Declared a World Heritage City in 1984 by the UNESCO, Cartagena (Colombia) is an authentic gem polished over more than 500 years with a unique mixture of Caribbean magic, culture and that colonial charm only a handful of cities have. During colonial times, Cartagena de Indias was a major military-commercial port for the Spanish Crown, where thousands of African slaves arrived and all the exploited wealth departed to Europe. Due to this enormous strategic value, Cartagena became a prized trophy for English, Dutch and French troops and pirates, who attacked the colonial city over and over again. In fact, Cartegena earned the nickname “La heroica” (“The Heroic City”) thanks to the brave resistance its dwellers offered under siege.
Cartagena de Indias: 500 years of Caribbean magic
You can feel Cartagena’s rich history in each one of its streets: colorful, gorgeous colonial balconies embellishing the landscape and offering shelter from the blazing sun of the Caribbean; hundred-year-old walls and cannons as silent witnesses of Cartegena’s heroic past; an old city packed with narrow streets named after stories of pirates, treasures and epic deeds; and pedestrians with a blend of African, Mulatto, Spanish and Indian blood in a melting pot brimming with life, music and joy around every corner you walk by.
Cartagena de Indias fulfills all the requirements for the unforgettable Carribean holidays you’re looking for: beautiful white-sand beaches, a colonial architecture that shines out with its own light, a wide range of outdoor activities to enjoy, a lively nightlife and that romantic atmosphere! Plenty of Caribbean magic to breath in every street of the city, spreading on like a tropical fever among visitors, Cartagena de Indias is clearly one of the best romantic getaways in South America.
Traveling to Cartagena de Indias
Traveling to Cartagena de Indias by plane
Cartegena has an international airport, Rafael Nuñez airport, recently refurbished and offering regular flights to international destinations like Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Nueva York, City of Panama, Guayaquil and Maracaibo. Additionally, Rafael Nuñez airport offers connections to all major cities in Colombia, like Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla or Bucaramanga.
If you plan on traveling to Cartagena de Indias by air, the biggest local airline is Avianca Airlines, with more than 10 daily flights. Avianca has connections between Cartagena and all the other national destinations they cover, as well as some international destinations like Fort Lauderdale. There are some other airlines with a great amount of daily flights available to Cartagena (like LAN), and if you’re traveling on a shoestring, Viva Colombia is a decent low-cost airline for half of the regular price. However, keep in mind that Viva Colombia’s basic flight service doesn’t include expenses like checked baggage, so you’ll have to pay additional charges for almost anything beyond the simple flight ticket.
Traveling to Cartagena de Indias by bus
While it may not be the most convenient alternative, traveling to Cartegena overland by bus is possible from and to almost any Colombian city. Due to the poor conditions of Colombian highroad system, traveling to Cartagena de Indias by bus takes much longer than you would expect. For example, the distance between Cartagena and Bogota is about 650 miles; however, it’s a 18-hour travel overland. This option is ideal for shorter distances between Cartagena and other cities from Colombia’s North coast, like Santa Marta or Barranquilla.
For long trips, most bus companies arrive and depart from Cartagena’s land transportation terminal, located on the outskirts of the city. And that’s another issue to consider, since this terminal is pretty far from Cartagena’s Old City, hub of all touristic activity. If you plan on traveling to Cartagena de Indias from near cities or places, don’t hesitate to use the minivan transportation service, with alternative, shorter routes and direct arrivals to city’s downtown.
The most advisable bus companies for traveling to Cartagena de Indias are Brasilia, Berlinas del Fonce and Copetran. There are lots of ticket-sale points readily available throughout Cartagena’s downtown. If you’re traveling from/to Barranquilla, Santa Marta and other Caribbean cities, it’s recommended to buy a minivan ticket; this way you’ll get to your destination in a much more convenient, fast way. The major minivan company in Cartegena is Marsol.
Accommodation in Cartagena de Indias
As the main holiday destination in Colombia (and one of the best vacation spots in the world), Cartagena de Indias has an extensive accommodation offer with all kinds of housing options, from fancy boutique hotels with personalized attention and a deluxe service, to low-cost hostels and hotels with basic services, perfect for a backpacker’s budget.
