Cartagena: The Sol of Colombia
Imagine this: You’re walking down a lively cobblestone street, looking at rainbow-colored colonial buildings lined with vibrant flowers. As you bite into your second arepa de huevo, you notice a woman dressed in a bright red dress selling the freshest fruit you’ve ever seen and a young man selling hot tinto. The breeze blows some salty ocean air your way. An older gentleman sits on his stool playing the accordion, singing a vallenato ballad, and you can hear the exciting rhythm of champeta playing in the boutique down the street.
Sounds amazing, right? This is Cartagena de Indias – a beautiful gem on the Atlantic coast of Colombia. Cartagena has it all: excursions, gastronomy, history, nightlife, and beaches. It’s the perfect place to visit whether you’re with friends, family, or your partner, and it accommodates all budgets from backpackers to royalty. These are a few of my top suggestions for your trip.
Visit the Islas del Rosario, an archipelago of 27 small islands situated on the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. Most islands are accessible only by boat, and there are a plethora of pasadías (day tours) available for around $95 USD. If you’re a diver or like to snorkel, the reefs out there are amazing!
Rent a bike or go for a walk inside the historic walls of the Cartagena Old City. You absolutely must visit the Old City during the daytime and at nighttime. By day, you can experience all the colors of the flowers and buildings, as well as the hustle and bustle of the locals who work there and study at the universities. By night, the Old City takes on this mystical enchantment, with soft yellow and purple lighting, live music, horse-drawn carriages, and artisanal markets and stands scattered along the sidewalks and UNESCO buildings.
Visit La Popa Monastery and the San Felipe Castle for unbeatable views of the city! La Popa is on a 150 meter/492 foot-high hill marking the highest viewpoint in Cartagena. San Felipe Castle has stood proudly in Cartagena for centuries, despite numerous invasions by pirates, admirals, and barons.
Where to Eat & Drink
Enjoy amazing food at the many restaurants located in the Old City or Getsemani. Getsemani is a unique neighborhood, still inhabited by many locals. It is much more casual than the Old City and has beautiful street art. If you’re going out at night, try Colombia’s Aguardiente (national liquor whose literal translation in English is “burning water”) while showing off your dance moves. Here are some of my favorite spots in Cartagena:
- Juan del Mar: The food is a fusion of Caribbean and Peruvian cuisines with an open kitchen concept and live music at night. It’s located in the heart of the San Diego Square (Plaza San Diego) in the Old City.
- Di Silvio Trattoria in Getsemani: This delicious spot is surrounded by really cool street art and local performing artists, with reasonably-priced, delicious pizza and pasta dishes. It is adjacent to the Trinity Square (Plaza de la Trinidad) in vibrant Getsemani.
- Café del Mar, El Baluarte, or Casa de la Cerveza: These are excellent places to sip a cocktail and watch the sunset over the ocean.
- Mister Babilla: A nightclub with two separate music areas. One plays mixed-Latin music like reggaeton and champeta, while the other area plays electronic music.
Where to Stay
Hilton now has three beautiful hotels in Cartagena, each catering to a variety of tastes. The Hampton by Hilton Cartagena offers a rooftop pool, sky lobby, and hot Hampton breakfast with a Colombian twist. The Hilton Cartagena has an expansive recreation complex and is right on the beach. Both are only a 10-minute drive from the historic Walled City! The Conrad Cartagena is slightly further away, but its secluded beach, large golf course, spa, and multiple pools make it an ideal place to disconnect and unwind.
Grab your sombrero vueltiao and some sunblock and start planning your trip to Cartagena today! To access more information about local restaurants, unique attractions, and special offers in Cartagena, visit our Destination Guide.