It’s no surprise that Cartagena is one of the most visited cities in Colombia. With its perfect location on the Caribbean sea, colonial influence, and amazing food and nightlife, it makes for the perfect addition to a Colombia itinerary or even just a long weekend getaway! We had the pleasure of staying for four days in Cartagena on the tail end of our 2 week journey around Colombia and I dream of getting back to Cartagena.
No matter if you’re here for a quick trip or part of a longer trip, 4 days in Cartagena will be the perfect amount of time to see everything this cool city has to offer. From the beaches to the history to the hip artsy areas, you’re seeing it all. Keep reading to learn more about visiting Cartagena, where to stay, and a 4 day itinerary.
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Cartagena de Indias is a large city on the Caribbean sea located in the northeast corner of Colombia. It serves as the capital of the Bolivar department of Colombia. Cartagena is one of the most visited cities in South America and for good reason! The city was founded in 1533 after the Spanish took over the area and became a center for both slave trading and the Inquisition. Cartagena has a long and storied history from the days in the 16th century to when it became independent of Spain in the 1800s to the fighting that occurred thereafter. In the past two centuries, Cartagena has served as an important port and continues to serve as a center for imports and exports for Colombia.
Even though Cartagena has undergone revitalization and major growth, what brings tourists from all over the world is the famed walled portion of the city. The “Old City” of Cartagena is a walled portion of the city built during colonization. Many of the buildings are preserved and restored to reflect the original beauty and history of Cartagena. Today, over 1 million people call Cartagena home and it sees over 3 million tourists each year!
Tips for Visiting Cartagena
When planning your trip to Cartagena, you’ll want to know some basic facts about visiting this beautiful city! Here are some quick tips that will help you plan.
- The national language spoken is Spanish. I found that many people spoke English but several people also didn’t speak English. It will be helpful to know a few phrases in Spanish to get around.
- The currency used in Cartagena is the Colombian peso.
- To get around, you’ll want to use a metered and marked taxi. Taxis are pretty much everywhere in the city. While it is available, Uber is illegal in Colombia so just stay away if you don’t want to run into any issues.
- Most of the tourist sites are within walking distance.
- The water is potable for foreigners! I’ve seen some other blogs and websites say you shouldn’t drink the water if you’re not from Cartagena, but we didn’t have an issue with it. However, I will say it tastes very *beachy* so we tried to stick to bottled water where we could.
- There are many locals trying to make a buck and have creative ways of doing so. You’ll see people selling sunglasses, hats, bags, etc on the street. There are rappers coming up to you trying to rap in your face for a few coins. And plenty of people may come up to you and just flat out ask for money. Whether you choose to spend money this way is up to you–I just think it’s important to be aware of the different schemes out there. You can (and should) always haggle, too.
- There are women in beautifully colorful dresses carrying baskets of fruit on their heads in Cartagena. They are called palenqueras and there’s a good chance you’ve seen a picture of them on your Cartagena research. Just be aware that you ARE expected to tip them if you want to take a picture of or with them.
Where to stay in Cartagena
Cartagena is a popular place to visit so you’ll have no issue finding an amazing place to stay in any budget.
There are three major areas that tourists typically stay in:
- Centro Historico, or the walled portion of the city,
- Getsemani, the hip, trendy neighborhood, or
- Bocagrande, the luxe beachy area that gives more of a big city vibe.
For a first time visitor, I highly recommend staying within the walled portion of the city–it’s just an experience like no other! You’ll be within walking distance to most of the major tourist sites and a short stroll from some of the best restaurants in the city. Getsemani is typically a bit more affordable and has lots of nightlife and art if that is more your vibe. On our trip, we didn’t wander into Bocagrande but it looked like a smaller version of Miami–more trendy, more expensive, and right on the beach.
Within the walled portion of the city, there are three super luxurious properties I recommend:
Casa San Agustin: the most Instagrammable and luxurious hotel in Cartagena, stay here if you want the best of the best
The Movich Cartagena de Indias: a Hyatt Small Luxury Hotels stay, you can book with points or pay an affordable rate for this luxury property. The view from the rooftop pool and bar is the best in the city!
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara: a 5 star hotel with a stunning patio and restaurant area, this hotel is breathtaking and located near some of the best restaurants!