When you’re traveling to Cartagena de Indias, it’s advisable to stay the closer you can to the historical center, since it’s easier to get transportation to all sites of interest for the tourist. If you’re looking a place near to the beach, you may want to stay at hotels in districts like Bocagrande, Marbella or North Zone, areas plenty of oceanfront buildings and accommodations. On the other hand, if what you’re looking for is the authentic colonial experience in Cartagena, you should stay in a hotel within districts like Getsemani or the Old City. Below you’ll find some of the best hotels in Cartagena de Indias with diverse prices and categories, as well as hostels and B&B’s.
Hotels in Cartagena de Indias
Hotel Caribe, Cartagena. Bocagrande area.
Hotel Cartagena Plaza. Bocagrande area.
Hotel Las Americas Cartagena. North Zone.
Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena. Historical center.
Boutique hotel Tcherassi. Historical center.
Hotel Regatta Cartagena. Bocagrande area.
Hostels in Cartagena de Indias
Media Luna Hostel. Getsemani area.
El Viajero Hostel. Historical center.
Blue House Hostel. Historical center.
Hostel 1811. Getsemani area.
Things to do in Cartagena de Indias
- Go for a walk around the streets of Cartagena’s Old City at sunset or night, and immerse yourself into the magical vibe of the colonial city, enjoying the colorful, bustling streets of the historical center.
- Visit the convent on the hill of La Popa, where you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view over the whole city of Cartegena.
- Have a drink in one of the outdoor cafes you’ll find around the many plazas of Cartagena’s Old City, like Santo Domingo plaza, Fernandez de Madrid park, San Diego plaza or Plaza de los Coches.
- Visit Getsemani, a trendy, colonial district bustling with restaurants, bars and places for nightlife lovers. If you’re on a tight budget, you can just chill and have a beer in La Trinidad plaza with locals and visitors.
- Visit San Felipe Castle and learn interesting facts about the fantastic history of Cartagena de Indias, besides enjoying an amazing view of the city.
- Go for the famous “Chiva ride”, a city tour around Cartagena de Indias in a colorful, traditional bus called “Chiva”, with music, drinks and several stops throughout the night.
- If you’re looking for romantic plans (e.g. for your honeymoon vacations), the “Coche ride” is a must! It’s a romantic way to explore the magic of Cartagena in a horse-drawn carriage tour around Old City. Try to take this tour after sunset, though; you definitively don’t want to face the scorching tropical sun at noon!
- Scuba diving (or just snorkeling) at Islas del Rosario, a group of Caribbean islands with beautiful coral reefs and all the beauty the tropical sea has to offer.
- Visit Playa Blanca, definitely the best beach in the whole Cartagena area! There you will find white sand, clear warm waters and a unique laid-back vibe to enjoy specially after noon, when most tourists return to the mainland.
- Go shopping Colombian crafts at Las Bovedas, a former military prison during Colonial times, currently a popular craft market where you can find all kinds of local products.
- Shopping in the many designer boutiques and outlets you will find at Cartagena’s historical center.
- Try some home-made treats at Portal de los Dulces, a typical candy market within the walled city of Cartagena de Indias. There you can find delights like tamarindo (a tropical fruit) sweet balls; “cocadas”, homemade coconut candies; and “caballitos”, made with papaya syrup.
- Discover the flavors of local cuisine in traditional restaurants like Donde Socorro or La Cocina de Pepina.
- Taste the best street food from Cartagena de Indias which you can find everywhere thanks to street vendors with carts full of fried goodies and chilled juice. Not suited for sensitive stomachs!
- Practice kitesurfing at North Zone’s beaches of Cartagena de Indias: La Boquilla, Morros, Manzanillo. There are several kitesurfing and windsurfing schools in that area, and the wind is ideal for these water sports.
- Learn how to dance champeta, a local music and dance with a huge deal of sensuality. Hips don’t lie!
- Visit the most popular museums in Cartagena de Indias: The Inquisition Palace, The Gold Museum, Museo Naval and The Museum of Modern Art, where you can take a peek into Caribbean history, art and culture.
- If you feel adventurous and want to visit new exotic destinations, it’s possible to travel by sail to the wonderful San Blas archipelago, in Panama, sharing the boat with some other people. Check bulletin boards in hostels, hotels and bars, there are often ads of sailboat owners offering trips to San Blas, at a reasonable price (sometimes even for free!)
- A must: enjoy the magic sunset of Cartagena de Indias, just sitting on the ancient walls of the Old City with the vast ocean before your eyes and a light tropical breeze caressing your senses.
- Go dancing salsa to one of the traditional salsa joints of Cartagena, like Quiebracanto or La Esquina de Fidel.