19 Unmissable Things To Do In Cartagena Colombia
Cartagena is a city that exudes charm, rich history and vibrancy. It served as an important port city during the colonial era. The city’s strategic location on the Caribbean Sea made it a target for pirates, which led to the construction of the impressive city walls and fortifications that still stand today as the Walled City of Old Cartagena.
Cartagena’s Old Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia, drawing in visitors from all over the world. The vibrant perfectly preserved colonial buildings adorned with flowers, cobblestone streets, churches, plazas and horse-drawn carriages in the walled city (old town) add to its charm. It’s a great place to wander around and soak up the city’s rich history and culture. Beyond the Old Town, Cartagena also boasts beautiful beaches, a thriving culinary scene, and a vibrant nightlife. Here are the unmissable top things to do in Cartagena Colombia.
1Explore Cartagena’s Old Town
Whether you wander the cobblestone streets on foot or trot along in a horse-drawn carriage, exploring the Old City is one of the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site of narrow streets, beautiful colonial architecture and a vibrant culture, the Old City is the beating heart of Cartagena. With palenqueras selling tropical fruits, traditional hats on display and breathtaking colonial buildings, the Old City certainly offers charm but the Old City also has a more distinctly upmarket vibe.
A destination of old-world luxury, designer boutiques and charm, the Old City is a world-class destination of outstanding restaurants, shops and hotels. The Old Town also boasts a diverse and extensive gastronomic scene that is worth exploring. So, take your time to savor the local cuisine and indulge in the culinary delights that this historic neighborhood has to offer. It’s easy to spend several days meandering through this enchanting district.
To get the most out of exploring the Old City of Cartagena, it is recommended to join one of the free walking tours. A local guide, equipped with valuable knowledge, will accompany you for a few hours, strolling through the charming city streets and sharing captivating stories of its intriguing history.
2Explore the Quirky Neighbourhood of Getsemani & Nightlife at Plaza la Trinidad
Merely a 10 minute’s stroll outside the city walls, and you can discover one of the most vibriant and lively areas in Colombia. A trip to Cartagena would not be complete without a trip to Getsemani, it is one of the one of the best places to visit in Cartagena. It is boasting with colorful houses, street art, lively nightlife, restauarnts and laid-back vibe. Every street corner in Getsemani has a story to tell and showcases unique artwork, making this neighborhood truly one-of-a-kind.
One of the best way to explore Getsemani is by exploring the streets of Getsemani aimlessly, you will discover the impressive graffiti, stumble upon cute colourful houses and streets and street vendors selling local food and souvenirs. The heart and soul of Getsemani is the bustling Plaza Trinidad – a central square surrounded by restaurants, bars and even street performers. The plaza is also a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, making it a great spot to people-watch or enjoy a cold drink and dinner while taking in the lively atmosphere.
The name “Las Bovedas” translates to “the vaults,” which is fitting given the structure’s arched ceilings and corridors. Las Bovedas comprises 47 arches and 23 domes to form the most architecturally fascinating structure in the city. In the past, these chambers were used to store gunpowder and other military supplies. Today, shops exist within the old cells of the former prison selling everything from woven bags, spices to souviners.
Now full of life and colour, the marketplace has brought vibrance to a corner to Cartagena that was once dark. Aside from shopping, Las Bovedas also offers stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and is a popular spot for taking photos. You can walk along the rooftop terrace and enjoy panoramic views of the sea and the city’s walls.
4Sunset drinks at Cafe del Mar
On the search for the best things to do in Cartagena, sunset drinks at Cafe del Mar should be top of the list. Showcasing the finest views of the coastline and the cityscape, Cafe del Mar boasts spectacular vistas of the city. Whilst any time is a good time to grab a drink at Cafe del Mar, there is no greater time than sunset offering the most hypnotising scenery whilst you sip on a cocktail. With an inventive menu of bartending wizardry, Cafe del Mar serves up the most flavoursome tipples to a soundtrack of electronic music which when accompanied by a sunset backdrop of the Cartagena skyline creates the most impressive atmosphere. It is one of the best places to visit in Cartagena.
5Eat some incredible ceviche at La Cevicheria
Offering a relaxing atmosphere and the most incredible seafood in the city, it is no surprise that La Cevicheria was the favourite restaurant of legendary chef Anthony Bourdain. Featured on the American food and travel show, No Reservations, La Cevicheria is a hotspot for those who know and appreciate outstanding cuisine. An exciting menu of Peruvian-Colombian fusion, La Cevicheria serves up exciting flavours and the freshest fish on the market.
Whilst you may be spoilt for choice with the restaurant’s offers, complemented by a citrusy broth, the lobster ceviche is arguably the finest dish on the menu. Despite the fact that it is often crowded, you may get a seat at one of the outside tables during lunch and enjoy the ideal people-watching.
6Bask in the sunshine at Playa Blanca
Highly regarded as one of the best beaches in Colombia, Playa Blanca is the most famous in Cartagena. Found on the Colombian peninsula of Isla Baru, Playa Blanca is the perfect day trip from Cartagena, with a scenic cruise departing from the Old City. It is 45 minutes by boat from the Port of Cartagena.
