Blake Walsh

17 Best Things to Do in Cartagena

  • Published 2021/08/18

Also known as the Cartagena de Indias, this beautiful city is the fifth largest in the whole of Colombia.

It has a population of around 1 million and is a popular tourist spot.

Cartagena was established in 1533.

Its location was quite strategic, and it played a massive role in the expansion of the Spanish empire.

Today, Cartagena is the capital of the Bolivar department.

This city was named by Spanish explorers after their own city back home – Cartagena, Spain.

By many Colombians, it is considered the most beautiful city in the whole of Colombia.

The old buildings, street ‘futbol’, exotic dishes, and the amazing locals will make you fall in love with this colonial town.

Tourism flourishes all year round, and new resorts and hotels keep popping up.

If you do decide to visit Cartagena, make sure that you have ample time.

That is important in order to have the best experience in this city.

You should check out every nook and cranny of this amazing city.

Moreover, it’s better that you explore the rest of Colombia too.

It’s not every day that you get to visit a beautiful South American country.

All you need to plan your stay at Cartagena is this list of 15 things to do while you’re there.

Visit the Old City

Old City in Cartagena

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The Old City is perhaps the most aesthetic part of Cartagena.

It is full of old colonial architecture that is just marvelous to look at.

Any informed tourist who visits Cartagena chooses to stay in the Old City as it has the most historical sights.

Moreover, the walled city also falls in the Old City region.

The walled city, also known as the La Ciudad Amurallada, has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When you visit the Old City, do check out the Plaza Aduana, Torre del Reloj, and Plaza Santo Domingo.

Moreover, make sure that you have ample time to cover the whole of Old City.

Its vibrant atmosphere with colonial architecture, artists, local vendors, and street performers is just otherworldly.

San Basilio de Palenque

Traditional fruit vendors in San Basilio de Palenque

Anamaria Mejia /

Perhaps the most culturally rich experience of a tourist visiting Cartagena is checking out the San Basilio de Palenque village.

This village was established by freed and escaped slaves, and it was one of the very first villages established by freed slaves in the whole of South America.

The colorful Palenqueras hail from this very village cum town.

The local culture of this village is extremely rich in terms of music, art, and folklore.

Popular music genres in Colombia such as champeta and Palenque were born in this very village.

You can take a local with you who can explain the complete history of this village, and how important it is to the region.

The locals are quite friendly, and walking through this village during the daytime makes for an amazing experience.

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving

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If you’re one of those adventurous types, then scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea will be right up your alley.

The experience of going deep in the waters and witnessing the beauty of marine life cannot be described in words.

It’s something that everyone should do once in their lifetime.

The coral points of the Caribbean Sea are just a marvel of nature.

Diving instructors can also take you to shipwrecks beneath the sea.

The sight of a wrecked ship in deep water can titillate your soul to its deepest core.

Apart from scuba diving, you can also go snorkeling on Rosario Islands.

Museo del Oro Zenu

Museo del Oro Zenu

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The Museo del Oro Zenu is a gold museum that features ancient jewelry, gold pieces, and pottery.

You can learn how gold jewelry was made by the indigenous Peruvian people back in the day.

All the details about how Colombian jewelry culture thrived even before the arrival of the Spanish is documented in this museum.

It’s not as big as the gold museum in Bogota.

However, it contains enough information and knowledge to satisfy a history geek.

If this sounds like something you’d love, then this museum should be at the top of your to-visit list.

La Boquilla and the Mangroves

La Boquilla and the Mangroves

Jennifer Stone /

If you really want to see the real Colombia, then you have to check out the La Boquilla village.

It is located just outside Cartagena, and the villagers here earn primarily from fishing.

It might not be neat and clean like the inner city, yet, it is an essential part of Cartagena.

Have a chat with the locals, and you’ll be surprised at the stories they’d have.

Tourists who love to explore offbeat and unorthodox destinations will love La Boquilla.

Moreover, you can hire a boat and visit the mangroves.

Make sure that you have a local guide with you who can tell you all about the wildlife there.

Santuario de San Pedro Claver

Santuario de San Pedro Claver

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These days, churches are not exactly a priority for most tourists.

However, the Santuario de San Pedro Claver is one church that you will have to visit.

This magnificent colonial building has aesthetics that can easily hypnotize you.

The artwork inside is also just as good.

It features artwork from the colonial era that is pretty popular in the city of Cartagena.

There is also a big courtyard where you can take some pictures.

It is named after St.Peter Claver who is buried here.

St.Peter Claver was the patron saint who liberated slaves from the inside when he preached.

Museo de la Esmeralda

If there’s one thing that the country of Colombia is famous for, is its emeralds.

The Museo de la Esmeralda is a museum that features some amazing emeralds.

In this museum, you’ll also find a jewelry shop.

If you fancy taking a Colombian emerald back home, then this might just be the place for you.

Apart from buying jewels, you can also learn a lot about various things related to gold and emeralds.

For instance, the museum features a lot of information about local myths and legends around emeralds and gold.

You’ll also find information on goldsmithing techniques of locals.

