The Top Things to See and Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is one of Colombia’s most gorgeous, romantic, and colorful cities and one of the most visited cities in the Americas.  

Boasting a rich history, colorful buildings, amazing cuisine, and friendly Colombians, Cartagena is full to the brim with interesting things to explore and delightful experiences to have. A city that gets under your skin instantly is better said right down to your nerves due to its packed with tourists.

In this article, I want to explore together with you the recommendations for the top sights and best things to do while in Cartagena, Colombia

Strap yourself in because Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to show you the top sights and activities gems to do while you are in Cartagena securing yourself a wonderful trip and having a blast!

NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!

#1. Explore La Ciudad Amurallada, or the Walled City

What is it?
Cartagena’s stunning walled city, protected by a fortress, is considered the crown jewel of Colombia. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, this walled city was once used as a shelter against storms and pirates.

Why go?
Within this small sector, here you will find gorgeous colonial architecture, tons of bars and restaurants, local shops, and beautiful (and quite expensive) hotels.

Some of the must-visit places in La Ciudad Amurallada include Torre del Reloj, Plaza San Diego, and Plaza de Bolivar which is the site of of dancers and performers. You can also visit the Museum of Modern Art which showcases important collections by several Latin artists. You will also find a lot of cool sculptures outside the museum.

Despite it being filled with tourists pretty much all year round, this historic corner of the city has not lost its charm.

Hey Goofball! If you are interested in knowing more about history, check this guided tour out!

#2. Visit Cartagena’s Cathedral

What is it?
The Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandria is one of the most attractive buildings in Cartagena, especially at night when it lights up like a scene from a movie.

Why go?
You can get glimpses of the cathedral as you walk around Cartagena, and it’s right across the street from Plaza de Bolivar. Recently restored, highlights of the cathedral include a series of exquisite frescos, an 18th-century gilded altar, and a gleaming marble pulpit.

Hey Goofball! You should visit also Iglesia De San Pedro Claver, which nowadays turned into a museum featuring artwork from the colonial period, a lush courtyard with a baptismal font, and the church where the remains of St. Peter Claver lie.

#3. Immerse yourself in the Street Art

What is it?
Fullfield with crumbling buildings, local homes, kids playing soccer, and an absolute ton of amazing street art… Getsemani is not going to disappoint you!

Why go?
Grafitti is a way of expression, in which the artists represent the political and social movements at the moment. And some of the works are truly beautiful and transmit a hard message that gives you goosebumps.

Hey Goofball! I truly suggest you get this guided tour in order to understand in deep the Streetart Cartagena or Cartagena Connections!

#4. Playa Blanca

What is it?
Playa Blanca is undoubtedly one of the most stunning beaches in Colombia.

Why go?
Located on Isla Barú, Playa Blanca is known for its beautiful white sands and crystal-clear waters. You can go there by boat (45 minutes from the Port of Cartagena) or by car (around a two-hours car journey from the main city). 
It can get a bit crowded by day with tourists, vendors, and locals, but if you stay overnight, you can appreciate the beach in complete stillness and silence once all the day-trippers left.

Some people visit beaches and islands as part of a day trip, but you can dedicate a whole day to Playa Blanca. Either way, a visit to this beach is a must for anyone spending more than a day in Cartagena and it will be totally worth it! 

Hey Goofball! If you want to experience something out of this world, you should to a beautiful day trip to the Islas del Rosario (completed with 27 islands) in the crystal clear Caribbean waters. Splashing in the water, sunbathing, or snorkeling around with the fishies. Because of its clear blue waters, you should take into consideration diving here!

#5. Visit the Museo del Oro Zenu

What is it?
Museo del Oro Zenu is like a miniature version of Bogotá’s world-class gold museum, the Museo del Oro.

Why go?
Although relatively small in size, this museum provides a wonderful look into the history and culture of the indigenous Zenu (also known as Sinú) people, who inhabited the departments of Bolivar, Cordoba, Sucre, and Northern Antioquia before the Spanish Conquest, and how important gold was in their lives.

Inside the museum, you’ll find over 500 fascinating gold and pottery pieces of different shapes. The museum also has a movie room, a reading room, and a workshop for kids, and there is no entrance fee!

Hey Goofball! Look out for special exhibitions and guided tours, offered in both English and Spanish. If you are interested in more museums and history, you should definitely visit the Palace of the Inquisition which is a museum housed in one of the loveliest colonial buildings in Cartagena, but mostly covers a dark time in history.

#6. Get a real Colombian taste in Mercado de Bazurto

What is it?
Those of you travelers looking to have a real taste of Cartagena, then you should definitely visit Mercado de Bazurto.

Why go?
The market is chaotic, vibrant, and colorful as vendors and locals go about their business. The best way to get around is to wander and try out the exotic fruits or foods on offer, you’ll find basically everything from fresh fruit to cooked turtle (which is discouraged by authorities but considered a traditional meal in many indigenous communities) you can imagine with amazing prices (expect a two-course lunch to set you back no more than about $2).

Mercado de Bazurto is really crowded so remember to be mindful of your possessions as you wander around.

Hey Goofball! If you feel like you need it, you’ll find tours inside the market where you’ll learn all about it and make sure you don’t miss any hidden gems!