The warm, clear and shallow waters of Playa Blanca make it a perfect spot for swimming and snorkelling, whilst the long stretch of white sand is the place to spend the day relaxing. The landscape here is simply unrivalled, making Playa Blanca one of the most stunning Colombian beaches, a destination you will not regret visiting. It is worth noting, due to the beauty of the beach it can get quite crowded during the peak season, nonetheless, it is well worth a visit.
7Explore The Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)
Located 100km off the coast of Cartagena, the 27 island archipelago of Corales Islas de Rosario forms its own national park. The Rosario Islands (also known as Islas del Rosario) are easily accessible from the Colombian mainland by boat and one of Colombia’s most breathtaking and luxurious destinations. The islands, albeit near to the city, offer a pleasant escape from the crowds, heat, and bustle of Cartagena.
The seafood served on the islands is as fresh as it gets, and because there is so much of it, you can even see fishermen mooring their boats next to yours to offer you lobster or shellfish that has just been caught. A remarkable destination for snorkelling and diving, the waters surrounding the archipelago are remarkably clear, rich with sea life and abundant with vibrant coral reefs.
Altough may opt for a day trip, the Rosario Islands are also home to elegant hotels such as Las Islas on Isla de Barú and Hotel Coralina Island. With peaceful Caribbean beaches and protected waters, the Rosario Islands are simply hypnotizing. Arrange a private boat or catamaran tour of the Rosario Islands if are short on time and you want to experience its beauty in luxury.
Discover: More Hotels in Rosario Islands
8Go Rum & Chocolate Tasting At El Arsenal: The Rum Box
Tucked away in hip and happening Getsemaní, Colombia’s coolest neighborhood, El Arsenal : The Rum box is a friendly drinking and dining den. Home to the biggest collection of Colombian rums in the world. With their Rum and Chocolate tasting you can taste your way through the country’s diverse regions on a tipsy trip through Colombia. The tasting includes the chance to savor 8 rums paired with some sweet and savory treats.
An evening in the El Arsenal: The Rum Box is as memorable for the smiling staff as the taste sensations on the table. There’s no more welcoming way to slide into a Caribbean groove.
Book your tasting here : Elarsenaltherumbox.com
9Eat your way through Cartagena with a street food tour
Renowned for delicious cuisine, Cartagena is the up and coming culinary capital of Colombia. Foodies will be in heaven on a Cartagena food tour, an interesting and delicious way to enjoy a walking tour of the city and a culinary experience that offers visitors a taste of the rich and diverse flavours of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Sample the exquisite street food of the city with delicious delicacies such as ceviche, empanadas, arepas and plantain pancakes – patacones. Sharing insights into Colombian culture, your guide will take you through the best details of the city including its rich history, fascinating traditions and incredible culinary stories.
Join the free street food tours and discover some of the most characteristic flavors of the Caribbean coast of Colombia on this free food tour of Cartagena de Indias. Book your free street food tour here.
Take the street food tour up a notch and joing a local chef as you sample Cartagena’s delicious and authentic street food. Discover a melting pot of influences from native, Spanish, African, and Arabian cuisine. Meet the cooks and learn the recipes while strolling through the city’s sights. Book your street food tour with a local chef here.
10Hit the Salsa Bars
Boasting the most exciting nightlife in Colombia, the party scene in Cartagena is a place to let your hair down and paint the town red. With an abundance of elegant cocktail bars and exciting dance halls, Cartagena is an incredible destination for a night out. Start your night exploring the best of Cartagena’s laid-back lounges and sampling the most imaginative cocktails before making your way to Cafe Havana.
Cafe Havana is a popular haunt for celebrities and influential figures visiting Cartagena, Cafe Havana is an electric venue where even novice dancers can get down to the salsa music in this Cuban-style bar. Located on the Calle Media Luna in Getsemaní, this is where Hillary Clinton was photographed showing off her salsa moves during a Summit of the Americas meeting. It’s well-known, so it can get crowded, nonetheless, it’s an iconic place, perfect for those seeking to experience the salsa dancing scene in Cartagena.
11 Buy Exotic Fruits From Las Palenqueras
The iconic palenqueras are a ubiquitous sight in Colombia, gracing the covers of travel guides and adorning countless souvenirs. Selling an exotic variety of fruits and based in the city of Cartagena, Las Palenqueras are a group of Afro-Colombian women who are known for their traditional clothing and baskets. Considered an important cultural and historical symbol of Cartagena, Las Palenqueras play an important role in the local economy and their work helps to preserve the cultural heritage of the region. Navigating the streets of Cartagena, particularly throughout the Old City, Las Palenqueras are commonly found selling fruit, balancing bowls of tropical fruit with skillful ease atop their heads and stopping to snap photographs with tourists.
12Reach New Heights At 51 Sky Bar – Highest Bar in Colombia
Located on the 51st floot of the Estelar Cartagena Indias Hotel in the Bocagrande district. 51 Sky Bar is the highest bar in Colombia and as you would expect from such heights, the 360° views on display are simply breathtaking. In fact, it is the only rooftop bar that has 360° view of La Heroica. Visit the stunning bar for a sunset cocktail, watch the sun set and the bustling city light up slowly with live DJ in the background. The 51 Sky Bar offers a menu with a wide selection of classic cocktails, expertly prepared creative drinks, and small plates from around the globe.
