Is Cartagena Worth Visiting (Hero)

Is Cartagena Worth Visiting? 10 Reasons Not To Miss It!

Is Cartagena worth visiting? If you’re looking to up the Latin ante, make your way to Cartagena and prepare to get lost in its colourful streets, great food and exotic rhythms. Here are 10 great reasons why you can't miss this Colombian gem.

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Is Cartagena Worth Visiting?

Nestled on the Caribbean coast with its brightly coloured colonial buildings, fortified walls and stunning beaches, Cartagena de Indias is absolutely worth visiting.

 

It consistently ranks as one of the most popular destinations in the country, for both holiday-makers and backpackers alike, as it offers loads to cover all budgets.

 

Cartagena is high on my recommendations as a place worth visiting for these reasons:

 

 

  • It’s colourful. When you think of Colombia, you think of vibrant colours and Cartagena is positively saturated. Everywhere you look, from the bunting-festooned streets to the painted colonial buildings, even to the fruit stalls on every street corner, this place satisfies that Colombian colour fix

 

  • It’s hot! If you’ve made your way here from Bogota, you’ll be able to swap your jeans and jacket for shorts and flip-flops. Slow that walking pace down and get into vacay mode: you’re in the Caribbean baby!

 

  • It’s naturally beautiful. Beyond its historic and architectural significance, Cartagena is also a gateway to stunning natural attractions including coral reefs, mangroves, and tropical forests.
Is Cartagena Worth Visiting (Hero)

10 Great Reasons To Visit Cartagena

1. Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The historic centre, known as ‘The Walled City’ (Ciudad Amurallada), was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

 

This area is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture including churches, palaces, and plazas.

 

I suggest wandering around the gorgeous streets taking pictures, stopping for lunch and buying a fresh juice (jugo fresco) from a street vendor to enjoy as you lap-up the sites and sounds of the walled city.

 

This guided tour for $12 is the best way to see city.

2. Taste the city’s history

Cartagena’s cuisine reflects its cultural diversity and history, with dishes that combine the flavours of the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and Colombia.

 

I had some of the best tapas I’ve ever had at Pata Negra.

 

It was fancy by Colombian standards but incredibly affordable by the UK’s.

 

Meanwhile if experimental cocktails and small plates are your thing, you must visit Alquímico for a slightly boujier night to remember.

 

Or if you want to experience the history and culture of food in Colombia, join this guided food tour.

 

This highly rated tour will take you around the city to taste 9 typical Cartagena street foods.

Lucy from 'Shall We Go Home Travel' in Cartagena

3. Explore the fortifications

Due to its colonial history and its important strategic location, the city was fortified by its Spanish colonists in the 16th century.

 

Much of those fortifications remain, with the most impressive being the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, considered to be the greatest fortress ever built by the Spanish.

 

Much of it can be walked along so have a wander and enjoy the view from above!

 

Head to Cafe Del Mar to have a cocktail and watch the sunset from the walls.

 

Another great place to explore is The Convent of La Popa.

 

It’s located high up on a hill behind Cartagena and used to be a Franciscan monastery. From there, you can see amazing views of the city and the Caribbean Sea.

 

This guided tour will take you to both.

See how you can spend a month travelling through Colombia with this epic one month itinerary:

 

 

Cartagena Rooftops (Colombia)

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4. Take a day trip to El Totumo (mud volcano) and the nearby mangroves

Cartagena is a gateway to a wealth of biodiversity and natural beauty on the Caribbean coast.

 

I highly recommend taking a day to visit the mangroves and mud volcano! There are lots of tour booking options online but I booked my day trip with a local tour operator based in the city.

 

There are many vendors to choose from but don’t pay more than about $40 (£30) for the combined trip and lunch on the beach.

 

The trip involves a guided tour through the mangroves via canoe, on which you learn about the local wildlife and people that call it home, as well as a fun experience inside the mud volcano that can only be described as how I imagine it feels to be suspended in custard!

 

Word of warning: don’t let the ladies wash you off in the river afterwards as they charge you for the pleasure…!

5. Have a beach day at Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is one of the most beautiful beaches near Cartagena, located on the island of Barú.

 

Its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear Caribbean waters make it a perfect spot for a day trip.

How To Get To Playa Blanca From Cartagena

There are a few options of how to get there:

 

 

  • Bus then motorcycle taxi: You can get a bus to Pasacaballos which leaves from the statue of the India Catalina in the centre of Cartagena. Once there, hop on a motorcycle taxi that will take you directly to Playa Blanca for about COP$10.000.

 

  • Taxi from Cartagena then motorcycle taxi: This is a good option if you’re able to split the cost with a group it will cost about COP$100.000 to Pasacaballos and take a motorcycle taxi to Playa Blanca.Top tip: Coordinate your return trip back to Cartagena with the drivers that brought you in.

 

  • By sea: You can get a boat directly from Cartagena to Baru. Check local tour operators for the best price.
Playa Blanca, Cartagena (Colombia)

6. Spend an evening in the clock tower square with a beer (Monumento Torre del Reloj)

I spent a wonderful evening here with friends enjoying a beer and absorbing the infectious atmosphere.

 

With street food vendors, street performers and music spilling out from the nearby bars and clubs, it’s a great place to enjoy an evening before choosing which bar you’re going to head to for some salsa dancing!

