A Guide to Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Latin America. It's a colorful, tropical city with so much to do, see and eat. I went for 4 days last November which I thought was plenty of time. I enjoyed Cartagena so much I could see me buying a condo there to retire. Suffice to say, I loved Cartagena! This old, historic city creates a colorful backdrop for vivid photos. The buildings are painted a wide array of colors and had bright bougainvillea vines passing through some of them. The colonial architecture was gorgeous from the ornate churches to the unique door knockers.  I spend my days just walking around aimlessly and went to a few rooftop terraces for a breeze. Cartagena is a walled city because its surrounded by a walled fortification built in the 1600s to protect from pirate attacks. Today the city walls are a UNESCO heritage site. The walls stretch for 6.8 miles around the old city. Cartagena was considered one of the most important ports of America throughout the entire Spanish colonial period. It's definitely a city worth putting on your list to visit!

What to Know Before visiting Cartagena

Getting to Cartagena

I flew American Airlines from Miami to Cartagena and returned on Jetblue to New York. I discussed this with a few other people who traveled at different times than me and we all had the same arrival experience at the airport in Cartagena. There’s only one passport controller for foreigners, so if you are not off the plane first (like I was) you will stand in line for 2 hours with just passengers from your plane to go through passport control. Then after you collect your suitcase, your suitcase is inspected by their security. 


I exchanged money at home so I would have cash to pay for the airport taxi. Money exchanges in airports notoriously have horrible rates and I don't like spending my vacation running around trying to find an ATM or standing in line at the airport to change money.  However throughout my stay, other than taxis and street food vendors I never needed any of the cash I had. Every restaurant post pandemic uses a QR code for their menu and takes credit cards. 

Where to Stay

I’ve seen a lot of debate about this topic. Cartagena has an old town, then further afield are their newer suburban areas. I stayed in the latter - Bocagrande which looked like Miami with all the new high-rise buildings. A lot of people said it was a pain to always have to taxi into the old town, well for me the taxi ride was only exactly 5 minutes and the cost was $2-3. I did walk it once, but mistake in the heat, and the walk was 20 minutes. There’s lots of taxis around and ubers so I never had a problem getting a taxi, they were fast and efficient. 
I stayed at the Hyatt Cartagena which was built in 2016 and has 29 floors, the upper floors are apartments with separate elevators. The hotel also had 3 small pools on a higher floor. My view was of the Navy base, the bay and the old town. I never closed my curtains because the view was gorgeous!  I had a large modern room with no noise coming from outside (which you would have none of this staying in the old town). Across the street from the hotel is an undesirable beach just because of the sand quality (which they were fixing while I was there) and so many vendors on the beach that interrupted everyone trying to sunbathe. Next door to the hotel was a mall with a grocery store. A few blocks from the hotel are lots of restaurants. The view on their website is the view from my room, except I saw 2 submarines parked. I also saw a cruise ship parked one day across the bay. 

view from my hotel room


The State Department lists Colombia as a high risk level 3 country to visit so I was worried traveling as a solo female traveler as I had also heard personal stories about crime with petty theft, but I couldn’t have felt safer in Cartagena. First there’s so many people around so even walking around in the early evening at night I felt safe. Second there’s a large police presence in the old town and hotels have security guards at every entrance, thus really creates a barrier to prevent crime against tourists in Cartagena. But, I can't speak to other cities in Colombia and obviously leave your expensive jewelry and designer bags at home. This is what I wore:


I went in November and the temperature were 82F and 80% chance of rain every day. Well it did rain every day but only for 10 minutes. The humidity is what I did not anticipate; thus I would go out sightseeing at 7am and by 8am it was already too hot. I took a siesta in my hotel at noon for a couple hours to get out of the heat. Wear natural fabrics so you don't have sweat stains on your clothes, pack a hat and comfortable shoes for lots of walking.


There are daytrips you can book to these top four destinations: Rosario Islands, Baru Island, Playa Blanca or the Totumo Volcano but I opted not to do any of these as I heard this time of the year the water is really rough. The volcano just looked way too crowded and touchy feely for me. 


Cartagena has a hop-on hop-off bus and for $15 you can get a ride around the city to orient yourself. The ticket is good for 2 days and includes a walking tour once a day. I used to think this bus was cheesy but its a great inexpensive starting point to get a 360 view of a city and orientate yourself with where everything is.