13Hit up Alquímico – One of the Top 50 Bars in the World
In Cartagena’s old town, Alquímico is situated within a beautifully restored colonial property. The house is part of the work of the French architect Gastón Lelarge, known for such important works in Colombia as the Marroquín castle, the San Francisco Palace and the Cartagena Club.The bar spread over 3 floors each floor with its own unique identity. Alquímico is not merely a bar, it offers a whole journey. It is certainly worth visiting and one of the top things to do in Cartagena Colombia.
The lively ground floor serves as the heart of the bar, with upbeat music, dancing, and a progressive cocktail menu that celebrates Colombia’s biological diversity and flavor potential. While on the second floor you will find cocktail classics with a Colombian touch using local products, fruits and flavors. Finally, the rooftop offers a refreshing open-air space with yet another distinctive drinks menu whilst paying tribute to the ‘From the bar to the farm’ experience and you will try ingredients grown on their own farm. Alquímico is also a farm in Colombia’s coffee region, 900km south in Finalandia. It provides the team at Alquímico Cartagena with most of the ingredients that go into the cocktails.
14Explore Cartagen from a Different Angle With A Sunset Cruise
There are many places to catch the sunset in Cartagena, including the famous city walls, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas fortress, or one of the many rooftop bars and restaurants that offer a panoramic view of the city skyline.Why not discover Cartagena from a whole new perspective onboard a sunset cruise or if you are feeling adventerous there is even an option to kayak. See the sunset on the bay while admiring the contrasting views of Cartagena’s modern area and old city and admire the spectacular skyline of Cartagena as it lights up.
As the sun sets, the warm tropical breeze, accompanied by the soothing sound of the Caribbean Sea, creates a calming and relaxing atmosphere. It’s a perfect time to take in the beauty of the city and reflect on the day’s adventures while sipping on a refreshing drinls on board.
15Relax at the Plaza Bolívar
Plaza Bolívar is a historic public square located in the heart of the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia. It offers a serene atmosphere with its shaded square and benches, making it an ideal spot to spend a few leisurely hours soaking up the sights and sounds of the Old Town.
Plaza Bolívar is also a lively gathering place for locals. On weekends, the plaza often hosts street performers, musicians, and other entertainers, creating a festive atmosphere. It’s also a great spot for people-watching and taking photos. This square is even frequented by an iguana and some monkeys.
16Castle San Felipe de Barajasm
The Castle San Felipe de Barajas is a remarkable fortress constructed by the Spanish during colonial times, and it has become an iconic landmark in Cartagena. Its construction began in 1639, and despite numerous attempts to invaded the city from the likes of by pirates, admirals, and barons in its long history, the fortress has never been taken, thanks in part to its ingenious design, which includes tunnels specifically engineered to amplify sound and detect even the slightest noises made by potential intruders.
Its impressive design and strategic position make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, military architecture or just looking for a unique cultural experience. Explore some of these dark tunnels and walk along the fort’s walls and battlements, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. To fully appreciate and discover the history and significance of this landmark and pick up a guide or one of the audio tour headsets as you walk around the castle.
17Shop for Emeralds in Cartagena
One of the world’s largest producers of emeralds, Colombia has a long history of emerald mining dating back to the pre-Columbian period. Colombian emeralds make up to 90% of the global emerald market, and are among the purest on earth. Cartagena is a great place to shop for high quality Colombian emeralds.
The most reputable and regarded shops in Cartagena for emerakd are the Caribe Jewelry, Lucy Jewelry and Emerald Museum (Museo de la Esmeralda) which is a cultural and historical institution, showcasing the country’s rich legacy of emerald mining and the history of the emerald industry in Colombia.
The museum’s collection includes a wide variety of emeralds, including some of the largest and most valuable in the world. The exhibits at the museum highlight the beauty and diversity of Colombian emeralds and the different techniques used to cut and polish them through immersive exhibits and interactive experiences.
18Browse Gold Collections in Museo del Oro Zenu
With more than 55,000 exhibits, Museo del Oro Zenu is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of pre-Columbian gold objects and artefacts offering an impressive insight into the gold and jewellery history of the country. Boasting an exquisite collection of gold artefacts and the fascinating pottery of the Zenu people, Museo del Oro documents the gold mining history of Colombia and details how ancient cultures used gold throughout rituals and ceremonies. With one of the most staggering gold collections in the world, Museo del Oro Zenu is a must-visit when in Cartagena.
19Convento De La Popa
Photo: Norma Gòmez CC BY 2.0
Journey up the winding road to Convento De La Popa, the highest point in the city featuring an impressive 17th century convent. From here, take in the best views of Cartagena with the incredible vantage point taking in the city landscape stretching to the coast. Once you have admired the view, step inside the chapel to explore the flower-dripped courtyard and see the image of La Virgen de la Candelaria in the centre of a gilded altar. A historic, religious and scenic point in the city, Convento De La Popa highlights the spirit of Cartagena.