Has Cartagena always been on your bucket list? Most people are drawn in by all the colorful streets, lively culture and delicious foods. You’ll also enjoy tons of history, colonial architecture, salsa dancing and tropical island day trips. I highly recommend visiting if you’re a big photo op person or even a foodie or coffee lover! In this blog you’ll find everything you’ll need to know before visiting this coastal, Colombian gem. I linked everything from accommodations, map locations, restaurants and more!
Uber! Uber is widely available throughout Cartagena. I highly suggest using Uber to get wherever you need to go. It’s SUPER affordable and reliable. We paid under $3 USD for a 15 min ride. I really suggest using Uber from the airport, to avoid getting hustled from all the “taxi” drivers waiting to pounce right outside of the airport. They were VERY aggressive and a little shady in my opinion.
We stayed inside of The Walled City for 5 days, 4 nights (you can definitely do less). There are so many Airbnb and hotel options to choose from. If you’re going for more affordable, I would suggest an Airbnb over a hotel.
We were originally going to book a spacious apartment (linked here) on airbnb until we found Casa La FactorÍa on Airbnb. It’s the most charming boutique hotel and I’m SO happy we ended up choosing this hotel over the apartment. The rooms were tight, but the decor and charm of the space were so amazing. Hand painted wall murals, lush greenery, the cutest iron stairs, 2 pools (one big one on the main level and one very small one on the roof), a bar/lounge, a cafe, and the perfect location. I also loved that every room door had it’s own unique door knocker!
Only cons of the hotel were that the walls are thin, we heard our neighbors a lot. We also didn’t have hot water pretty much for all of our stay. I believe that was just a one-time problem because the water heater broke.
Splurge worthy stays:
What to Do
My #1 suggestion would be to just WALK, explore every street. The city is small enough to walk most of it by foot. There is so much charm around every single corner. You’ll be in awe by all the details, colors, amazing restaurants, cute boutiques, and history.
If you want a more specific list of things to do, read on below:
You can spend a whole day shopping from street vendors, to small boutiques. There are tons of cute clothing stores, some more high end. A lot of jewelry stores (mostly selling Emeralds). You’ll most likely want to grab some handmade items, such as handbags and baskets. Shop for coffee and snacks in the supermarkets. It will be way more affordable than the airport! And yes there are plenty of supermarkets right inside The Walled City. One more thing, there’s an entire mall inside The Walled City (Centro Comercial La Serrezuela). You’ll find stores such as Guess, MAC Cosmetics, Adidas and more. It’s also really beautiful and has a water feature in it!
Take a picture with the Palenqueras (fruit ladies with colorful dresses)
They charged us 20,000 Colombian Pesos each (which is about $5 USD), so make sure you have cash on hand!
A little Palenqueras history: They originated from the slave revolt in Cartagena when hundreds of captured Africans escaped into the wilderness surrounding Cartagena. These escaped slaves created their own communities, embracing their African roots and would sell fruit they carried on their heads.
Take a Day Trip to the Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands are located 20-60 minutes off Cartagena’s Walled City coast.
Known for its amazing white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, and coral reefs. You can find 28 islands offering anything from resorts, public and private beaches.
We chose to check out Pao Pao Beach Club for no other reason than it was the only one available 2 days before going. It’s was a 40-60 minute, bumpy speedboat ride to the island. This island is small and offers more of a party vibe with a DJ. I personally wasn’t too impressed, but the food was good! *If you don’t like a bumpy boat ride, I’d suggest choosing a different boat or tour, because the ocean was pretty rough when we went.
***I would highly suggest renting a private boat for the day. I found a few on Viator for under $500 with a captain. You can go island hopping on your own schedule and it would be great for a bigger group.
If boats aren’t your thing, you can also drive to Playa Blanca. It technically isn’t an island, but a peninsula that is partially submerged underwater. There’s a bridge to the “island.” It would be a 40-60 min Uber, but you can only drive up to a certain point. You would then have to either walk (a lot) or hitch a ride from locals on a motor bike. The beaches here are PUBLIC, so you will be bothered by vendors all day. I didn’t like the sound of that so that’s why we did an excursion instead.
Some Island Suggestions:
- Isla Grande
- Isla Barú (Playa Blanca), accessible by 60-minute Uber / Taxi.
