Explore the old city
One of the most visited places is the old city of Cartagena, which includes the neighborhoods of Centro, San Diego, and Getsemani. Here you will be close to the most historical parts of the city and its picturesque streets, particularly within the walled city (La Ciudad Amurallada), which is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walk around and explore the colorful colonial architecture, flowers, artists, and people selling trinkets on the streets.
Be sure to check out the Torre del Reloj, the historically important and monument-filled Plaza Aduana, the vibrant Plaza Santo Domingo with its Botero statue, and the leafy green Plaza Bolivar that’s frequently filled with dancers and performers.
The diving is stunning
Just a short boat ride is what separates Cartagena from The Rosario Islands. This is the third largest coral reef system on Earth, where divers can admire colorful coral gardens, bountiful marine life and even sunken pirate ships.
You can make a beautiful day trip to the islands located in the crystal clear Caribbean waters, where you can go boating, swimming, or snorkeling. On land, they also have hotels, an aquarium, and a few hikes you can do. Take the public boat to the bigger islands or take a private tour boat to see some of the smaller ones.
Enjoy the mesmerizing beaches
Playa Blanca is located on Isla Barú, and is probably the most popular white sand beach around Cartagena. You can take a boat or a car there and enjoy the brilliant blue waters, and during the evenings it calms down to become remarkably serene.
If you cannot make it out to the Islas del Rosario, then head to the beach in the city. Bocagrande area has the longest and most accessible beach in Cartagena.
Walking Tour of Cartagena
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to hear the story from a passionate local. There are different options for free or private tours every day of the week by local guides who can tell you their personal stories alongside the history of Cartagena.
This way you will get to see the main sites of the walled city – including churches, plazas, and the home of Gabriel Garcia Marquez – and learn about some of the city’s quirks – like what the different colonial door knockers mean. Be sure to book a spot online in advance.
Convento De La Popa
This hill is the highest point in the city, and it is home to a monastery, or Convento de la Popa, so named because its shape resembles the poop deck of a ship. It was initially founded in 1607 and fortified two centuries later.
On this hill you will get the best views of Cartagena and its beaches, and you can enter the chapel to see the image of La Virgen de la Candelaria as well as the courtyard filled with flowers.
Walk the City Walls or Ride in a Horse Drawn Carriage
Take a walk along the walls of the old city while in Cartagena to see its well-preserved canons and lookout posts.
There are several areas with steps to get up and down and you can navigate around the city with views of the sea on one side and neighborhood streets on the other.
If you are feeling traditional, see how amazing the city looks with a horse carriage ride around town, especially at night.
Santuario de San Pedro Claver
If you are going to visit one church in Cartagena, make it this one. The sanctuary contains a museum featuring religious artwork from the colonial period, a lush courtyard with a baptismal font, and the church where the remains of St. Peter Claver lie. He was the patron saint of slaves, fighting to make their conditions more humane.
The exterior of the church itself is beautiful, visible day or night from many parts of the city, and it ss a great place to learn more about this part of the city’s past.
Museums of the Emerald and Gold
Colombia is known for its emeralds, and in Cartagena you will find a museum dedicated to the precious gemstone. Learn how the stone is discovered and mined, ancient myths and legends surrounding gold and emeralds, explore the interesting exhibits, and one of the largest emeralds ever discovered in the country.
In the museum of gold you can learn about how ancient cultures made jewelry, how gold was mined, and how the local indigenous people used gold hundreds of years ago.
Shopping and Dining
Visit the Las Bovedas, the little shops built into the walls of the city with alcoves and columns all around. They house everything touristy, from cheap trinkets to clothing, original artwork, and hammocks. You can find higher end clothing boutiques by local fashion designers and jewelry stores specializing in emeralds and gold pieces.
When it comes to food, Columbia has a lot to offer. Visit both the street food vendors and the restaurants to taste delicious seafood and local specialties. In Colombia, you will find lots of interesting fruits that you will not find at home, including lulo, maracuya, and granadilla. Pick a few cups of fruit from the colorfully dressed ladies selling them in the streets of the old city.
Quick Facts & Tips
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The best way to get around Cartagena is by taxi. Taxis are safe and make it easy to get between distinct points in the city, including Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG). Taxi rides from the airport to the central tourist areas cost about $10. There also private cabs, where you will get the best and most comfortable cars, sometimes with English-speaking drivers. Price is arranged with drivers or directly with the company they work for. Rental cars are available in Cartagena (an international driving permit is required), but keep in mind the loose traffic laws and poor infrastructure. Public transport is not often recommended to tourists.