I often say if you go to Colombia and don’t go to Cartagena, then you have missed your trip. It is the country’s jewel, a magical, beautiful, colorful, chic and delicious hot and sunny caribbean city.
Why going to Cartagena alone or with your newlywed husband when you can, in fact, go with all your crew? That’s what we did last time in Cartagena : have fun for a week with a group of people we love (READ: Love is called Cartagena or that time we honey-mooned with 40 friends).
Cartagena is a perfect city for solo traveling, a romantic getaway or a family+friends trip. Here’s a short list of top things to do in Cartagena: solo-friendly, romantic-proof and crazy-crowd recommended. One only advice: wear sunscreen and enjoy the most visited city in Colombia !
Here’s my take on Cartagena, the city I love, the city of love :
1.Sleep in the Old City
When friends ask ‘Where do I sleep in Cartagena?’, I answer straight forward : go to the Old Walled City. If you want to spend your days in Cartagena laying on a dirty, greenish and full of vendors beach in Cartagena, go ahead and book yourself a crowded all-inclusive hotel on the “modern” part of the city.
If you really want to enjoy the best Cartagena has to offer, take my hint : stay at the Old City. You will be amazed by waking up everyday to colonial magnificence, to walk down Cartagena’s colorful streets and to be steps away from the city’s finest shops and restaurants. It’s 15 min. from the airport, you can take a cab to explore the modern parts of the city like El Laguito and beyond on a day-trip and there are plenty of options to choose from backpackers hostels to Airbnb to Sofitel 5* hotels to renting colonial houses.
Need more info on where to sleep in Cartagena? Check my post Where to beautifully sleep in Cartagena
2.Go to Islas del Rosario
When planning your trip to Cartagena, I’d highly recommend you spend a day (at least) at the beautiful Islas del Rosario.
My advice is : do not waste your time going to the beach in Cartagena. Instead, invest in a day-trip to Baru, Playa Blanca, Coco Liso or one of the beautiful Islands you can reach from Cartagena.
Ask about this option in your hotel or to tourist vendors and get the plan that best suits you: from average public cristalline-water beaches to private paradise. Sail 40-45 minutes and you’ll find yourself in the Caribbean sea.
After having done the “affordable” version many times before, we decided to have a high-end trip to Baru with Private boat, private beach and scuba + diving tour. Not bad, right ?
More info : CASA BARU, to book the stunning private island we got to spend the day. Finest accomodation option, natural swimming pool and delicious food. Highly recommended !
More info on diving and scuba: We went out there with COLOMBIA DIVE very professional, totally safe and perfect diving/snorkeling experience. These guys are the best!
3. Get your tourists on !
Besides being a beautiful city to wander around, Cartagena has major sightings such as the Castillo de San Felipe, la Popa, las Murallas, Museo de la Inquisicion, one of Simon Bolivar Houses… so get yourself a tourist guide and be ready to get into some serious historical and touristic activities.
Do not forget Cartagena was Spain’s most important trade port back in the time and that today the city is home for the Colombian and international Jet-set. Think Bill Clinton, Royal Family of Monaco and Prince Charles kind of jet-set….
There you go : off to travel 400 years of history in Cartagena.
Quick tip : the Old City is pedestrian-friendly, to get to sites outside the old city, consider hiring a cab for the day. It’s cheaper and will help you lots. Oh, and check that your taxi has air-con, otherwise you will certainly melt !
4.Eat, pray, love … and SHOP !
One of the great things about going to Cartagena is just being able to wander around and get lost in those beautiful and colorful little old streets.
In every corner of every tiny street of the Old City you will find a delicious restaurant, a great gelateria, a lovely shop selling hand-painted hats … just walk around and enjoy the chic and yet lay-down rhythm of the city.
If it gets too hot (it will), try visiting one of the baroque, over-the-top churches in town, you’ll chill out just in time to get out for lunch, diner or a drink overlooking the caribbean … after a long day of shopping down the cobbled streets.
Quick tip: when out for a shopping tour, take your Passport wth you ! Taxes from pretty much everything you will purchase with a Credit Card can be refunded to you at the airport!
5.Go out colombian-style : Chiva Rumbera, or the ultimate Colombian Party-Bus
Have you seen those typical Colombian hand-crafted colorful little buses? Well, you can get into a real one and have REAL fun!
When we first started planning this trip, we thought about hiring a Chiva could be the ultimate over-kitsch experience and that our very international guests will hate the idea. However, let me tell you : THEY LOVED IT ! It was one of the highlights of our trip to Cartagena, believe it or not.
Since we were a large group (40 pers.) we hired one for ourselves, but you can arrange to share one with other tourists, just ask at our hotel desk or with any tourist vendor about the ‘CHIVA TOUR’. The Chiva will pick you (and your other 39 friends !) and get you on a tour. You can choose the ‘touristic chiva’ during the day, or the ‘party chiva’ during the night.
Both will have the regular ‘tour-bus’ thing in which you can hop in and off to take pictures in touristic sites. The great, funny and unique thing about the ‘party’ version of the chiva is that you are in Colombia : so feel free to bring along one or 2 (… or 3 or 10…) bottles of Aguardiente, Whisky, Rhum, Champagne or whatever is you like. Be ready to dance Colombian-style inside the bus… while the bus is actually touring the city. If you do this on friday or saturday night, the Chiva will take you to nightclubs and wait for you and take you to another night club and wait for you and on and on and on….
Kitsch but cool. Do not miss it !
Have you already been to Cartagena? Got other sweet tips to share? How are you? Do you like Rhum? Comments below 👇😊🙆