Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Cartagena: A City Of Color, Tourists, And Food


by Margot Tharpe



Welcome to Cartagena, a captivating city located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. With its rich history, colorful streets, and delectable cuisine, Cartagena has become one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Its unique blend of colonial architecture, vibrant culture, and delicious food make it a city worth exploring.


Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Spanish colonizers and quickly became an important port city for trade between Europe and the Americas. Over the centuries, it endured pirate attacks, colonization attempts, and the scars of slavery. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcasing its historical significance and architectural marvels.


One of the most impressive aspects of Cartagena is its stunning architecture. The city is famous for its well-preserved colonial buildings, complete with colorful facades, intricate balconies, and charming plazas. Walking through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the stunning architecture and the vibrant mix of colors.


The culture of Cartagena is as vibrant as its architecture. From the lively street performances to the pulsating music playing in every corner, the city dances to its own rhythm. The rich Afro-Colombian heritage is evident in the music, dance, and art, adding a unique flavor to the local culture. Exploring the streets of Cartagena is like stepping into a living museum, where history and traditions blend seamlessly with modern life.


Cartagena is also home to a wide range of tourist attractions. Whether you want to soak up the sun on the pristine beaches of the Rosario Islands, take a boat ride through the scenic mangroves of La Boquilla, or explore the ancient ruins of the San Felipe Castle, there is something for everyone in this enchanting city. The abundance of museums, art galleries, and cultural events further enhances the tourist experience.


When it comes to food, Cartagena is a gastronomic paradise. The city is known for its fusion of flavors, blending indigenous ingredients with African, European, and Caribbean influences. The local cuisine is a reflection of Cartagena’s diverse history and cultural heritage. From street food stalls serving mouthwatering empanadas and arepas to upscale restaurants offering gourmet seafood dishes, there is no shortage of culinary delights to indulge in.


In this article, we will take you on a journey through the vibrant streets of Cartagena, exploring its history, architectural marvels, culture, tourist attractions, and of course, the mouthwatering gastronomy. So grab your hat, sunscreen, and appetite, and get ready to immerse yourself in the colors, flavors, and charm of Cartagena.


History of Cartagena

The history of Cartagena is as rich and captivating as the city itself. Founded in 1533 by Spanish explorer Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena quickly became an important port city for Spain’s colonial empire. Named after the Spanish city of Cartagena, the settlement served as a strategic stronghold for controlling trade routes and defending against pirate attacks.


During the colonial era, Cartagena flourished as a prosperous trading hub, attracting merchants from around the world. It became a key port for the export of valuable commodities such as gold, silver, and precious stones. The wealth generated by trade led to the construction of impressive fortifications, including the famous Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, which still stands tall today.


The city’s prosperity also made it a target for pirates and privateers, most notably the notorious English pirate Sir Francis Drake. In 1586, Drake and his crew pillaged Cartagena, leaving a trail of destruction and plunder in their wake. This event led to the strengthening of the city’s fortifications and the construction of the iconic walls that surround the Old Town.


Cartagena played a crucial role in the history of slavery in the Americas. As one of the main slave trading ports, it served as a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Countless African slaves were brought to Cartagena and forced into labor on plantations and in the city’s burgeoning industries. The legacy of this dark period can still be felt in the Afro-Colombian culture and traditions that permeate the city.


During the 19th century, Cartagena played an important role in the fight for independence from Spanish rule. It was a center of political and military activity, and several key battles took place in and around the city. Finally, in 1821, Colombia gained its independence, and Cartagena became an integral part of the newly formed republic.


In recognition of its historical and architectural importance, Cartagena was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The city’s well-preserved colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and fortifications serve as a testament to its past and a reminder of the resilience and spirit of its people.


Today, Cartagena continues to enchant visitors with its rich history, vibrant culture, and picturesque streets. It is a city that seamlessly blends the old with the new, inviting travelers to step back in time while enjoying modern amenities and attractions. Exploring the history of Cartagena is like strolling through a living museum, where each street and building tells a captivating story of the city’s past.


Architectural Marvels

Cartagena is a city that exudes architectural beauty at every turn. Walking through its cobblestone streets is like taking a journey back in time, as the city’s well-preserved colonial buildings showcase a unique blend of Spanish and Caribbean influences.


