The Only Cartagena Travel Guide You Need

Cartagena is a vibrant and historic city located on the Caribbean coast of my hometown, Colombia. Known for its colorful colonial architecture, rich culture and lively nightlife, it’s a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. Here is a guide to help you plan your next trip to Cartagena.

Travel Time

Cartagena has an international airport (Rafael Núñez International Airport), which is located just 15 minutes from the city center. You can also reach Cartagena by bus from other cities in Colombia.

Where To Stay

Cartagena has a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget. If you're looking for a luxurious stay, check out the many boutique hotels located in the historic walled city. Some of my personal favorites include Hotel Santa Teresa, Hotel Santa Clara, Hotel Casa Di Luca and Tcherassi Hotel & Spa. If you're on a budget, there are also many hostels and guesthouses in the Getsemaní neighborhood.

What To Do

  • Explore the historic walled city: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to many colorful colonial buildings, narrow streets and charming plazas. Some highlights include the San Felipe Castle, the Plaza de Bolivar and the Cathedral of Cartagena.
  • Relax on the beaches: Cartagena has many beautiful beaches, mostly in Barú and Islas del Rosario. You can take a boat to some of the nearby islands to enjoy the crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches.
  • Visit the Rosario Islands: This archipelago is located just off the coast of Cartagena and is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the area. You can take a day trip or stay overnight on one of the islands.
  • Try the local cuisine: Cartagena is known for its delicious Caribbean cuisine, which includes fresh seafood, coconut rice and plantains (my favorite Colombian dishes). Be sure to try some of the local dishes, such as ceviche, arepas and empanadas.
  • Make sure to visit Aviary Nacional de Colombia, a conservation entity that seeks to protect, and support Colombia's biodiversity through a sustainable and responsible exhibition avifauna in natural environments. The Aviary doesn't operate like a zoo, instead it rescues and rehabilitates animals mostly birds that have been victim of illegal trafficking and abuse.  

Dance the night away: Cartagena has a vibrant nightlife scene, with many bars and clubs located in the Getsemaní neighborhood. If you’re a salsa lover like me, make sure to visit Café Havana.

What To Expect

Cartagena can be very hot and humid, so be sure to bring light and breathable clothing. Be prepared for the high humidity by bringing sunscreen, a hat or your visor, and plenty of water. Cartagena is safe overall, but always be aware and don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.

Shopping & Dining

  • Centro Comercial La Serrezuela: The old Theatre Circus or Plaza de La Serrezuela, nestled in the heart of Cartagena´s historic San Diego neighborhood, has been completely refurbished and given a new life as Cartagena´s cultural, commercial, entertainment and gastronomic center. Shopping in this architectural gem within the historic district of Cartagena is a truly unforgettable experience. Some of my favorite shops are Malva and Agua de Leon.
  • Walking around the walled city you will find small local shops with beautifully handmade jewelry, clothing and folkloric crafts. Make sure to stop by St. Dom and BaoBab for Colombian fashion galore.
  • La Vitrola: This is one of the most popular restaurants in Cartagena, located in the historic center of the city. It serves traditional Caribbean and Colombian cuisine, including fresh seafood, grilled meats, and tropical fruits. La Vitrola is also known for its live music and lively atmosphere.
  • Carmen: This is a contemporary restaurant that blends Colombian and international flavors, with an emphasis on using fresh, local ingredients. The menu changes regularly and includes dishes like ceviche, octopus, and lamb.
  • Donjuan: This is a casual seafood restaurant located in the Getsemaní neighborhood. It has a wide selection of fresh seafood dishes, including ceviche, grilled fish, and seafood platters. Donjuan also has a great cocktail menu.
  • Harry’s Cartagena: Located in the republican patio of Hotel Santa Teresa. Here you can experience a factory of exquisite flavors in charge of one of the best chefs in Colombia. Harry Sasson is a renowned chef who has taken the culinary tradition of Cartagena with international gastronomy to satisfy the most demanding tastes & exquisite palates. Always a go-to for me.

Hope this guide was helpful and left you feeling inspired to visit my beautiful hometown!


With love,
Gigi V.
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