If you are planning a trip to Colombia, this post on the unique things to do in Cartagena will be useful to plan your trip to this vibrant city and decide what to include in your Colombia itinerary.
It’s a thorough guide to the top attractions and unmissable activities and places to visit in Cartagena, the most exciting tours, the coolest places to eat, and where to stay.
Also, you will love to learn about some practical “know-before-you-go” tips that will come in handy, especially if you are traveling to Cartagena Colombia for the first time.
The city of Cartagena is a vibrant, colorful place on the edge of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Its streets are filled with Caribbean culture and exquisite colonial architecture, overflowing with art and cute cafes.
I have made a couple of stops in Cartagena during my time in Colombia.
The first time was at the end of my travels through South America and the last was on my way to the San Blas Islands of Panama which are normally visited during a trip from Panama to Colombia by boat.
Things to do in Cartagena at a glance
Cartagena is a wonderful city with a rich history, being one of the first Spanish colonies in Colombia during the Spanish inquisition of the 16th century.
Due to this, Cartegena boasts an old walled city which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of narrow cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, picturesque plazas, and the iconic post-card-worthy multi-colored buildings.
Not only is the old city charming, but the surrounding barrios (neighborhoods) also have just as much appeal with a lot of quirky areas to visit too.
Most visitors will stay in the walled city of Cartagena, which includes Centro and San Diego while other barrios such as Getsemani and Bocagrande are also popular.
Find out the unique things to do in Cartagena, Colombia in each of these barrios below!
Best Things to do in Cartagena inside the walled city
As is common with many places within Colombia that were colonized by the Spanish, such as the beautiful towns of Salento and Villa de Leyva, Cartagena too, has a buzzing colonial old town, or old city as it is known now.
The old city is one of the best things about Cartagena and a focal point for many visitors.
Cartagena’s walled city provides visitors with a historic center full of character and charm.
There are many hidden gems from tiny cafes and food spots to hidden plazas tucked away down quiet streets and old museums to be explored.
With the old and new now mixed, although it hasn’t lost any of its colonial charms, there are many points of interest, and one of the best things to do is to just walk around and discover your favorite gems, even better with a local guide who can share some interesting info on the local history and culture.
1. Street food tour
One of the best things we did in Cartagena was going on a guided street food tour! We walked around the walled city with a local chef who took us to a bunch of small, almost hidden food spots that we would have missed if we weren’t with her.
It was a great way to experience some of the local cuisines such as empanadas, patacones, and bollos.
Something which we also enjoyed was the arepas, which are a corn-dough grilled flatbread-like thing.
It’s between bread, a pita, and corn cakes. It’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside; they stuff it with cheese or ham or egg. In truth, they put almost anything in it!
These were pretty tasty and we enjoyed having them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, alongside the empanadas. The price of an arepa and empanada is affordable, and since we were backpacking, well it was brilliant!
2. Free or private walking tour
As in most cities, Cartagena offers free walking tours around the old city with a local guide. These are good to get your bearings, especially if it’s your first time in Cartagena.
The tours go every morning at 10 am and are organized by a group of locals – usually wearing a yellow t-shirt – who will walk you around and tell stories about the history of the city.
Your hotel or hostel will be able to give you more details but usually, the meeting point is under the clock tower.
Another way to do this is with a private walking tour, we didn’t do this one but have heard it’s beneficial as the groups are smaller and you get taken to different spots.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that although the free walking tour is advertised as free, they do expect a tip, so it’s not really ‘free’.
Pick one of the top-rated walking tour options
3. Discover the plazas
Cartagena city is bursting with plazas, all representing something special, usually with a statue or monument.
There is a lot to be found, especially within the walled city, and great places to head to if it’s getting a little too hot.
Some of the more popular ones are Plaza de Los Coches – right under the clock tower – so a great meeting point, Plaza de la Paz, Proclamation Square, and Plaza San Pedro Claver which is full of cafes to grab a delicious Colombian coffee or a popular raspao – which is the Colombian version of shave ice – usually covered in condensed milk and jellied sweets.
Another popular spot is Plaza de Bolivar which houses the Inquisition Museum and Gold Museum, and Plaza Santo Domingo.
Plaza Santo Domingo is a large open plaza home to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a yellow-painted church that is nice to visit.
Aside from the church, the statue of Mujer Reclinada – a rather voluptuous woman, laying on her side – is found in this plaza. It’s good luck if you give her a gentle rub!
She is the work of Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, who features other statues around Colombia, especially in Medellin.
4. Portal de Los Dulces
One of the most interesting places we found during our wanders around the walled city was Portal de Los Dulces – which translates as ‘portal of sweets’.
This is exactly what it is to, conveniently located under the arches of the buildings opposite Plaza de Los Coches, it’s full of sweet local delicacies.
There are lines of small stalls selling traditional sweets like pineapple and coconut slabs, candied ginger, and dulce de leche snaps.
There were biscuits of all sorts and other sweets we had never heard of.
I wanted to buy everything and try it all!
5. Check out the museums
The Emerald Museum was not as we expected at all, it was far better. It’s not very big so you don’t need too much time, but it was interesting.
It’s set out into a bunch of rooms, each showcasing a selection of emeralds from Colombia and around the world.
As we moved through the rooms we saw tons of specimens of emeralds and learned about the history. The final room, which was a replica, showcased a mine with original sounds and emerald veins.
