Cartagena was made for dreamers; a combination of sultry beaches, romantic colonial architecture, a spicy nightlife, and an alluring splash of sophistication. In 1984 the cities walled in old quarter (the wall originally served as protection from frequent pirate attacks) was named a UNESCO world heritage sight and it’s easy to see why.
A concentration of explosive colored buildings are encircled by a crumbling yellow wall which, abuts the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea. Yes, Cartagena is the quintessential traveler’s location, where city and nature come together to dance the perfect salsa.
However, if fairytale cities leave you feeling lost in the clouds, you don’t have to travel far to find Cartagena’s grounding commercial and residential districts. Bustling centers of working class grit or swanky beachfront high-rise apartments lie just outside where the fairy dust settles, two incredibly distinct yet authentic parts of this diverse city.
Cartagena is the kind of place where lovers come to indulge and everyone else comes to fall in love. Luckily, Cartagena gives you plenty of reasons to cry out in a lustful fit of passion, leaving you perfectly spent.
Bring your sense of creativity and prepare to get completly swept away.
Places to Stay:
Calle Media Luna Hostel: Looking to party? With an expansive rooftop bar and centrally located pool this is the place to be. Located in Getsamani, Cartagena’s thriving backpacker hub, just outside of the old city.
El Viajero: Located within the walls of the old city, this place is a gem. Rooms are comfortable and available in both single and dorm styles. In addition the hostel boasts a fantastic social scene and an unbeatable location, all making it one of our top picks.
Makako Chill Out Hostel: Intimate and quaint, this hostel is located on one of Cartagena’s most picturesque plazas in a stylish colonial building.
Calamari Hostel Boutique: Sophistication on a backpacker’s budget. It’s hard to spend time in Cartagena and not be tempted by the cities timeless class, staying here should more than satisfy your craving.
Things to Do:
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo: An absolute highlight of any trip to South America. You may be hesitant at first, but the giggling faces already submerged in the viscous goo should help ease your hesitation. Dip your toes in and simply jump, the sensation upon submerging is simply indescribable. A must-do experience!
Volcan de Lodo el Totumo, where adults come to play.
Playa Blanca: This is undoubtedly Cartagena’s best beach. Getting here can be slightly taxing, but the reward makes it well worth it! Make the most of your trip- wake up early and head down to the main wharf. Book a boat which will most likely include a short snorkel stop. Once at the beach set up camp and rent either a hammock or a tent for the night. Crowds leave around 4:00pm every day, which means that it will feel like you own your very own private island for the night.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: In a city where the notorious Sir Francis Drake stirred up trouble, taking in a bit of history is a worthwhile endeavour. No better place than the centre of the action and also the largest fort the Spaniards ever built in one of their colonies.
Dance: Or if you can’t dance, at least watch as the impressively talented shake their rumps. If you’re not partial to the sidelines, head over to Tu Candela (the old city) or Café Havana (Getsamani).
Puerta del Reloj: Take time to hang out around the old cities iconic main entrance and you’re bound to walk away with a better understanding of Northern Colombian culture. Watch as young girls shake their hips to the Merengue, listen to the beating of Afro-Caribbean drums, and sample the old-fashioned treats at the Portal de los Dulces.
The main entrance to Cartagena’s walled city.
Boca Grande: This beach gains points for convenience but won’t necessarily turn many heads. Great for those looking to spend part of their day soaking up the sun, digging their toes in the sand, and munching on a cocada.
Islas Del Rosario: A chain of idyllic islands, where snorkelling and sunbathing are your only concerns. Backpacking with a family? One island within the national park is home to a decent aquarium (bonus points for its striking location).
Casa en el Agua – Just 3 hours away from Cartagena, could this be the hostel with the best location in the world? Encircled by the tropical warm waters of the Caribbean – this is a place that has to be seen to be believed!
Casa en el Agua – location, location, location
- Buses run daily from Medellin, the trip will take around 14 hours, and will cost approximately 50 dollars.
- Flights are available from Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, making this Caribbean destination incredibly accessible. Taking a mere one hour and costing just a tad over 100 dollars, flying in Colombia is alarmingly affordable. In fact before booking a bus, always check flight prices as they may be comparable.
- Buses from Santa Marta connect to Cartagena via Barranquilla. The trip takes about 9 hours and will cost around 50 dollars.
Where to Go Next:
- Taganga/ Parque Tayrona: This quiet fishing town offers stunning easily accessible beaches. It is also the launching point for trips into Parque Tayrona National park.
- Medellin: Looking for city slicker sophistication? This city of eternal spring is not to be missed.
- Mompox: This riverside town is also a UNESCO world heritage site, those looking for a quieter charm will undoubtedly find it here.
By Tyler Protano-Goodwin