Search
Close this search box.

12 things to do in Cartagena, Colombia + Best beaches

If you are traveling to Cartagena (Colombia), you have come to the right place! Thanks to this article, you can discover the best things to do in Cartagena de Indias, as well as some tips on where to stay, where to eat, and which are the best beaches in Cartagena de Indias.

Cartagena de Indias is a city full of history, color, and joy that will make you fall in love as soon as you set foot in it. Trust me! I still remember, as if it were yesterday, the excitement I felt in the cab from the airport to downtown and the illusion I felt when we finally entered the walled city.

This beautiful town was the first stop on our trip to Colombia. I honestly can't think of a better start than this. We stayed here for four nights and enjoyed every day. Here is everything you need to know about this city.

Table of contents

Beaches in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

If you are eager to soak your body in the Caribbean Sea, there are several beaches near Cartagena (Colombia) that you can go to. In the city, there are a few, such as Bocagrande Beach, but they are pretty normal beaches. In order to enjoy a beach with crystal clear waters and white sand, I recommend taking a day trip or going to spend several days at any of the following beaches:

1. Playa Blanca, Cartagena de Indias

Beaches of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Source: Emmanuel Digiaro – CC BY 2.0

It is the most popular beach near Cartagena de Indias, thanks to its turquoise waters and white sand. Once you arrive in the city, you will be offered this excursion on every corner. Due to its popularity, it is very likely to be crowded when you visit Playa Blanca, especially if you go on a weekend or holiday. Still, this beach is well worth a visit.

You can get there on your own by public transport (bus and motorcycle cab) or through this day trip to Playa Blanca from Cartagena. If you want to enjoy this beach on your own, I recommend you spend a night in Playa Blanca, since from approximately 4:00 pm, the tours start to leave. I recommend Hotel Calamari Baru.

2. Rosario Islands, one of the most famous in Colombia

Rosario Islands
Rosario Islands

The Rosario Islands archipelago is made up of a total of 28 islands. The largest and most popular of them all is Isla Grande. On this island, two of the most popular beaches are Playa Bonita and Playa Libre.

Although day trips can be made from Cartagena de Indias, my recommendation is to spend at least one night, although more is better. I recommend staying at El Hamaquero Hostal EcoNativo or Hotel Isla Bela Islas Del Rosario. Other popular destinations in the Rosario Islands are Bendita Beach, Isla del Encanto, or Playa Azul. Note that there is no ATM on any of the islands.

If you don’t have the time to stay overnight, I recommend a tour of the Rosario Islands from Cartagena. There are many to choose from! On any tour, all transfers, an English-speaking guide, and lunch are included; all you have to do is focus on enjoying yourself!

3. San Bernardo Archipelago

cartagena de indias beaches
San Bernardo, Cartagena

This group of 10 islands is another very good option if you want to enjoy tranquility and good beaches. The most touristic of all the islands that make up the San Bernardo Archipelago is Isla Múcura. Here you will find some of the best beaches near Cartagena de Indias. Another good option is to visit Tintipan Island.

To get to one of these islands, you can go by boat from the Bodeguita dock in Cartagena. Another option is to go by bus to Tolu, and from there, take a boat to the islands. I recommend spending a minimum of two or three nights. If you are going to spend the night in Isla Múcura, I recommend staying at the Múcura Club Hotel or Hotel Punta Faro.

🏥 Remember that it is always very important to travel with the best travel insurance to Colombia, since you never know if there will be any inconvenience. Without adding much money to the final budget, you can go with the peace of mind that if something happens to you, all your expenses will be covered, in addition to having a team of people to help you. I always use and recommend the company Heymondo, where I can offer you a 5% discount on your next travel insurance policy.

Things to do in Cartagena de Indias

The best thing to do in Cartagena (Colombia) is to walk around the historic center and discover for yourself the beautiful corners that this city can boast. However, there are certain places you can’t miss, and that’s what I’m here for! Take note of the following places and enjoy the greatest wonders of the city: Let’s get started!

1. Getting lost in the streets of the walled city

Things to do in Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena de Indias
places to visit in Cartagena de Indias
Things to do in Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias was a city frequented by pirates and troops in the past. It is for this reason that the sixteenth century began to build the wall, just after the attack by Francis Drake. Over the years, the wall was strengthened.

The last attack was in March 1741, when a British troop of 27,600 men, 186 ships, and 2,000 cannons arrived at Cartagena, Colombia. The British were defeated. Many of the deaths were due to tropical diseases. It is said that if the British had won this battle, English would now be spoken in South America.

