Known as the “jewel of the Indies,” there’s no denying Cartagena’s allure and interest. This port city draws you in, engaging all the senses with every enchanting sight, sound, and flavor.
From the candy-colored buildings and white stone columns to the cascading bougainvillea and open-air patios, this city places you right in the middle of a beautiful painting. Yet, Cartagena is far from lifeless – the street musicians, fruit vendors, graffiti art, and sidewalk restaurants bring a contagious energy to every street corner.
We could go on and on about this incredible city, but for now, we'll leave you with our little guide for taking it all in...
TO DO & SEE
You could spend hours walking through the picturesque streets of Cartagena’s Old City – there are so many historical buildings, boutiques, and restaurants to discover. It can get pretty crowded during the day (especially when the cruise ships roll in), so we recommend waking up early and walking the streets before 7 or 8 AM so you can just wander and take it all in.
We didn’t have time to do an official tour, but we’ve heard great things about the walking tours of the city. Most leave daily from the Clock Tower or Plaza Santa Teresa and operate on a donation system (schedules and booking here).
Just outside of Cartagena’s “Old City”, you’ll find the up-and-coming neighborhood of Getsemani. This is the mecca for graffiti art, dance halls (you’ll find the famed Club Havana here), street musicians, and local restaurants – every street is brimming with character and charm. We stayed in this area, and we fell in love with its lively, local atmosphere.
One of our favorite memories was sitting in this plaza, simply watching the ebb and flow of the city. You’ll find many plazas throughout Cartagena, but San Pedro Claver's casual, laid-back vibe was just our style.
From grand columns and wooden balconies to bright yellow walls, this palace is Spanish Colonial architecture at its finest. Yet, this beautiful 18th century mansion houses a dark history – this was a center for the Spanish Inquisition, when the Catholic Church executed those accused of blasphemy, witchcraft, and heresy. Now a museum, visitors can tour the building and learn about this tragic chapter in Cartagena’s history.
Nestled in the heart of Cartagena’s “Old City”, this 30-room boutique hotel seamlessly blends colonial-era architecture with modern sensibility. The hotel’s focal point is the courtyard pool which features a 300-year old aqueduct – the moment you walk in, you are instantly transported to a serene oasis, the perfect retreat from the bustling city streets.
Housed in a 17th century convent, you’ll find yourself ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the hotel’s larger-than-life archways, stoned courtyards, timber beams, and endless hallways. Our favorite feature? The lounge areas featuring cocoon rattan chairs (swoon).
Much larger than most of Cartagena’s boutique hotels, Sofitel regularly hosts conventions, weddings, and events – from the pool to the restaurants, the hotel is bustling with activity.
In true Citizenry style, we were last-minute in scheduling our trip, so sadly this place was already booked. Guess we’ll just have to keep dreaming of these lofted ceilings, rooftop views, and that swoon worthy pool. You can rent individual apartments or take over the whole house if you have a large group - bookings available through their site or Airbnb. One day, one day…
This spot made for a great home base during our stay in the city. Located on the outskirts of the Getsemani neighborhood, it is a stone's throw away from of-the-moment restaurants and coffee shops. Heads up - known for its nightlife, this neighborhood can get a bit loud at night.
TO EAT & DRINK
Stop at this cozy cafe for coffee and a healthy breakfast (can’t recommend the avocado toast enough) before you set out sightseeing. They partner with local coffee farmers and roast all their coffee on site, and the extra effort shows – this was one of the best coffees we had on our trip. Bonus: the staff is incredibly friendly and attentive.
A visit to Cartagena would not be complete without ceviche. As soon as we landed in this coastal city, we started the hunt for a ceviche spot, and lucky for us we stumbled on this small, artsy cafe in the heart of Getsemani. We ordered a tapas sampler complete with papas bravas, garlic shrimp, coconut ceviche, and our favorite – fried eggplant with honey. The proof was in the extra order – halfway through our first sampler, we went ahead and ordered a second.
From the tile floors to the leather chairs and brass pendant lights, Carmen had us as soon as we walked in the door. And once we actually tasted the food, we were total goners. Yes, the seafood is incredible, but the cocktails also can’t be beat – be sure to try one of the Pisco Sours. This spot tends to book up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation weeks before your trip.
Treat yourself to a meal at Casa San Agustin’s Alma restaurant. We grabbed lunch here one day – the airy patio, fresh ceviche, and frozen fruit juices made for the perfect escape from Cartagena’s midday heat.
Hands down, the best cocktail we had in Cartagena. Word on the street is Cafe del Mar is the place to be for sunset, but if you ask us, we’d choose drinks outside at El Barón every day of the week. Located on the Plaza San Pedro Claver, you have the option to sit inside the cozy lounge or outdoors on the plaza. Our favorites were the Gin Basil Smash and the Rosarito – honestly, you can’t go wrong though.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS
Getting Around: Pack your walking shoes. Yes, you'll find plenty of taxis around town, but everything is so close together, we recommend walking to best experience the city.
Scheduling your Trip: The most popular time to visit Cartagena is between January through March. The weather is warm, but not too hot, and the ocean breeze gives you cool evenings. Heads up - even in January, Cartagena is pretty humid, so be sure to bring light, breathable layers.
Avoiding the Crowds: Cartagena has become a hotspot for weddings and bachelor/bachelorette parties. We recommend opting for a small, boutique hotel or Airbnb so you have a restful spot to retreat from the crowded streets.