Cartagena, Colombia is a located on the Southern Caribbean Sea and is a popular tourist destination for both Colombian and foreign visitors. The population of Cartagena is over 1 million, however there are only two parts of Cartagena that are generally visited by tourists, which makes the city feel much smaller and quaint.
The city can be divided into three parts; the metropolitan area, which generally is not visited by tourists, the Colonial City (also known as Centro or Old Walled City or Centro Historicó or Old City) and Bocagrande.
The colonial, walled city of Cartagena was built by the Spanish in the 16th century and is truly and incredible place to visit. The fortress walls are still intact and you can really get a feel of what life must have been like in the colonial days. Today the old town of Cartagena has a lively nightlife, excellent restaurants, and cobblestone streets that are perfect for exploring by foot. During the day the area is bustling with activity and it’s nice to take a break and people-watch from one of the many sidewalk cafés. This area of Cartagena is clean, beautiful and safe. There are a lot of street hawkers and vendors, who will try to sell you anything from cigars to rum to t-shirts, but they are quite harmless (although somewhat annoying after awhile). When exploring this part of the city expect to see beautiful Spanish cathedrals, colonial buildings with flower covered balconies, and many plazas with restaurants and cafés.
Walking distance, or a short cab ride away, is the beach neighborhood, Bocagrande, where you will find modern, high-rise building lining the beach. Bocagrande is where the primary beach of Cartagena is located. Playa Bocagrande becomes extremely busy on the weekends and is frequented by many locals.
As always, when traveling in any foreign country, the normal rules of the road apply, and although Colombia has a reputation of violence and kidnappings, Cartagena is quite safe. When visiting you will see plenty of police officers on the streets protecting the tourist industry. Since 2002 with the change of power to President Uribe and now his second in Command current president Juan Manual Santos, the Country and Cartagena has changed so much. Even many Colombians are returning to Cartagena to visit after being away for 20 years or more and say how beautiful it is. Along with Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans. And many have even invested in retirement properties here. There is also the National Army, the Cartagena Police, tourist Police and National Navy based here in Cartagena. So it really is probably the safest city in all of Colombia.
The climate in Cartagena is typical Caribbean with the sun shining year around. There is no bad time to visit Cartagena, however December thru April are generally the driest periods while October thru November receive a bit more rain.
Transportation to Cartagena is possible by bus from Barranquilla and Santa Marta, however Cartagena has an airport so flying may be the best option if you coming from Bogota, Cali or Medellin, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Also now non-stop flights arrive to Cartagena from Toronto and Montreal during the winter months.
There are plenty of things to do in Cartagena Colombia. Activities and attractions range from Cartagena beaches, to walking tours, nature tours and Cartagena nightlife.
The main beach at Bocagrande is mediocre at best, but is still popular with the locals and visitors. Vendors rent beach chairs and tents and there are plenty of places to eat lunch and have a snack. The social scene at the beach is quite lively and it’s a great place to go meet people and find out what’s going on in the evening.
Another popular beach is Playa Blanca located on the island of Baru. Playa Blanca is a great place for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling. To get to Playa Blanca you can go Moelle de la Bodeguita (Spring Port) in Centro and purchase a boat ticket. Or just go to one of the many fishing boats across from the Crabie Hotel in Bocagrande and hire one to take you out there – the going rate is about 20 Pesos. If you’re looking for a more pristine beach experience we recommend catching a boat to Isla Rosario and hitting one of it’s many islands.
The main draw at Cartagena is the old town and we recommend spending a few days exploring it. A great way to wrap your arms around the historical, cultural and architectural significance of the old town is to take a guided tour. There are a few different options for Cartagena tours; you can take a guided walking tour, a tour by chiva (a colorful open-air bus) or horse drawn carriage. You can pick up tours in Bocagrande at Av San Martin at Calle 4 or in the old town city center in plaza Bolivar. Finding someone to take you on tour of Cartagena is not difficult so we recommend you shop around and find the one right for you.
Scuba diving in Cartagena
There’s decent scuba diving in Isla Rosario located about 45 min offshore form Cartagena. You can find scuba shops in Bocagrande as well as the old town that offer both day trips and overnight packages were you spend the night on one of the islands. If you have the time and money, we highly recommend spending a couple of days diving, a night dive and spending the night on one of the islands.
Cartagena has an excellent nightlife scene. In Cartagena’s Zona Rosa you will find plenty of bars, taverns and discothèques full of Colombians on holiday. Look around Avenidia del Arsenal and you will have several club options to choose from. Avenida Arsenal used to be the go-to spot for weekend clubbing, but recently a lot of the action has moved to Ciudad Vieja (the old city). Still, Avenida Arsenal should not be overlooked. In Bocagrande there are several discothèques up and down the strip -check out La Escollera on Carrera 1 at Calle 5 for wild night of Latin dancing. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience head into the metropolitan area and visit Centro Comercial la Castallana. There are several bars and clubs along Avenida Pedro Herdia.
Cartagena Bars and Clubs
Café del Mar – located directly on the wall in the Old City and is a favorite for lounging and watching the sunset. This is a great place to start the evening. Tel: +57-5-6642 945. Café del Mar website
Café Havana – Located in Getsamani: Calle Media Luna con Calle del Guerrero Getsemani. Tel: +57 315 690-2566
Tu Candela – An old staple in Cartagena and known for its good Sunday scene. Located in Portal de los Dulces in Centro.
