Cartagena de Indias is a gem of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, preserved historic beauty, clear beaches, and decadent food. I traveled to this beautiful city for 4-day trip. Cartagena's Old Town is a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across leafy plazas.
World Cup Colombia Game
Explore Old Town Cartagena
Cafe del Mar Sunset
Dinner @ Cuzco KItchen
Night @ Alqimico
Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena exhibits all the charm of its history and the legacy of its ancestors, ensuring its greatness and turning it into one of the country’s most important tourism destinations. It's a pleasure to stroll through the streets of Cartagena and observe its beauty.
- There is a wide range of accommodation options. Visitors can choose between traditional colonial hotels and exclusive boutiques, or even airbnbs.
As soon as we landed, we dropped off our luggage and went straight to a local bar to watch Colombia play in the World Cup 2018 - a rare opportunity we had to expereince. After the Colombia game, we spent Day 1 relaxing and exploring the beautifully colored buildings. This is the kind of place to drop all sightseeing routines. Instead of trying to tick off a list, simply stroll through the Old Town of Cartagena. Soak up the old town's atmosphere, pausing to see the colorful buildings, ward off the heat and humidity in one of the city's many bars and restaurants.
Cafe del Mar
We immersed ourselves in the 16th century for a few hours, then climb the northern ramparts to greet the sunset with a cocktail and lounge music at Café del Mar, an extremely popular open-air bar that looks out on the sea and the modern skyline of Bocagrande. This is one of the best spot to take in the glorious Caribbean sunsets that Cartagena has in store for you – although it can get windy – there’s no better place to enjoy a piña colada and a sunset.
Gastronomy is also part of the city’s party spirit. The range of cuisines and choices are both local and international cuisine. From the local fresh fruit sold on the street to international upscale restaurants, the food choices in Cartagena are exotic and fun. Our first day dinner spot was at Cuzco Kitchen, with great live music and delicious food.
I don't usually describe nightlife spots, but Alquimico is an exception. The staff are stylish and well dressed (in an edgy kind of way) and friendly. Alqimico has an interesting selection of cocktails and chill music (a mix of Latino & English pop). The interior of the bar is edgy yet chic and dimly lit. There are three levels to this place, we tried them all different nights. The first one being the main bar, second one for mezzanine views and a smaller bar (the swing chair was my favorite part) and the 3rd level is the outdoor rooftop with a small bar. A really nice place for a night out with friends.
Breakfast @ Epoca Cafe
Explore Saint Pedro Claver Church
Lunch @ Vera
Visit Zenu Gold Museum
Dinner @ ChaChara
Cartagena is full of plazas, a few being: Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza de Bolivar, Plaza de los Coches. If you're staying in the Old Town, early morning coffee is perfect at Epoca Cafe, which we found while exploring the old city.
Saint Pedro Claver Church
With my iced coffee, in Cartagena's heat, I walked over to the San Pedro Cathedral. Named after the legendary patron saint of slaves, who lived and died in Cartagena, this is one of Colombia’s most beautiful churches and is well worth a visit for its lovely architecture and the pretty square on which it is located.
If you're looking for an upscale unique spot for lunch, go to Vera (located in the Tcherassi boutique hotel). The restaurant sits within the hotel's beautiful courtyard away from the hustle and bustle of Cartagena. Vera serves superb Italian food paired with excellent wines. Nearby in Plaza de Bolivar is the Zenu Gold Museum; the Zenu indigenous people, who once inhabited the coastal regions to the southwest of Cartagena, were goldsmiths, and this museum is a testament to their talent. The full tour only takes about half an hour.
Getsemani is another area of Cartagena, only it's an emergeing neighborhood full of artists, poets, and hostels that blends the Old Town's charm with Wynwood's artsy grunge. Visit during the daytime to check out cool street art and graffiti that cover almost every brick and concrete wall, but know that this area really comes alive at night.
Ease into evening with some mojitos on the tiny rooftop at Malagana Cafe & Bar. After nightfall, Plaza de Santísima Trinidad (home to a seriously bright yellow church) gets lively with street performers, locals playing soccer, and sometimes singers. We passed by the plaza on our way to dinner at Chachara, an outdoor rustic-nature themed restaurant. After dinner we walked the streets of Getsemani, soaking up the energy of the hip nightlife and sat in an awesome bar called Demente.
- Uber is available & very affordable in Cartagena (how we travelled from the Old Town to Getsemani).
Eventually the night ended back at our spot, Alquimico.
