Brunette woman in a dark blue dress with colorful flowers and a hat on is walking down the street in Cartagena surrounded by colorful buildings

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10 Fantastic Things to Do in Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena is everything I imagined it to be… and more. It’s vibrant and colorful. Lively energy fills the streets. The food is delectable. It’s exponentially hotter than I anticipated, despite being warned countless times about the humidity, prior to visiting. A glance around your surroundings will delight your eyes with charming architecture and flower laden balconies at every turn. You’ll want to discover the city in your own way, but, let’s also talk about 10 fantastic things to do in Cartagena Colombia that shouldn’t be missed.

one of the best things to do in Cartagena Colombia is to stroll the walled city at night
We’d pass this adorable bakery every night on our way back to our hotel

1. Take a Guided Tour of the City

Cartagena is really a city that you should hire a guide to help you see. If you venture into the Walled City, you can join free walking tours! If you join a free walking tour, just make sure to tip your Guide. But, keep in mind, Cartagena is very hot and humid year ’round. Like, seriously, ridiculously hot and humid. Because of this, we ended up hiring a guide we met in the main plaza of the Old Walled City.

sculpture of a voluptuous woman in the city center of the walled city surrounded by colorful buildings
Famous Fernando Botero sculpture in the Walled City of Cartagena

We booked him for a private tour that included an air conditioned van to tote us around from neighborhood to neighborhood. This was my first time hiring a Guide this way. Alfonso, a native Colombian whom had lived in New York City for many years spoke impeccable English. If you see Alfonso in one of the main plazas in the Walled City (he should have a lanyard on with his name and ID Guide number), I highly recommend him. A great host whom we learned a lot from!

You can always book a guided tour here.

Tip: if you do hire a guide within the plaza of the Walled City, please know they will expect payment in cash (Colombian Pesos or USD) and it does not include entrance fees.

2. Enjoy Seafood in the Manga or Boca Grande Neighborhood

If you love dining on the water or simply enjoy the view of yachts upon yachts, head over to Manga or Boca Grande for a meal. It’s a nice change of scenery from the Old Walled City and you can also take a stroll by the ocean.

brunette woman in a pink floral dress with a hat on standing on a waterfront deck with the skyline off in the difference
Restaurante Fuerte de San Sebastián del Pastelillo – Club de Pesca in Manga

Tip: The restaurant pictured above, Restaurante Fuerte de San Sebastián del Pastelillo, comes highly recommended by locals. It’s seafood-centric Caribbean cuisine, with, of course, a gorgeous waterfront view in the Manga neighborhood.

3. Dine at Mistura Restaurant

Of all the things to do in Cartagena Colombia, top of your list should be to enjoy the delicious cuisine. Yes, you’ll likely be elated to know that Cartagena is a foodie’s delight. Furthermore, if there is one restaurant you shouldn’t miss, is Mistura in the Old Walled City.

two red cocktails on the bar at Mistura Restaurant, one of the best things to do in Cartagena Colombia
Corozo is a native fruit to Colombia – these are Corozo cocktails the bartender whipped up

Let me tell you… Mistura is always packed. In fact, on really busy nights and weekends, there isn’t even a single seat at the bar to wait. We walked in on a bustling night, just like any other, but, we were willing to wait. The bartender whipped up some scrumptious cocktails in the meantime. The restaurant is happening, live music and all, but unpretentious. Lively but not rowdy. Most of all, the food and service hits the mark.

Tip: If you can, I highly recommend making a reservation in advance. Also, try a Corozo drink (a native fruit to Colombia), whether it’s here or elsewhere!

4. Stay in the Walled City

This is where we based ourselves during our stay in Cartagena. I loved staying in the Walled city. While many perceive it to be ultra touristy, I found it to be lively and charming. There are many attractive accommodations to choose from within the Walled City as well. Another benefit of staying in this area is that it is safe to meander the streets within the walled city day or night. A brisk walk away is lots of attractions, bars, restaurants and more. Even if you don’t stay within the Walled City your entire visit, I’d recommend at least a night or two!

Aerial view of Hotel Celestinos pool area, bordered by palm trees and green plants
Balcony view of Hotel Celestino’s pool. This is where we stayed, but its currently closed for renovation

Tip: I recommend booking your accommodation with Booking.com. It’s what I use to book the majority of stays for my trips. It’s great for finding the unique, locally owned and operated ones! Use the search box below to view options for your dates.

 

5. Take a Salsa Dancing Class

Do your feet and hips just naturally start moving the minute a catchy beat comes on? Are you swept away by the rhythm of music when it surrounds you? Dancing and music are central to Colombian culture. In fact, Colombians love to dance. And if you do too (notwithstanding whether or not you are any good), one of the super fun things to do in Cartagena Colombia is to take a salsa or dancing class.

While I didn’t get to take one while I was last in town, I have vowed that this is something I have to do when I return. There is a really popular class that is held on a rooftop in the Getsemani neighborhood. For three hours, you’ll be taught how to salsa, merengue and bachata with the best of them. You’ll also be served adult beverages, which will likely only make your dancing better! Book this experience, here.

6. Visit Getsemani & Learn About the Palenqueras

Getsemani is what is now considered the ‘hipster’ part of town. We explored the area on foot alongside our Guide, Alfonso. As we traversed the narrow alleyways, I felt the strong Bohemian vibe of this artsy area.

Like other places I’ve visited in Latin America, there are vivid umbrellas strewn above you across the buildings. Brightly colored murals can be seen at every turn. If you’re interested in purchasing any artwork, this is a great place to do so.