Today, the walled city is the most emblematic and visited place in the city. Getting lost in its colorful streets full of charm while discovering squares, churches, and houses with balconies full of flowers is a real pleasure.

2. The Clock Tower

Things to do in Cartagena de Indias
Clock Tower

The Clock Tower is one of the most emblematic places in Cartagena since it is the entrance to the fortified city. It was inaugurated in 1631. Once you pass under one of its arches, you will arrive at the Plaza de los Coches, where the slave trade with people from Africa used to take place. In the center of the square is a statue of Pedro de Heredia, the founder of this town.

3. San Pedro Claver Church and Square

things to do in Cartagena
Sanctuary of San Pedro Claver

St. Peter Claver was a Jesuit who dedicated his life to helping slaves brought from Africa. Before the time of his death in 1654, he had baptized 300,000 slaves. He dubbed himself the “slave of the blacks.” In the 17th century, the San Pedro Claver church and monastery were built in his memory. His remains are located on the main altar. The square where the church is located is a good place to go for a drink; there is a good atmosphere.

4. Cathedral of Cartagena de Indias

historic center
Cathedral of Cartagena de Indias

The beauty of the Cathedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandría is proportional to the length of its name, although you can simply call it the Cathedral of Cartagena. Jokes aside, this cathedral is the most important in the city and is beautiful both inside and out, thanks to its yellow color and Herrerian style. Construction began in the late 16th century, but in 1586, the pirate Francis Drake destroyed much of it. It was finally completed in 1612.

5. Bolivar Park

Bolivar Park
Park

Bolivar Park is a small park located in the historic center. It has numerous trees, sculptures, and fountains, which makes it an ideal place to go to rest and refresh yourself. Inside the park, there is a statue of Simon Bolivar, who gives his name to the place. In this same square, you will find the Gold Museum and the Palace of the Inquisition.

6. Santo Domingo Church and Plaza

cartagena de indias colombia
Santo Domingo Church

One of the squares I liked the most in Cartagena was the Plaza de Santo Domingo, where you can find the church with the same name. In the center of the square rests relaxedly Gertrudis, a sculpture by Botero. There are several terraces and a very cozy atmosphere, which makes this square the perfect place to go for a drink.

Other places you can visit in the walled city of Cartagena are the Plaza de la Aduana, the Museum of Modern Art, the Pedro Heredia Theater, the Naval Museum, the San Agustin Convent, and the Fernandez Madrid Park.

7. Book a walking tour of the walled city.

walled city
Walled City
things to do in Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena de Indias

The best way to get to know the walled city of Cartagena is by taking a guided tour. You can take this walking tour of Cartagena de Indias, I am sure you will love it! Accompanied by a guide, we were able to learn a lot of curious facts about the history of the place. It was a very good first contact with the city, and it helped us to understand everything better. I highly recommend it!

8. Watch the sunset from the wall

cartagena de indias
Sunset time

I had to reserve a special section for the wall of Cartagena, since watching the sunsets from it is one of the most beautiful things to do in Cartagena de Indias. We went two afternoons to see it, and it was a beautiful moment. I recommend you take a walk, with ice cream in hand, of course, and find a good place to sit or lean to say goodbye to the sun.

There is a very famous coffee shop on the wall called Café del Mar and every afternoon it is full of people ready to enjoy this magical moment while they have a drink and a snack. We went there one day, and apart from being a bit expensive for the budget we had, it was already crowded. If you want to make time, I recommend you to go with time.

9. Getting to know the Getsemaní neighborhood

getsemani cartagena de indias
Getsemaní

Visiting Getsemaní was one of the best things to do in Cartagena de Indias for me. During colonial times, this neighborhood was home to the slaves who came to the city. A few years ago, Getsemani was associated with prostitution and drugs. Today, it is the trendy neighborhood that every tourist wants to visit. Its streets are full of color thanks to the walls of the buildings and the urban art, present in many of the facades of the neighborhood.

que ver en cartagena de indias
Narrow Alley

In Getsemaní you will find the best hostels in the city, restaurants with a lot of vibe and plenty of places to go out. It is the favorite area for backpackers because it has a lot of atmosphere, it is a few minutes walk from the walled city and the prices are much more affordable.

getsemani
Magdalena Street

I recommend wandering around the neighborhood and exploring each of its streets. Although there are several places you can’t miss: Plaza de la Trinidad, Callejón Angosto (small street full of umbrellas) and Calle de la Magdalena (street with hanging banners). I discovered them thanks to this free tour of Getsemaní and I recommend you do the same.