One of the most iconic architectural marvels in Cartagena is the walled city, also known as the Old Town or Ciudad Amurallada. This fortified area dates back to the 16th century and is surrounded by thick stone walls that stretch for over 13 kilometers. As you enter through the grand gates, you are transported to a bygone era, where every street is brimming with charm and history.


The colonial architecture in Cartagena is characterized by vibrant colors, intricate balconies, and balconies adorned with colorful flowers. Each building tells a story, with details and ornamentation reflecting a mix of Spanish, African, and indigenous influences. Walking down the streets, you’ll find picturesque plazas with well-preserved facades that house centuries-old churches, museums, and colonial mansions.


One of the most remarkable architectural attractions in Cartagena is the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, this fortress is a testament to the city’s resilience and strategic importance. Constructed in the 17th century, it features a complex network of tunnels, ramparts, and strategic vantage points. Exploring the fortress offers not only a glimpse into Cartagena’s military history but also breathtaking views of the city and the Caribbean Sea.


Another architectural gem in Cartagena is the Palace of the Inquisition, located in the heart of the Old Town. This beautiful colonial building showcases an elegant courtyard, ornate balconies, and a museum that delves into the dark history of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia. It is a must-visit for history enthusiasts and those interested in learning more about the colonial era.


In addition to the historical buildings, Cartagena also boasts a unique form of architecture known as the “Cartagena Window.” This distinctive architectural feature can be seen throughout the city, with wooden window frames that jut out from the buildings and are often adorned with flowers. These windows not only add to the overall charm of the city but also serve a practical purpose, allowing for better airflow and natural light in the tropical climate.


Cartagena’s architectural marvels are not limited to the Old Town alone. The modern skyline of Bocagrande showcases sleek high-rise buildings with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. This vibrant neighborhood is home to luxury hotels, shopping centers, and a bustling nightlife scene, offering a contrast to the colonial charm of the Old Town.


Whether you are exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town, admiring the historic fortifications, or marveling at the modern architecture, Cartagena’s architectural wonders never fail to captivate. The city’s unique blend of styles, colors, and historical significance make it a truly remarkable destination for architecture enthusiasts and travelers alike.


Vibrant Culture and Colorful Streets

Cartagena is a city that pulsates with vibrant culture and is a feast for the senses. From its lively streets to its vibrant festivals, the city immerses you in a unique blend of history, music, dance, and art.


One of the first things you’ll notice when exploring Cartagena is the explosion of color that adorns the streets. The facades of the colonial buildings in the Old Town are painted in a kaleidoscope of hues, ranging from pastel pinks and yellows to bold blues and greens. Every corner you turn reveals another picturesque street or charming plaza, each more colorful than the last.


The vibrant culture of Cartagena is deeply rooted in its Afro-Colombian heritage. The city’s African influence is evident in the music, dance, and art that permeate the streets. You can hear the rhythmic beats of drums and the melodic sounds of traditional instruments like the marimba and gaita. The joyous sounds of Afro-Colombian music, such as cumbia and champeta, fill the air, enticing locals and visitors alike to join in the lively dance.


Cartagena’s streets come alive with street performers showcasing their talents, from musicians and dancers to magicians and artists. Plaza de los Coches, located in the heart of the Old Town, is a popular gathering spot for street performances. Here, you can witness energetic dance troupes gracefully moving to the music or local artisans displaying their colorful artwork.


The city’s vibrant culture is also celebrated through its numerous festivals and events. One of the most renowned is the Cartagena International Music Festival, held annually in January. This world-class event brings together top musicians from around the globe, showcasing a diverse range of musical genres and styles. The festival not only takes place in traditional concert halls but also spills out into the streets, where impromptu performances and jam sessions occur.


Another significant cultural event is the Cartagena Independence Festival, celebrated every November. This week-long festival commemorates the city’s independence and features parades, live music, dance performances, and fireworks. The streets are filled with locals and tourists alike, joining together to revel in the infectious energy of the festivities.


Art and creativity thrive in the colorful streets of Cartagena. The city is teeming with art galleries showcasing the works of local artists, as well as street art adorning walls and buildings in various neighborhoods. The artistic expression found on the streets adds an extra layer of vibrancy and character to the city.


