Things to do in Cartagena – Visit the Jewel of Colombia

Written By: Parm Parmar

Parm Parmar of Blue Planet Adventure shares the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Walking the streets of Cartagena, it’s easy to understand why the city has provided inspiration for many artists and writers. On my journey there, I fell in love with the food, the vibrant colors, and the history. Cartagena is the perfect spot to get your fill of history, culture, and amazing Latin food. But there is so much more to the city than its rich past.

Great Things to do in Cartagena

There is so much to see and do in Cartagena, that it’s hard to fit everything into your itinerary. Whether you are a history buff or seeking adventure, here are a few of our favorites.

1. Las Bovedas

things to do in cartagena colombia shopping

This bustling marketplace is filled with tourists.

If you brave the crowds you will get a chance to shop for unique trinkets, souvenirs, and beautiful mochila bags made by the women of the Wayuu indigenous tribes.

Las Bovedas is a sight in itself. One of the last structures built within the old city walls, it has forty-seven arches and twenty-three domes. It also has a checkered past serving as a munitions store and then a dungeon before its current status as a bustling marketplace.

2. Coffee tasting at San Alberto

things to do in cartagena coffee tasting cafe alberto

Take a coffee tasting at Cafe San Alberto, led by 3rd generation coffee grower Gustavo Villota. In the class, you will learn about coffee plants, processing coffee, and experience a sensorial exercise.

This is one of the most awarded and well-known specialty coffees grown in Buenavista, Columbia. After your class, visit the cafe below the classroom to shop for quality beans to bring home.

3. Rum and Chocolate Tasting at Sofitel Legend

things to do in cartagena colombia

Tempt your senses with a rum and chocolate tasting at the Sofitel Legend. There you will experience some of the finest aged rum in the Caribbean perfectly paired with an array of delicious Colombian chocolate, all curated by the somellier.

While there take in views of this historical hotel which was formerly a convent.

4. Visit the National Aviary

best things to do in cartagena aviary

If you love birds then visit the National Aviary of Colombia Tour. It houses 135 species of wild birds and lets visitors learn about the different species through 21 interactive stations. Expect to see flamingos, parrots, emu’s, Harpy Eagles, and many more.

6. Take a Walking Tour

visiting cartegana on a walking tour

One of the best ways to take in the old city is by walking. Cartagena’s elite still own many of the grand colonial homes in the old city.

Walk through the cobblestone streets and get a glimpse into what the city was like centuries ago.

Selected Tours of Cartagena

Get Your Guide offers city tours and excursions around Cartegena with easy cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.

The Cartagena Full Day City Tour takes you through the highlights of the city including Las Bóvedas, the streets of Getsemaní, the tunnel system of Castillo de San Felipe, and more for just $49 per person.

You can also book a private tour of the city for a more intimate experience starting at $156.

7. Cartagena’s old walled city

things to do in cartagena featured image
Clocktower of the old city

The old city has some of the best places to visit in Cartagena. Be sure to stop at the Torre del Reloj, Cartagena’s regal clock tower that stands at the entrance to the old walled city.

The Getsemani is another stop you should add to your itinerary. It’s one of the most important neighborhoods in Cartagena plus a cultural and political hub. It’s filled with amazing street art.

Bright colors and beautiful murals adorn many of the walls there and keep you captivated as you wander around.

8. Visit the Rosario Islands

things to do in cartagena featured image

Just 100 kilometers offshore, but seemingly a world away is the Rosario Islands.

There you can enjoy the local seafood and everything that you love about the Caribbean – the clear blue skies, white sand beaches, and living on “island time”. To reach the islands consider Sunset Sailing Cartagena which offers day tours. Read about another remote island Easter Island – Mysterious Statues in the Pacific Island

Get Your Guide also offers full days sailing trips to Rosario Islands starting at $86.

9. Dancing and Nightlife

best things to do in cartagena at night

The Old City comes alive at dark with a rich, vibrant nightlife. If you aren’t confident about your dance skills, don’t worry! Brush up on your salsa skills at Crazy Salsa.

Their professional dancers will help you master your moves in no time and introduce you to this popular Latin American dance.

Where to Stay in Cartagena

Historical residences and restored convents now house some of the luxurious boutique hotels in Cartagena.

Sleeping in quarters built in the Spanish colonial times, you will find that most of the rooms are centered around open aired courtyards but have been updated to house modern amenities. Here are a few of our favorite places to stay.

Casa San Augustin

where to stay in Cartagena Casa San Augustin

The Casa San Augustin is a boutique hotel that exudes luxury from its colonial-era white-washed buildings to its prime location in the heart of Cartagena.

It’s 17th-century grandeur at its finest. The 20 rooms and 11 gorgeous suites are located in three houses to give it the feel of home.

The architectural details are second to none from the wood beam ceilings to the spiral staircases in some of the two-story suites. Suites are furnished with all the creature comforts, robes, and Ortigia Italian amenities.

The hotel also includes a relaxing spa and a 300-year-old aqueduct in the center of the hotel with a picturesque L-shaped pool. Fine dining is available in the Alma restaurant which also serves as the breakfast room in the morning.

Casa Cochera del Gobernador

cartagena vacation governator hotel

Staying at the Casa Cochera del Gobernador for two nights and we could have easily stayed more.

Located in the historic Cartagena de Indias by the Santa Catalina Cathedral and is housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings dating back to the 16th Century.