As you walk around Getsemani, you’ll likely notice women walking around in vividly colored dresses clad in red, blue, yellow and some with green. You’ll likely see them carrying bowls filled with produce on their head. These are the women of San Basilio de Palenque. San Basilio de Palenque is about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena, it’s a settlement that was founded by Palenqueras ancestors whom escaped slavery.

Tip: You can book a private tour that will take you to San Basilio de Palenque, here. The cost is about the same as several of the group tour tickets you will find. Otherwise, here is a really popular group tour.

7. Stroll Portal de Los Dulces

Do you have a sweet tooth? If you have a penchant for sugary treats, you might be super excited (or worried) to discover Portal de Los Dulces. Literally translating to, “sweets portal,” you can find this area dedicated to all things candied inside the Walled City. In any case, this is a great chance to learn about Colombian candies and what some of the local and regional treats are. You know… for research purposes…

Strolling Portal de Los Dulces early in the morning

8. View the Entire City from the Top of Convento de la Popa de la Galera

If you like historical structures or visiting churches when you travel, you’ll surely appreciate this 17th century convent perched on a hilltop. Even if you don’t, the convent is sitting on the highest point in Cartagena. So if nothing else, you’ll get a spectacular panorama view of the city.

9. Take a Colombian Cooking Class

I would classify this as one of the absolute best things to do in Cartagena Colombia. Exploring the local cuisine is an immersive way to connect with a culture. What better way to do that than to cook the food yourself? Cooking classes are such a great investment when you travel. It not only helps us learn more about where we are, but we leave with useful new skills (and full stomachs!)

You can read all about the cooking class I took, here.

10. Visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena

a cocktail sitting on rocks next to white sand and crystal clear waters
Enjoy a refreshing beverage by crystal clear waters

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to have a whole tropical island to yourself without breaking the bank, meet… the Rosario Islands. Of course, this is a popular option for a day trip from Cartagena. However, I recommend planning to stay a couple nights on the island for the full experience!

Find out everything you need to know about visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena

Honorable Mentions

Emerald Shopping

Did you know that Cartagena is the heart of Colombia’s emerald trade and has been for hundreds of years? Colombia is the world’s largest emerald exporter, producing some of the most beautiful and desirable emeralds that can be found the world over. I did take home a modest emerald pendant that I spent forever picking out for my Mom as a surprise.

If you love emeralds or you’ve ever been interested in purchasing one to set in a ring, necklace or two for a pair of earrings, Cartagena is the place to do so.

Tip: I purchased my emerald at Casa La Esmeralda Joyas in the Walled City of Cartagena and was very pleased. It is a mother- son run, family operation. They are so great to work with and I’m happy to support them.

La Cevicheria

Listen. Everywhere you turn, every other thing you read or watch or listen to is going to talk about La Cevicheria. It’s one of those places that has become an institution. Their claim to fame is that the late, great Anthony Bourdain loved the place, and thus, foodies started flocking there in droves. Universally, people seem to rave about the place.

The famous Ceviche at La Cevicheria

Sadly, I don’t think it lived up to the hype. While I’m glad I checked it out for myself, I found it to be overrated and overpriced with lackluster service at best. The inside seating is tiny, so it’s best to eat at the outside tables. It’s nice to sit in the fresh air and in the evening their are awesome musical street performers. However, this comes at the cost of being barraged with people attempting to sell you things literally every few minutes while you’re trying to eat.

The ceviche is supposed to be the main event, while it was good, I didn’t think it was any better than ceviche I had anywhere else for a fraction of the cost. We ordered seafood Paella that was quite delicious, but again, cost a pretty penny. All in all, it wasn’t my favorite experience, but you may just have to try it for yourself.

Have any questions about visiting Cartagena? Drop them in the comments below!

Headed to Colombia?

Check out these related posts:

Want a Memorable Experience? Tantalizing Cooking Classes in Cartagena

Why you NEED to visit the Rosario Islands from Cartagena

Everything you Should Know About Hotel San Pedro de Majagua

Hotel Celestino Medellín – a Unique Boutique Stay in the Heart of the City

El Cielo Restaurante – a Remarkable Culinary Gem in Medellín

Coffee Farm Tour in Colombia – a Special Experience

Travel Tips & Resources to Help You Plan an Epic Trip!

Going – I have been subscribed to Going (formerly, beloved, Scott’s Cheap Flights) awhile now and it’s an amazing resource for finding… did you guess cheap flights? Yes, you can set your preferences from airports to flight class and get destination deals right to your inbox. It’s fab! I use the Premium paid version, but they have a FREE version too. So what are you waiting for?! Let’s get Going!

Booking.com – the majority, if not almost all of my stays are booked on Booking.com. It’s a reliable site to book and manage your reservations. It’s a great way to find boutique stays and unique accommodations at the best rates! You can also easily communicate with your accommodation through the app!

Expedia – If I am looking for a flight to a specific destination for specific dates, I find myself booking the majority of my flights on Expedia. It’s user friendly and straight forward. I often can find the most cost effective rates, while earning points for every flight I book (in tandem with the points I receive from the credit cards I pay with).

Viator – most of the activities, tours and excursions I book for my trips are booked through Viator. Whether you’re seeking a guide for the day, a group tour, a cooking class, Viator has you covered!

Get Your Guide – this is another great marketplace to find tours, excursions and activities to book for your upcoming trip.

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