Cartagena’s culture and streets are an invitation to immerse yourself in the lively rhythms, colors, and traditions of its people. Whether you’re wandering through the bustling streets of the Old Town, participating in a traditional dance, or reveling in the festivities, you will experience the enchanting spirit that makes Cartagena truly come alive.


Tourist Attractions

Cartagena is a city brimming with captivating tourist attractions, offering visitors a diverse array of experiences and sights to explore. From its historic landmarks to its stunning natural beauty, there is something for everyone in this enchanting Colombian city.


The Old Town, or Ciudad Amurallada, is the heart and soul of Cartagena and one of its most popular tourist attractions. Surrounded by impressive stone walls, this UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases the city’s colonial heritage with its well-preserved architecture, charming plazas, and vibrant streets. Get lost in the maze of cobblestone alleys, discover hidden courtyards, visit the beautifully adorned churches, and marvel at the colorful facades that line the streets.


The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is another must-visit attraction in Cartagena. This massive fortress is strategically located on a hill, offering panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. Explore the complex network of tunnels, climb to the top of the fortifications, and learn about the history and defense strategies of this formidable structure.


To get a taste of Cartagena’s natural beauty, head to the Rosario Islands. Located just off the coast, this spectacular archipelago is made up of 27 coral islands, each with its own unique charm. Relax on white sandy beaches, swim in turquoise waters, or indulge in snorkeling and diving among vibrant coral reefs. The Rosario Islands are a true paradise for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts.


The iconic Plaza de los Coches, situated at the entrance of the Old Town, is a bustling square and popular gathering spot for locals and tourists. With its colonial architecture, lively atmosphere, and surrounding shops and restaurants, it is the perfect place to soak in the energy of the city. Sit by one of the outdoor cafes, indulge in some people-watching, and immerse yourself in the vibrant street life.


For a glimpse into Cartagena’s history and culture, visit the Palace of the Inquisition. This beautifully restored colonial building now houses a museum that showcases the dark history of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia. Explore the torture chambers, view the carefully curated exhibits, and learn about the city’s haunting past.


Another popular attraction is the Convento de la Popa, located on a hilltop overlooking the city. This 17th-century convent offers breathtaking views of Cartagena and its surroundings. Explore the well-preserved interiors, visit the small chapel adorned with religious artifacts, and enjoy the serene atmosphere of this historic site.


To experience the vibrant local culture and crafts, a visit to the Mercado Bazurto is highly recommended. This bustling market is a sensory feast, with a vast array of fresh produce, local delicacies, colorful textiles, and handicrafts. Immerse yourself in the vibrant ambiance, interact with the friendly vendors, and sample some of the delicious street food on offer.


Whether you’re exploring the charming streets of the Old Town, basking in the natural beauty of the Rosario Islands, or delving into Cartagena’s history and culture, the city’s tourist attractions are sure to leave a lasting impression. Each attraction tells a story and offers a unique perspective on the rich tapestry that is Cartagena.


Gastronomic Delights

Cartagena is a paradise for food lovers, offering a delicious blend of flavors influenced by its diverse cultural heritage. The city’s gastronomy is a reflection of its history, with African, European, indigenous, and Caribbean influences coming together to create a culinary experience that is both unique and tantalizing.


When exploring the streets of Cartagena, be sure to indulge in the local street food. From the scent of freshly fried empanadas to the sizzle of grilled arepas, the aroma of savory delights fills the air. Bite into a hot and crispy empanada, filled with your choice of meat, cheese, or vegetables, and experience a burst of flavors that will leave you craving for more.


A visit to Cartagena would not be complete without trying the iconic coastal dish of ceviche. This refreshing dish, typically made with fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and mixed with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, is a perfect harmony of tangy and savory flavors. Enjoy it as an appetizer or as a main course, accompanied by crispy plantain chips or patacones (fried green plantains).


For those seeking an authentic taste of Afro-Colombian cuisine, sancocho is a must-try. This hearty soup is made with a flavorful broth, a variety of meats such as chicken, beef, or fish, yuca (cassava), plantains, corn, and other seasonings. The result is a rich and comforting dish that will warm your soul and satisfy your taste buds.


