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Where To Stay & Things To Do In Historic Cartagena


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Nicol Harrod



Cartagena, located on the northern coast of Colombia, is a city steeped in history, charm, and vibrant culture. With its colorful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is a fascinating destination that attracts visitors from all around the world.


Known as the “Jewel of the Caribbean,” this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a perfect blend of the old and the new. The city’s historic center, surrounded by impressive 16th-century stone walls, boasts a rich history that is evident in its well-preserved colonial buildings and ancient fortifications.


But Cartagena is more than just a historical landmark. It is a thriving city with a vibrant nightlife, enticing culinary scene, and a myriad of activities for all types of travelers. Whether you are seeking to unravel history, immerse yourself in the local culture, or simply relax on pristine beaches, Cartagena has something for everyone.


In this article, we will explore the best places to stay in Historic Cartagena, the top attractions, historical sites to visit, cultural experiences to have, outdoor activities to enjoy, and where to find the best shopping and dining options. So, pack your bags and get ready to embark on a journey through time and beauty in the enchanting city of Cartagena.


Where to Stay in Historic Cartagena

When visiting the historic city of Cartagena, choosing the right accommodation is essential to fully immerse yourself in the city’s charm. From boutique hotels to luxury resorts, there are a variety of options available for every traveler’s preference and budget.


If you want to experience the ultimate luxury, consider staying in one of the many high-end hotels located within the walled city. These hotels offer exquisite architecture, stunning views, and exceptional amenities. Some of the top luxury options include the Santa Clara Hotel, Casa Pestagua, and Casa San Agustin.


For travelers seeking a more authentic experience, the Getsemani neighborhood is a fantastic choice. This vibrant area is filled with colorful murals, lively street vendors, and trendy cafes. It offers a laid-back atmosphere and a wide range of accommodations, from budget-friendly hostels to boutique hotels. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the charming Plaza de la Trinidad in the heart of Getsemani.


If you prefer to be closer to the beach, Bocagrande is an excellent option. This modern area boasts a long stretch of white sandy beaches and a wide selection of hotels, ranging from large chain resorts to budget-friendly options. Bocagrande is also home to numerous restaurants, bars, and shops, making it a convenient base for exploring the city and enjoying the sun and sand.


Another popular neighborhood for visitors is El Centro. This bustling area is right in the heart of the walled city, known for its stunning architecture, narrow streets, and historic plazas. Staying in El Centro means being within walking distance of the city’s top attractions, museums, and restaurants.


Lastly, if you’re looking for a more secluded and tranquil experience, consider booking a stay in the Rosario Islands. These stunning islands, located just a short boat ride away from Cartagena, offer a chance to escape the city and enjoy pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and luxurious eco-resorts that blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings.


Regardless of where you choose to stay in Historic Cartagena, you will find yourself surrounded by culture, history, and warm hospitality. Take the time to choose the accommodation that best suits your preferences and indulge in the unique charm of this remarkable city.


Top Attractions in Historic Cartagena

Historic Cartagena is a treasure trove of captivating attractions that showcase the city’s rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning architecture. From its picturesque plazas to its fascinating museums, here are some of the top attractions you shouldn’t miss during your visit:

  1. Plaza de los Coches: This bustling square, located at the entrance of the walled city, is an excellent place to start your exploration. Admire the vibrant facades, indulge in street food, and soak in the lively atmosphere.
  2. San Felipe de Barajas Castle: One of the most impressive fortresses in South America, this 16th-century fortress offers stunning panoramic views of the city. Explore the intricate tunnels, learn about the castle’s history, and imagine what life was like during colonial times.
  3. Cartagena Cathedral: Located in the heart of the walled city, this magnificent cathedral is a must-visit. Admire its stunning architecture, intricate altar, and artwork, and take a moment to appreciate the peaceful ambiance.
  4. Convento de la Popa: Perched on a hill overlooking Cartagena, this convent offers breathtaking views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. Explore the beautiful gardens, visit the chapel, and immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere.
  5. Palace of the Inquisition: Step into the dark history of Cartagena at this museum. Discover the chilling tales of the Spanish Inquisition as you explore the rooms filled with haunting artifacts and informative exhibits.
  6. Las Bóvedas: Originally built as dungeons, these archways in the walled city now house an array of souvenir shops. Browse through the local handicrafts, artwork, and jewelry, and bring home a piece of Cartagena’s vibrant culture.
  7. Plaza Santo Domingo: This charming plaza is characterized by its iconic statue of a voluptuous woman, created by renowned artist Fernando Botero. Enjoy a cup of coffee, dine at an outdoor café, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the square.

