A gorgeous blend of Spanish-colonial charm and vibrant Caribbean vibes, the enchanting old town of Cartagena is oozing of sophistication, splendor and sultriness. With stunning views of the sea, a varied and creative dining scene, elegant plazas, chic boutiques, and a myriad of vivid colors and quaint backstreets at the turn of every corner, it’s easy to see why so many fall in love with this captivating city.
More and more people are catching onto the allure of Colombia and tourism is beginning to boom, largely due to the utter perfection that is Cartagena. My advice? Go soon (read: now). What is quite possibly the most appealing feature of Cartagena is that there are hardly any chains (in fact you won’t find a single Starbuck’s or McDonald’s here –at least for now!) and it hasn’t been taken over by American megastore conglomerates. It’s clear why Cartagena is often regarded as the jewel of Colombia’s crown.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the Walled City
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, meandering Cartagena’s historic city center is the best way to get acquainted with the city. We organized a private two hour walking tour through our hotel and learned a lot about the city’s remarkable history. The ‘walled city’ was protected by the fortress in order to shelter the city from pirates and storms.
While learning about Cartagena’s history, why not practice some yoga poses while you’re at it?
Horse carriage rides are extremely popular in the Old City and are relatively inexpensive.
Stroll through the colorful cobblestone streets and contemplate moving here
We learned that you can buy one of these gorgeous Old City colorful homes for less than $200,000 USD and seriously considered looking into meeting with a realtor. A vacation home in Cartagena?! Talk about heaven on earth!
Learn about the importance of the door knockers
While on our tour, we learned that the size of doors and their door knockers held significant importance in Colonial Cartagena’s society. The bigger the knockers, the higher the status of the individual or family. Further proof that size really does matter.
Visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
This massive castle looms over the city and is an interesting place to explore. It was built by the Spaniards to protect the city and is one of Colombia’s oldest structures.
Things to know: Entrance fee is around $15 USD/person; the castle is a short taxi ride from the historic center, go early to avoid the heat.
The castle provides sweeping views of both the city and coast.
EAT & DRINK YOUR WAY THROUGH THE CITY
Cartagena is a place where you want to linger at a stylish cafe drinking multiple cups of tinto (a small intense hit of coffee) in the morning, nosh on mouth-watering ceviche and other flavorful seafood throughout the day, and sip on refreshing Aperol Spritzes into the wee hours of the night.
This incredible restaurant, which was also located in our hotel, was our favorite of the trip. Fabulous cuisine in a stylish modern setting, this is nouveau Colombian food at its finest. Highly recommend.
Some of the best ceviche we’ve ever eaten. You’ll most likely have to wait to be seated here, but I promise it’s worth it. The relaxed vibe was perfect for a casual lunch. Perfection.
El Boliche Cebicheria
A small no-frills restaurant that serves innovative ceviches, among other delicious food. Everything was so fresh and light–a perfect spot on a hot summer day.
An inviting and delightful eatery that specializes in robust and innovative local fare. Centrally located in the Old City, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch here.
Sushi in Colombia? You better believe it! We enjoyed an amazing sushi dinner here and its large open space is gorgeous. If you want a bit of a break from Latin cuisine, this is a great find.
Every inch of this Russian bar is covered with Soviet memorabilia. Make sure to walk around and explore this unique and intriguing spot–a truly memorable place to grab a drink.
Cafe Del Mar
Probably the most well-known bar in all of Cartagena, this is the spot you go to watch sunsets. Few views can rival the ones at Del Mar, and locals and tourists alike flock here daily, so plan on arriving well before sunset to score a seat.
WHERE TO STAY
We enjoyed a lovely stay at Ananda Hotel Boutique, a beautifully designed establishment in the heart of the Old City. From the grounds, to the spacious rooms and gracious staff, this hotel is absolutely fabulous. Cannot recommend enough.
There are plenty of nearby beach getaways that many rave about, including the Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca. Before arriving in Colombia, we had spent twelve days in the Dominican Republic, so we had had our fill of sand and sea, and chose to spend our three days in Cartagena solely in the Old City. With that said, the aforementioned beaches are supposed to be spectacular, so they are certainly worth checking out.
My takeaway? Cartagena is an ideal destination for anyone looking for a dynamic and romantic city laced with Colonial charm, delicious cuisine, well-preserved history, and vibrant culture. And if you do decide to bite the bullet and purchase a vacation home there, don’t forget where you read about it first! #letsdoavacationhomeexchange #notkidding