7. Get to know the Spanish Inquisition at Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of the Inquisition)

  • Open seven days a week
  • 24,000 COP entry.
  • Website

Housed in a colonial mansion, this fascinating museum tells the darker side of Cartagena’s history.

 

This was where the Spanish Inquisition once prosecuted and punished those accused of heresy.

 

It’s a good way to spend an hour or so, especially if you’re interested in the colonial history of South America!

Cartagena Clock Tower (Colombia)

8. Go snorkelling In the Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

This beautiful archipelago located about an hour from Cartagena by boat is well-known for its clear waters, coral reefs, and diverse marine life.

 

It’s a popular spot for snorkelling, scuba diving, or just relaxing on pristine beaches so pack your fins if that’s your thing and make some bubbles under the sea!

 

This catamaran tour is under $100 and includes snacks, lunch and your entrance to the national park.

Rosario Islands, Cartagena

9. Stay At Casa En El Agua / San Bernardino Islands

Casa en el Agua is only accessible by boat and the two-hour trip from Cartagena is well worth it.

 

Not many people can say they have stayed at a hostel in the middle of the Caribbean sea before.

 

The hostel is built on a concrete foundation under the water which has since grown a collection of coral and attracted some colourful sea life.

 

You can find guests swimming and snorkelling around the hostel during the day looking at all the fish.

 

They also organise tours to the beaches close by such as trips to Tintipan or Mucura beach, or snorkel tours to one of the nine surrounding islands.

Casa En El Agua has also made it onto our best hostels list for the whole of South America for its uniqueness. For more on our favourite hostels in South America, check out the post below:

 

 

Casa En El Agua - Colombia
Casa en el Agua - one of the best south american hostels for partying!

10. Party the night away at one of the Many rooftop bars

Cartagena is a great party city and has some of the best bars and clubs in Colombia.

 

For those who love a leisurely day out with drinks in hand, we’ve got the perfect recommendation: Townhouse’s Boozy Brunch.

 

Available on Saturdays and Sundays, this delightful affair offers bottomless food and drinks from 11 am to 3 pm, all for just $30 USD per person.

 

It’s the ultimate weekend treat for those looking to indulge in a relaxed atmosphere and endless delights.

 

If you prefer a night out, start at one of the many rooftop bars.

 

As mentioned,  Alquímico is a great option and was Awarded number 9 in The World’s 50 Best Bars ranking for 2023.

 

For clubs, try Barazuto Social Club for easy entrance but a great party, or Cafe Havana for a more upscale night out.

Cartagena Sunset From Cafe Del Mar (Colombia)

Why Should You Skip Cartagena?

Here are a couple of reasons why you may want to skip Cartagena:

 

 

  • The heat – Cartagena is one of the hottest cities in Colombia and regularly sits at around 30° throughout most of the year. This is a hot city and doing too much stuff in the day eventually becomes difficult. Just make sure you’ve booked a place with air-con or a pool as it’s affectionately known as ‘Sweatagena’ between my brother and me!

 

  • Touristy – compared to other places in Colombia, Cartagena feels very touristy with lots of street vendors pestering you on the street and doormen trying to get you into their restaurants and bars.

 

  • Lack of beach – even though you’re on the Caribbean coast, you don’t have direct access to a nice beach. If you want to be waking up to the waves and walking on pristine white sands first thing in the morning, spend more time in Santa Marta and Palomino.

How To Get To Cartagena

How To Get To Cartagena From Santa Marta?

The best way to get to Cartagena From Santa Marta is to take the bus.

 

 

Buses take around 4h 30m and start at $12. 

How To Get To Cartagena From Bogota / Medellin

The best way to get to Cartagena from Bogota or Medellin is to fly.

 

  • From Bogota it takes 1h 30m.
  • From Medellin it takes 1h 10m.

Taking a bus is cheaper but these are long journeys (12 hours or more) on windy mountain roads.

 

Internal flights are cheap in Colombia and start at around $50. 

How Many Days Do You Need In Cartagena

Here are my personal recommendations for how many days you need in Cartagena:

 

  • 3 days in CartagenaFor a little more of a whistle-stop tour of the city, in three days you can definitely pack-in all the main sights and experiences without feeling like you’ve missed out.

 

  • 5 days In Cartagena – Five days will give you more time to explore the city and the surrounding areas as the option of taking a couple of day-trips outside of the city opens-up with the extra time.

 

  • 7 days in Cartagena – Seven days will make you feel like a local in Cartagena, with walking tours, salsa lessons, day-trips, cooking lessons and beach days all in the mixer!

 

Keep reading for more Cartagena flavour and plan your trip with us today.

Cartagena (Colombia)

When Is The Best Time To Visit Cartagena?

When it comes to planning your trip to Cartagena, there are two times of the year to aim for.

 

January to February and July to August are two of the best months to enjoy the best weather.

 

With sunny days and comfortable temperatures, these months offer ideal conditions for exploring Colombia’s diverse landscapes and captivating cities.

 

However, just remember, Cartagena stays hot all year round due to it’s Caribbean location. 

 

Additionally, the shoulder seasons of March and September can also provide favorable conditions, blending warm weather with fewer crowds, ideal for backpackers looking for the best deals on tours and acommodation.

 

I would avoid rainy season (April-June and October-December) as much as possible as the coast receives a lot of rain.

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