Situated right on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the picture perfect city of Cartagena is a beautiful blend of old & new. Within the city walls there are plenty of colonial delights to be found & venturing outside or further afield you’ll find an array of things to do in Cartagena as well as pristine beaches where you can just laze away for days!
We’ve narrowed it down a little for you here and put together what we think are the most awesome things to see!
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Things To Do In Cartagena
1. Get Your Fill Of Plazas
As with any old, colonial city there are plenty of plazas to wander around, all filled with colour & some with churches, museums & of course bars & restaurants where you can sit & watch the world go by.
You could easily spend a full day wandering from plaza to plaza in Cartagena, the streets between are cobbled & beautiful, the only thing that may make you stop is a much-needed break from the sunshine, it can get very hot here so a hat, sunscreen & water are definitely advisable!
The plazas of Cartagena are also where most night-time action happens, each having their own entertainment & unique vibe, so just have a mooch around & take your pick! As far as things to do in Cartagena go, plazas are pretty much a must on anyone’s list!
Anyone who has been to Colombia or has heard of the cuisine will know that it is not famed for it but what Colombia lacks for in culinary delights it certainly makes up for in atmosphere! Eating is something in terms of things to do in Cartagena that should really rank high on your list as most other places in the country you will not be so spoilt for choice.
Cartagena boasts a huge range of restaurants offering yummy delights from all around the world! We particularly loved La Cevicheria located just off of Plaza de San Diego, it is pretty much full day & night so be prepared to wait for a table & sample some yummy Peruvian ceviche! We also loved dropping by Cafe Stepping Stone, an awesome little coffee shop offering a simple but varied menu & a nice chilled atmosphere. This place is run by some Australian guys who take local people from under privileged backgrounds & give them work placements between 3-6 months long with the aim of helping to teach them the necessary skills to step into the working world. The poverty rate in Cartagena is extremely high so this is a great way to give something back to the local community whilst you are travelling.
Another thing to look out for in Cartagena is the street vendors offering arepas, a Colombian staple made of corn flour & if you choose, as we always do, stuffed with butter & cheese, the best arepas we had were in Cartagena. The pineapple is also in our opinion extra tasty in Colombia & can be found from street vendors as a sweet to follow your arepas!
3. Walk The Old City Walls
A great way to get up there & put things into perspective, the city walls run around the whole of the old city & are such a good way to see the contrast between old & new. There are steps to get up & down at various points so you can choose to walk around all or just part of them. We would say this is a must on your things to do in Cartagena list but would most definitely recommend doing it in the afternoon when temperatures are cooler rather than tackling them in the midday heat!
4. Cafe Del Mar Sunsets
A landmark & one of the most popular things to do in Cartagena, Cafe Del Mar open from 5pm til late every day is located right at the head of the city, facing the Caribbean sea, it is the PERFECT place to sit with a beer or cocktail & watch the sun go down!
TOP TIP – Get here early to get a seat at the very front & get your camera ready! There is also a stage which is set up for entertainment that runs right into the evening!
5. Hang Out In Getsemani
Once a seriously run-down neighbourhood & probably not on anyone’s top things to do in Cartagena, Getsemani is undergoing major renovations & is the perfect place to escape the tourist crowds of the old town & well, just hang out!
From funky bars, fusion restaurants, cute plazas, awesome street art & locals who blast out the music & sell beer from their houses – Getsemani is definitely up there as one the coolest neighbourhoods for backpackers to be!
6. Castillo San Felipe
Just a 15 minute walk from the old city, Castillo San Felipe is a little costly with an entrance fee of 25 COP per person but is worth adding to your list of things to do in Cartagena! Take an afternoon stroll around, when the sun is not so hot & you can enjoy spectacular views of the entire city & even catch the sunset. If the city walls put things into perspective this place will really make you see the contrasts between the old & new, we felt that we got more of a view of Cartagena as a whole from up here & we loved it!
