Situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena is an elegant, old port city that is inherently romantic and rich in culture, so it’s not surprising it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site. The walled Old Town, founded in the 16th century, is surrounded by 13 km of weather-worn cobblestone walls. It’s an epicenter for intricate architecture, colorful facades, open-air cafes and chic bars sprinkled throughout the cobblestoned streets. You can also walk along the sandy shores and relax under fringy palms on many of the nearby beaches.
Modern City, Old City Charm
In the Old City, you’ll be blown away by the sensuous atmosphere and unparalleled beauty: majestic steeple churches, electrically colorful colonial buildings, mazes of quaint stone alleys, open-air cafes and balconies with cascades of bougainvillea that are picture perfect.
(Photo from Instagram user @ordaznathaly)
(Photo from Instagram user @lexiinator)
(Photo from Instagram user @brittasblick)
The real action is in Plaza Santo Domingo. Here you’ll find a hub of cafes, bars, shopping and people mingling about. Stop by the oldest church in town. You can take a short tour of the church and learn about how it was built, then rebuilt in the 16th century after the first building of the church burned down. And, one of the most popular markets runs along the wall at the front entrance.
You also can’t miss Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the castle on a hill that peers over the city. Interesting fact: the construction started in 1639, but it wasn’t completed until 150 years ago. Nevertheless, it’s located at La Popa, the top of the city. You can take a chiva bus (party bus) there, where you can peruse the battlements, underground passages and gawk at the impressive architecture.
Local Flavor, Getsemani
For brightly painted murals and happy colorful buildings, this is where you’ll want to be. Once a dilapidated area in Cartagena is now a bustling neighborhood with vibrant nightlife, restaurants and hotels. Popular with the locals is the Plaza Santisma Trinidad. This sunflower yellow building is iconic of the neighborhood, as are the street vendors selling local delicacies, the hip new restaurants and bars and the graffiti art that reflects the culture and beauty of the country. You’ll want to try a local favorite the arepa con huevo, a corn pancake filled with eggs, as well as have your camera handy to snap up some pics of residents in the middle of the narrow streets playing cards and all the eye-appealing colors that surround you.
Fruit Basket Ladies, Las Palenqueras
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(Photo from Instagram user @bobsassistant)
While clad in bold colorful dresses and selling exotic fruit and sweets, these women balance fruit bowls on their heads. Talk about talent. They’re called “Las Palenqueras” because San Basilio de Palenque is their home: it’s a small village southeast of Cartagena that was founded in colonial times by runaway slaves and is considered one of the first free towns in the Americas. Look for these beautiful women when you’re strolling your way through the beautiful streets of Cartagena.
Breath-stealing Beaches, In & Out of the City
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(Photo from Instagram user @jamesbrssa)
Bocagrande is Cartagena’s hip, nostalgic nod to Miami Vice. You’ll find a wide swath of humanity, along with loungers and umbrellas, bars and restaurants and vendors. It’s poppin’ with fun, and with locals, so if you can definitely get a good vibe from what it’s like to relax on the beach in Cartagena. After you’ve hit Bocagrande and want more of a remote beach vibe, you’ll want to head outside the city limits. Nothing beats the platinum sands and aquamarine waters of the Rosario Islands, where you can also explore the coral reefs. But perhaps the most beautiful beach in Colombia is Playa Blanca, which is 45 minutes from the city, but it’s only reachable by boat. You can settle in on the snow-white sand and even go diving. If you want more water sports, head for Laguito.
(Photo from Instagram user @natekang)
It’s the colorful charm of the city, of the beach life and of the people that will win you over. Cartagena is a destination that you will hold onto.
If you’re ready to plan your trip to Cartagena, head over to our Cartagena page, and book away!
And if you’re looking for more exciting things to do in the beautiful city of Cartagena, be sure to check out all of our posts on Cartagena! We’ve also created screen savers so you can add a little color to your day. Scroll through our Wish You Were Here.