- Isla Tierra Bomba (we heard the water isn’t as clear here, but it’s a close island (20-30 min boat ride).
Where to Eat
There are literally no shortages of amazing restaurants within the walled city. Every meal we had was above and beyond our expectations and super affordable! Our favorite restaurants were Celele for dinner and Epoca for brunch and coffee.
- Celele Caribbean Fusion, unique culinary experience, THE BEST MEAL WE HAD. Reservations required ahead of time! Make sure you book at least a week ahead.
- Epoca Espresso Bar The best brunch and unique coffees, teas and cocktails. This place is usually busy and you may have to wait to be seated. Ask to sit upstairs, it’s bigger and nicer.
- Alma Restaurant Romantic fine dining. Reservations required ahead of time!
- El Burlador Contemporary cuisine with Spanish influence, live musicians, DJ & good atmosphere
- La Cevicheria , El Boliche , El Kilo For Ceviche (we didn’t have time to visit)
- La Brioche For brunch
Drink Lots of Coffee
- Epoca Espresso Bar The best brunch and unique coffees, teas and cocktails. This place is usually busy and you may have to wait to be seated.
- Cafe San Alberto Get the almond croissant, you’ll thank me later.
- Café La Manchuria Try the chocolate chip cookie and grab some honey to take home.
- Ábaco Libros Y Café Doubles as a cute Instagram photo opt.
Watch the Sunset on a Rooftop
- Cafe Del Mar Popular tourist spot located right on the wall of The Walled City, facing the ocean.
- Townhouse Rooftop Trendy, Cocktails, Late Night, Lunch, Dinner
- Hotel Charleston Santa Teres Has a rooftop pool & bar, but you have to be a guest or have reservations to the restaurant to enter.
Go Dancing / Cocktails
- La Movida Best known as a nightclub / bar but also serves tapas.
- Cafe Havana Very lively and great for salsa.
- Mirador Rooftop Great view of the yellow clocktower.
- Alquimico Bar with a rooftop, serving inventive cocktails, sandwiches, seafood & meat plates. (We wanted to go here, but there was a line to get in already at 8pm)
- Donde Fidel salsa club.
- La Jugada A little pricer from what I read and may need reservations to get to rooftop.
Take Pictures (Instagrammable Spots)
- Carrera 8 Between Calle 38 & 39 was my favorite street to shoot on. So many beautiful colors, flags, flowers and Palenqueras.
- Gentesami You’ll find 2 umbrella streets (Callejón Angosto and Calle de la Magdalena) as well as lots of colorful wall murals. This area is more residential so just be mindful.
- Ábaco Libros Y Café A cute little book store with a cafe.
- Teatro Heredia A beautiful historic theater.
Go Door Knocker (Aldabas) Hunting
There are so many beautiful doors / door knockers within the walled city. History time: These door knockers or Aldabas (as they call it) were a display of status in medieval times. The size, intricacy, material, and symbol represented an owner’s wealth and position in Cartagena’s social hierarchy. Some examples: a lizard represented royalty, a lion lion meant military, and a fish or mermaid meant sea merchants.
Misc. but Important Info.
- Something I didn’t really see mentioned about The Walled City is how pushy some of the street vendors can be. These were probably one of the most aggressive and annoying vendors I’ve ever encountered on vacation. One guy followed us for an entire block rapping (aka asking for money). My advice is to just ignore them or immediately say no and move on.
- Is it safe? Colombia has a bad rep of safety, but it’s actually pretty safe and full of tourists. The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable were the pushy vendors as I stated before. Just be smart and aware!
- Brush up on your Spanish, not everyone speaks English! Google translate helped me a lot.
- How many days do you need in The Walled City? Honestly, you can see it in about 2 days, but you can also span it out to 5 days if you really want to visit a lot of restaurants, shops and fit in a few island day trips.
- You’ll need to exchange your money to Colombian Pesos. You can do this at the airport (a better rate if you use cash). You can get an even better rate if you exchange ahead of time at your local bank.
- You won’t need a power converter if you’re coming from the US. They use the same outlets as us.
- Best time to visit is December – April, being the driest months.
- It’s HOT, like 90 degrees F everyday, so pack accordingly.
- You currently need to be fully vaccinated to enter, but no test is required. Always double check here for the most up-to-date requirements since they are always changing.