7. Be Entertained
Full of colour, music & excitement, day & night, there is always some kind of entertainment going on in Cartagena. From street rappers, who will get you involved by literally “dissing” you as part of their freestylin’ to evening salsa in the plazas that Colombian’s will be more than happy to get you involved in!
You don’t have to seek out the entertainment & fit it into your things to do in Cartagena schedule, as trust us, it will come to you!
As we were told by a number of locals every day in Cartagena is a party day BUT if you are lucky enough to be there for any of the numerous festivals that they have on you are in for a real treat!
Between us both we have been there for Christmas, New Year & Cartagena Independence Day celebrations & we can tell you partying here is not for lightweights, it goes on both day & night for days!!! There will always most certainly be fireworks, flour, foam guns & firecrackers involved, be prepared to have these thrown in your direction & have a lot of fun!
If you happen to be around when there is not a festival happening there are still plenty of options to party, just ask one of the friendly locals or at your hostel / hotel for the best places to go, Getsemani as mentioned above is a hot spot for parties & backpackers.
9. The Beach
Cartagena itself does have beaches but there are plenty of beaches easily reached by boat from Cartagena that are more your post-card, white sand, blue sea type of beach that you would imagine from the Caribbean. Playa Blanca & The Rosario Islands are favourites with tourists both Colombian & non. Whilst these beaches can get busy they are a welcome break from the hustle & bustle of the city. Most hotels & hostels offer multi trips including transport with boat trip, a stop off at a beach or 2 & possibly some snorkelling. Another option would be to head down to the port yourself & grab your own boat ticket, just make sure they are dropping you off at where you want to be going!
10. Casa En El Agua
Literally “House In The Sea”! Pretty expensive to get to but worth it, oh yes! We booked Casa En El Agua direct though them & paid a deposit for our bed & the boat, the bed per night cost us 80,000 COP per person and the boat 100,000 COP per person . We spent only 1 night there, which for us was enough as this is a party place with no escape from the party. Apart from floating around in the surrounding crystal seas & dining on freshly caught fish there is also the option to visit some nearby beaches, a fully inhabited stilt home island & also night-time plankton tours.
Our biggest recommendation here would be to book your bed or hammock only direct with Casa En El Agua & if you have the time save some serious pennies by getting there off your own steam! We didn’t know this before we went but discovered that you can take a 2 hour bus to San Onofre for 25,000 COP per person, take a 30 minute moto-taxi to Rincon del Mar for 10,000 COP per person and then take a 45 min boat journey for 35-45,000 COP for the full boat. If there are at least 2 of you this could work out as little as 52,500 COP, almost half the price of what we paid! We would however recommend double checking prices as we are purely going off what we have been told here for the latter option.
You can also check out the rest of the awesome hostels available in Cartagena HERE
11. The Mud Volcano
If you want a good laugh go here! It’s not the gorgeous, mud spa experience you may imagine but giggles are guaranteed for sure! There are tours to “El Tutmo” offered everywhere in Cartagena that include transport, lunch & entrance to the mud pit! A mud pit is essentially what this place is, known for its healing properties you effortlessly float amongst a sea of people who will probably be as equally shocked as you whilst local men rub mud all over you & push you along to the stairs that lead out once you are suitably covered. This is most definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Cartagena!
Once done you are sent down to the river where ladies give you a complete washing down by literally getting their hands into your bikini bottoms & all. Honestly one of the most hilarious travelling experiences ever – we don’t even want to share pictures & ruin the surprise, just go & you’ll see what we mean!
SOOOOO that’s it, there are tons of things to do in Cartagena but that’s our most awesome list wrapped up.
If you are looking for awesome places to stay too we stayed at Akel House which is in a fab location in Getsemani, the rooms were big, bright & clean & breakfast was included in the great rate we got there!
We hope you have enjoyed our 11 Awesome Things To Do In Cartagena, if you have anything to add at all or have any questions please let us know in the comments below 🙂
You can also checkout the rest of our epic adventures in Colombia HERE
Kelly & Adam x