The Palace of Inquisition is Cartagena’s historical museum. It’s quite big and will take up a good portion of your day, highlighting the history of Cartagena and Colombian Caribbean society and the presence of the Court of the Inquisition.
A sad but intriguing part of this museum was the torture exhibits which showed gruesome examples of torture devices used on prisoners to extract confessions.
We visited the Gold Museum too, although having just visited the one in Bogota it wasn’t as good. However, if you’re not heading to Bogota then it’s a nice one to visit, it’s also free entry.
There are a few other museums which we didn’t visit such as the Museo Naval del Caribe – the Naval Museum. We heard good things about it but unfortunately didn’t get enough time to go.
It showcases how Cartagena was important to Colombian independence, colonial exhibits, pirate attacks, and the modern Colombian Navy.
6. Enjoy a cup of Colombian Coffee
Colombia is world famous for its coffee and one thing that shouldn’t be missed while you’re in Cartagena is to taste some of this delicious coffee.
Whether it be in a coffee shop or a takeaway cup to drink under the trees of a plaza, make time for a coffee break!
Luckily for you, the area is heaving with coffee shops. We visited a few recommended spots and fell in love with the coffee at Cafe Epoca. It’s a pretty cool coffee spot where old meets new, set within a delicate cream building with balconies and hanging vines.
Although Cartagena itself is not a massive producer of coffee, there are still coffee workshops and tours that can be enjoyed during a visit.
For tours to the best coffee plantations in Colombia, you want to head inland and up into the mountains to towns such as Salento, Pereira, and Filandia.
7. Head to Donde Fidel – salsa bar
Somewhere we enjoyed was Donde Fidel, it’s an old salsa bar where you can listen to live salsa music and dance. It’s in a good location with outdoor seating but note, it’s only for adults, no children allowed!
It’s pretty chilled, you don’t have to dance, and it’s fun to just watch the people having a good time with a cold beer.
8. Watch the sunset over the water
We went to both and enjoyed the experience both times. The vibes were completely different with a much more laid-back approach at Cafe del Mar.
Cafe del Mar is a popular spot with seating along the old wall gathering a mix of people from backpackers and holidaymakers to locals.
The view is great but I’d recommend getting there an hour beforehand so to get the best seat at the front.
Hotel Movich was a little more snazzy and wasn’t as busy when we visited. The atmosphere was relaxed as well with gentle lounge music playing in the background. This is the place to enjoy fancy sundowners!
Neither Cafe del Mar nor Hotel Movich is budget-friendly with a drink priced at around $15.00 – $20.00 but it is a lovely way to end the day.
9. Santuario de San Pedro Claver
One of the more grand and prettier churches in Cartagena is the church of San Pedro Claver. It’s right in the middle of Plaza de San Pedro Claver within the walled city and worth a visit!
Peter Claver could be considered a human rights activist of his time; devoting his entire life to converting and redeeming the black slaves of New Granada – a group of 16th-century Spanish colonial provinces in northern South America.
Within the church, you will notice large stone pillars, statues, and artwork on the walls. It’s a nice place to get a respite from the heat.
The remains of San Pedro Claver lie at the altar.
10. Find the monuments
There are some interesting monuments in Cartagena. The Mujer Reclinada statue mentioned above is a good one to start with; however, some other noteworthy monuments are; The Old Shoes Monument, The Alcatraz Monument, La India Catalina, Simon Bolivar, and The Clock Tower.
So, they might not all be inside the walled city but a few are and it’s fun to walk around and find them.
Unique Things to Do in Cartagena’s Getsemaní District
Getsemani is the district just outside the walled city and is the second oldest part of Cartagena.
It’s another cool neighborhood to stroll around with fantastic streets to explore and numerous things to add to your to-do list in Cartagena.
Getsemani is considered the cradle of Cartagena’s culture, due to the artesian working class who lived there during the colonial period. Walking through the streets you will understand why.
It’s bursting with historical influences but has grown into a trendy hangout spot full of hidden gems; it’s the place to go for great nightlife, hip cafes, restaurants, and funky bars.
11. Street performers
Seeing the street performers in Cartagena is always fun. The streets and plazas come alive with music and a great atmosphere.
Many people gather to experience the shows and it’s something which shouldn’t be missed.
We enjoyed hanging about Plaza de La Trinidad which is always full of tourists and locals, especially on the weekends.
It’s a lively hangout spot and you’ll be sure to witness some of Getsemani’s street acts in the evening.
You will find some food stalls too and a few cheeky drink stalls, as well as cafes and restaurants, dotted around the plaza.
You will be amazed by the way the food is cooked – multiple burgers being cooked alongside heaps of onions, cheeses and everything else scooped into multiple orders at once – it’s impressive.
We also had one of the yummiest Pina Coladas from the drink stall too for the bargain price of 12,000 CP (US$ 2.7).
Back to the street performers, (I got a little sidetracked there with food), there are always different acts happening which range from traditional music and dancers to singers, salsa acts, and a variety of other independent shows.
They tend to come on one after another with allocated time sets before moving along down the street.
The performers will come around with a hat for tips, so it’s a good idea to bring some coins to give them if you enjoyed their act.
A few other plazas worth a mention are Plaza San Diego – home to souvenir shops – and Parque Fernandez de Madrid full of more restaurants and bars.
12. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Just over the bridge on the outskirts of the Getsemani district is the famous Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – San Felipe Castle.