#7. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

What is it?
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress in the city of Cartagena on the Hill of San Lázaro. It’s considered one of the most incredible forts built-in 1789 by the Spanish in the new world and it has been attacked multiple times but never seized.

Why go?
The tunnels were designed in a way that allowed the Spanish to hear even the smallest sounds so that intruders would be easily detected. Nowadays visitors can use audio tour headsets to learn more about the place by strolling through
the passageways and battlements, weaving their way through underground passages, and admiring the impressive architecture of the fort. 

You definitely cannot leave Cartagena without having visited this huge castle, which peers out over the city.

#8. Museo De La Esmeralda

What is it?
Colombia is well known for its emeralds, therefore here in Cartagena, you are going to find a museum dedicated to this precious country’s gemstone and jewelry that’s made out of it.

Why go?
You are going to learn all about the stone itself, and the process from the mine to the final jewelry. They also have a sample of the largest emeralds ever discovered in the country. The entrance is free, but of course, you can end up buying one of the jewelry made of emeralds at the end of the tour!

9#. Convento De La Popa

What is it?
Built-in the early 1600s as a convent, Convento De La Popa is perched on top of a 150-meter hill known as Mt. Popa.

Why go?
Currently, the Convento de la Popa is a religious museum.
The gorgeous views of Cartagena and its beaches from the convent are enough to make you want to visit. Inside the convent, there’s a beautiful image of La Virgen de la Candelaria, and on the patio, there are colorful plants and unique statues.

#10. Hit the Salsa Bars as locals!

What is it?
Salsa Dancing is a quintessential Cartagena nighttime activity and you have to try it once! Trust me, it’s a lifetime experience.

Why go?
One of the best bars in Cartagena is Cafe Havana where you’ll get to dance and listen to live Salsa music. Even if you are not a salsa dancer, it’s still worth heading to the city’s cultural and party center of Cartagena.

Donde Fidel is known for its great sound system and it’s great for people watching if you’re not a dancer! Another incredible bar is Quiebracanto which is a traditional Salsa club known for its remarkable music selection.

#11. Dining in Cartagena

What about it?
After checking Mercado Bazurto and all the street food, you need to experience fine dining in Cartagena to taste some spectacular specialties. 
The design of the restaurants is an attraction in and of itself and the variety is also impressive featuring an array of international food from around the world as well as Colombian cuisine.

Why go?
Regarded as one of the best ceviche and fish restaurants in the whole city, you should head to La Cevichería and try out their amazing Peruvian-Colombian fusion food. This restaurant is a bit crowded but totally worth it! Especially if you are willing to wait for some fresh fish, exciting flavors, lots of lime, and some seriously good cocktails (Fun fact: Anthony Bourdain once ate there).

Other great restaurants to check out include Don Juan, La Perla, and El Baluarte. 

#12. A Prima location in Cartagena

What is it?
Cafe Del Mar is a restaurant situated along the walls of the old city.

Why go?
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy sipping a cocktail while watching the sun go down while sitting outside overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Because this place is popular, I suggest you book a table in advance. Remember it is windy and the temperature up there could be a little bit chill.

#13. Do as Locals do at La Boquilla

What is it?
What’s better than hanging out with locals and immersing yourself in the country’s culture? La Boquilla is a fishing village on the outskirts of Cartagena where its poorer streets and shacks stand in stark contrast to Cartagena’s old city.

Why go?
The weekend is going to be packed with Cartageneros who have come to kick back, sip some beer and sunbathe. You are going to taste fantastic food – eat freshly caught fish and try the local delicacy Arroz con coco (rice with coconut). I mean, what else? You are going to experience an authentic glimpse at life here!

#14. Visit a Mud Volcano

Why?
Just because visiting a mud volcano is a must when you’re in Colombia.

What to expect?
You can take a half-day trip to El Tutomo mud volcano, just outside of Cartagena. After climbing up the volcano, you can jump right into the bubbling mud pool.

After you get out, locals will help you clean up, but I still advise you to wear your least favorite swimsuit as it might not be the same afterward.

Hey Goofball! If you are not that adventurous and would love to jump into shopping… go to Las Bovedas, the little shops built into the walls of the city with alcoves and columns all around! You are going to find cheap trinkets clothing, original artworks, and hammocks (omg the hammocks).

#15. Party on a Chiva

What is it?
Although people think is a tourist thing to do, is not! In fact, a night spent on a Chiva (party bus) is a very Colombian activity.

What to expect?
Live musicians playing Vallenato, an open bar with local liquor and a lot of dancing. Expect a kind of bars dropping, because the bus will do several stops in order to let you know different bars in town by ending the party in a larger club, where your Chiva will leave you to dance the night away.

Hey Goofball! The only piece of advice I can give? Be ready to have fun and go with the flow!

Cartagena is a charming city with vibrant unique attractions, a rich culture, and exceptional cuisine. It’s a really authentic city that is worth visiting, try not to be.

Whit this guide you get a glimpse of the best 15 things to see and do while you’re visiting Cartagena! And if you are in the mood of laughing, I share my own Cartagena adventure right here!

The main question now is when to go to this beautiful city! With these recommendations for the top things to do, I hope I gave you the right inspiration because Cartagena is waiting for you Goofball. Let’s go on an adventure!

 

Read more: Ultimate Colombia Travel Guide