These are just a few of the many attractions that await visitors in Historic Cartagena. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a culture lover, or simply looking to explore the beauty of this enchanting city, you are sure to be captivated by its timeless charm and allure.


Historical Sites to Visit

As a city with a rich colonial past, Historic Cartagena is home to a plethora of historical sites that offer a glimpse into its fascinating history. From iconic landmarks to lesser-known gems, here are some must-visit historical sites in Cartagena:

  1. San Pedro Claver Church and Museum: Named after the patron saint of slaves, this stunning church is a testament to the city’s history. Explore the museum inside to learn about the life of San Pedro Claver and the legacy of slavery in Cartagena.
  2. Palace of the Governor: Located within the walled city, this historic building served as the residence of the Spanish governors during colonial times. Today, it houses the Museum of Cartagena, where you can delve into the city’s history through its extensive collection of artifacts and artwork.
  3. Plaza de Bolivar: This charming square, located in the heart of the old town, is dedicated to the liberator Simón Bolivar. Admire the statue of Bolivar, relax on a bench, and take in the historical surroundings.
  4. Las Murallas (The Walls): Built to protect the city from pirate attacks, the walls of Cartagena are a testament to the city’s strategic importance during colonial times. Take a leisurely stroll along the ramparts to appreciate the breathtaking views and imagine the city’s history.
  5. Casa Museo Rafael Núñez: Step inside the former home of the Colombian president, Rafael Núñez, and get a glimpse into the late 19th-century lifestyle. Explore the well-preserved rooms, admire the antique furniture, and learn about Núñez’s contribution to Colombian history.
  6. La Popa Monastery: Perched on the highest hill in Cartagena, this 17th-century monastery offers panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. Explore the chapel, stroll through the beautiful gardens, and soak in the tranquil atmosphere of this historic site.
  7. Teatro Heredia: Immerse yourself in the vibrant arts scene of Cartagena by visiting Teatro Heredia. This theater, dating back to the early 20th century, has hosted countless performances and is a true architectural gem.

Visiting these historical sites in Cartagena is like taking a journey back in time. The city’s rich history comes alive through its well-preserved buildings, fascinating museums, and the stories they tell. Exploring these sites is an opportunity to appreciate the cultural heritage and understand the significance of Cartagena in shaping Colombia’s past and present.


Cultural Experiences to Have

Immersing yourself in the vibrant culture of Cartagena is an essential part of any visit to this historic city. From music and dance to traditional cuisine and local traditions, here are some cultural experiences to have in Cartagena:

  1. Attend a live music performance: Cartagena is a city alive with music. Head to a local bar or plaza in the evening and immerse yourself in the enchanting sounds of Afro-Colombian rhythms, including cumbia, vallenato, and champeta. The lively beats and infectious melodies are sure to get you dancing.
  2. Take a salsa dance lesson: Salsa is an integral part of Colombian culture, and Cartagena offers plenty of opportunities to learn this expressive dance style. Join a dance class or visit one of the salsa clubs in the city to let loose and embrace the joy of salsa dancing.
  3. Explore the vibrant street art: Cartagena is adorned with colorful and thought-provoking street art that reflects the city’s culture and history. Take a stroll through neighborhoods like Getsemani to admire the stunning murals and graffiti art created by local and international artists.
  4. Taste local cuisine: One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its food. Sample traditional dishes such as arepas, empanadas, ceviche, and the iconic seafood stew known as “sancocho.” Don’t miss the chance to savor the flavors of Cartagena’s street food scene and indulge in the city’s delicious tropical fruits.
  5. Learn about Afro-Colombian heritage: Cartagena has a rich Afro-Colombian heritage, and there are opportunities to learn about the history and traditions of this important cultural group. Visit the Museo Afro-Atlántico to gain insight into the contribution of Afro-Colombians to the city’s culture and identity.
  6. Participate in a traditional folkloric dance performance: Experience the vibrancy of Colombian folklore by watching a traditional dance performance. Dancers dressed in colorful costumes will showcase dances like the cumbia, mapalé, and bullerengue, allowing you to appreciate the diversity of Colombian culture.
  7. Experience a Caribbean sunset: Head to one of the city’s beautiful beaches or waterfront promenades in the evening to witness a breathtaking Caribbean sunset. As the sun dips below the horizon, embrace the tranquility of the moment and reflect on the beauty of nature.