Vibe in the Chiva Party Bus

Chiva Party Bus

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The Chiva Party Bus might just be the most unorthodox place for any tourist to be.

It’s a decorated party bus that only sets out at night.

On this bus, you’ll find some amazing music, an open bar, and an amazing crowd.

This bus is for those who want to witness the nightlife of Cartagena.

This bus is also for those people who like to party a lot.

If one thinks about it, the Chiva Party Bus is just a club on wheels!

At times, you might also find a live band performing on the bus.

Dance your heart out on wheels as you chug some beers on this beauty of a bus.

Check out the Local Street Art

Local Street Art

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The local street art of Colombia is famous all over the world.

Street art is gaining prominence as a mainstream art form all around the globe, and it shows.

Much of this art is showing up in developing countries like Colombia.

After all, real art is born where things are not all that fine and dandy.

Struggle and suffering give soul to art.

Getsemani is an area in Cartagena that is known for its street art and street artists.

This area is a bit poverty-stricken, and you’ll find a lot of wore down buildings.

However, the amazing street art in this area will make your visit worthwhile.

Stop by at the Salsa Bars

Salsa bars of Cartagena light up when the sun goes down.

These bars are an important part of Cartagena’s nightlife.

All you need to do is gulp down a few drinks and try your hand at some salsa!

Café Havana is one salsa bar that is famous all over the country as it is said that Hillary Clinton danced here when she visited Colombia.

Another amazing salsa bar in Cartagena is Donde Fidel.

This salsa bar perhaps has the best sound system in the whole city.

Ditch the clubs and party in local style at these amazing salsa bars.

The Palace of the Inquisition

Palace of the Inquisition

Anamaria Mejia /

The Palace of the Inquisition is another amazing museum in Cartagena.

However, it is not for the faint-hearted.

This museum is about the dark history of the Spanish Inquisition.

During that time, the Spanish empire sent some men to Cartagena to torture inhabitants who were accused of ‘crimes’ like blasphemy, witchcraft, and whatnot.

This was done in order to establish Catholicism as the dominant religion in the colony.

You’ll find everything about torture methods and instruments such as the “rack” and strappado at this museum.

There’s also a courtyard here that was used in colonial times to execute prisoners.

It’s best to take a local guide with you as they can tell you stories that you’ll not find in the museum.

Convento De La Popa

Convento De La Popa

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Convento De La Popa is the highest hill in the city of Cartagena.

If you’re looking for scenic views, then Convento De La Popa is the hill you should visit first.

On the top, you’ll get an amazing view of the whole city as well as the beaches.

There’s also a convent located on this hill and it is named Popa because its shape is very similar to the poop deck of a ship.

The convent was established back in 1607, and therefore, it is a very important part of Cartagena’s history.

Chill at the Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca

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The Playa Blanca is the most popular beach in the whole of Cartagena.

It’s best that you book a hotel that is very near to this beach as you’ll have the time of your life here.

You can go for a swim or drink some margaritas on the seashore.

Of course, it can get a bit crowded during peak tourism season.

But if you don’t mind crowds and liveliness, you’ll have a really great time here.

You’ll also find a lot of local vendors on this beach offering various souvenirs.

The evenings on this beach can provide you with a really aesthetic background for your social media pictures.

Islas del Rosario

Islas del Rosario

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Islas del Rosario is a cluster of 27 islands located in the Caribbean Sea.

Once you’re done with scuba diving, you can head over to these islands for some snorkeling.

The coral reefs around these islands will just win your heart.

Moreover, you’ll also find an amazing aquarium here.

It’s a fun place to take your family to.

What’s more, is that you’ll be able to book a hotel on this island and just relax on a hammock.

If you don’t like crowds and inner-city hotels, then this is the best place for you to stay.

Visit the Mud Volcano

Mud Volcano

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The mud volcano or El Totumo is exactly what you think it is.

It’s a volcano that is full of thick mud, and you can just dive right in.

Even though it may sound disgusting at first, it is one of the most therapeutics you can do in Cartagena.

You’ll even find masseuses at this volcano who can give you some amazing massages.

Chilling at El Totumo is not only relaxing but also good for your skin.

Check Out The Street Food

Street Food in Cartagena

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Much like anywhere else, Cartagena offers a variety of local street foods that one must try.

One of them is their fried, crispy fish which is served with rice, some freshly cut tomatoes, and lemon.

This simple meal can be easily enjoyed with a mildly alcoholic beverage.

You’ll also get a variety of options of fishes, whichever suits you the best.

You might also want to try the combination of shrimp, calamari, and clams in their dish called Cazuela de Mariscos.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is a beautiful fortress located on the hill of San Lazaro, a town in Paraguay.

Personally speaking, fortresses are the best places to take a romantic walk with your loved one.

Not to mention, the strategic location gives you the idea of how the army defended the castle in times of war with its artillery vantage positions, subterranean tunnels, and ammunition storage.

There are several tunnels throughout the castle that were used to bring in supplies and evacuate the hostages.

With this list, you’ll be able to have a really great stay in Cartagena.

Moreover, visiting Cartagena will also not strain your budget.

And you’ll end up having a really great time here.

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