenario Park. Here, you can admire animals in the wild, such as sloths, iguanas, or even monkeys. A perfect spot to add to your list of things to see in Cartagena.
Street vendors will point out where these animals are. Keep in mind that they may ask for a small contribution in return. However, you can easily observe the animals by searching for them on your own.

10. Relax at the beach

Cartagena Colombia is dotted with beaches. However, some may not be necessarily recommended for relaxation and swimming due to the rather strong winds that can blow and the intense and dangerous currents.
Here are 2 interesting beaches, although they may not fit the idyllic image you might have:

La playa de Bocagrande

With its resemblance to Miami, it’s a great place to enjoy the Colombian atmosphere while sunbathing. You can also swim without any issues.

La playa La Boquilla

The dark sand welcomes visitors in a peaceful atmosphere, although it may not be an exceptionally beautiful beach.
To enjoy turquoise waters, it is highly recommended to take a boat trip offshore from Cartagena Colombia.

How many days in Cartagena Colombia?

It’s perfectly possible to visit Cartagena in a day. However, it would be a shame not to stay a bit longer, as the city is very pleasant. I highly recommend dedicating at least 2 days.
If you want to relax and have a real vacation combining excursions, beaches, nightlife, and culture, a week would be perfect.
Finally, if you fall in love with the city like I did and have the time to stay and establish a routine, why not spend several months there?

Cartagena City: 2-day Itinerary

If you have limited time, here’s a 2-day itinerary that allows you to see the essentials of Cartagena without having to rush around.

Day 1:
Get lost in the city center: 2-3 hours
Visit the cathedral: 30 minutes
Lunchtime: choose one of the local restaurants to try the specialties. With a bit of searching, you’ll find places with normal prices.
Enjoy Parque del Centenario: 1 hour
Stroll along the walls: 2 hours
Admire the sunset while having a drink: 1 hour
Dinnertime: stay in the walled city for dinner at a trendy restaurant.
Day 2:
Visit Fuerte San Felipe de Barajas: 3 hours
Stroll through Getsemaní: 2 hours
Lunchtime: Getsemaní neighborhood is perfect for finding hidden local restaurants.
Relax on the beach: select one of the many beaches in the city to enjoy the sun.
Buy souvenirs at Las Bóvedas: 1 hour
Dinnertime: return to the historic center for dinner and drinks.

Cartagena City: 3-day Itinerary

If you stay one more day, you can take the opportunity to explore the area with an excursion. Although the city is sublime, it’s not the only place worth visiting in this region with historical significance and dreamy landscapes.

Is it dangerous to visit Cartagena?

The topic of safety is always delicate and somewhat subjective. I stayed in a neighborhood quite far from the center and not particularly wealthy, but I never felt unsafe, even walking there at dusk. The rest of the time, I was in the tourist area and also had no issues.
However, in doing your research on the Internet, you’ll see that robberies can occur in the downtown area and that some areas should be avoided at night due to drug sales and prostitution.
Like in the rest of Latin America, here are some tips to help you stay safe:
1. Avoid carrying too much cash.
2. Don’t walk with your phone in hand.
3. Don’t wear valuable jewelry.
4. Avoid going out at night, especially alone.
5. Prefer using Uber to get around.
6. Drink in moderation to avoid being tipsy in a city you barely know.
These are basic common-sense tips, although there’s no such thing as zero risk.

When to Go to Cartagena Colombia?

It’s hot all year round in Cartagena, which is perfect if you enjoy sunny getaways, and since the sea water is also warm, you won’t have any trouble enjoying your stay. However, some months are rainier than others.
Therefore, it’s recommended to visit Cartagena from December to April. Keep in mind that January and February are often quite windy, so they’re not ideal if you’re hoping to spend time at the beach.
cartagena Colombie

How to Get to Cartagena?

To get to Cartagena from abroad or from other cities in Colombia, you can take a plane that will take you to the city’s international airport.
If you’re already in Colombia, whether near or far from the city, and prefer to take the bus, many companies will take you to Cartagena Colombia.

How to Get Around Cartagena?

If you’re in the tourist center, you can do everything walking. If you’re outside the center, you can take a taxi (make sure to ask the price before getting in) or use Uber, which offers cars or motorcycles for your trips.
Traffic in Cartagena is often congested, so I recommend getting around by motorcycle. It’s very easy; there are moto-taxis everywhere in the city (except in the tourist center), just flag them down to stop.
There are also several bus lines. Check this link for more information.

Where to Stay in Cartagena?

If you’re staying in Cartagena for just a few days, it’s best to stay in the historic center or Getsemaní. If, like me, you enjoy being surrounded by locals, there are many neighborhoods where you can stay that are very pleasant. I stayed in Crespo, I was perfectly immersed in the local atmosphere!

Being a digital nomad in Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena is more of a destination for tourists than for digital nomads. Therefore, it can be quite challenging to find a community of digital nomads. However, if you enjoy spending time with locals, nothing could be easier!
Internet connection is quite good in Cartagena. There are also several coworking spaces and a few colivings, which can be interesting for meeting new people.

Travel Responsibly to Cartagena

Cartagena is a beautiful city. Unfortunately, it is far from being clean. There is still too much plastic being used, waste accumulates along the roadsides, and tourism drives up prices at the expense of locals. If you want to improve the city’s situation, here are some responsible gestures you can take during your visits:
1. Bring your tote bag for shopping.
2. Avoid using plastic bags provided for buying fruits.
3. Carry a reusable cup for buying your coffees on the street.
4. Do not litter in the streets.
5. Use a reusable straw for enjoying fruit juices.
6. Use eco-friendly sunscreen if you’re going to the beach.
7. Do not feed the animals in the parks.
8. Avoid patronizing shops that offer exorbitant prices.
This list is not exhaustive, of course. There are still many more actions you can take to protect the planet and support local communities.

Traveling as a POC person to Cartagena

All experiences of racialized individuals are different, and my experience is not universal. Nonetheless, I felt comfortable in Cartagena.
However, in the tourist center, 30% of the vendors would call out “India” upon seeing me, as I am of South Asian descent. It’s not a big deal, but it can be annoying over time.
In Cartagena, there is a large population of African descent, given the city’s history, unfortunately closely related to slavery. I stayed in a neighborhood away from the center, where 90% of the population was Black. I didn’t see any tourists there.
I received many looks, which I understand, because it’s clear that I’m not Black, but I’m also not identified as a tourist, so I understand the curiosity.
I hope this article has answered the question of what to see in Cartagena City and has helped you in your travel preparations. I can only recommend that you visit Cartagena. I truly fell in love with its beauty and atmosphere. I’m sure I’ll return and spend much more time there.
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