An integral part of any trip to Colombia is the historic Walled Town of Cartagena. Built by the Spanish in the 16th century, the giant walls stand almost 20 metres high and wrap around the town stretching over 11-kilometres. Visitors are invited to get lost in a trance of enchanting colonial streets and alfresco cafes, not to mention a lively bar collection that entertains the dark and ambient night hours.
Visit paradise that is Playa Blanca
Delivering all the brilliance expected of a Caribbean beach, Playa Blanca is an essential visit on a trip to Colombia, and a reason on its own to visit Cartagena. Located on a resort island a little offshore, this pristine destination makes a perfect day trip or overnight escape. Apart from idyllic blue bays and stark white sands, you can expect to be sipping cocktails out of a pineapple complete with a tiny paper umbrella; the quintessential Caribbean holiday experience.
Party on a chiva
Jump aboard a local chiva for the ultimate sightseeing tour of Cartagena. These rustic, brightly coloured buses traverse the mountainous areas of Colombia and Ecuador, and are usually heavily modified to sit extra passengers; perhaps even a few riding atop aided up by a side ladder. Many of the busses now offer party tours around rural and urban areas, featuring flashing lights, loud music and rowdy revellers spilling out the sides.
Hang out with the locals at the beach in La Boquilla
Another shining example of Caribbean Sea, La Boquilla is something of an isthmus between Ciénaga De Tesca and the coastline. Though this beach doesn’t have the postcard good lucks you might find on the islands offshore like Islas de Rosarios, it compensates considerably with local charm and an rural atmosphere, juxtaposed against gated buildings frequented by wealthy Colombian holidaymakers. Stop at a seafood restaurant and watch local fisherman busily getting to work; it’s in this humble hood that you may feel closest to the city’s heart.
Dance your socks off
Colombians have become renowned for their incredible dance moves, and not surprisingly the town of Cartagena knows how to host a party for movers and shakers. You could take the 45-minute boat ride to Cholon for your partying, but there are plenty of nightclubs to be found on the mainland. Expect dark and energetic bars spilling with travellers and locals. The test of your talents will be keeping up with the speed and vigour of the local hip-shaking.
Things to do in Cartagena
International Film Festival of Cartagena
An important part of the Cartagena festival calendar since 1959, the International Film Festival of Cartagena honours spectacular short and feature films from across Latin America. Over the years it has acquired great prestige in the industry, now the oldest film event in the region and one that draws many visitors to Cartagena.
Hay Festival Cartagena
Inviting attendees to imagine the world both as it is and how it could be, Hays Festival ignites the imaginations of readers and writers. Also held in The UK, Denmark, Mexico, Peru, Mexico and Spain, it is a respected event fueled by the exchange of ideas.
The streets and squares of Cartagena evolve into a banquet of treats each Easter in a Sweets Festival designed to preserve tradition and community spirit. Expect homemade chocolates, biscuits and dried fruit, all served with plenty of Colombian warmth and hospitality.
Feast of our lady of Candelaria
Every year in January the city of Cartagena puts on its best dress and honours its devout faith to Catholicism. Expect to see the traditional Colombian dance of cumbias, indulge in plenty of local cuisine, and enjoy the spirited streets with many locals - this is not just for those with a deep religious connection.
Drive a couple of hours along the coastline in early March and you may land amidst the vibrant parades, music and mayhem of Barranquilla Carnival. For four days the city’s normal activities all but cease, as the streets transform into a lively event that draws a crowd of thousands from all over the world.
Top 5 Festivals in Cartagena
Despite being a deeply religious country, the festival calendar of Cartagena spans various topics, honouring sweet foods on one special day and inspiring readers and writers to spark their imaginations a little further down the track. The International Film Festival and Barranquilla Carnival are also worth a visit…in fact, you may just want to spend a full calendar year in this city.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
A fortress castle located on San Lázaro hill, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a must Cartagena attractions. Its construction dates back to 1536, built by the Spanish during Colonial times to protect from those approaching by sea. These days it is still used by the government for special cultural and social events, and stands well preserved for visitors to admire.
Museo del Oro Zenú
Important artifacts in gold, silver and ceramic speak of times dating back to the pre-Columbian era. From oversized pots to ceremonial jewellery, spend an hour marvelling at the relics housed in this creamy building for a great free escape from the sun in Plaza de Bolívar.
Palace of Inquisition
Taking over 150 years to construct, the charming two-storey Palace of Inquisition has a dark history, with almost 1000 people publicly executed here for crimes like black magic. Just don’t expect any of the torture equipment that was once found here to be on exhibit; it was removed for a visit from Pope Francis in 2015 and never returned.
Museo Naval Del Caribe
With a bid to share the maritime history of Columbia and the Caribbean, the Museo Naval Del Caribe is a fascinating naval museum. Here you can see reconstructed boats and learn of the country’s past and politics, but the highlight of the visit may be admire the charming colonial building the collection is housed in.
A combination of exposed brick and stark white walls make the contemporary artwork collection of Arte Moderno present to perfection. With a focus on Latin American painters from the mid 1900s, this space is a refreshing and inspiring look at the aesthetics of modern Colombia.
Top 5 Museums in Cartagena
Escape the heat and peel yourself off the beach - a trip to Cartagena requires a few lessons in culture and history. From a 1500s fortress castle to pre-Columbian gold and ceremonial jewellery at Museo del Oro Zenú, this museum collection is reason enough to skip a few nights of partying.
If it’s a hearty meal you are looking for in Cartagena, look no further than a Bandeja Paisa. A platter of food featuring the likes of red beans, rice, chorizo, egg, plantain, and avocado, this dish will keep you satisfied for hours.
Best eaten at Rancho Paisa, 63 St 1, Cartagena, Colombia
Colombians tend to do breakfast like a king, evidenced perfectly by the typical morning dish of tamales. The dish varies considerably across the country, but usually consists of a rice or corn dough with various meats, vegetables, eggs and chickpeas, all wrapped up in plantain leaf and steamed until well-cooked.
Best eaten at La Comunion, Calle Las Bovedas Number 39 -116, Centro Histórico, Cartagena, Colombia
Rare native fruits
The diverse climate of Colombia makes it home to numerous exotic fruits, many of which are native and rarely found anywhere else. Try the prickly green soursop of guanábana, the sweet and sour tomato looking fruit of lulo, and the obscure looking yellow and green papayuela.
Best eaten at Paloquemao, Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao
Coriander, parsley, and plenty of fresh lime juice are all used to season the raw prawns commonly used for Colombian ceviche. It’s best sampled in coastal towns making Cartagena a perfect candidate. You’ll find no shortage of ceviche dishes and variations in the Plaza de la Trinidad.
Best eaten at Plaza de la Trinidad, Cartagena, Colombia
A simple fried dough dish made of cornmeal ‘masarepa,’ Arepas is a culinary staple in both Colombia and Venezuela. It’s commonly consumed at any meal of the day thanks to it diversity, but the most loved version comes stuffed with melted queso (cheese).
Best eaten at Plaza San Diego, Cartagena, Colombia
Food in Cartagena
Rise early and dive into breakfast set for a king, with tamales of rice with various meats, vegetables, eggs and chickpeas, wrapped and steamed in plantain leaf. Later you’ll be enjoying lime soaked ceviche by the beach, with an afternoon snack of exotic fruits to round things off.