It’s a pretty cool Castle to walk around (even if the entry price is steep at $25.00) and is another thing which you should do, even if you’re not into history as the views are great.
It’s open from 7 am to 6 pm and you can get tickets at the gate, however, I would recommend getting there early morning or late evening as it gets really hot mid-day in Cartagena.
There is not much respite from the heat as you walk around except for inside the tunnels but even so, this isn’t somewhere you can hang out.
The castle, which is a fortress, was built in 1536 on top of San Lazaro hill and was involved in battles with the Europeans between the 17th and 19th centuries.
It’s possible to walk around the castle and sections of the tunnels, there are a few canons on display alongside a few plaques, although there is not much information to read.
Right at the top, there is a huge Colombian flag which provides a great photo opportunity with Cartagena city as a backdrop.
13. Graffiti walking tour
One of the most popular things to do in Cartagena is to go on a walking tour around the neighborhood to discover the street art which populates the narrow streets of Getsemani, which there are a lot of!
It’s pretty cool. We were taken along the winding streets side alleys and to local galleries.
Our guide talked about the history of the area and how it’s represented through the images.
There are lots to see from portraits, animals, and beautiful murals, all of them bursting with color.
It was an interesting way to learn about the culture, Colombian heritage, and the urban art scene.
14. Stop by Las Tablitas
Located in the center of Getsemani, we visited Las Tablitas towards the end of our graffiti tour, but if you’re not doing the tour it’s somewhere which is worth a quick stop.
Las Tablitas holds the title of the oldest house in Getsemani and is now a shop slash bar and an intriguing place to stop and grab a drink.
The building looks like it’s about to collapse which adds character making it a popular place for tourists.
They serve traditional food and sometimes have live, local music.
15. Private rum tour
Since Cartagena is renowned for its Caribbean vibes, one of the best things to do is join a private rum tour and learn about the history of the one drink that represents the Caribbean, rum!
We love rum, and there’s a really cool tour that can be taken that explores the tastes of rum alongside the local community and its connection to the people.
It’s another way to explore the Getsemani neighborhood while tasting a bunch of different rums, how to pair them, and meeting locals with incredible knowledge while learning how important the rum trade was to Cartagena.
On this tour, you will learn about the history and the legend of some Colombian rums.
The guide will take you on a journey through the history of rum, sugar cane, and cacao and how these plants ended up in the Americas.
You will learn about six types of Colombian and Cartagena rums combining them with different local chocolates.
You will also prepare a rum-based cocktail which you can enjoy at the studio or on the stunning terrace of our Caffé Lunático while enjoying the spectacular views of San Felipe's castle and la Popa.
16. Play dominoes with a local
As you wander around the streets, you will at times, notice people playing dominoes or chess on the street, usually by the plazas.
These games can be quite intense and as a tourist, they love you to watch and even play. Be warned, the men are seriously good at the games and it’s unlikely you will win!
17. Buy some art along Calle San Juan
On our graffiti tour, we were taken to some amazing streets, tucked away from the main tourist hub. One of them was Calle San Juan, and although it’s now becoming more popular, it’s still a wonderful street.
It’s a very beautiful street with murals on the walls and local art being sold. The art is displayed on the walls outside art galleries which just scream to be visited. Even if you’re not buying it’s still lovely to walk around and admire.
The local art in Cartagena is hugely influenced by the Caribbean culture and you will see vibrant paintings showcasing Colombian heritage.
18. Get a photo at Umbrella street
Locally known as Calle de Las Sombrillas, it’s the place where you’ll find the multi-colored hanging umbrellas overhead.
It’s a very narrow side street where the residents have gone to a lot of effort to keep it looking attractive for the tourists.
You will notice brightly painted buildings complementing the umbrellas, a few shops, and some cafes dotted along the street, but more so along the streets leading to Calle de Las Sombrillas.
Make sure to wear something colorful to get that ultimate Instagram-perfect shot!
19. Explore the side streets
Other streets which are also worth a visit include Carrera 10b, Calle 26, and Calle 10; which is famous for the multitude of colorful flag bunting hanging above the street, showcasing Colombian colors.
There are a ton of restaurants down this street and it gets very busy, it’s easy to find with the end of the street leading to Trinidad Square.
It’s possible to visit some low-key local restaurants, although most of the eateries down Calle 10 are aimed at tourists and this is reflected in the price.
There are a few rooftop bars there too which we enjoyed with live music and a cocktail.
20. Find the sloths at Centenario Park
Centenario Park is an urban park located right in the middle of Cartagena, between the walled city and the Getsemani barrio.
It’s a really lovely park with a few wild animals running around, although it’s more likely you will see squirrels unless you head there early in the morning when they are more active.
There’s usually an ice cream man riding around on his bike too and will tell you, in broken English, about the animals that live in the park.
We did notice a few dodgy people around as well, so just keep your eyes peeled. Otherwise, it’s a nice place to enjoy a coffee and ice cream!
Unique Things to do in Cartagena: Bocagrande and Other Areas
21. Admire the views over Cartagena Bay
One of the great things about Cartagena is the Bay area, which sits between Bocagrande and the Getsemani district. The Bay has been a commercial gateway for over 500 years and was considered, by the Spaniards, the perfect spot to establish a principal port.
It served the West Indies trade route and became one of the largest maritime highways in the world, contributing a vital role in global trade.
One of the best ways to see Cartagena bay is up high and there’s no better place than the Hyatt Regency Cartagena.