The rooms are beautifully appointed with luxurious bedding and a light and airy feel, giving you the perfect backdrop for an evening of rest. A delicious breakfast is served by friendly staff on the second floor and the fresh, local fruit on the buffet is mouthwatering.

Food of Cartagena – Where to Eat in Cartegena

what to eat in cartagena fried plantains

The city’s culinary scene is thriving in Cartagena. Locally sourced foods are abundant here.

From the bounty of the sea to the fresh locally grown fruits and veggies, many of the local restaurants use this rich resource to create traditional dishes with an island flair. Here you will find traditional dishes like ceviche or Arroz con coco or Pargo Frito.

Whether you are dining at a five-star restaurant or grabbing a quick bite from a street vendor, you won’t be disappointed. In Cartagena, there is no shortage of amazing restaurants and cafes to experience.

Concina de Pepina

fine dining cartagena colombia travel

Depending on your tastes you can try the ceviche or Mote de Queso at Cocina de Pepina, for traditional Colombian fare and one of the most famous restaurants on the north coast.

Just be sure to get there early as they don’t take reservations.

Carmen Restaurant

where to eat in cartagena carmen restaurant

One of my favorite lunch spots is Carmen Restaurant.

I loved the picture-perfect modern décor and the lush tree-filled patio. Food is art at this family-run restaurant, serving up local flavors with a modern twist. Try the artfully presented salads and ceviche dishes, and mains with fresh fish.

Marea by Rausch

cartagena colombia ceviche

Another waterfront option is the Upscale Marea by Rausch Restaurant. There you can enjoy delicious watermelon salads, Ceviche, and fresh seafood dishes.

Carne lovers can enjoy well-prepared beef filets served with wine jus. Expect to enjoy Michelin star service and food without the hefty price tag brought to you by the famous Rausch brothers.

  • Book ahead for a table on the sought-after waterfront terrace, where you not only get an amazing river view, you can enjoy the cupolas of San Pedro Church.

About Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias is the jewel in Columbia’s crown. This seaside city is rich with maritime history and bustling with adventure, charm, and a past filled with pirates.

Founded in 1533 by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia, the city grew prosperous quickly and with the newfound riches, came the threat of attacks from marauding sea pirates.

After multiple attacks, Cartagena began to protect itself by constructing walled compounds and castles. Many of which exist today and await being explored.

Cartagena is located in Colombia, South America. The main language is Spanish.

The currency is the Colombian Peso: 1 USD = 3019 Colombian Pesos. See Currency Converter for up-to-date rates.

Copa Airlines offers daily flights to Cartagena through Panama City (airline hub).

Flying with Copa Airlines allows you a  ‘24-hour layover in Panama’ at no extra cost.

It’s a great opportunity to visit Casa Viejo and the Panama Canal.

When to visit Cartagena

The weather remains constant in Cartagena. It is hot year-round. The only thing that changes is humidity and precipitation.

December to March is the best time to visit Cartagena: The weather is warm during the day and breezy at night and the humidity is low. But it is the high season so there are more tourists. If you like nightlife, the bars will be hopping at this time of year.

There is another secondary high season the week before Easter. It is crowded during this time and prices are more expensive. June through September is the wet season and the hottest months.

Temperatures range throughout the year from 24 – 32  degrees Celcius. (75-91 Fahrenheit)

Cartegena Inspires Artists

cartagena things to do

And now that you know more about all the things to do in Cartegena, I will leave you with a story.

One of the most famous writers from Colombia was Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

While working as a journalist for El Universal, the local newspaper, he learned about the discovery of a corpse of a young girl with copper hair as they were renovating the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Hotel, a former convent, and hospital. The crypt where she was found can still be accessed through a glass gate at Santa Clara’s El Coro Bar.

This experience inspired his bestseller, Of Love and Other Demons.

Photo courtesy: Joe Ross from Lansing, Michigan via Wikimedia Commons

These are just a few examples of Cartagena’s storied past and what makes this an interesting place to visit.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About Parm Parmar

Parm is the Owner and Chief Adventurer at Blue Planet Adventure. She is also an accomplished author whose work has been featured in Trivago, Toronto Star, Travel Week, Travelalerts, and Tripcentral, just to name a few. Follow Parm at / Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter

Leave a Comment

8 thoughts on “Things to do in Cartagena – Visit the Jewel of Colombia”

  1. Let me begin by saying that you guys have an incredible website! As a burgeoning travel blogger myself, I am extremely impressed by the information, tips, photos, and layout of your website. No wonder you guys are considered some of the best bloggers around!
    Anyway, I’m planning on visiting Cartagena (and possibly Bogota as well) in late-January or February. I have some friends who may be going but if not, it’ll be a solo trip for about a week. If I fly into Bogota, what in your opinion is the best, safest way to get from Bogota up to Cartagena? Or do you recommend I stick to one of the other for that amount of time?
    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

  2. I just got back from Cartagena and wish I’d read your post before I went. I definitely did most of the things you mention here, but there were a few I missed that sound really special. I totally missed the birds and the rum and chocolate tasting. I visited Carmen restaurant and it was one of my favorite things from my visit to Cartagena. Well that and the Rosario islands.

  3. I never heard about Jewel of Colombia before, it is very helpful information for visitor, Thanks a lot.

  4. What perfect timing! I’m traveling to Cartagena for the first time in two weeks. I can’t wait to see and do all the things you mentioned here. Thanks for sharing this.