Perched on the Caribbean coast and hugged by centuries-old stone walls, colorful Cartagena is Colombia’s glittering star. Immediately upon arrival, you’ll feel the rush from the salty, humid air. The city offers travelers a combination of impeccably preserved history—such as 16th-century aqueducts, and 17th-century monasteries (some converted into hotels!) alongside stylish, modern culture.
The city is easily explored on foot or by bike (and many of our partner hotels have free bikes for you to use!) but a city tour with one of our private guides is an absolute must to ensure you get the lay of the land and spend time grounding yourself in the city’s robust history.
Crayola-colored colonial homes and churches line the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s easy to spend a day here strolling through leafy plazas, and around historic palaces and mansions dripping with bougainvillea. On one of our walking tours, you’ll learn about colonial vs. republican architecture and have the opportunity to photograph the bright colors around every bend, new and old cathedrals, and listen to the live street musicians and dancers along the way.
The Old World romance of Cartagena has long inspired artists and writers like Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but for immersion in Cartagena’s contemporary creative scene, head to Getsemaní. The street art haven is home to some of the city’s most inviting rooftop bars, courtyard restaurants, galleries, and hotels, and at sundown, street food vendors flood one of the main plazas with the scent of picada, a traditional dish of diced meat, plantain, and corn on the cob. Plaza Trinidad is full of street art, flowers, color, and music everywhere. About 10 minutes outside the city, this unique neighborhood might steal your heart and is best seen on our Behind the Doors Getsemaní Tour.
Take a visit to San Felipe Castle—a Spanish fort built on top of a mountain to gain control of the bay—where you can discover the impressive architecture and history behind the structure.
The historic center of Cartagena is home to the Clock Tower and Plaza de la Aduana—a place used for the trade of enslaved Africans during the colonial period. From there, wander down Plaza de Bolivar, where you’ll be surrounded by some of the city’s most iconic colonial buildings.
Centenario Park is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city center, that’s home to countless rescued animals. Slots, iguanas, monkeys, marmosets, and other unique wildlife roam free. And, you can grab a Panama hat or other souvenirs as you wander the park on the Eastern Side where there are rows of stalls selling all kinds of things.
Being this close to the ocean, travelers would be remiss to stay in the city center the entire time. Rosario Islands National Park, an archipelago of 30 islands, is just a 45-minute boat ride from the harbor. With slivers of white sand and gin-clear water, it’s the perfect tropical respite from buzzing city life.
With hidden treasures like this, and vibrant culture and history, Cartagena is worth a few days of exploring. One of the best ways to explore this vibrant city is with a private guide who will open the doors to the city and share with you its rich history.