Explore Castillo San Felipe
Visit La popa
Playa Blanca Beach
Explore Boca Grande
Dinner @ Alma Ristorante
We seriously could not get enough of Epoca Cafe and tried their breakfast menu along with our morning coffee (their coffee selection is fun, be adventurous). We needed the coffee and breakfast fuel for the long day ahead of us. Day 3, we dove into the history and culture of Cartagena starting with the Castillo San Felipe.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Dominating the hill of San Lazaro, overlooking the vibrant city of Cartagena, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is one of Cartagena's historical tourist points. The colonial-era castle will forever be known as the most impregnable fortress ever built by the Spanish in the Americas. Keep in mind, visiting this fortress requires a lot of outdoor walking, but once you reach the top you can take in the views of the city.
- Adults 14-61 years old: COP$25.000
Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is closer to sea level for city views, but nearby up high in the hills (the hightest point in Cartagena) sits a beautiful monastery. The Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa and its lovely gardens and fascinating religious iconography make it one of the city’s most beautiful tourist destinations.
Since we were all out and about already, we decided to explore Cartagena's beach Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca is a beautiful long white sand beach with crystal clear, turquoise coloured water. Located on Isla Barú, this beach sits just 40 minutes off the city of Cartagena, on the Caribbean sea. It gets a little crowded and can be difficult to dodge other tourists and vendors. You can choose to stay around the touristic area (where the boats are) or you can attempt to make your way up to the quieter end of the beach. Once you find a quiet area there are umbrellas and chairs available for rent, full body massages, piña coladas to sip on and the beautiful warm Caribbean Sea.
- We rented a car, which made it easy to travel to Playa Blanca. Otherwise you need to make travel arrangements ahead of time with a tour boat.
- If you do plan to visit the beach avoid going Friday-Sunday when it's most crowded (we went on a Thursday).
After such a long day, we all needed a nap.
For dinner we tried Alma. If you walk around the Old Town enough, you're bound to pass by Alma's beautful plaza (Casa San Agustin boutique hotel). While the restaurant itself is beautiful and offers a cuisine of coastal Colombian, we didn't have the best expereience. They suggest making a reservation, but even with one we had a hard time getting seated (in a pretty empty restaurant) and the hostess isn't the most welcoming person. Regardless, we made the most of it and spent the rest of the night enjoying Cartagena's nightlife.
Breakfast @ Juan Valdez
Explore Boca Grande
Lunch @ Epoca Cafe
Visit Cartagena Museum of Modern Art
Shop Las Bovedas
dinner @ Vera
Curious of the Old Town's neighboring area, we had our coffee at Juan Valdez Cafe in Bocagrande. Old Town and Bocagrande are the two main tourist neighborhoods in Cartagena, but aside from being partially set beside the sea, they have little else in common. Bocagrande is Miami-style full of beach-front condos and high-rise hotels, while behind the Old City's weathered walls is Spanish-Colonial architecture restored into lovely hip shops and boutique hotels.
- One great thing about Bocagrande is the beach. If you aren't able to visit Playa Blanca, there is always the local Bocagrande beach.
Back in Old Town Cartagena, we passed the Clock Tower Monument entrance making our way to the Plaza San Pedro de Claver (aka the plaza with the San Pedro Cathedral).
Cartagena Museum of Art
Cartagena is like an open air museum that includes so much culture and history. If you’re an art lover, you’ll want to visit the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art. Located in the Plaza San Pedro de Claver, the museum features huge canvases, technicolor graphics, powerful sculptures and intricate mixed-media installations by Colombian artists. The museum has everything — except air-conditioning.
After our experience at Alma, we decided dinner at Vera was the best way to end our Cartagena trip. Maybe it was because it was our last night, or maybe the evening experience where the food, service, music and atmosphere all converged to make its magic. Either way, Vera with its lovely background garden and saxophonist seducing us all with his music, was a charming end to our trip. When you are in this city do not miss Vera restaurant!
We walked the streets of Old Town Cartagena one last time, making our way to Las Bovedas (on the otherside of the city). Whether you're a souvenir shopper or not, Las Bovedas is a must-see. Located at the site of a former jail, Las Bovedas is one of Cartagena’s best street markets and the perfect place to pick up any souvenirs you’ve been after from your trip. Each stall is housed in a former cell, full of colorful trinkets and local art.
For upscale Colombian shops:
St. Dom – upscale amazing Colombian designers
Agua De Leon – local designers / amazing accessories
Silvia Tcherassi – upscale Colombian designer (beautiful handbags)
Where to eat:
Vera: upscale for lunch or dinner
Alma: romantic and late-night for dinner
Cuzco: great music / food for dinner
Chachara: cool artsy vibes for casual dinner
La Cevicheria: Ceviche lovers must-go-to for lunch
Where to go out:
Alquímico: coolest 3-story bar, with rooftop
Demte: Hip bar in Gestemani
La Movida: club for dancing *would only do this one night
La Jugada: club for dancing (less intense than La Movida)