Cartagena, Colombia, a city where history whispers from ancient walls and the Caribbean Sea sparkles under the sun, offers an array of unforgettable things to do. This coastal gem is a vibrant tapestry of cultures, flavors, and landscapes, making it a top destination for travelers seeking a blend of adventure, relaxation, and historical exploration. Among the many things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, visitors can meander through the cobblestone streets of the Walled City, bask on sun-kissed beaches, and indulge in the local culinary delights.
Cartagena is not just about the places you visit; it’s about the experiences that linger long after you leave. From its colonial architecture to its lively plazas and beyond, the city offers countless things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, that cater to every interest and passion. Whether you’re drawn by the allure of its historic sites, the tranquility of its beaches, or the vibrancy of its culture, Cartagena promises a plethora of things to do that will make your trip unforgettable. As we delve into the top things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, let’s embark on a journey through this enchanting city, where every corner holds a story, and every sunset promises a new adventure.
1. Explore the Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada)
The Walled City of Cartagena, or Ciudad Amurallada, is the heart and soul of the city. Encircled by thick fortifications built to protect it from pirates and invaders, this area is a living museum, resonating with the legacy of the Spanish colonial era. As you wander through its narrow streets, you’re greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors, from the pastel hues of its buildings to the vibrant shades of flowers draping over balconies. Plaza de Bolívar, with its shady trees and tranquil atmosphere, offers a perfect starting point. From there, explore landmarks such as the Cathedral of Cartagena, with its impressive dome and rich history, and the Palacio de la Inquisición, where the echoes of the past tell tales of intrigue and survival. The charm of the Walled City lies not just in its monuments but in the lively cafés, boutique shops, and art galleries that dot its streets, offering a glimpse into the city’s modern-day vibrancy and artistic spirit.
2. Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Standing guard over the city, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is a monumental fortress that represents the pinnacle of military engineering during the colonial period. This massive structure was built and expanded upon from 1536 to 1657 to defend Cartagena from pirate attacks and foreign invasions. As you ascend the fortress’s ramparts, the strategic genius behind its design becomes apparent. Its complex network of tunnels, designed to carry sound for communication and to surprise attackers, is a marvel of military architecture. The top of the castle offers breathtaking views of Cartagena, showcasing the contrast between the historic city and its modern surroundings. The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is not only a testament to the city’s turbulent past but also a symbol of the resilience and strength of its people.
3. Relax at Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca, located on the idyllic Barú Island, is a slice of paradise just a short boat ride away from the hustle and bustle of Cartagena. Famous for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and powdery white sands, Playa Blanca offers a serene escape where visitors can unwind and soak up the Caribbean sun. Despite its popularity, it’s possible to find quieter spots along the beach, especially if you’re willing to explore a little. Local vendors offer delicious seafood, fresh coconut water, and tropical fruits, adding to the beach’s laid-back vibe. For those seeking adventure, water sports like snorkeling reveal the vibrant marine life that thrives beneath the waves. As the sun sets, the beach transforms, with the sky painting a canvas of oranges, pinks, and purples over the tranquil sea—a perfect end to a relaxing day at Playa Blanca.
4. Walk through Getsemaní
Once overlooked, the Getsemaní neighborhood has emerged as a pulsating heart of Cartagena’s cultural scene. This area, with its rich history of resilience and rebirth, showcases the city’s spirit through its graffiti-laden walls, which tell stories of liberation and identity. Walking through Getsemaní is like traversing a live gallery, where every turn reveals a new mural, each more vibrant than the last. Calle de la Sierpe is particularly noteworthy for its stunning street art. By day, the area buzzes with local artisans selling their crafts and cafes serving strong Colombian coffee. By night, the squares, especially Plaza Trinidad, come alive with music, impromptu dance performances, and the infectious energy of both locals and travelers enjoying the cool evening air. Getsemaní is more than just a neighborhood; it’s a celebration of community, art, and the indomitable Cartagenero spirit.
5. Discover the Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands, a dazzling archipelago of 27 islands, are a sanctuary of biodiversity and beauty just off the coast of Cartagena. Declared a national park to protect its coral reefs, mangroves, and clear waters, the islands offer an oasis of tranquility and an ideal escape from the city. Isla Grande is one of the most accessible islands, where visitors can snorkel in the coral-rich waters, kayak through quiet mangroves, or simply relax on sun-drenched beaches. The islands also offer eco-friendly accommodations for those wishing to extend their stay amidst nature. A visit to the Oceanario on Isla San Martín de Pajarales provides insight into the conservation efforts to preserve the marine life of the Caribbean. The Rosario Islands are not just a destination but a mesmerizing experience that reconnects you with the natural world in all its splendor.
