So you’re going to Cartagena and need to make a list of things to do right?
I’ve got you covered!
I spent a good 5 days in Cartagena recently and did the majority of the things listed on here. I think around 5 days is just perfect to see and do everything you’d want to do.
Anyhow, I’ve listed the MAIN things to do right at the top. These are can’t miss things to do. I feel like if you didn’t do them you’d really be missing out on something big.
Here’s the list.
The must-do things in Cartagena
Wander around inside the Old City (Walled City) // The #1 thing to to in Cartagena is to see the Old City. It used to be a fortress that protected the city from invaders (hence the name “Walled City”.) Now it’s one of the most colorful places in the entire world.
I’ve travelled a lot and it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. The fun part is just wandering around. You’ll never get too lost as it’s not very big. The Old City is the main tourist attraction in Cartagena.
Watch the sun set at Cafe Del Mar // Before you leave Cartagena you have to see the sun set at Cafe Del Mar at least once. It’s an outdoor restaurant that people mostly go to for drinks and sun set. The sun set in Cartagena is okay, but you come to Cafe Del mar for the atmosphere. You truly feel like you’re on vacation here. It’s incredible. People tend to dress nicer when they are here and it’s incredibly busy. Get there early for a table.
Visit San Felipe Castle (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) // This is a Castle just outside the Walled City. It is a fortress built in the 1500’s to protect the city of Cartagena from invaders. It’s about a $5 cab ride here from the Old City, an about $20 to get in the castle. We went here on our last day and realized we should watch the sun set at Cafe Del Mar and took off. So we didn’t get to see much of the castle. However what we did see was amazing. The sun was starting to set as we arrived. The castle would also be a great place to watch the sun set.
You can visit San Felipe Castle yourself. However, if planning a visit there is a nuisance, you can take a Cartagena guided tour of the city (they will tour the Castle). Click here to check out Cartagena tours.
Watch the entertainers at Plaza Santo Domingo // Plaza Santo Domingo is the main plaza in Cartagena. It’s the biggest one too. You want to come here in the evening to watch performers entertain. The performers is really a mix of everything. We had a Michael Jackson impersonator to Colombian dancing. The plaza is full of restaurants and seating, and you’ll get approached by restaurant vendors encouraging you to sit. The food and drinks here are really expensive and not great. But you come here for the atmosphere. Oh, an the wifi from the restaurants are really weaksauce!
Go on a free walking tour // I highly recommend a walking tour early on during your visit to Cartagena. I’m always amazed at how much history there is anywhere I go. I always appreciate a place better after a walking tour. We took a walking tour with Free Tour Cartagena (the yellow shirt guides). Our guide was the owner and he was great.
Take a day trip to Rosario Island // Cartagena has a beach, but it’s not very good. If you’re looking for a beach getaway for a day, then the two best places to go is Rosario Island and Playa Blanca. Both are close to Cartagena and they beaches there are gorgeous. I stayed in a hostel and literally everyone in my room went. I was surprised at how popular they were. I didn’t go, however, my room mates had a lot of a good things to say when they came back.
See Rosario Island tours here
Take a day trip to Playa Blanca // Playa Blanca is the other beach place you can go to relax. I honestly don’t know which one is better. I have heard nothing but great things about both. But do hit up one of these beaches for a day (if you’re a beach person!)
See Playa Blanca tours here
Visit the Getsemani neighborhood // The Getsmani neighborhood was surprisingly awesome. This neighborhood is just outside the Walled City. You can just walk there. Here, you’ll find cute little streets and colorful buildings as well. It’s got a more local feel to it because there are residential homes here, and families and kids running around (whereas the Walled City is mostly businesses,restaurants, and tourism related).
The coolest thing about Getsmani is the graffiti paintings everywhere. Make sure to bring your camera and pose in front of the graffiti. Night life is also good in Getsmani. There are cool bars to hang out in. 100% you need to walk over to Getsemani for an afternoon or so.
Getsemani is also a popular location for backpackers because there are many hostels here. So if you’re backpacking, you’ll be among many other hostellers in this area.
