Visit Cartagena, Colombia with Your Family
If you are considering a trip to Colombia, a stop in the charming city of Cartagena on the country’s northern coast, is a must. Once a Caribbean port of major importance for the Spanish, the city remains a true colonial jewel and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Its history, beauty and culture make it one of the top destinations in Colombia.
5 Fun Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia with Kids
1. Enjoy the splendor of the Old Town
The old town of Cartagena inside the city walls is simply gorgeous. Think cobblestone streets, colorful historic buildings covered with even more colorful flowering vines, statuesque churches and quaint plazas. One immediately feels transported back in time.
Our family loved simply wandering around and taking in all the history and prettiness, occasionally stopping by street vendors offering interesting souvenirs or tasty arepas stuffed with cheese. Many tourists opt for a horse-drawn carriage ride which, along with a tour of the San Felipe Fort and the old city wall, seems like one of the most popular choices for visitors.
If you like museums, there are several, from art to emerald and naval. Kids will likely be most interested in the Chocolate Museum, which will educate you on the history and production process of chocolate free of charge and also offers several hands-on workshops.
There are many different options for families in Cartagena. For example, younger kids will enjoy a treasure hunt; older ones might like a bike or Segway tour of the old town. For great views, visit La Popa, a beautiful monastery on the hill just outside the city and Cartagena’s highest point.
Locals claim no visit to Cartagena is complete without a ride on Chiva, a colorfully painted bus with loud, lively and irresistible music. You might be dancing along with other tourists in no time, but you are in Colombia, after all.
2. Take an Excursion to the Islas del Rosario
As beautiful as Cartagena is, it does not have many great beaches. Luckily, it is close to the Rosario Islands, a beautiful archipelago located about 60 miles north of the city, consisting of 30 small islands and part of Colombia’s national park system.
Stay for a few nights or simply go on a day trip from Cartagena to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, fishing and more. We did just that and had a nice relaxing day on the beautiful Isla Del Sol. In order to access the islands, which are protected, you will need to purchase a permit, but most tour operators include it in the price of their excursions.
Tip: The ride to Isla del Sol and back on a fast boat was considerably bumpy. While some passengers enjoyed it and found it thrilling, a few got sea sick. Make sure to take some Dramamine before your ride if you or your kids are prone to sea sickness.
3. Have a mud bath at Totumo Mud Volcano
For the adventurous types, there is another unique Colombian experience waiting about an hour outside Cartagena. Visit the extinct Totumo Volcano and climb inside to take a bath in its famous warm mud. Legend has it that a long time ago a priest sprinkled holy water over the molten lava of the volcano, which transformed it into the therapeutic mud bath it is today.
Once inside the small crater, you can choose a therapeutic massage by one of the attendants, then rinse off in one of the nearby lakes. However, if you are visiting during the region’s dry period, you will instead be met by a group of women who provide large buckets of warm river water to help you clean off the mud.
The Totumo Volcano can be reached by a taxi, but the easiest and most economical way is to sign up for a tour which picks you up at your hotel and provides round trip transportation through the picturesque Bolivar region, as well as a guide. Our tour also included a lovely lunch of freshly caught fish, coconut rice, plantains, yucca and tropical fruit, served beach-side on the return trip to Cartagena. It was delicious!
Tip: We saw several families with children, even very small ones, visiting the mud bath. Know that the experience could be a touch scary for some. You have to climb into the crater on a steep ladder, relax in the bottomless mud pool where you will float for a short period (rest assured, you cannot sink or drown), and share a small space with several other tourists. Despite having mud-phobia at home, I found the mud bath and my massage very enjoyable, but it is not for everybody. The hardest part was getting back up via the crater’s wooden ladder which, covered with thick and slippery mud, was an adventure in itself. Still, definitely a highly memorable experience!
4. Enjoy Great Restaurants in Cartagena
There is no shortage of great food in Cartagena. From a long list of restaurants with sophisticated or simple authentic cuisine to delicious street food which can be found on every corner, there are dining options for every palate.
For a taste of regional Colombian cuisine, I highly recommend Candé, a restaurant which was established to showcase the unique cultural and culinary history of Cartagena. In addition to fantastic food and cocktails, it also has Cartagenian dance shows every night. Not to be missed!
Just around the corner is Gelateria Tramonti, a great gelato place run by an Italian. Yes, that’s right; its owner fell in love with Colombia during his travels around the world so he decided to make Cartagena his home.
We also enjoyed La Vitrola, less Colombian, but one of the city’s most famous restaurants. It’s known for its heavy Cuban influence, which can be noticed in dishes, decor and seductive salsa beats delivered by a live band every night.
5. Where to Stay in Cartagena
We loved our stay at Hilton Cartagena, an extremely welcoming and family-friendly property with a nice private beach, a rarity in Cartagena, and a great pool area, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
The resort is located in Bocagrande, a peninsula to the northwest of the town center. Known as the “modern Cartagena,” it is lined with many shops, galleries and restaurants and just a short taxi ride away from Cartagena’s Old Town.
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