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The Best Things To Do In Cartagena Colombia – What Not To Miss


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Felicity Rigdon


Historic Walled City

The Historic Walled City, also known as the Old City, is the heart and soul of Cartagena. Stepping into this UNESCO World Heritage site is like entering a time capsule, as it transports you back to the colonial era with its cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and charming plazas.


One of the main attractions within the Historic Walled City is the iconic Clock Tower. This entrance gate welcomes visitors with its majestic architecture and serves as a symbol of Cartagena’s rich history. As you stroll through the narrow streets, you’ll discover picturesque squares such as Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza de los Coches, where you can relax and soak up the lively atmosphere.


The Historic Walled City is also home to several stunning churches that showcase the city’s religious heritage. One notable example is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria, an impressive structure with its eye-catching yellow facade and intricate interior design.


Art enthusiasts will find joy in exploring the numerous art galleries and boutique shops that line the streets of the Old City. Here, you can browse through vibrant paintings, sculptures, and handicrafts created by local artists, offering a glimpse into Colombia’s thriving artistic scene.


For a taste of traditional Colombian cuisine, make sure to indulge in the local street food. From mouth-watering arepas and empanadas to refreshing fruit juices and coconut treats, the Historic Walled City is a food lover’s paradise.


As evening falls, the Old City transforms into a vibrant nightlife hub. The sound of salsa music pours out from bars and clubs, inviting visitors to dance the night away. The lively atmosphere and the warm hospitality of the locals make for an unforgettable experience.


From its rich history and stunning architecture to its lively atmosphere and delicious cuisine, the Historic Walled City is a must-visit destination in Cartagena. Whether you’re exploring the streets during the day or immersing yourself in the vibrant nightlife, this enchanting neighborhood will captivate your senses and leave you with unforgettable memories.


Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a remarkable fortress and one of the most significant historical sites in Cartagena. Constructed in the 17th century, this imposing fortress played a vital role in defending the city against numerous attacks.


The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a testament to the military engineering skills of the Spanish empire. Its strategic design allowed the defenders to have a clear view of both land and sea, making it nearly impregnable. Exploring the intricate maze of tunnels, pathways, and bunkers within the fortress is an adventure in itself.


As you navigate through the fortress, you’ll come across strategic points such as the sentry boxes, cannon emplacements, and watchtowers, which offer breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. Walking along the expansive walls, you’ll feel a sense of awe and wonder at the scale and ingenuity of the construction.


Guided tours are available, offering insight into the history and significance of the fortress. Visitors can learn about the battles fought here and the strategies employed by the defenders. The stories of heroism and resilience add depth to the experience and bring the history of Cartagena to life.


As you explore the fortress, make sure to visit the Chapel of San Jose, a small chapel built within the walls of the castle. This spiritual refuge offers a moment of tranquility amid the historical ambiance.


Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is not only a historical treasure but also a fantastic spot to capture stunning photos. Whether you’re capturing the fortress from a distance or taking close-ups of the architectural details, you’ll be able to create lasting memories of your visit.


Visiting Castillo San Felipe de Barajas allows you to step back in time and delve into the rich history of Cartagena. From its strategic design to its panoramic views and captivating stories, this fortress is a must-see attraction for history enthusiasts and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of this vibrant city.


Getsemani Neighborhood

Nestled just outside the Historic Walled City, the Getsemani neighborhood is a vibrant and bohemian district that captures the essence of Cartagena’s artistic and cultural scene. With its colorful streets, lively street art, and welcoming atmosphere, Getsemani has become a must-visit destination for locals and travelers alike.


One of the highlights of Getsemani is the Plaza de la Trinidad, a lively square that serves as the heart of the neighborhood. Here, you’ll find locals and visitors mingling, enjoying street performances, and savoring delicious street food from the surrounding food stalls. The vibrant energy and the sense of community make this square an ideal spot to soak up the local culture.


Getsemani is also known for its vibrant street art scene. As you wander through the neighborhood’s alleys and streets, you’ll encounter colorful murals and graffiti that depict the stories, aspirations, and struggles of the local people. The street art adds a unique charm to the neighborhood and serves as a canvas for creative expression.


The neighborhood is also home to a thriving live music scene. Numerous bars and venues feature live performances of traditional genres like salsa and cumbia, as well as contemporary and fusion sounds. Join the locals on the dance floor and immerse yourself in the infectious rhythms of Cartagena.