Other great things to do in Cartagena (pick and choose which one suits you best)
Ride a Hop-on Hop-Off Tour // I didn’t ride a hop on hop off during my stay here, but it’s something I easily could have done. I always ride this city seeing bus when I see a city, but I planned Cartagena really really well and didn’t feel I needed a bus tour.
A hop on hop off tour will take you around Cartagena’s most popular tourist sites. You hop off the bus, see what you want to see, and hop back on the next bus that arrives. It’s a great way to see a city, plus you get the history of wherever you’re going through free headsets they give you. It’s just fun seeing a city from a double decker bus.
I highly recommend a bus tour just for the history alone, and the ease of transportation to major tourist sites.
Go to the Totumo Mud Volcano // I watched a bunch of videos on Cartagena before heading there, and the Totumo Mud Volcano came up in most of the videos. I ran out of time and didn’t get to go, but I really wanted to experience it.
The Mud Volcano is basically a hill you climb and then you go into a pit of mud. It’s supposed to be a healing mud bath but I always found these things debatable…. anyway! I think this type of thing is cool and I wish I had time to do it.
This would be a half day trip type of excursion.
Take a city tour of Cartagena // There’s the free walking tour you can take that I mentioned earlier. But if you want a private tour that’s more tailored to you, you can pay for a private guided tour. These tours are much smaller and more intimate, and better for people who don’t want to tour with a big crowd. Also, you go to more places and they last longer.
Regardless of if you choose a free or paid walking tour, make sure you do one! The history in Cartagena is exciting. You will come away from this place much more appreciative of Cartagena and Colombian culture.
Private city tours will guide you around beyond the Old city walls. So that’s another benefit too as free walking tours limit where they take you.
Here’s a highly rated city tour if you’re interested.
Visit the high rises at Bocagrande // I read somewhere that Bocagrande is Cartagena’s answer to Miami. I kinda disagree! LOL. But it’s a decent attempt at it. Bocagrande is the “new” part of Cartagena. It is where all the high rise buildings are. Think of it as the modern part of Cartagena.
Many people choose to stay in Bocagrande when they visit Cartagena. You can get some amazing high rise hotels at cheap prices. The views are great, and it’s luxury for less money. It’s about a 10 minute cab ride between Bocagrande and the Old city, so it’s all nearby.
If you stay in the Old City, spend and afternoon visiting Bocagrande. See for yourself if it deserves the title of “Cartagena’s answer to Miami”.
Visit the La Boquilla neighborhood // This is a fishing village just outside of Cartagena. You’d come here to eat fresh fish. It’s not a big touristy place like the Old City.
See The Palace of Inquisition // This is a museum now that has old artifacts in it. It’s free to walk in for a look. The building itself is old (built in 1700s) and beautiful. You’ll wander by it sometime during your stroll around the Old city walls. Pop in, even if it’s to get out of the sun for a bit.
Eat seafood // Cartagena is a port city, and you know what that means…… cruise lines! Yes, that, but also SEAFOOD!! If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll love Cartagena. I highly recommend trying a seafood stew. I’m so sorry I forgot what it’s called in Spanish but it’s delicious. It’s a traditional dish and many restaurants serve it. It’s a lot of seafood for what you pay.
Drink lemonade from a street vendor // For like a dollar (probably cheaper but this is what I paid) you can get the most DELICIOUS lemonade you will ever drink in your life. The lemons here are very small, not much bigger than a golf ball. They squeeze these lemons into a lot of sugar and for whatever reason it’s the best lemonade you’ll ever have. You’ll see street vendors pushing their lemonade carts around. 100% try it. You’ll have like 10 of them before you know it.
See the Museum of Modern Art // Seems like every major destination has a museum of modern art. Cartagena’s MOMA is smaller than most. Check it out if you’re into history and want to learn more about Colombian culture.
Ride a horse carriage through the Old City // I saw a lot of these around while strolling around inside the Wall. I saw mostly middle aged people riding these horses around town. I think many of them came from cruise lines actually. In any case, not a bad way to see the city. I considered doing this but ended up walking around some more.
Stay in a Boutique Hotel // Boutique hotels are sprinkled all over Old Town Cartagena. Simply put, they are cute little places to stay. There won’t be many rooms here because the buildings in Old Town are small, so it will have that intimate feel.