The high-rise hotel is very stylish with a wonderful airy outdoor lounge with fantastic views over the bay.
You’ll be able to see the large shipping containers coming into the port, the yachts coming in and out and if you visit during sunset you’ll have beautiful panoramic views.
22. Marina in Manga – Club Nautico
If you’re into sailing then one place which shouldn’t be missed is Club Nautico Marina in the Manga district.
It’s a harbor full of speedboats, water taxis, and sailing boats which you can view from the restaurant and bar situated at Club Nautico.
23. Convent of Santa Cruz de La Popa
The Santa Cruz de La Popa Monastery is located at the top of Cartagena’s tallest hill and although a little tiring, it is possible to walk there.
I have heard that some locals will tell you it’s unsafe to do so but we didn’t have any issues and found it to be very safe as we spotted a few policemen along the way.
Maybe just don’t go by yourself if you are traveling solo.
The convent is great and the views are fantastic, if you don’t want to pay to go in you can just walk around the outside and will still get some lovely scenic photos.
The building has been restored but amazingly it still has some gold leaf on the wooden carvings from the 1600s!
There are a lot of plaques with useful information (in English) which is helpful to understand the history and purpose of the convent.
There’s a small souvenir shop but not much else so it’s a good idea to bring some food and always travel with water, especially in Cartagena as it gets super hot!
5 to 7-hour tour (optional Popa Convent)
Full-day tour across the city to discover the best sights of Cartagena
Your guide will take you to historical locations throughout the walled city, as well as stop by La Popa to get panoramic views of the sights you visited from above.
You will also taste some authentic local food.
24. Hop-on-hop-off tourist bus
I really enjoyed the hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) buses, especially when I get to a new city. I find them helpful to get my bearings and get a feel for the place.
I know some people hate them as they feel they are so touristy.
In truth, they are! But they have a purpose. The great thing about the Cartagena HOHO is that your ticket gives you two consecutive days to use the bus, so you can use it as a taxi on the second, that’s what we did anyways.
It’s about 45,000 CP (US$ 10) and takes around 90 minutes with 14 stops if you don’t get off.
We used it to go all the way around and then on the second day went again, making stops at points of interest.
Be sure to check the schedule to make sure you know when the HOHO bus is scheduled to come, it was pretty much on time for us.
Crazily, ticket pick-up is from the McDonald’s in Boca Grande – which is actually a stop! Or you can purchase it online
26. Boozy brunch
One of the best things to do anywhere in the world is to go for a boozy brunch, and although we didn’t get to go while we were in Cartagena that doesn’t mean it should be missed off this list.
There are a few places that looked really fun, such as Townhouse Rooftop Bar and Caffé Lunático.
As is traditional with any boozy brunch expect unlimited bloody marys, mimosas, beers and juices and endless tapas.
Some spots will have a live DJ playing a mix of smooth house and Colombia music, and will generally run from 11 am to 3 pm.
25. Muelle de la Bodeguita
Muelle de la Bodeguita is the waterside promenade that runs along the Getsamani and Manga districts. It’s possible to walk along the waterfront from Castillo de San Felipe to Club Nautico, and even further along if you wish, there’s another marina further down.
The walk is safe and clean, and generally less touristy than other places. It’s a nice experience if you have some spare time.
If you’re walking in the morning it can get rather busy in the Manga district as this is when the day trip boats head out. You will notice a lot of people walking around looking lost and it can be a little chaotic.
You will notice a few replicas of old sailing vessels too.
Unique things to do in Cartagena outside the walled city
27. San Blas Island sailing trip
The ultimate thing to do in Cartagena is to go on a sailing trip.
The San Blas Islands are technically off the coast of Panama however, there is a sailing trip that leaves from Cartagena.
There are a couple of options, you can either take the sailing trip to Panama via the San Blas or do a round trip back to Cartagena, either way, the trip usually lasts about 5-days and is incredible.
I took the 5-day sailing trip to the San Blas Islands when we were leaving Colombia for Panama, and it was one of the best trips I have ever done!
28. La Serrezuela shopping mall
One thing to do in Cartagena if you love to shop is to head to La Serrezuela Shopping Mall. Forget about the shopping mall in Bocagrande, it has nothing on this one.
La Serrezuela is a much larger and much prettier shopping mall, set in an old bull ring, just outside the walled city.
It has lots of different shops from high-street names to high-end and a variety of places to eat, plus great air-con!
The building itself is lovely, with great views of the walled city from above. There are restaurants on the top floor so you can sit and enjoy the views with some food – it’s not overpriced either.
29. Bike tour
A visit to Cartagena is all about exploring the city and with many different places to visit, hidden gems, and secret spots to find; one of the best things to do is to discover the city on a bike tour.
The bike tours are great and provide an authentic way to learn about life in Cartagena.
TIP: Before choosing the tour, read about what is included in the itinerary and duration
There are generally two types of bike tours which either explore within the walled city, taking around 1-2 hours, or a full day experience inside and outside the walled city.
On the historic route inside, the tour follows the old walls and visits old defenses, fortifications, museums, squares, parks, and the Palace of the Inquisition while learning all about history.
With the extended tour, you’ll head to the Getsemani district and discover the graffiti and urban art scene that the neighborhood eludes which has over 450 years of history, and a visit to San Felipe Castle.
Learn about the most delicious street food while biking around the city landmarks with your knowledgeable guide.