10. San Felipe de Barajas Castle

things to do in cartagena de indias colombia
San Felipe de Barajas Castle

The San Felipe de Barajas Castle is a large fortress located on the hill of San Lazaro built to protect the city from possible invasions. In it several battles have been fought against the English and French who came with the aim of conquering Cartagena de Indias, due to its strategic location.

The San Felipe de Barajas Castle was built in 1536 and was completed in 1657. It came to have a total of 63 cannons, apart from having large walls and a system of subway passages. It is possible to visit the interior.

11. Take a boat ride in Cartagena

Can you think of a better plan than going on a boat ride in the bay of Cartagena? If you feel like doing something different and at the same time unforgettable, don’t miss the following two tours:

  • Dinner cruise in Cartagena. This is a two-hour boat ride after sunset. While you sail the Colombian seas and see the city all lit, and accompanied by music, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a dinner of two starters, a main course of your choice and a dessert.
  • Sunset boat ride. This boat ride lasts an hour and a half. While watching the sunset, you can enjoy music and an open bar of rum punch and soft drinks. Great plan!

12. Bocagrande, a different area to visit in Cartagena de Indias

cartagena colombia
Bocagrande

Located next to the historic center, you can find the peninsula of Bocagrande. This is the most luxurious area of the city. Here you can find several luxury hotels, casinos, restaurants and a shopping mall (Plaza Bocagrande). It has a long beach with several stalls where you can have a drink overlooking the sea and a promenade.

We rented bikes downtown and took a ride through Bocagrande as we wanted to see what the area was like. There were quite a few people on the beach, although it was quite normal. If you are short on time, you don’t need to go. However, if you are going to spend several days in the city, and want to see a different area, go shopping, go to the movies or take a swim, I do recommend it.

Where to stay in Cartagena de Indias

trip to colombia
Our hotel

The two best areas to stay in Cartagena de Indias are the historic center and Getsemaní. Both areas are safe and have a great variety of restaurants and places to see.

While the historic center is quite expensive, in Getsemaní it is possible to find better priced accommodations, making it the perfect base for backpackers or those traveling on a budget.

Hotel recommendations:

More tips for visiting Cartagena, Colombia

Here are additional tips to plan your visit!

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN THE COLOMBIAN CARIBBEAN COAST:

Apart from Cartagena de Indias and the beautiful surrounding beaches, there are other places you can’t miss on this coast of Colombia. One of those places is Santa Marta, a very cozy and less touristic city. From there you can visit the famous Tayrona Park, Minca, Palomino, Cabo de la Vela or trek to the Lost City.

HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT TO CITY CENTER:

The best option to go from the airport to the city center and vice versa is by cab. Once you leave the airport, go to a small ticket office where it says cab. At the ticket office you tell them your address and they give you a ticket with the price of the trip. You enter the cab and give this ticket to the driver.

To the center usually costs from 12,000 to 15,000 COP. If you prefer, for a slightly higher price, you can book your transfer from the airport to the center in advance so you won’t have any problems upon arrival.

BEST TIME TO GO TO CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA:

As for the weather, the best time to travel to Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) is from December to February. However, prices are quite high and there are a lot of people in the city. March, just after the high season, and June to August are also good times to go.

SAFETY IN CARTAGENA DE INDIAS:

The historic center of this town is probably the safest neighborhood in all of Colombia. Although as I always say, be careful everywhere because you never know. I recommend purchasing Heymondo ravel insurance just in case theft, loss of luggage, accident or illness happen. Remember you can get 5% off here.

WHERE TO EAT:

Some of my favorite restaurants were Pezetarian (different fish dishes) and Bocaditos Madrid (local food at a very good price in the center). Also don’t miss the Café del Mar to watch the sunset, as I mentioned above.

Map of things to do in Cartagena, Colombia

In the following map I have marked all the places to visit in Cartagena de Indias, the best beaches and the hotels I recommend, with their respective links to Booking.

Don’t miss my Colombia travel guide for all the information about the country.

I hope this post about the best things to do in Cartagena de Indias has been very useful for you to discover the must-see places in the city and the best beaches in Cartagena, Colombia. If you have any questions, I encourage you to leave a comment or send me an email, see you next time!

Free tours and guided tours.
Bank card with no commission.
-5% on your travel insurance.
Rent a car at the best price.
Find the best hotel offers.
Find the best flight prices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *