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Latin America

9 Reasons You Need to Visit Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia is known as the “Jewel of the Indies” and it’s easy to see why. This city is absolutely magical, with beautiful architecture, interesting history and culture, delicious food, and nearby Caribbean beaches.

Here are the top nine reasons you should visit Cartagena as soon as possible!

The History

History lovers will enjoy learning about the fascinating history of Cartagena. It was a bustling port during colonial times and because of this, was often attacked by pirates. The streets of the city were laid out in a confusing, maze-like way as a deterrent to pirates and other invaders who came into the city. There’s also an old fortifying wall encircling the Old City which you can now walk on.

The Food

Cartagena has amazing food options, especially awesome street food in the Old City and the hip neighborhood of Getsemaní. If you ever need to cool off from the hot, tropical climate of Cartagena, you can also find fresh fruit slices and fruit juices on almost every corner in the city.


The Culture

Cartagena has a unique blend of European, African, and indigenous cultures. One of the most unique cultures in Cartagena is that of the Palenque people. The Palenque formed the first freed slave settlement in the Americas about an hour outside of Cartagena. Now, Palenque women come into the city each day wearing their traditional, brightly-colored outfit to sell fruit.


The Beaches

While there are beaches in the Bocagrande neighborhood of Cartagena, they can be very crowded. The best beaches are located about an hour boat ride away from the city, in the Islas del Rosario. These islands are made up of secluded white-sand beaches and warm, crystal-clear waters.


The Photo Ops

Cartagena is a photographer’s dream. The city is extremely photogenic, from the colorful streets of the Old City to the unique murals and street art in Getsemaní. You could easily spend hours wandering around snapping photos of the bougainvillea-adorned balconies and brightly colored colors on every street.


The Hotels

If you’re looking for luxury, you can find it in the hotels of Cartagena. There are many upscale boutique hotels in the Old City, like the Casa San Agustin (pictured below) and the Hotel Bantú that are housed in reimagined colonial buildings. If you’re looking for more of a high-rise, Miami feel, you can find many luxury chain hotels in the Bocagrande neighborhood.


The Colorful Streets

The streets of Cartagena are some of the prettiest anywhere in South America. The city is very pedestrian-friendly, with many of the streets in the Old City blocked off to cars. Around every corner you will find gorgeous colonial buildings, brightly-colored houses with intricate doors, and bright, vibrant plazas.


The Music

Once the sun goes down, the squares of Cartagena’s Old City are filled with music. Street musicians and dancers will often congregate and perform. You can find everything from salsa to the Afro-Colombian folk dance champeta. There are a ton of salsa clubs around the city where you can watch the other dancers or even dance yourself!

The Magic

The literary genre known as “magical realism” originated in Colombia, and it’s easy to see why. Magical realism blends everyday and ordinary occurrences with the extraordinary and supernatural. It seems that everywhere you go in Cartagena, there is something strange and wonderful waiting around the corner!



Caribbean Guides Latin America

Insider Guide: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia is the vibrant walled city. Walking through the wide cobblestone streets of Cartagena, you will soon realize why this Spanish Colonial city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses in the old city are painted in vibrant hues. The city is surrounded by defensive walls, built to keep out pirates. The walls have somehow captured an air of romance. The days are hot and humid yet the nights get even hotter as lively Latino music bursts through the squares. The heat is easy to escape due to Cartagena’s location on the Caribbean Sea and just as tempting to embrace with a cold Aguila beer by the city walls. As you hear the pitter-patter of horses hooves as a horse drawn carriage pull by, you realized that you have stepped back in time within the walls of Cartagena.

It isn’t necessarily about where you eat in Cartagena, it’s about what you eat. The main ingredient in all the food in Cartagena is coconut! There is coconut shavings and coconut water. Expect coconut in everything: in the rice, in deserts and even raw coconut. If you are crazy for coconut, this is the place for you.

The most authentic dish in Cartagena is fried red snapper with coconut rice and plantains. It looks intimidating; the bones and the eyeballs are still intact when the fish is served. It doesn’t look good but it tastes delicious. It is one of the freshest, most salty fish you will ever have. The best place to have this dish is in the Rosario Islands. Most of the Islands will serve snapper for lunch. (Substitutes for chicken are available at some locations). To get the full experience, have you snapper served to you at a table in the sea. Nothing beats eating seafood in the sea!

If you are looking for a snack, look no further than the streets. There are stands everywhere, selling everything from coconuts, fried food and fruit. Don’t pass up the fresh, exotic fruit. The fruit serves as a refreshing afternoon snack under the hot sun in Cartagena. The fried food on the other hand is a favorite for the late night crowd. Try the arepas filled with queso and the beef empanadas. These make for a great lunch or late night snack.

The best place to get a drink in Cartagena is at Cafe Del Mar located on the city wall. Here you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cold Aguila beer while watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. It’s a relaxing spot to unwind after a long day of exploring. Or you can have a few drinks at Cafe Del Mar before your night out.

To experience the nightlife in Cartagena take a chiva, a colorful wooden bus with on-board music. The chiva has a lively atmosphere and brings you all around the city. You can bring your own booze on the bus or you can buy some from the hawkers on the streets. They will come up to the chiva to sell you beer through the windows. After riding around for a while, the chiva will stop to let you out at the city wall. Here you can drink more, eat some empanadas and watch the street dancers. Lastly, the chiva will bring everyone to one of the many nightclubs in Cartagena where you can dance the night away.

Everywhere you look in Cartagena, there is someone selling something. You don’t even have to go inside a store to do your shopping. While walking the streets, keep your eyes peeled for canvas city painting and vibrant accessories. The top items to look for are patterned espadrilles and mochilas, hand-woven purses. The best spot to shop is Las Bovedas, a market under the wall in the old town. This market is open daily. If you are in Cartagena on Sunday, a market is set up outside Torre Del Reloj, the clock tower. Here you can find traditional clothing and souvenirs.

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride to get acquainted with the walled city. For 50,000 Colombian Pesos, the carriage will take you around Cartagena for 30 minutes. In that time you are able to see most of the walled city. It will bring you past the main sites of Cartagena, including the clock tower and the Heredia Theater. Taking a carriage ride through the cobblestone streets is a very fitting way to see the city that has been so well preserved in time.

Explore Castillo San Felipe De Barajas, a Spanish fortress strategically built on a hill to protect the land and the sea from attack. Be sure to arrive in the early morning to escape the crowds and the heat. The fortress includes intricate underground passages that you can walk through. The passages are dark and cool. Some are even so dark that you need a flashlight to navigate through them. Once you’ve seen the fortress from below, you have to see it from above. Take the steep steps up to the highest lookout point you can to get a better vantage point of the fort and Cartagena.

Spend a day in the Rosario Islands, an island chain off the coast of Cartagena. You can either rent a boat or take a ferry to the islands. Either option will allow you to swim in the warm, blue, Caribbean water. Renting a boat will allow you to island hop through the Rosario Island chain and to have access to swim in the coral reef. The second option is to take a ferry boat to a resort, such as Hotel Isla Del Sol. The resort excursion costs approximately 150,000 Colombian Pesos per person. This price includes hotel transfer, ferry ride, access to the resort and lunch.