You will start in Getsemani and follow a well-thought route of snacks around all of the old city. During the tour, you will also have some opportunities to stop to enjoy, relax and discover!
30. Try exotic fruits and limonada de coco (at Di Silvio)
Cartagena is a tropical paradise immersed within a city and full of exotic fruits. Usually, being pushed around on fruit carts or in fruit bowls on top of the Palanqueras’ heads.
There are some fruits that you’ve most likely tried before such as watermelon and mango but you will notice lots of other more exotic-looking fruit such as lulu and granadilla, which is similar to passionfruit.
The fruit is delicious but try and purchase those in season for the best.
One thing that we absolutely loved was the limonada de coco, it’s coconut limeade made from fresh coconut and coconut cream, limes, sugar, and ice all blended.
It was very refreshing and perfect to help us to cool down. Try the one at Di Silvio in Getsemani!
31. Bazurto central market
Another experience which we really enjoyed and one of the things you should do in Cartagena.
Barzuto central market is exactly as you would expect from a market selling everything from fake designer clothes, bags, and shoes; fruits, meats, and seafood; random knick-knacks to animals, and household products.
We went on a guided tour, although we met some people who had visited by themselves and had no issues.
There are a few dodgy-looking alleys which I wouldn’t want to go down alone but we had no problems and felt safe.
It was crowded and bustling, with lots of people shouting and there were some serious smells about the place.
It’s exactly what you expect these markets to be like, we enjoyed trying the food and bought a bunch of stuff while trying to navigate the maze with our guide.
It’s possible to walk there from the old city along the waterfront or along the main road.
The waterfront is much quieter with the buses running along the main road.
It’s really fun if you like markets and seeing the local life in full swing.
32. Sunset cruise
So, the one to do while you’re in Cartagena is the Sibarita Master 85’ luxury 90-minute sunset and open bar cruise.
We heard it was incredible! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it but this is the one that everyone raves about.
In this 2-hour cruise along the tranquil waters of Cartagena Bay, you will appreciate the views of the city's colorful colonial architecture from the boat while enjoying a 4-course dinner with a choice of international cuisine or sushi and a drink or bottle of wine.
If you don't want to eat, you can simply book the cruise alone.
The cruise is on a catamaran with friendly staff who are helpful and kind.
There will be a DJ playing good music to create the perfect atmosphere on the cruise, unlimited drinks, and food, although the food is extra, apparently, it is delicious.
You’ll see a breathtaking sunset on a fun and the clean boat being taken care of at every moment by the staff – I wish we had the time to do this cruise!
More sunset cruise options
34. Centro de Convenciones Cartagena de Indias
An interesting place to visit in Cartagena is the Convention Centre, it’s a prominent landmark with restaurants and cafes right by the water.
If you are walking from the walled city to Getsemani you might notice it right on the corner as the building architecture is interesting and made from stone.
It was renovated in 2011 and is primarily used for international, national, and local conferences and events.
If you have any concerts booked in Cartagena, odds are they will be held there.
33. Kite surfing at Playas de la Boquilla
Are you into water sports? If you are, then try kitesurfing.
Growing up on the coast of England, we’re actually living in a Marina at the moment, we were always out playing in the mud and trying water sports like kayaking and kite surfing.
It’s a fun activity and there’s a beach perfect for it about 10 minutes from Centro. The beach is no-frills and in a less touristic area, some people have noted they felt a little harassed at times but in our experience it was fine, just travel smartly.
There are tours which visit Playa de la Boquilla but you can go by yourself.
It can be a fun day out with small restaurants selling cold drinks and good food, plus places to rent the gear. Try SK School if you want to have a go, they will offer lessons too.
If it’s not your thing there are places to chill and hammocks. You will get locals to come up to you but be polite and they soon leave, most just want to have a chat and practice their English!
34. Take dancing lessons
Colombians love to dance and there’s no better way to enjoy a trip to Cartagena than to spend an afternoon learning to dance.
There are a few popular genres that are always covered in the dancing classes such as Salsa, Bachata, and the Colombian native style Champeta.
The lessons are fun, interactive, and energetic, generally held on rooftops overlooking the city.
The lessons include learning the basic moves and choreography of the main dances at different tempos with drinks; water, wine, rum, and beer included.
It’s best to arrange a lesson with 6 or more to ensure a good vibe, if you do an afternoon lesson then you will get to see the sunset while making some new friends.
Once you’ve learned the steps, head to Cafe Havana in the Getsemani district to put them into action.
It’s probably one of the most well-known salsa clubs in Cartagena and a really fun end to the night.
It can get busy so a more local spot to dance is Bazurto Social Club.
Or if you are traveling alone you can join a tour where they take you to salsa clubs and teach you the basic moves.
35. Learn Spanish
Are you in Cartagena for a while? A great educational thing to do in Cartagena is to learn the language! Luckily for me, I already speak Spanish but if I didn’t I would be adding a Spanish course to my to-do list.
Colombian Spanish is actually one of the easiest accents to understand as it’s very clear and they tend to not speak as fast as others.
If you have a week or a few more then why not try learning the beautiful language? It’s spoken in over 20 countries so it’s a useful way to spend your time.
A company that has had good reviews is Letra Caribe.
36. Snorkelling and scuba
You will have to join a day trip to reach the best snorkeling spots in Cartagena or Scuba diving.