You can check out my full guide on where to stay in Cartagena here.
What to Pack When Visiting Cartagena
With its proximity to the Caribbean sea, you’ll experience hot and humid weather year-round in Cartagena. The heat and humidity was surprisingly welcomed after a chilly few weeks in the rest of Colombia! You’ll want to pack light and comfortable clothes. This itinerary involves mainly time outside and plenty of walking.
I lived in sundresses while in Cartagena! Have a flowy maxi dress for nicer dinners and a couple of breezy dresses for hot days in the sun. Birkenstock sandals or a very comfortable, lightweight sneaker will be perfect for walking around. Don’t bother with anything heeled–the cobblestone streets and heels are a mix for disaster.
This itinerary has plenty of sun and sand, so pack your swimsuit and a great wide-brimmed hat! Even for days walking around the city, you’ll be glad you have a hat to protect your shoulders and neck. Don’t forget sunnies to protect your eyes!
Finally, pack a backpack to throw in all your essentials for exploring the city. The Brevite Jumper bag is one of my favorites for traveling with its dedicated camera pockets and plenty of room for snacks, water, and souvenirs we pick up on our way.
When to visit Cartagena
Due to its climate and location, any time of year you choose to visit Cartagena will most likely be warm and sunny! The Caribbean sea almost guarantees frequent showers but there’s also plenty of sunshine. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year with more consistent rain in May through November. We visited in June and rain wasn’t really an issue. You just never know what you’re going to get with a tropical climate!
To avoid the crowds, head to Cartagena in the winter between November and December. Just know you might be inside a bit more with the steadily increasing rain in these months. However, if you want to be right in the action, visit during the famous Barranquilla Carnival in February.
Related: The Best 3 Day Medellín Itinerary
4 day Cartagena Itinerary
This itinerary starts in the AM on day one. I recommend arriving sometime early in the afternoon the day before so you can check into your hotel and get settled!
Many hotels offer breakfast, which is what we did each morning. But if you don’t have included breakfast, grab a meal at Café de la mañana and then head to Parque Centenario.
Parque Centenario is right in the center between the walled city and Getsemani and is where you’ll meet your tour guide. The walking tour with Beyond Colombia begins at 10 am and is a fantastic way to learn more about Cartagena and get a feel for the city. The tour is free but tipping is recommended and always appreciated. Be sure to pack your bag full of water and wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen! There’s little shade along the tour and it gets HOT.
Following the tour, grab a refreshing and delicious lunch at La Cevichería. This charming restaurant is world famous and has a variety of different ceviches to try. We had a hard time choosing so we each got a couple different small ones. Each and every ceviche was delicious!
After a busy morning and hot temps, treat yourself to an afternoon by your rooftop pool. A stay at the Hotel Ananda, The Movich, or Casa San Agustin will afford you with dreamy pool views. Enjoy the sunshine and lounge in the cool water for the afternoon!
Once you’ve soaked up allll the sun, freshen up and head over to The Movich for drinks on their rooftop. The Movich rooftop has the BEST views of the walled city and amazing cocktails, too. Check this out on your first day because you may have to come back another day… The rooftop is often closed for an event.
Next, walk to Celele in Getsemani for dinner. Oh my gosh, this was my FAVORITE meal of our entire 2 week trip in Colombia! Celele is rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in Latin America and for good reason. The Caribbean inspired menu is small and changed often so you’re sure to get a unique and fresh meal. Make reservations ahead of time because this place is popular. We got lucky and were able to make a reservation about a week out but I have a feeling this won’t be the case for long.
Cartagena is definitely a party city and there are a multitude of bars and clubs you can visit after dinner. We are not huge party people so I recommend checking out this post by Jetset Christina on where to drink & dance if you want to know more about Cartagena nightlife!
On day two, you’ll want to get up bright and early because you have a full day of island hopping today, my friend! If you have time, swing by Epoca for a quick snack and espresso.