Indiana - Disco / Pub located right next to Tu Candela in Portal de los Dulces.
Babar – One of the most popular clubs in Cartagena. Located in Centro at Plaza de Santa Teresa. Usually a small over to get in. website: http://babarcartagena.com/
Mr. Babilla - Getsemaní Calle 24 No 8B –137 Avenida El Arsenal
LeBlon Lounge– Hot club located right next to Mr. Babilla on Avenida El Arsenal
Leon de Bavaria – German bar/restaurant in Centro. Calle del Arsenal No. 10B-65
La Carbonera - Getsemani Cl 24 # 9A - 47 Calle del Arsenal
Café del Flemingo – Bocagrande, San Martin Avenue Cra 2 # 5-85
La Dolce Vida – Located near the Hilton in Bocagrande. This used to be a popular nightclub now it’s essentially just a place to pickup working girls.
The Pleyclub - Strip club located in the Industrial zone. Avenida El Bosque Diag 21 #48-04
Banana’s – Strip bar in Centro. Calle del Porvenir. Tel: 312 6862994
Casinos in Cartagena
Casino Rio Cartagena - Avenue San Martin 5 145
La Perla del Caribe Casino - El Laguito C.C. Pierino Gallo. Tel +57 (56) 650146
Perla del caribe casino - Laguito , Pierino Gallo Comercial Center. tel: 6650573
Atlantis Casino - Bocagrande San Martin Avenue Cra 2 # 5 –145. Tel: 6551197
El Dorado Bocagrande Casino - Bocagrande San Martin Avenue # 5 - 35
Nightly Chiva Bus Tour – this is a great way to see the city and party at the same time. The party bus drives you and fellow party animals around the city stopping off at several watering holes. To arrange your Chiva Bus Tour go to the Dorando Hotel in Boccagrande, Av. San Martin, and you can buy a ticket.
El Totumo Mud Volcano – Great fun at this volcano located near Cartagena. Take a mud bath right in the mouth of the volcano. Tours can be organized through most hotels but a cheaper option is to directly contact Eliana with Rumba Enchiva tel: 318 540 1902
Mangrove Tour Cartagena - Take a dugout canoe tour of the mangroves of La Boquilla. Arrangements can be made at Hotel Las Americas and the mangroves are right across the street.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – visit the largest fortress in South America. Accessible by taxi and a13,000CP entrance fee.
La Popa – The mountain top monastery in Cartagena is easily assessable by taxi.
Cartagena Carriage Ride - Horse drawn carriage ride through the historic center is an unforgettable experience. It’s recommend to take a ride at dusk. Carriages can be found at Plaza de Los Coches and Plaza de San Pedro.
Rosario Islands - pretty islands a 90 minute boat journey from Cartagena. During the day they can feel a little busy with day trippers so spend a night or two to get some peace and quiet there early in the mornings and after 4pm.
Cartagena Gold Museum - Located on Carrera 4 No 33-26 in Plaza Bolivar. See exoticgold collections of Tayrona, Calima and Sinú cultures. Open Tuesday to Friday 8:00AM to 12:00 PM and 2:00PM to 6:00PM
Cartagena Modern Art Museum – Located in Centro at Plaza de San Pedro. Hours: Monday - Friday: from 9:00AM to 12:00PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM. Saturday 10:00AM to 1:00PM
Naval Museum - Monday thru Friday 9:00AM to 6:00PM. Address: Calle San Juan de Dios (behind San Pedro Church).
There are plenty of Hotels in Cartagena that cater to all budgets. Some popular Cartagena Hostels are listed below as well as expensive luxury boutique hotels.
Budget Hotels Cartagena
El Viajero – One of the most popular hostels in Cartagena offering both shared and private rooms. Free wifi, kitchen and lounge area. Located in Cento on Calle del Porvenir No. 35-68. El Viajero website: tel: 6643289
Hotel el Porvenir – located across the street from El Viajero. The offer simple clean rooms for around 50,000 pesos per night. Free wifi included. Calle del Porvenir No. 35-77.
Casa Viena – dirt cheap accommodation that’s popular with backpackers. Calle San Andres No 30-53. Tel: +57 5 664.6242. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel Doral – affordable, nice space and popular with backpackers. Calle de la Media Luna No 10-46. Tel: +57 5 664.1706
Chill House Hostel – Popular backpacker hostel with an excellent location at Parque Fernandez Madrid. Calle de la Tablada # 7 - 12, Centro. Tel: 6602386
Hotel Las Vegas – Affordable hostel located in Centro (located directly across from the university).
Midrange Hotels Cartagena
Centro Hotel – Excellent location in the Old City. Basic rooms go for about 130,000 pesos per night. Calle del Arzobispado No. 34-80. Tel: 664 0461
Hostal San Diego – nice, quiet spot located on the northern end of San Diego. Calle de Las Bovedas No 39-120
Casa del Curato – A nice midrange option located in barrio San Diego. Tel: +57 5 664 3648.
Hotel Tom Suites – Large rooms with kitchenette and wifi. Located in Centro at Calle Larga No. 8B-145. Tel: 6640110.
Luxury Hotels Cartagena
Casa Canabal – Beautiful boutique hotel located in Centro. Calle Tripita y Media, Cra 10 No 31-39. Tel: +57 (5) 660 0666.
Hotel Santa Clara – Formerly a 17th century convent, now a Lux hotel spa. Quite expensive, but if you want to spoil yourself this is the place to be. Tel: +57 5 664 8040
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