That being said, it doesn’t take long to reach these places, and from Cartagena, you can reach some of the best snorkeling spots in the Caribbean.
Jack and I actually learned to scuba dive in Bali and had the best experience, seeing all the corals, fish, and underwater landscape up close was magical.
The best place to snorkel in Cartagena is San Bernardo Reef in the natural park of the Rosario Islands about 2 hours away. There are other spots with shipwrecks and coral reefs just off the coast too.
You can check out the below tours and choose the one that best fits your needs.
in this 8 hours diving trip you will be exploring the spectacular marine life of the Rosario Islands in the Marine reserve and National Park of Corals with mangroves, reefs, and a variety of sea life.
Lunch and equipment are included.
- Amazing experience
- Too expensive
37. Take a Cooking Class
Learning how to cook in different countries is always a great experience. We always try to include a cooking class when we are visiting a new country to learn about the unique dishes, flavors, and styles of cooking.
Luckily, there are some awesome places to take cooking classes in Cartagena, and can’t be missed from your things-to-do list!
Like any cooking class, you will be in groups with other like-minded travelers who love to cook too.
We made a selection of coconut rice, patacones (crunchy squashed platano discs), fried fish, empanada, and a local drink made from panela sugar and water.
It was a really fun and interactive experience, the chef was playing Colombian music while dancing all around the kitchen.
We all got involved and were learning to cook in a fun atmosphere with a few drinks.
In the end, the whole group sat down in the restaurant to eat everything we had made.
The hosts were great and talked about the history of Cartagena and the importance of the food. Here are some tour options.
The Best Day trips from Cartagena
38. Excursion to the Rosario Islands
One of the most common things to do in Cartagena is to visit the Rosario Islands. There are a few day trips which include a visit to Rosario and the San Bernardo Nature Park, so it’s worth checking out the different options.
Generally, the full-day excursions are the most popular and run from 8:30 am to 4 pm. They will include lunch, snorkeling, swimming, beach time, and sometimes, jet skis.
It’s a great experience with locals even coming up to the side of the boat to sell lobsters and cocktails (usually coco locos) made hastily in small boats over the side.
Unlike many places, the bar staff can only be paid by card and don’t generally accept cash, so make sure you have your card on you, but also take cash for the coco locos and lobster!
Expect a nice, relaxing day out on the water under the sun. The boat will play a mix of pop, hip-hop, and Colombian music, you will get a small snack when you take off and a fresh juice like watermelon!
39. Freedom tour of Palenque
A highlight of any trip to Cartagena is the freedom tour of Palenque. Palenque was the first freedmen town in Colombia inhabited by escaped slaves.
It is the only town that still exists today and is a popular place to visit from Cartagena.
It’s about an hour outside the city and will be guided by a local who is a descendant. It’s brilliant to learn about the history of these people which will be shown through song, dance, and music, which has been ingrained in their culture.
The town is very modest, having recently only started to develop from tourism, the locals are happy to talk to you, some more curious although they are now used to visitors.
Interestingly, they hold a festival every October which is known as Festival de Tambores – the drum festival – one of Colombia’s most underrated festivals and celebrations!
A tour to Palenque includes transport from and to Cartagena, a local guide, and lunch. It’s possible to visit a local healer and learn about the local herbs, take dance lessons and drum lessons with the locals too.
It’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes as there is a lot of walking and maybe a small snack as it’s a long day and lunch isn’t until 1:30ish.
It’s also possible to buy some from the town, especially from the Palenqueras who sell fruit and sweets in the bowls above their heads!
👉 Book your Freedom tour to Palenque Cartagena Colombia on VIATOR
40. Bomba beach club
As you can see, Cartagena has a lot of things going for it, however, it doesn’t have the best beaches on the north coast.
Therefore, most people opt to take a day trip to one of the numerous islands just off Cartagena’s coast.
One of the most popular is a visit to Bomba Beach Club which is only 10 minutes by boat from Cartagena.
Expect to find white sand beaches, hammocks, cabanas, fantastic cocktails, and amazing food.
It’s one of the best places to visit for a chilled beach day with a swimming pool, fresh showers, loungers, and beautiful blue water.
The ticket price should include lunch and a cocktail with drinks being reasonably priced, so make sure you buy the ticket which includes this.
If you like sea glass, there are loads there too, it makes it look even prettier!
41. Stay in a floating hostel
If you’re looking for something really unique to do in Cartagena then why not stay in a floating hostel in the middle of nowhere? It’s the best way to unwind and leave the world behind.
We did a similar thing at Khao Sok National Park in Thailand and had the best experience, we were completely disconnected from the world, and loved it.
The eco-hostel in Cartagena is located near the San Bernardo Islands about 2 hours off Colombia’s Caribbean coast and the perfect place for those of you who want to disconnect.
It’s a fun and happening hostel surrounded by turquoise waters and is becoming quite popular so you will have to book.
The staff is known to be welcoming however be prepared for basic accommodation and rationed water to wash. All meals are included in the price but bring snacks!
It’s possible to stay in rooms or on hammocks, the rooms definitely look more comfortable but you can get a good price on the hammocks.
The place is beautiful with activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming all possible with a plankton tour available too.
Two/Three nights is a good amount of time to stay there, keep in mind it can get noisy in the evening so take some earplugs, make sure you have a book and everything else you need.
Some guests complained about lack of hygiene while others had a blast. So keep that in mind.
42. The Aviary
If you are a bird lover and nature lover then head over to the National Aviary of Colombia. It’s located on Baru Island and is fast becoming one of the best things to do in Cartagena.
The Aviary is home to over 2,000 birds representing almost 200 species including flamingos, owls, and emus. It’s dotted with numerous walking trails, exhibition and demonstration areas, and loads of educational information.
It is possible to visit the Aviary by yourself or on a guided tour from Cartagena.
The latter is a good option as you will have a passionate guide to teach you all about the Aviary and birds. You will also have lunch included and transport.
43. Totumo Volcano
Another really popular thing to do in Cartagena is to take a mud bath at Totumo Volcano. I’ve read a few contradicting reviews on this, however, the majority all agree it’s a fantastic experience.
Located in Santa Catalina, another city about 45 minutes away from Cartagena, it’s possible to visit the volcano and take a mud bath while being massaged by a local.
Afterward, it’s a rinse-off in the nearby lake, a visit to the salt ocean where the salt crystallizes, and lunch before returning.
This tour also includes a stop at Manzanillo beach afterward which seems to be the most popular.
It’s also worth noting that the people working do expect tips so it’s a good idea to take some extra cash and to wear sandals and a swimming costume which you don’t mind being ruined by the mud.
Leave early morning to avoid big groups and set off for an amazing muddy adventure to the Totumo volcano also called MUD volcano with the properties of the dead sea.
You can actually enter and float in the mud.
It appears that the mud has healing properties that help your skin stop the aging process.
With this tour, you will also visit the Galerazamba salt flats where we will see how a microorganism turns the water pink, but this attraction is temporary and depends on the weather conditions, so it only has a pink color from April to May
✔ Do I need
Among all the multiple reasons why you should get
Best Places to Eat in Cartagena
Colombia has some great national dishes and the two best places to try are Bogota and Cartagena.
In fact, you can find some of the best breakfasts in La Candelaria Bogota, which is an area very similar to Getsemani in Cartagena.
Cartagena city has an array of local and multicultural dishes being served in upscale restaurants modest street stalls and small cafes.
There are plenty of cheap eats and fine dining to be found in and around the city.
A few local dishes to Cartagena and worth trying are Cazuela de Mariscos which is a seafood stew cooked in coconut milk, Ceviche, Camarones al Ajilo which are prawns in a sizzling garlic sauce and Arroz de Mariscos or otherwise known as seafood rice.
Others such as Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice), Mote de Queso which is a cheese soup, and Posta Negra which is roasted beef with a sweet sauce are also good.
Restaurants I Recommend in the Walled City
An upscale restaurant in the heart of Centro. The food represents Colombian culture and heritage from colonial Cartagena to the modern day. It has three beautiful rooms which tell a story aiming to teach about Colombia’s history through food.
📍 Address – Calle #36, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia – Google Maps
🥩 Quebracho Parrilla Argentina Restaurante Bar
An Argentinian Grill, full of bold flavors, perfect for any meat lover. The restaurant is designed well with a nice, welcoming vibe from the staff.
📍Address – Calle Baloco, Cl. 33 #2-69, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Google Maps
🌮 Harry’s Sassons
Located inside Hotel Santa Teresa, the meals are massive albeit a little pricey. But, the food is great, especially the Crab Nachos and Posta Negra de Cartagena.
📍Address – a 31-81, Cra. 3 #31-19, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Google Maps
Another great restaurant is Candé. It’s really nice with a fun vibe and live entertainment most days serving up nice takes on local traditions. Their coconut rice is to die for!
📍Address – San Diego, Cra 10, Cl. de la Serrezuela #No 39-02, Google Maps
Restaurants I recommend in Getsemani
🍤 La Laguna Azul
The ultimate place to go for lunch and enjoy the Ceviche! It’s still a bit of a hidden gem in the heart of Getsemani meaning the prices are really affordable.
It’s a casual, more local experience and definitely worth a visit.
📍Address – Local 1C-37, Centro Comercial Getsemaní, Media Luna 8B #8B-74, Google Maps
🍕 Di Silvio Trattoria
For somewhere with a great atmosphere and the best pizza and pasta in Cartagena (as well as limonada de coco) head over to Di Silvio.
The staff is always friendly and welcoming plus the prices are reasonable. Try the Pasta Gnocchi Quattro formaggi.
📍Address – Cl. 29 #9 – 72, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Google Maps
☕️ Libertario Coffee Roasters Cartagena
A trendy cafe serving a fantastic breakfast with fresh ingredients. Its coffee is great too! The pastries are made daily, try the chocolate or almond croissant with homemade granola.
📍Address – Cra. 10 #30-14, Cartagena de Indias, Google Maps
🥐 Beiyu Cafe
Another great place for breakfast or lunch, it’s a low-key cafe serving brilliant coffee and mostly European healthy food. Good if you’re missing some tastes from home! Prices are good too plus it has a cute story-themed menu.
📍Address – a 31-81, Cra. 3 #31-19, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Google Maps
Where to Stay in Cartagena
Best hotels in Cartagena Walled City
The Walled City is the heart of Cartagena’s historical center, the ideal place where to stay among colonial architecture and artsy buildings.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena
Besides the luxury property and amenities guests love the location, inside the walled city, at walking distance from all the most important landmarks of the city.