Getsemani is also a foodie’s paradise. From street vendors offering local delicacies like arepas and ceviche to trendy restaurants that serve up innovative Colombian cuisine, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Don’t forget to try a refreshing Colombian-style fruit juice or a traditional Colombian coffee during your visit.


In recent years, Getsemani has undergone a transformation, attracting boutique hotels, hostels, and hip cafes. This has made it a popular neighborhood for travelers looking for a more authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. Staying in Getsemani allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture, meet friendly residents, and experience the vibrant atmosphere day and night.


Walking the streets of Getsemani is an adventure in itself, as you discover hidden gems around every corner. Whether you’re exploring the local markets, mingling with the locals, or simply enjoying the colorful ambiance, a visit to Getsemani is a must to truly experience the diverse and dynamic spirit of Cartagena.


Rosario Islands

A paradise awaits just off the coast of Cartagena, known as the Rosario Islands. This archipelago consisting of 27 islands is a tropical haven renowned for its crystal-clear turquoise waters, pristine white sand beaches, and abundant marine life.


The Rosario Islands are a haven for water enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Snorkeling and diving are popular activities, as the coral reefs surrounding the islands are teeming with vibrant marine life. Swim alongside tropical fish, explore colorful coral formations, and discover the underwater wonders that make this region so special.


For those seeking relaxation, the islands offer secluded and peaceful beaches where you can unwind and bask in the sun. Picture yourself lounging on a hammock under the shade of palm trees, listening to the soothing sound of the waves gently lapping the shore. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.


One of the main attractions in the Rosario Islands is the Oceanario, a marine park and aquarium where you can learn about the diverse marine ecosystems of the region. Take a guided tour and get up close with sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks while gaining insight into the importance of preserving these fragile ecosystems.


If you’re up for an adventure, consider taking a boat tour around the islands. Marvel at the natural beauty of the mangrove forests, explore hidden coves and lagoons, and witness breathtaking sunsets over the Caribbean Sea. Many tours also offer visits to the local fishing villages, providing a glimpse into the way of life of the island’s inhabitants.


To fully experience the beauty of the Rosario Islands, consider spending a night or two at one of the eco-lodges or boutique hotels located on the islands. Wake up to the sound of waves and relish in the tranquility of this tropical paradise. Indulge in freshly caught seafood and immerse yourself in the local culture.


Visiting the Rosario Islands is like stepping into a postcard-perfect tropical paradise. The natural beauty and serenity of these islands make for an unforgettable experience, allowing you to connect with nature and escape the pressures of everyday life. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this hidden gem during your visit to Cartagena.


Playa Blanca

Located just a short boat or taxi ride away from Cartagena, Playa Blanca is a pristine beach that promises an idyllic tropical escape. With its soft white sands, turquoise waters, and picturesque palm trees, Playa Blanca is a beach lover’s paradise.


Stretching along the coast for several kilometers, Playa Blanca offers ample space for soaking up the sun, swimming in the crystal-clear waters, and enjoying a range of beach activities. Whether you prefer lounging on a beach chair with a refreshing cocktail in hand or playing beach volleyball with new friends, there’s something for everyone.


One of the highlights of Playa Blanca is its tranquil and serene atmosphere. Unlike the crowded beaches of Cartagena, Playa Blanca offers a more peaceful and secluded setting, allowing you to relax and unwind while surrounded by the beauty of nature.


For adventure seekers, snorkeling and diving are popular activities at Playa Blanca. Explore the vibrant coral reefs and encounter a wide array of marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and even the occasional stingray. Many local vendors offer snorkeling gear, making it easy to embark on an underwater adventure.


Be sure to indulge in the local culinary delights at Playa Blanca. Seafood is a specialty, with freshly caught fish and shellfish served up in a variety of delicious dishes. Don’t miss the opportunity to try a traditional Colombian seafood platter, filled with flavorful ceviche, grilled fish, and succulent prawns.


Those looking for a more authentic experience can visit the nearby fishing village, where local fishermen ply their trade. Witness their daily routines, learn about traditional fishing techniques, and perhaps even purchase fresh seafood direct from the source.


To truly immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere of Playa Blanca, consider spending a night in one of the rustic beachfront accommodations. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves and waking up to breathtaking ocean views is an experience not to be missed.


Playa Blanca is the perfect getaway for those seeking some relaxation and natural beauty during their visit to Cartagena. Whether you spend a day lounging on the pristine beaches or embark on an underwater adventure exploring the vibrant marine life, this beach will leave you with memories of pure bliss.


Cartagena’s Old Town

Exploring Cartagena’s Old Town is like stepping into a magical world of colonial charm and vibrant culture. This historic district, also known as the Ciudad Amurallada or the Walled City, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 16th century.


One of the main attractions of the Old Town is its beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture. Admire the colorful facades, ornate balconies, and intricate ironwork as you wander through the narrow and winding streets. Every corner reveals a new architectural gem, with buildings that blend Spanish, Moorish, and Caribbean influences.


The Old Town is also home to numerous historic churches, each with its own unique character. The Iglesia de Santo Domingo, considered the oldest church in the city, boasts a striking yellow exterior and a beautiful interior adorned with religious artwork. Other notable churches include the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver and the Iglesia de San Francisco, both architectural masterpieces that are well worth a visit.


Plaza de Bolívar, the main square of the Old Town, is a hub of activity and a great place to take in the local atmosphere. Surrounded by charming buildings and shaded by trees, the plaza is home to the Cartagena Cathedral, the Palacio de la Inquisición, and several restaurants and cafes where you can relax and indulge in traditional Colombian cuisine.


The Old Town is also a shopaholic’s paradise, with a wide array of boutique stores, art galleries, and handicraft markets. From colorful textiles and handwoven baskets to exquisite jewelry and artwork, there’s something to suit every taste and budget. Don’t forget to bargain with the local vendors for a memorable shopping experience.


As the sun sets, the Old Town comes alive with vibrant nightlife. Enjoy live music performances, dance to the infectious rhythms of salsa, or sip on craft cocktails at one of the many trendy bars and lounges. The enchanting ambiance and warm hospitality of the locals create a captivating nightlife scene.


Whether you explore the Old Town by day or immerse yourself in its lively nightlife, this historic district will transport you back in time and captivate your senses. From its stunning architecture and rich history to its bustling markets and vibrant cultural scene, Cartagena’s Old Town is a treasure trove of experiences just waiting to be discovered.


Museo de Oro Zenú

Located within the historic city of Cartagena, the Museo de Oro Zenú is a fascinating museum dedicated to showcasing the rich heritage of the Zenú indigenous people and the intricate goldsmithing techniques they mastered. Through its impressive collection of artifacts, the museum offers visitors a glimpse into the culture, traditions, and craftsmanship of this ancient civilization.


The Museo de Oro Zenú houses a diverse range of gold and ceramic pieces, providing valuable insights into the Zenú’s mastery of metallurgy and their artistic prowess. The collection includes finely crafted jewelry, ceremonial objects, and everyday items that reflect the Zenú’s deep connection with nature and their spiritual beliefs.


As you explore the exhibits, you’ll learn about the symbolism behind each piece and the rituals and ceremonies in which they were used. The museum’s informative displays and interactive exhibits make it an engaging and educational experience for visitors of all ages.


One of the highlights of the Museo de Oro Zenú is the opportunity to see skilled artisans at work. The museum features a workshop where visitors can witness the goldsmithing techniques passed down through generations. This demonstration provides a rare chance to observe and appreciate the intricate process of transforming raw materials into stunning works of art.


In addition to the gold artifacts, the museum showcases a collection of traditional Zenú pottery. These beautifully crafted ceramics showcase the advanced pottery techniques used by the Zenú people, and depict their intricate designs and patterns inspired by nature.


The Museo de Oro Zenú also plays an important role in preserving and promoting indigenous culture. It hosts cultural events, workshops, and educational programs that aim to raise awareness about the Zenú culture and traditions. By actively involving local communities, the museum works towards the empowerment and recognition of the indigenous people of the region.


A visit to the Museo de Oro Zenú is not only an opportunity to admire exquisite gold artifacts and experience the rich history of the Zenú people, but also to support the ongoing preservation of indigenous culture. The museum is a treasure trove of art and history, allowing visitors to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship and artistic talent of the Zenú civilization.


Plaza de la Aduana

Located in the heart of Cartagena’s Old Town, the Plaza de la Aduana is a bustling square that serves as a focal point for both locals and tourists. This historic square, also known as Customs Square, has played a significant role in the city’s history and continues to be a vibrant hub of activity.


The Plaza de la Aduana is surrounded by striking colonial buildings that reflect the architectural grandeur of the past. The imposing Cartagena Cathedral dominates one side of the square, its impressive facade and towering bell towers commanding attention. The Palacio de la Aduana, once a customs building, now houses the city’s History Museum and adds to the grandeur of the square.


