7 Best Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia
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If you’re wondering what to do in Cartagena, you’ve come to the right place. From its colorful Walled City to its miles of beaches in Bocagrande, there are so many things to do in Cartagena, Colombia that it may seem difficult to pick which ones, especially if you’re only allotted a quick extended weekend trip. 

There is no shortage of things to do in and around Cartagena, Colombia. Much depends on your taste, and the city has something for just about everyone’s unique taste.

Fine-dining and hole-in-the-wall restaurants are sprinkled on every street. Beautiful white-sand beaches are just a bus ride outside the Cartagena Old City. World-class Spanish Colonial architecture seemingly always fills the peripherals wherever you go. The scent of freshly cooked food follows your every step until you break down and indulge in the sixth meal of the day.

Cartagena, Colombia is one of the oldest port cities in the Americas. Founded in the early 1500s, its beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture remains vibrant in the colorful and highly restored Walled City, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Two things I should make clear before jumping into this list: Colombia is a relatively safe country; and don’t pay full price for anything! Seriously, haggle everything except restaurant and convenience store prices and lodging fees. Those are pretty much the only exceptions to the rule. Taxis, tours, beers, merchandise. Haggle it all, especially tours.

These are the top 7 things to do in Cartagena, Colombia:

7. Bocagrande

We stayed in an Airbnb in Bocagrande, which is a man-made peninsula in westernmost Cartagena, Colombia. Bocagrande is the upscale part of the city, overflowing with high-rise condominiums, four- and five-star restaurants, casinos and less-than-par beaches.

The condo was amazing and the price was pretty good. We paid $360 for four nights in a two-bedroom condo with two balconies, one that was smack dab on the ocean and the other overlooking the bay about 10 blocks away.

Cartagena is relatively cheap, but it isn’t nearly as cheap as other South American cities. Check out this link for all the best — and cheapest — accommodations in Bocagrande and Cartagena!

Playa de Bocagrande, the beach spanning the area’s coastline, is filled with white sand and a lot — I mean a lot — of people trying to sell you stuff. Like bracelets and hair extensions. If you’ve seen a picture of me, you know I’m not in the market for foot-long, curly hair extensions. I just can’t pull them off.

If you’re looking for a beach experience when you visit Cartagena, skip to #3. If you’re looking to gamble or get a decently cheap place that overlooks the ocean, Bocagrande is your for you.

If you do make it to Bocagrande, grab a bite at La Fonda Antioquena restaurant. It’s a quaint, open-air restaurant you can grab a great meal for cheap and relax like a local.

The fountain in the middle, trees hanging down upon the outdoor patio in the back and artwork on the interior walls create a phenomenal atmosphere that will make you think you’re eating in a traditional Colombian home.


Bocagrande area in Cartagena, Colombia

6. Convento de la Popa (La Popa Monastery)

Convento de la Popa sits atop the tallest hill in Cartagena. Dating back to the early 1600s, this intricately designed monastery features a chapel covered in pure gold, ancient bones of the church’s old leaders, an open-air courtyard and a 360-degree view of Cartagena.

If you’re wondering what to do in Cartagena, Colombia, this is a cool little spot that’s better seen on a guided tour. I highly recommend booking a small guided tour if you’re with a decent-sized group. For more info on the guided tour, take a look at the bottom of the page.

Convento de la Popa (La Popa Monastery)

5. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (San Felipe de Barajas Castle)

Equipped with secret tunnels that are now inaccessible due to flooding, coral walls that protected from intruders and a whole heaping of badassery, this fort/castle/gem of architectural ingenuity is a must-see when you visit Cartagena. At least check it out from the outside.

This has long been hyped up as one of the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, but fair warning, we didn’t have enough time to go inside this otherworldly looking castle, so this is a brief one. Everyone raved about this place, so we had to take a gander from the outside.