Visit a Gold Museum // There are a few Gold Museums in Old Town Cartagena. You’ll see a lot of gold in these museums (lol duh) and learn about Colombian’s history with Gold. A popular gold museum is this one.
Stroll outside the walled city // There are not-so-touristy places outside the walled City of Cartagena. You’ll see them if you take a cab ride from the waled city to San Felipe Castle for example. Just outside my hostel (literally 5 minute walk) is an area that was 100% Colombians. Nobody ever bothered us and we never felt unsafe. But if you want to get a real authentic Colombian feel, wander outside the tourist places a little.
Ride a Chiva (party bus) // A Chiva is a open air bus where you drink, sing, and party. It drives you around Cartagena while you plaster yourself with cheap alcohol. If you are a boozer you’ll love this.
Eat ceviche // You’ll see ceviche on literally every menu in Cartagena. It’s a seafood dish that’s especially popular in this type of area. It’s delicious. I hope you like fish.
Go on a fishing trip with locals in La Boquilla // If you want to experience a more authentic Cartagena come her for some tasty seafood. You can go fishing here or just come here to eat whatever the catch of the day is.
Go paddle boarding // There aren’t a ton of water excursions here, but if you’re in the mood for some water activities, try standing water paddling.
Salsa dance at Cafe Havana // Spend an evening at Cafe Havana dancing to salsa. It’s probably the best place in Cartagena to Salsa (that’s within the tourist areas).
Go bar hopping in the evening // There is always a party in Cartagena. There are bars located everywhere. People always came back to my hostel late at night, or leave at midnight for a night of adventure. The nightlife here is great and you shouldn’t miss out on it! Inside the walled city and the Getsemani area are the best places to get drinks and nightlife it up.
Buy fruit from a fruit lady // You’ll find ladies dressed in colorful dresses around Cartagena. They are the fruit ladies of Cartagena. The fruit ladies actually have history here. So you can’t take photos of them unless you pay. I learned that the hard way!
Buy fruit from a fruit stand // Walking around Cartagena, you’ll come across countless fruit stands. They are damn delicious. I highly recommend you eat the fruit here. It’s inexpensive and did I say damn delicious?
Walk on the city walls during sun set // I see a ton of people walking along the walls of the old city at all times of the day. It’s really hot in Cartagena so I suggest walking along it during sun set. The heat is less prominent and you can feel the breeze from the ocean.
See the Rafael Nunez Museum // This is the house of Rafael Nunez. He’s nick named “the son of Cartagena” and was also the President of the Republic four times. The airport in Cartagena is also named after him (fun fact!) Anyway, his house is pretty cool and grand. This would be a quick 10-20 minute visit and it’s free to see it.
Touch Gertrudis’ breast for good luck // Touch her boob for good luck. She’s located in Santo Domingo square. You won’t miss her. She’ll be lying there waiting for your hand.
Drink fresh fruit juice // The fruit juices in Cartagena are delicious if they are made well. I almost always have one during a meal. They are a little hit or miss, sometimes they weren’t made so well. But overall, still delicious and better than anything back home.
Have breakfast or lunch outside in the shade // I had lunch outside under an umbrella during a hot early morning and it was one of the nicest things I got to do. So simple yet satisfying. Try not to eat indoors if you can help it.
Stay at a Cartagena hostel // If you’re a budget traveller, a hostel is the way to go in Cartagena. I think Cartagena specifically is a great place to hostel because everything is so densely together, it’s easy to meet people and go out. You’ll make friends and actually do stuff together.
I stayed at the ever popular El Viajero hostel. This is a good hostel to meet people, socialize and do things with them. It suits a younger crowd. It’s pricer than other hostels but you pay for atmosphere more than the accommodation.
Take photo’s of Cartagena’s colorful walls // Cartagena is the most colorful city I’ve ever been to. There are limitless opportunities to take photos. These walls make stunning backdrops for portraits.
Visit an Exito // Exito is a major grocery store brand. There are at least two with the Old Town. You’d go here for groceries, of course, but also, it’s cool to look at prices of various things in this part of the world. You know it’s Exito because it’s very yellow!
And that’s it!
Do you have any questions about what to do in Cartagena? Is there anything I can add to this list?
Hit me up in the comments below. I like being hit up.