By immersing yourself in these cultural experiences, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the vibrant and diverse culture that thrives in Cartagena. Embrace the local customs, indulge in the traditional cuisine, and let the music and art of this enchanting city mesmerize you.


Outdoor Activities to Enjoy

With its stunning coastline, warm climate, and diverse natural landscapes, Cartagena offers a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you prefer adventure, relaxation, or exploring nature, there is something for everyone. Here are some outdoor activities to experience in Cartagena:

  1. Relax on the beautiful beaches: Cartagena is blessed with pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. From Bocagrande to Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands, you can spend a day sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying water sports like snorkeling and diving.
  2. Go on a city bike tour: Explore the cobblestone streets and historic landmarks of Cartagena on a guided bike tour. Pedal through the colorful neighborhoods, visit the top attractions, and learn about the city’s rich history and culture from knowledgeable guides.
  3. Take a boat tour of the Rosario Islands: Located just off the coast of Cartagena, the Rosario Islands are a tropical paradise. Hop on a boat tour to explore the idyllic islands, go snorkeling in the coral reefs, and relax on the white sandy beaches.
  4. Go kayaking in the mangroves: Discover the unique ecosystem of the mangroves by kayaking through the winding waterways. Marvel at the dense mangrove forests, spot colorful wildlife, and learn about the importance of these ecosystems for the environment.
  5. Try your hand at water sports: Cartagena offers various water sports activities for thrill-seekers. From jet skiing and parasailing to paddleboarding and windsurfing, there is a wide range of options for adventure enthusiasts to get their adrenaline pumping.
  6. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride: Step back in time and explore the streets of Cartagena in a traditional horse-drawn carriage. Ride through the historic center, admire the beautiful architecture, and listen to the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as you soak in the ambiance of the city.
  7. Hike to the top of La Popa Hill: Lace up your hiking boots and embark on a journey to the top of La Popa Hill. Enjoy panoramic views of the city, visit the monastery, and learn about the history and significance of this iconic landmark.

Whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure, Cartagena offers an abundance of outdoor activities to satisfy every traveler. Soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches, explore the city on a bike tour, dive into the crystal-clear waters, or immerse yourself in the diverse natural landscapes that surround this captivating city.


Shopping in Historic Cartagena

For those who love to shop, Historic Cartagena is a paradise waiting to be explored. With its vibrant markets, charming boutiques, and local artisans, the city offers a unique shopping experience. From traditional handicrafts to stylish fashion, here are some of the best shopping spots in Cartagena:

  1. Las Bóvedas: Located in the walled city, Las Bóvedas is a collection of archways that were once used as dungeons and storage. Today, it is a popular shopping destination filled with a wide range of stores selling handicrafts, artwork, jewelry, and souvenirs. This is the perfect place to find unique and authentic Colombian gifts to take back home.
  2. San Diego Square: Situated in the heart of the walled city, San Diego Square is a charming plaza surrounded by boutique shops and galleries. Here, you can find a diverse selection of clothing, accessories, art, and home decor created by local designers and artisans. Explore the narrow streets nearby to discover hidden gems.
  3. Centro Artesanal La Presentación: Located in the Getsemani neighborhood, this artisanal center is a treasure trove of handmade Colombian crafts. From colorful textiles and traditional clothing to indigenous pottery and handmade jewelry, you can find a wide variety of authentic and high-quality goods.
  4. Palacio de la Inquisición: Housing a museum dedicated to the Spanish Inquisition, the Palacio de la Inquisición also hosts a small crafts market in its courtyard. Browse through stalls selling indigenous handicrafts, carvings, and artwork created by local artists.
  5. Centro Comercial Caribe Plaza: If you’re looking for a more modern shopping experience, head to Caribe Plaza. This large shopping mall is home to a wide range of national and international brands, as well as a selection of restaurants and entertainment options.
  6. Emerald Shopping: Cartagena is renowned for its emeralds, and you’ll find numerous jewelry stores offering exquisite pieces. Take the time to browse through different stores, ask questions, and learn about the process of buying emeralds. Remember to purchase from reputable sellers to ensure authenticity.

Whether you’re looking for traditional handicrafts, fashionable clothing, or fine jewelry, shopping in Historic Cartagena offers a diverse and exciting experience. Explore the bustling markets, support local artisans, and find beautiful souvenirs that will remind you of your time in this captivating city.


Dining and Nightlife in Historic Cartagena

When it comes to dining and nightlife, Historic Cartagena offers a vibrant and flavorful experience. From traditional Colombian cuisine to international flavors, and from laid-back bars to energetic clubs, there’s something to suit every palate and mood. Here’s a taste of the dining and nightlife scene in this enchanting city:


Cartagena is a culinary hotspot, known for its vibrant flavors and fresh ingredients. Start your culinary journey by sampling traditional Colombian dishes such as arepas (corn cakes), patacones (fried plantains), and bandeja paisa (a hearty platter of rice, beans, meat, and plantains). Seafood lovers will be thrilled with the abundance of fresh fish and shellfish, including ceviche and coconut-infused seafood stews.


The walled city is home to a wide array of restaurants, offering a blend of traditional Colombian cuisine and international flavors. Whether it’s an upscale fine dining establishment or a cozy family-owned eatery, you can expect delicious food and warm hospitality. Don’t miss trying a few Colombian specialties like fried mojarra (a local fish), arroz con coco (coconut rice), and lechona (roast pork).


After a satisfying meal, Cartagena comes alive with a bustling night scene. Start the evening with a stroll along the charming streets of the walled city, where you’ll find bars and cafes with live music performances and outdoor seating. Sip on a refreshing cocktail, such as the famous mojito or the local favorite, aguardiente, while enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.


If you’re looking for a more lively and energetic scene, head to the Getsemani neighborhood. This area is known for its vibrant nightlife, with a wide selection of bars and clubs that cater to all tastes and music preferences. Dance the night away to salsa, reggaeton, electronic music, or live bands – there is something for everyone.


Cartagena also offers a unique and romantic dining experience – dinner on a Chiva. These brightly colored open-air buses are transformed into moving restaurants, taking you on a tour of the city’s landmarks while indulging in a delectable meal. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy delicious cuisine while immersing yourself in the city’s charm.


Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a night owl, the dining and nightlife options in Historic Cartagena will leave you satisfied. From traditional Colombian flavors to international cuisine, and from lively bars to energetic clubs, the city offers a memorable experience for visitors seeking culinary delights and an exciting evening out.



Historic Cartagena is a destination that effortlessly combines rich history, captivating architecture, and vibrant culture. From exploring the beautifully preserved streets of the walled city to indulging in the mouthwatering cuisine, Cartagena offers a plethora of experiences that cater to every traveler’s desires.


With its wide range of accommodations, visitors can choose to immerse themselves in the charm of the old town or relax at the beachfront resorts of Bocagrande. The city’s top attractions, including forts, churches, and plazas, provide a glimpse into its intriguing past, while the cultural experiences such as music, dance, and art showcase its vibrant present.


Outdoor enthusiasts will be delighted with the options available in Cartagena, from relaxing on pristine beaches to exploring the mangroves and taking boat tours to the nearby islands. For those seeking a shopping adventure, the markets and boutiques offer a variety of locally crafted souvenirs and unique finds.


When it comes to dining and nightlife, Cartagena’s culinary scene is a delightful fusion of traditional and international flavors, and the vibrant nightlife offers a range of options to suit all tastes and preferences.


In conclusion, a trip to Historic Cartagena is a journey through time and beauty. It is an opportunity to connect with the city’s rich heritage, indulge in its cultural offerings, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re an art and history lover, a food enthusiast, or a beach lover, Cartagena has it all. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore this enchanting city that seamlessly blends old-world charm and modern excitement.