Island hopping!!!!!!!! The Rosario Islands off the coast of Cartagena are extremely popular because they are so incredibly beautiful. Book a tour and enjoy the beautiful Caribbean sea for the day… you deserve it after all this non-stop travel 😉
We booked a tour that went snorkeling but also to 3 different islands. The focus was most definitely not snorkeling… we were able to do that for about 45 minutes at the reef but the rest of the day was pretty party heavy. Most of the islands do have a bit of a party theme, in my opinion! Cholon Island is the “party island” where all the tables are in the water and servers bring your drinks to you! Highly recommend stopping here even if you’re not a huge partier.. The experience was so cool!
Once back from your tour, you should have a couple hours to relax before dinner! I enjoyed taking another dip in the pool while my husband was done with the sun and just hung out in the AC 😉
For dinner, walk over to the San Diego neighborhood for La Mulata. Reservations aren’t needed, especially if you get there when they open at 6:30! The Camarones Mulata were incredible!!!
Rise and shine, friend! We’ve got another full fun day in Cartagena.
Walk or take a taxi to the San Felipe castle, which is a fort that was built back in 1536 by the Spanish colony. It is very touristy but is neat to see and has great views of the city. Again, the heat and sun is relentless. Bring plenty of water!
On your way back, walk through the Getsemani neighborhood to admire the graffiti and the cool vibes. Then take the BEST detour ever through Parque Centenario. This park is home to 8 sloths, 14 monkeys, and 2 sloths!!! Look up into the trees and wait for swooshing sounds to find them. You can also just find the crowds of people looking into the trees as a dead giveaway something is around 😉 The locals also love sharing about the animals and are quick to point them out and tell you about them!
The route back to the walled city from San Felipe takes you right through Getsemani.
In Getsemani, take pictures of all the magical murals and wander in and out of bars and shops to your heart’s content! You will love this colorful, artsy neighborhood. Head to El Convento de la Popa for sweeping views of Cartagena.
Afterwards, grab lunch at Alma. You will NOT regret it. It’s a bit pricey but one of the best meals we had on the trip! It’s located in the Casa San Agustin, which is arguably the most luxurious hotel in all of Cartagena! You’ll get a few peeks of their famous pool as well. Going at lunch means you most definitely won’t have a wait and it’s a nice respite from the heat.
For dinner, I’d recommend Cuzco Cocina Peruana! Since it’s your last night, grab a cocktail at the famous Alquimico. It’s a 3 story bar with each level hosting a different vibe. Go straight to the rooftop for a fun vibe and a live DJ!
For your last full day, I recommend waking up nice and early to enjoy a bike ride or a walk along the old city wall before everyone else is awake. The mornings are so peaceful and quiet, in stark contrast to Cartagena at night!
Grab a quick breakfast and then get ready to head out on your last tour.
Not far from Cartagena lies El Totumo, which is a mud volcano that sits on the edge of the Totumo marsh. This volcano spews warm, mineral mud from the earth that draws visitors from all over to take a dip. You can take a short 45 minute trip to the volcano which will allow you to bathe in the mud and then wash off in the nearby river. The entrance is around $20 USD. You can also choose to do a tour that will arrange transportation to and from the volcano, making it an easy-peasy trip for you!
Once back to Cartagena, grab lunch at Carmen. Carmen is on the nicer side to be sure, but it’s a meal you won’t soon forget! We actually ate at the Carmen in Medellín but they are the same! I highly recommend doing the tasting menu with wine pairing. This was our first tasting menu and we are HOOKED. The Caribbean inspired menu with dishes like pork belly, ceviche, and grilled octopus is absolutely to die for. I recommend making reservations as this place is very popular!
After lunch, meander around the Old City, buy sweets in the square, and enjoy your last afternoon in Cartagena. For me, this meant one last dip in the pool!
For dinner, head to Buenavida Masquería. This restaurant is well-known for fresh seafood with Caribbean flair. We tried our hardest to get in without a reservation, but the wait was over 2 hours long! So, you’ll want to plan ahead and get a reservation.
Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city located on the Caribbean sea that offers some of the best of Colombia. You can enjoy the history and culture, delicious food, and go island hopping all in one trip! Spending 4 days in Cartagena is the perfect amount of time to get to know this charming city. Be sure to enjoy drinks on the rooftop of The Movich, island hop in the Rosario Islands, and enjoy a meal at the top-rated Celele. After following the 4 days in Cartagena itinerary, you’ll be in love with this city just like I am!