Take a Picture with Palenqueras Fruit Ladies

All over the Old Town, you will see these women in bright colored dresses, balancing bowls of fruit on their heads and smiling for a photo-op. These are the Palenqueras ladies and are an iconic part of the city, they take tips for a photo. Palenqueras are decadents of slaves who formed their own communities. They had the first officially recognized free Black community in the Americas in 1691. The African influence in Cartagena is still felt through the music and dance.

What to Eat

Street vendors are everywhere and sell fresh limeade, fruit smoothies made with exotic fruits, cut fruit, fresh coconut water, pastries, lulo juice, and arepas. I had every single one on that list!  When I travel I always have a travel bucket list of foods I have to try. I knew I had to try an Arepa, Pan de bono (Columbian cheese bread) and Lulada juice made from lulo fruit. Lulo is only grown in Colombia and looks similar to an orange but has a green inside. 

 luloCorozo juice made from a small reddish purple fruit grown on the palms in Colombia


Where to Eat

As I said, during the pandemic restaurants got rid of paper menus and now use a QR code so I had to always ask for their wifi password to view their menu. 
Cande is an upscale restaurant that describes itself as "a restaurant that offers culture, music, and tradition through cuisine, colonial architecture, and warm service, offering a new way to see (and feel) the city through your five senses. Cande lives and breathes Cartagena." The botanical décor inside was amazing, even the bathroom was beautiful! They have live music and live dancers for dinner so make reservations. The ambiance is unmatched and perfect for a typical Colombia experience. They have vegetarian dishes. The entrance is roped off with a security guard standing in front of it. 

An air conditioned mall to escape the heat with lots of clothing stores and a nice food court.

Ana Restaurante Bar a Caribbean Asian fusion restaurant with with gorgeous décor, incredible drinks and live music. 

Ely cafe  located in Bocagrande, this is a modern Paris style cafe. They have a Health Elixir menu with green juices and many lemonades. The menu is a mixture of acai bowls, salads, caprese sandwiches,  burrata, hummus and flatbread, edamame, pizzas, options for meat eats, and lots of different types of cakes. I had the pesto pasta which was delicious. 

Cocktail Bars

When it's so hot outside, it's nice to walk up some flight of stairs to get a breeze. It was still just as humid at night. You can make reservations for all of these places as it's recommended. I was lucky I just got there early. 

Cafe del Mar - I didn't get to see a sunset since it rained/poured while I was there (for 10 minutes) but the clouds were pink and they pumped house lounge music so the vibes were immaculate and the pina  colada was amazing! They did ask everyone to see their passport to use their credit card.

Movich hotel - the rooftop of the hotel

Mirador -  Roof top bar right in the historical center of Cartagena in front of the Torre de Reloj. A live band played and people danced. They had sprinklers that misted you with water. There's a security guard checking bags before you can enter to walk up all the steps. The elevator looked like it was from 1860 and you'd have to manually turn it.

Alquimico - The terrace wasn't open when I was there so I stayed on the first floor with its' red lighting. They have a fancy cocktail menu, I like the basics. The music was hip-hop.

Townhouse  - This is a tiny rooftop of hotel and I went at an off hour but any other time you need a reservation. From its instagram it looks like a happening party if you go at the right time. Definitely go at sundown because during the day its too hot. 

Rum Box - This a restaurant with no rooftop but you can get a rum tasting and lots of unique cocktails. As a vegetarian, I didn't care for the food. 

Cafe Havana - Opens at 8pm and has a $10 cover that you can pay by credit card. Get there early to get a seat. I had so much fun here! This is a night in Havana in Cartagena! They had two live salsa bands and really enjoyed my evening here! 


Old Town

In the Old Town of Cartagena I visited the  Abaco Libros y cafe because I love visiting unique book stores when I travel. 

All the houses had these unique wooden door knockers that are shaped like lion heads, lizards, militia leaders, owls, fish or sea creature. 

Teatro Heredia


This  is a vibrant neighborhood where every corner has history, art and talented graffiti. 
I didn't put a filter on this picture, this is how eclectic blue the buildings were painted.

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