Situated along the Caribbean coastline, Cartagena is a lively town and one of the top places to visit in Colombia.
Cartagena’s colorful colonial downtown mixed with warm, tropical weather makes it a much-desired vacation spot for local and international tourists alike.
Although Cartagena is quite small compared to its bigger sister cities like Bogota and Medellin, Cartagena is packed with amazing cultural experiences and endless things to see and do.
Whether you are traveling to Cartagena to enjoy a few relaxing days on the beach, stroll around its cute colonial downtown, or dive into the fun nightlife, there is so much to love about this city!
Here are the 15 best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia!
Table Of Contents:
- 15 Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia:
- 1. Roam Around The Walled City
- 2. Mud Bath At Totumo Volcano
- 3. Monumento Torre Del Reloj
- 4. Hop On a Boat To Isla Barú
- 5. Explore Getsemani Neighbourhood
- 6. Try Colombian Coffee
- 7. Plaza De La Aduana
- 8. Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría
- 9. Experience Street Art
- 10. Castillo San Felipe De Barajas
- 11. Indulge In Delicious Food And Drinks
- 12. Iglesia De San Pedro Claver
- 13. Iglesia De Santo Domingo
- 14. Museo Del Oro Zenu
- 15. Explore Manga Neighbourhood
15 Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia:
1. Roam Around The Walled City
Walking around is one of my favorite ways to explore a new city and soak in the environment.
Cartagena’s Old Town, also known as the Walled City, is the best place to experience the essence of Cartagena’s history and culture on foot.
In the Old Town, you’ll see a mix of different influences around every corner. From neon-colored buildings to ruins remaining from the defense walls surrounding Cartagena, its charm is undeniable.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Spaniard explorers in search of gold, emerald, and salt. Now this port town has reached over 500 years of existence. Cartagena’s location and access to the ocean have made it a highly sought-after city for invaders since its inception.
Cartagena’s history includes countless attacks and takeovers. To defend itself from the attacks, Cartagena built giant walls around it that are referred to as ‘The Walled City’. Now the Walled City serves as the epicenter for Cartagena’s tourists and visitors.
Unlike some of the bigger cities in Colombia, I felt very safe exploring the Old Town area in Cartagena by myself. Although there are some areas east of Cartagena that I would avoid, overall safety was not a major concern for me in the Walled City.
I just loved strolling the noisy, colorful streets of the historical center in Cartagena. You’ll see guys dropping rap beats on the street, ladies dressed in colorful outfits, and street vendors yelling fruit names you’ve never heard of before, yet somehow it doesn’t feel stressful or chaotic.
Although the Walled City is small enough that you can walk it in a few hours, there is so much to explore around Cartagena!
If you’re looking to learn more about the city, book this Private City Tour of Cartagena! On this 4-hour private walking tour, you’ll visit all the most notable monuments and historic streets in Cartagena.
2. Mud Bath At Totumo Volcano
Visiting the Totumo Mud Volcano was one of my favorite things that I did in Cartagena. You really can’t experience anything like it anywhere else in the world!
El Totumo is a small, cone-shaped volcano. Instead of spewing hot lava at the top, this volcano is full of mud. The locals in the area have turned the Tutomo Volcano into a major attraction offering mud baths in the middle of it.
This volcano is unique because anyone getting into the volcanic mud can’t sink and will float on top.
Getting into the volcano is a bit tricky because the mud is so thick that it prevents you from moving around. At first, it feels very strange because you can float on top of the mud without moving a muscle.
As you make your way around the enclosed area you won’t be able to feel the bottom. While your mind is telling you that you should sink to the bottom, instead you will be suspended on top.
The Totumo mud volcano is located an hour’s drive from Cartagena. It is well worth the trip there to experience this strange phenomenon.
It’s a popular tourist destination for Cartagena’s visitors so head there early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
The entrance to the Totumo Mud Volcano costs 10,000 Columbian pesos (around $3) per person. I also paid 10,000 pesos for showers after the mud bath (very much needed!).
Want to visit El Totumo volcano but don’t have a car? Book this tour of the Mud Volcano that comes with private transportation and an experienced guide!
3. Monumento Torre Del Reloj
Monumento Torre Del Reloj, also known as the Puerta Del Reloj is the main entrance into the Old Town Cartagena. As you explore the historical area in Cartagena, this most likely will be your first stop!
The Clock Tower Monument separates the Old Town peninsula from the rest of Cartagena.
This monument is the perfect entrance point leading Cartagena’s visitors away from new high-rises into a different era full of color and history.
Situated right behind the clock tower you’ll find a lively plaza full of street vendors, food carts, musicians, and restaurants. At night this area is also used for street performances and dancing.
4. Hop On a Boat To Isla Barú
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Isla Barú is the place to be! The crystal clear blue waters, the white sand beaches, and the lush tropical backdrop of palm trees make this island a true paradise.
Isla Barú can be easily visited as a day trip from Cartagena, making it the perfect quick getaway.
If you are looking to stay a few days, Isla Barú can be enjoyed on any kind of traveler’s budget. From high-end luxury hotels, and beach cabanas, to modern hip hostels, this island has it covered.
The long stretch of Playa Blanca is filled with restaurants and bars, but make sure to bring cash – there are no ATMs here.
For the adventurous folks, you can easily rent jet skis, and kayaks, and even ride a banana. My biggest recommendation – find a lounge chair with your name on it, order a piña colada, and soak in the sun!
5. Explore Getsemani Neighbourhood
Getsemani is a charming, trendy neighborhood next to the historical center. This was my favorite area in Cartagena to go relax at a cute café after roaming around the Old Town.
From the moment I entered the Getsemani neighborhood, I could feel the streets come alive with music, dancing, and lively noise.
It felt like a scene from a movie with kids kicking a soccer ball around the main plaza, older guys sitting around playing chess, and teenagers having a hip-hop dance-off in the background.
Getsemani is also a popular neighborhood for visitors to stay at. The hotels and hostels in Getsemani overall are much cheaper than in the Old Town.
Some of the best hotels in Getsemani are:
- Hotel Boutique Casa Isabel – a top-rated boutique hotel in the Getsemani area with an onsite bar.
- Hotel Capellán de Getsemaní – a beautiful luxury hotel with a rooftop pool and a terrace.
- Selina Cartagena – the most popular hostel in Getsemani with over 2000 reviews!
Get to know this neighborhood better on this private walking tour in Cartagena of Walled City & Getsemaní.
6. Try Colombian Coffee
If you are a coffee lover (like me), you’ll be glad to know that Colombia grows and sells some of the best coffee you can possibly get!
Currently, two major coffee trends are competing in Colombia – older companies mass-producing coffee and selling it to big grocery stores and newer, smaller companies growing more flavorful coffee sold in boutique coffee shops around the world.
If you’re looking for a place to grab a cup, Ábaco Libros y Café is one of my favorite coffee shops in Cartagena that also serves as a bookstore.
Know for its eclectic decorations and unique ambiance, Abacus Books and Coffe is a cozy spot to grab a coffee, a book (or WiFi), and relax in Old Town Cartagena.
For a fun way to learn more about Colombian coffee, book this Cartagena Coffee Master Tour. On this tour, you’ll roast and grind beans yourself while learning about the coffee preparation process from local experts.
7. Plaza De La Aduana
Plaza De La Aduana (Customs Square) is one of the most beautiful city plazas I’ve ever seen. It’s a large, spacious plaza surrounded by old offices and colorful administrative buildings from colonial times.
The main attraction of the plaza is the statue of Christopher Columbus in the center of it.
8. Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría
Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, simply called the Cathedral of Cartagena, is a majestic Spanish-style church located in Cartagena’s Old Town.
With impressive architecture and a colorful tower soaring above the historical center, this cathedral is both iconic and a must-see landmark.
At night the tower is illuminated with lights that can easily be spotted from afar.
9. Experience Street Art
Street art is a huge part of Colombian culture. One of the most popular expressions of street art in Cartagena is murals.
Street murals represent the rebirth of Colombia’s culture, the transformation from being known as a place controlled by crime and drugs into a place known for art and culture.
Each mural tells its own story whether it’s a message of resistance, peace, love, or a fight against racism and mistreatment.
Along with murals, Cartagena also has several statues and tin figures scattered around Getsemani and Old Town representing Colombian people and everyday life for the locals.
Most of Colombia’s art focuses on representing its people. In a culture that has been oppressed for such a long time, the locals have learned to speak through art.
10. Castillo San Felipe De Barajas
San Felipe de Barajas Fort is an impressive castle located on a hill in Cartagena. This fortress used to serve as a lookout point for potential invaders attacking from the land and sea.
Built soon after the city of Cartagena was founded, this fortress is almost 500 years old. For 25,000 Colombian pesos (around $8) visitors can enter this fortress and roam around its system of mazes, tunnels, and bunkers.
Now, these ruins are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and are a major tourist attraction for Cartagena visitors.
11. Indulge In Delicious Food And Drinks
One of the best parts about Cartagena is the amazing food that you can find in the Getsemani and Old Town Neighborhoods!
You can easily explore the city on foot and stop at the many street carts along the way to try local dishes. The city also has a great range of restaurants serving a variety of foods outside of the local cuisine.
From cute cafes to fun bars, here are some of the best places to eat in Cartagena:
- CANCHA Cevichería – a top-rated Peruvian seafood restaurant in Cartagena. With glowing reviews on both Tripadvisor and Google, this ceviche spot is one of the best stops for a quick bite and a cocktail after a long day of exploring Old Town.
- El Arsenal: The Rum Box – the best spot for drinks. As the owner says, everything at El Arsenal comes sprinkled with love and he means it! From the moment customers enter this gastropub, they are greeted with hugs and friendly service. From incredible drinks to a welcoming atmosphere, you are guaranteed a good time at El Arsenal.
For the ultimate foodie experience, book this Street Food Tour in Cartagena that will take you to taste all the best delicacies in the city!
12. Iglesia De San Pedro Claver
Santuario de San Pedro Claver is a 16th-century church located in Old Town, Cartagena. With a beautiful façade built from stone, this historic church is grand in architecture and looks.
Iglesia De San Pedro Claver is still used for mass every day. It also offers guided tours that cover the history and inception of the church.
The plaza in front of the church is used to showcase unique sculptures. The plaza has a few tin statues of local Colombians doing everyday things like playing chess.
13. Iglesia De Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo (Church Of Santo Domingo) is the oldest church in Cartagena.
This church has a simple yet elegant exterior paired with an ornate interior. The inside of the church has a high ceiling with massive columns and arches with a huge altar at the center of it.
The picturesque interior of the Iglesia De Santo Domingo church makes it a highly popular place for weddings and religious ceremonies. It’s worth a visit while exploring Cartagena.
14. Museo Del Oro Zenu
Museo del Oro Zenú (The Gold Museum) is the perfect quick stop to take a break from Cartagena’s heat in an air-conditioned museum while marveling at a collection of intricate Colombian gold relics.
The exhibit itself is quite small and takes only 30 minutes to an hour to see the entire collection. It covers a bit of Colombia’s history and the origins of these gold relics. And the best part… it’s completely free!
15. Explore Manga Neighbourhood
While Old Town and Getsemani are the most popular areas to explore in Cartagena, the Manga neighborhood has a charming feel of its own.
Located just a 10-minute walk outside of the Walled City, Manga is a quiet neighborhood filled with beautiful Colonial and Republican-style mansions. Some of these mansions are now used as government buildings and to house the local police.
During my week-long stay in Cartagena, I rented an Airbnb in the Manga district. The prices for Airbnb rentals are much cheaper in the Manga neighborhood than in Old Town or Getsemani.
There is a beautiful shoreline path that leads from Manga into Old Town Cartagena. I really enjoyed the 10-minute walk to get to Old Town whenever I felt like exploring Cartagena on foot.
Ready for an exciting trip to Cartagena? If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out these top-rated hotels in Cartagena for the perfect vacation in this beautiful Colombian city.
Have you been to Cartagena? Let me know your favorite things to see and do in Cartagena in the comments below!
My next stop after exploring Cartagena was heading out to the El Cocuy National Park. Located in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountains, here you can spend time going on incredible hikes to see glaciers and turquoise alpine lakes.
If you’re looking for other amazing things to do in South America, be sure to check out these posts next:
- Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area In Colombia
- Visiting Termales Santa Rosa De Cabal In Colombia
- 15 Top Things To See And Do In Colombia
- 12 Best Things To Do In Baños, Ecuador
- 12 Incredible Hikes To Do In South America
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