The sparking clean spacious rooms and the comfortable bed are some of the top features of this hotel, one of the most luxurious in Cartagena.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Bastión Luxury Hotel
Spectacular luxury hotel in the heart of the historical center. Guests love its great location and its thoughtful amenities such as a spa, pool area, great breakfast options, and very friendly staff.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hotel Boutique Santo Toribio
Charming boutique hotel conveniently located within the Walled City! Guests rave about the excellent service and the jacuzzi on the rooftop as the ice on the cake, besides the location in the trendy neighborhood.
Best hotels in Cartagena Getsemani
Getsemani is the trendy hip neighborhood right by the walled city. Here you will find luxury and cool hotels but also a few budget ones. Here below my pick.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hotel Capellan de Getsemani
Located in the heart of Getsemani, right outside the Clock Tower, this is a real gem in Cartagena. Guests love the pool as much as the great service, the delicious breakfast, and the friendly staff.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ GHL Hotel Armería Real
The most outstanding feature of this hotel is the incredible view of Cartagena Marina from the rooftop pool. But the guests love the exceptional service delivered by a professional and yet friendly staff
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Selina Cartagena
For those of you who are not familiar with Selina, it is a hotel/hostel chain with a world wide presence that cater to digital nomads and party lovers. Guests love the sense of community that the hostel promotes and the colorful cozy room designs.
And the one in Cartagena is nothing short. You can choose between a bed in a dormitory or a private room. It’s not cheap for a hostel but the great locations and vibes make up for the pricey rates. And it is still amongst the cheapest options in Cartagena.
Best hotels in Cartagena Bocagrande
Bocagrande is the beachfront area of Cartagena, home to big corporate hotels, still luxurious but with less character.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hyatt Regency Cartagena
Hyatt brand is always a guarantee of high quality room and service. Hyatt Regency Cartagena is also a great hotel with spacious rooms and great views. The staff is very polite and professional. Only 8-10 minute drive to the walled city/downtown Cartagena by taxi.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hotel Caribe by Faranda Grand, a member of Radisson Individuals
Hotel Caribe provide a 4-star stay right in front of the Caribbean sea. The room boast a mix of contemporary ad vintage style and although some guests may argue that it’s a little dated and need a revamp, it’s a comfortable property overall with a nice staff and good location for beach lover.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hotel Santa Cecilia B&B
Hotel Santa Cecilia is a good business hotel close to the convenition center and the beach. The rooms have a minimal simple decor, but super clean and spacious.
Guests love the breakfast and the views of the water. It’s overal a good affordable option if you want to stay in this area of Cartagena.
Things to do in Cartagena FAQ
When is the best time to visit Cartagena?
The best time to visit Cartagena is between December and April and June to September.
Although the temperatures tend to stay the same throughout the year there is definitely a difference in the humidity.
That being said, it’s possible to visit any time of year and it is busy all year round.
Why You Should Visit Cartagena
Cartagena is an incredible city to visit with so much history and colonial architecture which attracts many tourists.
The city offers activities for all types of travelers and is made even more attractive by its breathtaking walled city.
The city mixes new and old to create a haven for visitors, there are many opportunities to explore the surrounding areas and go on day trips to fantastic beaches, stunning coral reefs, islands, and floating hostels!
What is Cartagena most known for?
Cartagena is most known for its afro-Caribbean culture, street art, and vibrant colonial architecture. It is one of the most visited cities in the Americas and for good reason.
It is full of wonderful activities for tourists and hidden gems to explore.
The city has three main districts; Centro, Getsemani, and Bocagrande, each providing a unique experience when visiting Cartagena.
Cartagena is also known to have some of the best restaurants in Colombia serving up a mix of traditional Colombian dishes and Caribbean-inspired recipes to create mouthwatering explosions.
Tourists flock to Cartagena to enjoy its architectural charm, character, and trending Getsemani neighborhood.
Are 2 days enough in Cartagena?
In my opinion, 2 days is not enough time in Cartagena. There are so many activities from dance classes to boat rides and historical sites that you will need more than 2 days to really enjoy Cartagena.
How long should you stay in Cartagena?
My suggestion is that you spend at least 5 days in Cartagena.
This will ensure you have enough time to visit all the sites within the walled city and outside the walled city, including a couple of day trips and some time to explore more; go shopping, spend time on the beach, and include some museums in your itinerary.
Obviously the more you stay the more you can do of these 43 things to do in Cartagena! 😜
Is Cartagena expensive?
In comparison to other well-known cities in Colombia, such as Medellin and Bogota, Cartagena is equally priced. However, when compared to the lesser known spots the prices in Cartagena are higher.
In relative terms, Colombia is more affordable than the west and is a good place to visit if you have a travel budget and backpacking.
Which is better Medellin or Cartagena?
The two cities, Medellin and Cartagena are very different. They represent different cultures within Colombia; Cartagena has a more tropical relaxed vibe while Medellin is known for its coffee plantations and buzzing night scene.
Is it better to go to Bogota or Cartagena?
It is best to go to both Bogota and Cartagena as they will give you two very different experiences.
The climatic diversity in Colombia is mind-blowing, Cartagena has a tropical climate which creates a buzzing island-like vibe while Bogota is in the mountains and can be moody and wet, but very beautiful.
One is a capital city buzzing with adventure and soul while the other is influenced by afro-Caribbean culture.
About the author
Abigail is the travel blogger behind I’m Going On An Adventure. She focuses on budget travel and adventure, giving first-hand experiences to help her readers plan their perfect trip and make the best memories.
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