Convento de la Popa (La Popa Monastery)

4. Rosario Islands Tour

There are a few ways to experience the Rosario Islands. You can rent a yacht, take a private boat tour, join a boatload of tourists on a guided tour or swim. You can’t swim there. Well, you could, but it would probably take you a few days. Please don’t try to swim there.

Whichever way you decide to experience them, just go. Do it. You will be happy you crossed them off the list.

We decided to do the full-day Rosario Islands tour, which made stops at Playa Azul, Cholon Island, Playa Blanca and a brief, 30-minute snorkeling stop at the beginning of the trip. Whatever you do, don’t pay $95 USD for this. We got it for $60 USD each and I’m sure we could’ve haggled even lower (my friend did the haggling, so I couldn’t try to go lower).

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this specific tour because we were packed on a tiny boat like a can of sardines. The seats are hard plastic and aren’t comfortable at all. It seemed like they were made to fit 1.5 people. If you’re over 6-foot-2, you won’t be able to fit on this tiny boat.

If you do the guided tour, you can’t find a bigger boat unless you rent one yourself. Just know that it may be slightly uncomfortable. That may be why they allow you to bring a cooler with alcohol onto the boat. I highly recommend bringing a styrofoam cooler on the boat because drinks on each island will run you anywhere from $5 USD to $10 USD per drink.

The bus takes about an hour and 30 minutes to get there and the same amount of time to get back. It picks you up super early in the morning and makes a stop before the island to allow everyone to grab breakfast.

We bought a styrofoam cooler, bag of ice and 12-pack of Aguila for around 35,000 COP ($12 USD). Breakfast was 3,000 COP ($1 USD) for two small coffees, a banana and fried cheese stick (I was incredibly hungover, so this hit the spot).

Cholon in the Rosario Islands

3. Catch a Sunset Next to a Cannon in the Cartagena Walled City

Historic. Romantic. Free. All of those bundled into one creates an intoxicating feeling while you stand atop the Cartagena Walled City next to a cannon that likely destroyed lives and helped build a historic creation that stands hundreds of years after construction. This is one of the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia for couples.

As long as it’s somewhere overlooking the ocean, it doesn’t matter where you go on top of the wall. You’ll still have a great view of the sun setting over the ocean. Baluarte de Santo Domingo is a great spot that offers food, drinks and tables next to cannons.

Catch a Sunset Next to a Cannon in the Cartagena Walled City

2. La Playa Blanca

La Playa Blanca is a backpackers’ paradise. Hostels line the beach like a string of lights hung on the roof. They sit a mere 30 steps from the crashing waves and plush aqua water. Hammocks weave in the wind, attached at one end to trees protruding from the white sand and attached to the second-floor wooden hostel railings on the other end.

Some hostels double as restaurants, bars and massage parlors. The one thing that’s missing on this “Vegas Strip on the Colombian Beach” is a single clock. But don’t worry, you won’t need one.

I wish I had taken pictures of this beautiful island, but I left all my valuables on the boat, so here’s a decent shared image that I’m allowed to use.

1. Take a Walking Tour of the Walled City

Out of all the things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, taking a walking tour topped the list. There are so many walking tour options to choose from. Your choice depends on the number of people in your group and what language you want the tour to be conducted in.

We had three people, so we opted for a private walking tour that cost us $50 USD each. Once again, probably could’ve gotten it cheaper but (I didn’t do the negotiating) it was still well worth it.

He’s a local who’s an extremely smart guy who’s well-versed in Cartagena history, culture and current events. Seriously, if you’re doing a walking tour in English or Spanish, give this guy a shout at and he will take great care of you (comment below to get his contact info).

He knew seemingly everything about everything on every single street we went down. He takes you to the coolest places in and around the city, like Convento de la Popa, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and countless other places, like La Casa de Socorro and Espirito Santo, two amazing restaurants with locally sourced, home-cooked food.

I hope you enjoy Cartagena as much as I did. It’s a truly beautiful place that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

The Walled City of Cartagena, Colombia

I hope you enjoy Cartagena as much as I did. It’s a truly beautiful place that should be on everyone’s bucket list!


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