Cartagena is known for its abundance of seafood, and no visit would be complete without indulging in some deliciously fresh seafood dishes. Try arroz con mariscos, a flavorful rice dish cooked with an assortment of seafood, such as shrimp, fish, and mussels. Or savor a plate of pargo rojo frito, a crispy fried whole red snapper served with coconut rice and fried plantains.


If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, head to one of the many food markets in Cartagena. These bustling markets offer a wide variety of local produce, freshly caught seafood, and traditional snacks. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere, interact with the friendly vendors, and sample authentic flavors from all corners of the city.


Cartagena is also home to a thriving restaurant scene, with a wide range of establishments catering to every palate and preference. From classic Colombian cuisine to international fusion dishes, you’ll find a plethora of dining options to satisfy your culinary cravings. Many restaurants in Cartagena boast stunning views, whether overlooking the ocean, the historic city center, or the vibrant streets, adding an extra touch of ambiance to your dining experience.


For those who appreciate fine dining, Cartagena offers a number of renowned restaurants helmed by talented chefs. From upscale seafood restaurants to innovative fusion cuisines, these establishments showcase the city’s culinary evolution and commitment to excellence in taste and presentation.


As you explore the gastronomic delights of Cartagena, be sure to pair your meals with traditional Colombian drinks such as aguapanela (sugarcane drink), limonada de coco (coconut lemonade), or a refreshing mojito made with local rum.


In Cartagena, every meal is a celebration of flavor, culture, and history. Whether you’re dining on the street, at a local market, or in a fancy restaurant, the city’s gastronomy will leave you with a taste of its vibrant and diverse culinary heritage. 

Local Cuisines and Food Markets

Cartagena is a culinary delight, offering a wide range of local cuisines that showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage. From vibrant street food to bustling food markets, Cartagena presents a mouthwatering exploration of flavors and delights for food enthusiasts.


One of the best ways to experience the local cuisine is by indulging in the street food scene. Wander through the streets and follow your nose to the enticing aromas of freshly cooked delights. Sample the popular Colombian snack of arepas, which are corn-based patties grilled to perfection and filled with a variety of tempting ingredients such as cheese, meat, avocado, or eggs. These handheld treats are a staple and a must-try street food when in Cartagena.


Another local favorite is the empanada, a deep-fried or baked pastry filled with a savory mixture of meat, cheese, or vegetables. These stuffed delights can be found at food stalls throughout the city, where vendors serve them piping hot and ready to be devoured. Dip them in a variety of sauces like aji and hogao for an extra burst of flavor.


For a taste of the Afro-Colombian culture, don’t miss out on trying the famous dish of bollo de mazorca. Made from cornmeal, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed to perfection, these hearty snacks are often enjoyed with a generous dollop of suero costeño, a creamy cheese dip that adds a tangy richness to every bite.


When it comes to food markets, Cartagena offers an array of bustling and vibrant options. Mercado Bazurto is one of the most popular markets, where the atmosphere is alive with the sights, sounds, and aromas of fresh produce, spices, and local delicacies. It’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in the vibrant culinary culture of Cartagena, interact with friendly vendors, and discover new flavors.


In addition to Mercado Bazurto, the local fish market, Mercado de la Aduana, is also worth a visit. Here, you’ll find an impressive selection of freshly caught seafood, including fish, shrimp, lobster, and more. The market offers an authentic glimpse into the city’s coastal cuisine, and you can even have your seafood cooked right in front of you by local vendors.


Another gem for food enthusiasts is the Plaza de San Diego. This bustling square is home to numerous food stalls selling a variety of local dishes that will tempt your taste buds. From traditional Colombian meals to Caribbean-inspired flavors, you can feast on a wide range of delectable dishes while enjoying the vibrant ambiance of the market.


When visiting the food markets, make sure to try traditional Colombian beverages such as champeta, a refreshing coconut and fruit drink, or jugo de lulo, a citrusy and tangy fruit juice. These beverages perfectly complement the diverse flavors of the local cuisine.


Exploring the local cuisines and food markets of Cartagena is a journey of culinary discovery, immersing yourself in the city’s vibrant and diverse food culture. From street food snacks to the vibrant marketplaces, prepare to tantalize your taste buds and experience the colorful world of Cartagena’s gastronomy.


Famous Restaurants and Street Food

Cartagena is a food lover’s paradise, offering a diverse culinary scene that ranges from world-class restaurants to delectable street food. The city’s vibrant gastronomy is celebrated through its iconic eateries and enticing street food stalls.


