Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia (Hometown Series)
Intro: Through the hometown series, we have traveled to big cities and small towns across the globe as travel bloggers share with us why their hometown should be on our bucket lists! We have explored the Australian city of Geelong, the castles and country houses of the Peak District, UK, the famous waterfall destination of Niagara Falls, Ontario, the small town of Russellville, Arkansas, Virginia Beach, Delhi in India, Utrecht in the Netherlands, and my own small hometown of Herkimer, New York. Next we will head over Columbia in South America with Adam from Cartagena Explorer as he explores all the great things to do in his hometown of Cartagena.
Cartagena is Colombia’s best known tourist destination with good reason. I have lived in Cartagena for over a decade, falling in love with it, not to mention a Cartagenera as well. Here I want to share some tips on the best things to do in Cartagena as well as some places to eat and ideas for where to stay.
Things to Do in Cartagena
Explore the Walled City
Once a seat of Spanish colonial commerce and power, Cartagena has some terrific colonial architecture. Just strolling the narrow streets and taking in the flower covered balconies and huge wooden doors with their elaborate animal door knockers is a charm in and of itself.
The prettiest area is undoubtedly the Walled City, also known as the Historic Center. Here you’ll also find many of the city’s best restaurants and prettiest plazas. Be sure to take a stroll on the wall itself. Cartagena is actually one of the few colonial cities in the Americas that still has most of its walls left standing.
Across from the main entrance to the Walled City, where you’ll find a pretty clocktower above the arched entranceways, you’ll find the equally historic district of Getsemaní. Once the home of the colonial working class, it is often considered to be where Cartagena’s culture was born and one of the top things to do in Cartagena.
Today, you can find lots of hip restaurants, cafes and bars in Getsemaní. There is also terrific street art and lots of pretty streets with colorful flags or umbrellas. The Plaza de la Trinidad is a great evening gathering spot for locals and tourists alike, and you can find some of the best nightlife in town on the nearby Calle del Arsenal and Calle de la Media Luna streets.
Relax on the Beaches
Depending on who you ask, the historic center or the beaches of Cartagena are its main draw. As a local, the truth is the best beaches are outside of town. The beaches in town are nice but can often get crowded and have lots of vendors.
I recommend going instead to spend a day out in the Rosario Islands, where you can find lots of nice beach clubs and eco-resorts. Or, you could opt to head out to Playa Blanca on the island of Barú, a beautiful stretch of beach. It can get very crowded on weekends, so it’s best avoided then if possible. The closer island of Tierra Bomba, just across the bay is also a good option for nice beaches closer to town.
Visit the Castillo San Felipe Fort
In addition to the walls, Cartagena also has the largest fort built by the Spanish on continental South America. The Castillo San Felipe is massive and encompasses an entire hill just outside the Walled City. In colonial times, it served as the city’s last line of defense and played a key role in repelling an attack from a massive British fleet in 1741.
For those wanting to learn more about the city’s history, the Naval Museum in the Walled City is very well done too. Those who want to see Cartagena’s first line of defense can visit the forts in Bocachica, hardly ever visited but excellently preserved since they were never attacked again after being repaired after the 1741 attack.
Enjoy the Sunsets
You can get some great views of the sunset over the Caribbean in Cartagena. My three favorite spots are from Café del Mar, located atop the wall, the rooftop bar of Hotel Movich, which as a terrific panoramic view, and doing a sunset cruise on the bay. All three are great options for things to do in Cartagena.
Sample an Arepa de Huevo
The Arepa de Huevo is Cartagena’s most famous street food. Closer to an empanada than a traditional arepa, you’ll find an egg and ground beef inside the crispy fried corn meal crust. Look for street stalls around the Walled City and try to get one fresh out of the frying pan. For unique versions with different fillings check out Donde Magola.
Sample Some Great Seafood
While we are on the topic of food, you can also get terrific, fresh seafood in Cartagena. At the beach, be sure to try the traditional fried fish plate served with coconut rice and patacones, which are fried plantain patties. Ceviches or seafood rices are also great dishes to try.
Where to Eat in Cartagena
If you’re wondering where to try those dishes, there are tons of great restaurants. My suggestion for a more upscale place is the Club de Pesca, located on an old fort overlooking the bay. For something more moderately priced, check out Buena Vida Marisquería, which has some unique dishes and also serves great cocktails at their rooftop bar. For local favorites at cheap prices, check out La Mulata or Espiritú Santo.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
There are also a wealth of options for where to stay in Cartagena. In my opinion the best area to stay in Cartagena is inside the Walled City, where you’ll find everything from upscale hotels like the classy Santa Clara, located inside a former convent, to more midrange places like Townhouse Boutique, which has a great rooftop bar, to cheap hostels like Makako, a good choice for backpackers. Getsemaní and the more modern area of Bocagrande also make for good areas to stay and have lots of options for all budgets.
About the Author
Adam McConnaughhay has lived in Cartagena since 2011. He writes about it and other destinations in Colombia at www.cartagenaexplorer.com.
He can also be found on Facebook and Instagram:
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