Strolling through the Plaza de la Aduana, you’ll find a lively mix of locals and tourists enjoying the vibrant atmosphere. The square is a popular gathering spot where people congregate to relax, socialize, and soak in the unique ambiance of Cartagena. You’ll often find musicians playing traditional Colombian music, street performers entertaining the crowds, and local vendors selling colorful handmade crafts.


One of the highlights of the Plaza de la Aduana is the opportunity to taste the flavors of Colombia. The surrounding streets are lined with cafes, restaurants, and street food vendors offering a variety of delicious Colombian cuisine. From traditional empanadas and arepas to refreshing fruit juices and Colombian coffee, there’s something to satisfy every palate.


The Plaza de la Aduana is also a popular venue for cultural events and festivals throughout the year. From live music performances to art exhibitions and theatrical productions, there’s always something happening in this vibrant square. The plaza comes alive during the annual Cartagena International Music Festival, attracting world-class musicians and performers from around the globe.


Exploring the Plaza de la Aduana offers a glimpse into the rich history and vibrant present of Cartagena. Whether you’re admiring the stunning architecture, enjoying the local cuisine, or immersing yourself in the cultural events, this plaza is a must-visit destination that showcases the unique essence of the city.


La Popa Monastery

Perched on top of a hill overlooking Cartagena, the La Popa Monastery offers breathtaking views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. This iconic religious site, officially known as the Convento de la Popa, is a must-visit destination for those seeking panoramic vistas and a glimpse into the city’s colonial past.


The monastery was founded in the 17th century and is known for its stunning colonial architecture. As you approach the entrance, you’ll be greeted by an impressive wooden door adorned with intricate carvings. Step inside, and you’ll find a serene and well-preserved courtyard, complete with beautiful gardens and a central fountain.


Visitors to La Popa Monastery can explore the museum, which showcases religious artifacts, artwork, and historical exhibits. Learn about the history of the monastery and the significant role it played in the development of Cartagena. The museum also offers insight into the religious traditions and cultural heritage of the region.


One of the highlights of a visit to La Popa Monastery is the chance to see the stunning Capilla de la Virgen de la Candelaria. This chapel is home to a revered statue of the Virgin Mary, known as La Virgen de la Candelaria, which is believed to have miraculous powers. The chapel is a place of quiet reflection, and many visitors leave offerings and pray for blessings.


Perhaps the most captivating aspect of La Popa Monastery is the commanding view it offers from its hilltop perch. As you ascend to the rooftop, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Cartagena’s colonial skyline, the sparkling Caribbean Sea, and the surrounding countryside. It’s the perfect spot to capture memorable photographs and take in the beauty of the city below.


Visiting La Popa Monastery provides a unique opportunity to connect with Cartagena’s religious heritage and witness the city’s stunning landscapes from a different perspective. The combination of its historical significance, beautiful architecture, and awe-inspiring views makes this monastery a must-see attraction for visitors to Cartagena.


Palacio de la Inquisición

The Palacio de la Inquisición, or Palace of the Inquisition, is a captivating historical building located in the heart of Cartagena’s Old Town. This imposing structure, with its elegant colonial architecture, offers visitors a glimpse into the dark and intriguing history of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia.


Constructed in the late 18th century, the Palacio de la Inquisición served as the headquarters of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. This institution was responsible for enforcing religious orthodoxy and punishing those deemed heretics or practicing forbidden beliefs. The palace’s exterior features ornate balconies, arched windows, and a stunning Baroque facade that exudes both power and authority.


Today, the Palacio de la Inquisición houses the Museum of the Inquisition, where visitors can explore the chilling history of this dark period. The museum’s exhibits include a range of artifacts, such as instruments of torture, iron masks, and personal testimonies of those who suffered under the Inquisition’s rule. It offers a sobering glimpse into the cruelty and intolerance that plagued this era.


As you navigate the museum, you’ll encounter chilling displays illustrating the brutal methods employed by the Inquisition to extract confessions and maintain control. From the infamous “grill” used for burning heretics to the Judas cradle, a torture device shaped like a pyramid, these exhibits are a stark reminder of the horrors endured by those accused of heresy.


Despite its dark history, the Palacio de la Inquisición is an architectural marvel that showcases the beauty and grandeur of colonial Cartagena. Its interior, adorned with intricate woodwork and ornate ironwork, creates a stark contrast to the haunting stories that unfold within its walls.


A visit to the Palacio de la Inquisición offers a chance to delve into the darker chapters of Cartagena’s past and reflect on the importance of religious tolerance and human rights. It serves as a reminder of the importance of embracing diversity and understanding the consequences of intolerance.


While it may be a sobering experience, a visit to the Palacio de la Inquisición is an opportunity to honor the memory of those who suffered and to strive for a more inclusive and compassionate future. It is a significant landmark that highlights the resilience and progress of Cartagena’s society, offering insights into the complexities of its history.


Las Bóvedas

Located in the Old City of Cartagena, Las Bóvedas is a fascinating and historically significant site that has transformed from its original purpose to become a vibrant hub for shopping, art, and culture. This unique structure, with its 23 massive arches and thick stone walls, once served as military barracks and later as a prison. Today, it stands as a testament to Cartagena’s past and offers a delightful experience for visitors.


Las Bóvedas, meaning “The Vaults” in Spanish, was originally built as a fortification to protect the city. However, it was never used for its intended purpose and instead became a prison. In the early 19th century, it housed political prisoners and later became a storage facility for weapons and other military supplies.


The arches of Las Bóvedas now house a unique collection of shops and galleries, making it a prime destination for shopping and art enthusiasts. The stores primarily showcase local handicrafts, artwork, jewelry, and souvenirs. From vibrant paintings and intricate textiles to handmade pottery and traditional Colombian garments, there is a wide range of treasures to discover and take home as a memento of your visit to Cartagena.


Aside from shopping, Las Bóvedas is also home to several art galleries, where visitors can admire and purchase works by local and international artists. The galleries showcase a variety of art genres, including contemporary, indigenous, and traditional Colombian artwork. It’s a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant art scene of Cartagena.


While exploring Las Bóvedas, take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. The arches facing the water offer stunning panoramic vistas that are ideal for capturing memorable photographs and savoring the beauty of the coastline.


In addition to its shopping and artistic offerings, Las Bóvedas often hosts cultural events and exhibitions. Visitors may have the chance to witness live performances, attend art installations, or participate in workshops that showcase the diverse cultural heritage of the region.


A visit to Las Bóvedas is an opportunity to experience the fusion of history, art, and commerce, all within the confines of an architectural gem. From its storied past as a fortress and prison to its modern-day incarnation as a vibrant shopping and cultural center, Las Bóvedas encapsulates the spirit of Cartagena, combining the old and the new in a captivating and delightful way.


Convento de la Popa

Perched atop the highest hill in Cartagena, the Convento de la Popa offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and serves as a tranquil sanctuary away from the bustling streets below. This historic convent, founded in the 17th century, is a testament to Cartagena’s religious roots and remarkable architectural heritage.


The Convento de la Popa is named after a hill shaped like the stern of a ship, reminiscent of the poop deck (popa in Spanish). This hill holds great significance in the city’s history, as it was believed to be a sacred site for the indigenous people who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Spanish.


The journey to the Convento de la Popa takes you through steep and winding roads, adding to the sense of anticipation as you approach the stunning entrance. Once inside, you’ll find a beautifully preserved courtyard adorned with colorful tiles, a serene garden, and a central fountain.


While exploring the convent, make sure to visit the chapel dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, the patron saint of Cartagena. The chapel houses a revered statue of the Virgin Mary, and many visitors come to seek her blessings and offer prayers for protection.


Aside from its religious significance, the Convento de la Popa offers breathtaking views of Cartagena’s cityscape and the sparkling Caribbean Sea. From the rooftop terrace, you can see the iconic Clock Tower, the vibrant rooftops of the Old City, and the distant shoreline. The panoramic vista provides a perfect backdrop for capturing memorable photos and appreciating the beauty of the city from a different perspective.


The convent is also home to a small museum that showcases religious artifacts, historical documents, and artwork. Visitors can learn about the history and significance of the convent, as well as gain insights into the religious practices and traditions of Cartagena.


For a truly immersive experience, take a moment to sit and absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the convent. The tranquility and serenity found within its walls provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city below.


A visit to the Convento de la Popa offers a unique opportunity to connect with Cartagena’s religious heritage and marvel at the beauty of the city from an elevated vantage point. Whether you’re seeking spiritual reflection, cultural exploration, or simply a moment of tranquility, this historic convent is a captivating destination that will leave a lasting impression.