Travel Guide Cartagena - A Romantic Colorful City

Located in the north of Colombia facing the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena offers a unique experience in a wonderful historical setting. It is perhaps the most perfectly preserved colonial city in South America. This treasure takes the visitor 400 years back in time.

The best thing to do in Cartagena is to explore the Walled City - its historic center surrounded by the city wall - on foot. Walk the streets and enjoy the soft, warm breeze as you pass through the squares and plazas. You will encounter fine colonial buildings with overhanging balconies, horse-drawn carriages cruising old cobblestone streets, outdoor restaurants, street performers and ancient churches. The Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada) was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and includes the neighborhoods Centro, San Diego and Getsemaní.

In addition to Cartagena’s romantic historic center, you will find beaches and the stunning Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands), a 45-minute boat trip off its coast. The Islas del Rosario consist of many, charming coral islands with white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.

Where To Stay

In the neighborhoods Centro and San Diego you will find the most popular tourist attractions, as well as high-end restaurants and shops. Most of the restored colonial boutique hotels are situated in these neighborhoods.

Getsemaní is situated a 10 minutes’ walk to the historic center, prices are in general cheaper and there are fewer tourists. It is one of Cartagena’s upcoming neighborhoods, with traditional bars and salsa clubs.

Bocagrande is a modern district south of the city, between the sea and the Bay of Cartagena (Bahia de Cartagena). The easiest beaches to access are here, surrounded by hotels, Miami-style high rise apartments, restaurants and shops.

Getting there and around

Air - The Rafael Núñez International Airport is located a ten minutes’ drive from the historic center and fifteen minutes away from the modern area Bocagrande. The airport receives international flights (such as from Panama City, New York, Fort Lauderdale and Miami) and domestic flights from various cities in Colombia. To get to your hotel take a taxi for about COP $15,000.

Bus - Cartagena’s main bus station is 6km from the historic center. Buses go to Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Medellín and Bogotá regularly.

Taxi – Taxi’s can be flagged down almost anywhere, but be sure to negotiate a price before departure since taxi’s in Cartagena do not have meters.

Things to do and places to visit

Historic center - the walled colonial city center is Cartagena’s principal attraction. The best way to experience the charm of the old Cartagena, is to stroll around the streets, preferably in the mornings or late afternoons because of the heat. Don’t miss the Torre del Reloj (Clock-Tower), the Cathedral, Palacio de la Inquisición, Plaza Santo Domingo with Iglesia de Santo Domingo – the city’s oldest church – and vendors selling artesanias, Plaza de San Pedro de Claver with Iglesia de San Pedro Claver and its sculptures depicting Cartagena’s everyday life, Plaza de Bolivar for a welcome shelter from the tropical sun and the Portal de los Dulces to buy sweets from the Palenqueras in their colorful Caribbean dresses.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - a fortress built in 1657 by the Spaniards. Situated about a 10 minutes’ walk to the east of the historic center. Wander around and enjoy the views over the city. The underground tunnels in near darkness are fascinating.

Diving – the Islas del Rosario are ideal for diving. We can recommend the diving center Diving Planet situated in the old city, Calle Estanco del Aguardiente No. 5-94; (57 5) 664 2171. Ask for Beatriz Ossa or Andrés Obregón.

Islas del Rosario - take a day trip to the Islas del Rosario. Most organized tours include lunch, visit to the aquarium and a few hours on Playa Blanca in the afternoon. If you can afford it, we recommend you to organize a private (and a bit more expensive) tour. The best part of the Islas del Rosario is to sail around the islands. After leaving Cartagena’s dock you will see the forts of San Fernando and San José, which were built to protect the Bay of Cartagena. Arriving near the islands, ask the captain to bring you to the best places for snorkelling. Afterwards, enjoy a lunch of fresh sea food in one of the restaurants situated on the islands or buy from the locals selling sea food from their boats. The return trip to Cartagena can be bumpy, but it is definitely worth the trip.

Food and Drink

Pargo – fried, whole body red snapper accompanied by patacones, lime wedge and arroz de coco (coconut rice).

Ceviche – Cartagena-style ceviche comes with precooked seafood, red unions, lime juice, tomato sauce or ketchup and aji (Colombian hot sauce). You can eat it in small cups on the beach or in the city’s restaurants.

Raspao – shaved ice in different colors and flavored with tropical juices such as lime and tamarindo. You buy a raspao from street vendors selling from their carrito de raspao, a cart made of aluminum or wood, some of them still use the original flavor recipes from long ago. A delicious “gourmet” version is sold in the juice bar Jugosa, Calle de Ayos 4-50 Local 2 (Centro).

Limonada de coco - Keep yourself cool with a refreshing lemonade made of coconut cream, crushed ice, lime juice and sugar.


Oh! La La – A French bistro run by husband and wife. Delicious food at a reasonable price. Don’t miss their Mousse au Chocolat. Centro, Calle de Ayos No. 4-48.

La Cevicheria - Featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” TV program, this small restaurant serves a great selection of hot and cold ceviches. Barrio San Diego, Calle Stuart No. 7 – 14 (opposite Hotel Santa Clara).

La Vitrola – a Colombian classic in the historic center with first class food and an attentive service. Historic photos, ceiling fans, slatted window shutters and live Cuban music keep the feeling of old Havana alive. You’ll need to book a table in advance. Centro, Calle 33 No 2-01 Calle Baloco.

Pizza en el Parque - For cheap and tasty pizzas head to Pizza en el Parque. You eat your pizza on the walls of the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, just across the street. Barrio San Diego, Plaza Fernandez de Madrid.

Bars and Clubs

Cafe del Mar – End your day with a cocktail in this stylish open air bar located atop the ancient city walls. For the best Caribbean sunsets and views of the old city. Baluarte Santo Domingo.

Cafe Havana – This popular salsa bar is open on Thursdays through Saturdays. It gets crowded with locals after 11 PM. The place to be to experience the cartagenera nightlife. Getsemaní, Calle de la Media Luna and Calle del Guerrero.

Bazurto Social Club – This colorful place is great to dance, party and listen to live Caribbean music. Don’t be surprised to encounter Gabriel García Márquez having a drink here. Getsemaní, Av. del Centenario, Cll 9 No. 30-42.


Estimated 900,000 inhabitants


Average temperature is 28ºC (82ºF) - 30ºC (86ºF)