For those seeking a refined dining experience, Cartagena boasts a number of famous restaurants that have gained international recognition. Restaurante 1621, located within the walls of the Santa Clara Hotel, offers an exquisite fine dining experience with a menu that blends contemporary and traditional Colombian flavors. With dishes like seared sea bass served with coconut rice and aji amarillo sauce, the restaurant is the epitome of elegance and innovation.


La Vitrola is another iconic restaurant that has become a symbol of Cartagena’s culinary scene. Located in the heart of the Old Town, it offers a vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of a classic Cuban nightclub. The menu features a fusion of Latin American and Caribbean flavors with dishes like succulent grilled meats, fresh ceviche, and flavorful seafood.


For seafood lovers, a visit to La Cevicheria is a must. This small eatery, made famous by Anthony Bourdain, serves up some of the most mouthwatering ceviche in town. The menu features a variety of options, from traditional fish ceviche to more exotic combinations like octopus and shrimp, all bursting with freshness and flavor.


If you prefer a more casual dining experience, the street food scene in Cartagena will not disappoint. Along the streets of the Old Town, you’ll find an array of food stalls offering local favorites. Be sure to try the famous Colombian arepas, served hot off the grill and filled with a variety of delicious ingredients like cheese, meat, beans, or egg. The simplicity of these handheld delights perfectly showcases the harmony of flavors Colombia is known for.


Empanadas are another street food staple in Cartagena, and one of the best places to try them is at La Brisa Loca. This popular eatery is known for its mouthwatering empanadas, which come in a variety of flavors and fillings. Pair them with a cold beer or a refreshing fruit juice for the perfect street food experience.


No visit to Cartagena is complete without indulging in the local sweet treats. Head to the Cartagena de Indias Chocolate Museum and Café for a delicious chocolate experience. Here, you can enjoy hot chocolate made with Colombian cacao, as well as a variety of chocolate-infused desserts and pastries.


Don’t forget to quench your thirst with a refreshing coco loco. This tropical cocktail is made with coconut water, rum, and fresh fruit, creating a delightful and refreshing concoction that perfectly complements the sunny and tropical vibes of Cartagena.


Whether you choose to dine in a famous restaurant or explore the local street food scene, Cartagena offers a culinary adventure that will satisfy your taste buds and leave you yearning for more. From refined flavors to casual street fare, the city’s famous restaurants and street food stalls offer a delightful array of options for every food lover.



Cartagena, with its rich history, architectural marvels, vibrant culture, and delectable cuisine, is a city that captivates the hearts and taste buds of visitors from around the world. From the colorful streets of the Old Town to the stunning beaches and lively markets, the city offers a truly immersive and memorable experience.


Exploring the history of Cartagena is like stepping into a time capsule, where the beautifully preserved colonial architecture and fortifications transport you to centuries past. The city’s vibrant culture, showcased through its music, dance, and colorful celebrations, creates an unforgettable atmosphere that is alive with energy and joy.


Visitors to Cartagena are spoiled for choice when it comes to tourist attractions. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, beckons with its maze of cobblestone streets, charming plazas, and architectural marvels. From the grand Castillo San Felipe de Barajas to the elegant Palace of the Inquisition, the city’s landmarks are a testament to its storied past.


Cartagena’s gastronomy is a treat for the senses. Delight in the mouthwatering street food found at every corner, from the crispy empanadas and stuffed arepas to the fresh ceviche bursting with flavors. Explore the bustling food markets, where vendors offer an enticing array of local produce, seafood, and traditional snacks.


For a more refined dining experience, Cartagena boasts famous restaurants that showcase the creativity and skill of local chefs. From elegant fine dining establishments to vibrant eateries, these restaurants offer a fusion of flavors that reflect the city’s diverse cultural heritage.


In conclusion, Cartagena is a city that effortlessly combines history, architecture, culture, and cuisine to create a truly captivating destination. Its vibrant streets, colorful facades, and warm hospitality make it a place that lingers in the memory of those who visit. Whether you’re strolling through the historical streets of the Old Town, savoring the delicious local cuisine, or immersing yourself in the festive atmosphere of the city, Cartagena promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you longing to return.