6. Experience the Nightlife in Cartagena
Cartagena’s nightlife is as diverse and vibrant as the city itself. From sultry salsa beats to modern reggaeton, the city offers a rhythm for every soul. The historic center, with its colonial backdrop, provides an atmospheric setting for a night out, where elegantly restored buildings house trendy bars and clubs. Café Havana in Getsemaní is an institution, known for its live salsa bands that compel everyone to the dance floor. For a more laid-back evening, head to one of the city’s rooftop bars, such as Alquímico, where artisanal cocktails and stunning views of the illuminated cityscape create a magical ambiance. The nightlife in Cartagena is a testament to the joyous spirit of its people, who embrace life with open arms and music in their hearts.
7. Enjoy Local Cuisine
The culinary landscape of Cartagena is a delightful fusion of African, Spanish, and Indigenous flavors, reflecting the city’s diverse cultural heritage. Local cuisine is a celebration of the sea and the earth, with fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and aromatic spices taking center stage. A must-try dish is the coastal classic ceviche, which marries the ocean’s bounty with the tang of lime and the heat of chili. Arepas de huevo, a fried cornmeal cake filled with egg, offers a taste of local street food at its best. For a more upscale dining experience, restaurants like Carmen and La Vitrola serve innovative takes on traditional dishes, showcasing the richness of Colombian cuisine. Exploring Cartagena’s food scene is not just about tasting; it’s about experiencing the city’s history, culture, and soul through its most flavorful expressions.
8. Visit the Palace of the Inquisition (Palacio de la Inquisición)
The Palace of the Inquisition stands as a chilling yet fascinating monument to a bygone era of Cartagena’s history. This baroque building, with its elegant facade, belies the dark tales that unfolded within its walls. It was here where the tribunal of the Holy Office judged and sentenced those accused of heresy and witchcraft during the colonial period. Today, it serves as a museum, showcasing not only the instruments of torture that were used to extract confessions but also providing a comprehensive look into the social and cultural dynamics of the time. Exhibits include historical documents, period furniture, and artifacts that tell the story of Cartagena’s past. A visit to the Palace of the Inquisition is a sobering reminder of the human capacity for both cruelty and resilience.
9. Shop at Las Bóvedas
Nestled within the city’s historic walls, Las Bóvedas once served as dungeons and military barracks but today is home to a lively market. This series of vaults has been transformed into boutiques and artisanal shops, offering visitors a unique shopping experience. Here, you can find a wide array of Colombian handicrafts, including vibrant textiles, hand-painted ceramics, and intricate jewelry. Each shop is a treasure trove of local artistry, providing a glimpse into the region’s cultural richness. Shopping at Las Bóvedas is not just about acquiring souvenirs; it’s an opportunity to connect with Cartagena’s artistic heritage and support local artisans.
10. Take a Mud Bath at Volcán del Totumo
For those seeking an adventure off the beaten path, a visit to Volcán del Totumo offers a unique and memorable experience. This small mud volcano, located about an hour’s drive from Cartagena, is renowned for its therapeutic mud bath. Visitors can climb into the crater and immerse themselves in the warm, mineral-rich mud, believed to have healing properties for the skin and body. After a leisurely soak, a dip in the nearby lagoon provides a refreshing rinse. The experience is not only beneficial for your health but also offers a chance to connect with local traditions and the natural beauty of the Colombian countryside.
Cartagena, Colombia, encapsulates the essence of discovery, offering a tapestry of experiences that weave together the historical, natural, and cultural. The “things to do in Cartagena, Colombia” are not just activities but gateways to understanding the vibrant heart and soul of this historic city. From the architectural marvels within the Walled City to the tranquil waters of the Rosario Islands, each experience is a chapter in the larger story of Cartagena. The variety of “things to do in Cartagena, Colombia” caters to every kind of traveler, whether you’re drawn to the thrill of adventure, the pursuit of relaxation, or the joy of culinary exploration. As you plan your journey, remember that the “things to do in Cartagena, Colombia” are more than just a checklist; they’re opportunities to connect with the spirit of a place where every corner holds a new discovery. Embark on your adventure to Cartagena with an open heart, and let the city reveal its wonders to you, creating memories that will last a lifetime.