Situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena is an old, elegant, port city that’s inherently romantic and rich in culture. So much so, that it’s even been named a Unesco World Heritage Site. The walled Old Town, founded in the 16th century, is surrounded by more than eight miles of weather-worn cobblestone walls, intricate architecture, colorful facades, open-air cafes and chic bars sprinkled throughout the cobblestoned streets. If all that isn’t charming enough, then you can also walk along the sandy shores and relax under fringy palms on many of the nearby beaches.
The modern city with Old Town charm
In the Old Town, you’ll be blown away by the sensuous atmosphere and unparalleled beauty: majestic steeple churches, colorful colonial buildings, mazes of quaint stone alleys, open-air cafes and balconies with cascades of bougainvillea that are picture perfect.
The Torre del Reloj will greet you as you enter the charming town. Some consider this to be the most iconic landmark since you can’t enter the city without grazing through this clock tower.
The real action is in Plaza Santo Domingo. Here you’ll find a hub of cafes, bars, shopping and people mingling about. Stop by the oldest church in town. You can take a short tour of the church and learn about how it was built, then rebuilt in the 16th century after the first building of the church burned down. And, one of the most popular markets runs along the wall at the front entrance.
Don’t miss the castle on the hill
You also can’t miss Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the castle on a hill that peers over the city. What’s interesting, is that the construction started in 1639, but wasn’t completed until about 150 years ago. Nevertheless, it’s located at La Popa, the top of the city. You can take a chiva bus (party bus) there, where you can peruse the battlements, underground passages and gawk at the impressive architecture.
Colors of Getsemani, Cartagena
For brightly painted murals and happy, colorful buildings, this is where you’ll want to be. As a once a dilapidated area in Cartagena, Getsemani is now a bustling neighborhood with vibrant nightlife, restaurants and hotels. Popular with the locals is the Plaza Santisma Trinidad. This sunflower-yellow building is iconic of the neighborhood, as are the street vendors selling local delicacies, the hip restaurants and bars and the graffiti art that reflects the culture and beauty of the country.
You’ll want to try a local favorite, the arepa con huevo— a corn pancake filled with eggs. Also, you’ll want to have your camera handy to snap up some pics of residents in the middle of the narrow streets playing cards and all the eye-appealing colors that surround you.
Keep an eye out for Las Palenqueras
While clad in bold, colorful dresses and selling exotic fruit and sweets, these women balance fruit bowls on their heads. Talk about talent! They’re called Las Palenqueras because San Basilio de Palenque is their home–a small village southeast of Cartagena, founded in colonial times by runaway slaves. It’s actually considered one of the first free towns in the Americas. Look for these beautiful women when you’re strolling your way through the beautiful streets of Cartagena.
Breath-stealing beaches, in & out of the city
Bocagrande is Cartagena’s hip, nostalgic nod to Miami Vice. You’ll find a wide swath of humanity, along with loungers and umbrellas, bars, restaurants and vendors. It’s poppin’ with fun, and with locals, so you’ll definitely get a good vibe from what it’s like to relax on the beach in Cartagena here.
After you’ve hit Bocagrande and ready for more of a remote beach vibe, you’ll want to head outside the city limits. Nothing beats the platinum sands and aquamarine waters of the Rosario Islands, where you can also explore the coral reefs. But perhaps the most beautiful beach in Colombia is Playa Blanca, which is 45 minutes from the city, but it’s only reachable by boat. You can settle in on the snow-white sand and even go diving. If you want more water sports, head for Laguito.
It’s the colorful charm of the city, of the beach life and of the people that will win you over. Cartagena is a destination that you will want hold on to forever.
If you’re ready to plan your trip to Cartagena, head over to our Cartagena page, and book away!
And if you’re looking for more exciting things to do in the beautiful city of Cartagena, be sure to check out all of our posts on Cartagena! We’ve also created screen savers so you can add a little color to your day. Scroll through our Wish You Were Here.
I spent ten magnificent days in a 15 room colonial hotel, inside the walled city, the architecture, the history, the old churches and the people were all fascinating.
The following year I spent the entire month of February in Barranquilla during Carnival, when all was said and done I wished that I had spent that time back in Cartagena.