Travel Guide

Everything You Need To Know 

Planning a trip to Colombia? This Cartagena travel guide will be your go-to resource when exploring the city! Located on the northern coast of Colombia, Cartagena is considered to be Colombia’s coastal gem of the Caribbean. This gorgeous city brings together the charm of colonial architecture, lush landscapes, afro-Caribbean influences, a buzzing nightlife, and so much more – making it the perfect vacation destination. On top of all of this, Cartagena is also known for its gorgeous beaches and islands, excellent cuisine and tourist infrastructure, and immense history, all preserved within its city walls. It is truly a city that has it all, and a must-not-miss on your next trip to South America. 

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Cartagena’s historic center, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984, is surrounded by 11 kilometers of ancient walls. The walls were built beginning in 1586 to protect the city against pirate attacks. During this time, Cartagena was one of the most important cities in the Spanish empire, serving as a key port for the export of Peruvian silver, and the import of enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. Today, the Old City Wall in Cartagena stands as a monument to the rich history, while also protecting one of the most beautiful, well-preserved colonial cities in the Americas. While visiting, you will be able to scale the Old City Walls, admiring the stunning colonial architecture and narrow cobbled streets of the walled city. A city that may be small, but has endless things to offer! We cannot wait to share more throughout our Cartagena travel guide.

Quick Tips


The official currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). 1 COP = 0.00025000 USD.


The best time to visit Cartagena is December to April. Although th tempature is always mid-80’s.


Colombia is in Standard Time Zone UTC-5) and does not observe daylight savings.

Getting There

Cartagena has a major international airport, CTG, located relatively close to the city center (15 or so minutes). You can expect to pay around $2 – $3 for a taxi or Uber from the airport to the city center (amazing). Regardless if you plan to fly in from the USA or another South American country, flights are relatively cheap and accessible. While in Cartagena, a lot of the must-visit places are within walking distance in the city center. When transportation is necessary, we recommend Uber or Taxi. As always, have your hotel call your taxi for you to ensure your safety

What To Expect


No, no you won’t. The city’s tropical climate means that, although temperatures tend to stay around the mid-80s year-round, the amount of precipitation each season varies wildly. We visited during the “rainy season”, but did not experience any rain whatsoever. However, the humidity was REAL – be prepared!


Today, Colombia is a relatively safe country to visit. However, petty theft is still common, so always keep an eye on your belongings. Additionally, we do not recommend taking taxis after dark.


Definitely pack the heels! But keep in mind that the streets are mainly cobblestone, so leave the stiletto’s at home. For clothing we recommend casual-cute shorts, dresses, skirts, short-sleeves, and swimsuits. And if you end up bringing all the wrong things, not to fear, there is a ton of shopping to be done!


Surprisingly, we could not find an ATM with cash available during our trip – DON’T worry though, this was a unique occasion due to a government lift of taxes on the days we were visiting. Overall, Colombia is more affordable than most places in the United States and Europe, with nice meals costing around $20 USD per person. But like any city, Cartagena has a wide range of restaurants with varying price tags, so be sure to use your COP to USD calculator when possible.


Tipping in Colombia isn’t really a thing, other than in places like restaurants and hotels where it is expected. But even then, it’s usually only 10%.

Neighborhood Guide


There are numerous great areas to stay in Cartagena that we recommend checking out. After significant research, we decided that we felt the safest staying within the walls of the old city, in El Centro. El Centro is considered to be the epicenter of tourism in the city, with more luxury and boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars than it’s possible to list. The area is also full of churches, plazas, shopping, picturesque streets, pastel-colored buildings, and colonial architecture.


Located just minutes from El Centro, this up and coming neighborhood is like the Brooklyn of Cartagena. The super hip and trendy neighborhood features the same beautiful colonial architecture, while an excellent street art scene gives it an edge that El Centro lacks. However, it is important to note that this neighborhood has overcome a lot, including a past with prostitution and drug-related problems.


In the northeast corner of Cartagena’s walled city is the third area we considered staying, called San Diego. Despite being only a few blocks from the luxury hotels and bars of El Centro, this neighborhood has a more relaxed, bohemian vibe.

Where We Stayed

Located in the heart of El Centro, this adorable boutique hotel offers a gorgeous rooftop terrace, indoor and outdoor pools, complimentary breakfast, and stunning amenities. Costing us around $143 per night, we highly recommend this hotel.

Additional Accommodations

Selina hotels go above and beyond to create a community within all of their locations. You can expect a wide variety of offerings, such as yoga classes, free walking classes, pub crawls, black-out parties, among many more events. The rooms usually run between $17 – $40 USD per night. This location in particular is well known for its gorgeous rooftop pools!


Set in a 17th-century building, this refined boutique hotel is considered one of the top hotels to stay in Cartagena. The hotel includes an elegant lounge and dining room, as well as a delicious, complimentary breakfast. Additionally, the rooftop terrace offers a pool, a BBQ and a shaded sitting area.


Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is full of stories. Built in an old convent, it offers the ideal combination of colonial architecture and French luxury.

Things to do 


Bazurto Market is Cartagena’s signature & largest market! It is located a quick 15 minute taxi ride from El Centro, and is the place to find various food vendors, exotic fresh produce, and more. The market can be a bit overwhelming, so consider hiring a local tour guide to have the best, most authentic experience possible. And as always, keep your personal items secured and be aware of your surroundings for safety purposes.


Cartagena also serves as a great base for several day trips! Some of which include visiting the Rosario islands, San Basilio De Palenque, Tayrona National Park, Fort San Fernando, and a handful of beautiful beaches. Remember, it is known as Colombia’s coastal gem of the Caribbean! If you are looking for a relaxing, sunny day of boating, we highly recommend checking out the Bona Vida Catamaran to the Rosario islands. The tour is a lovely 7.5 hour day of boating, snorkeling, beach hopping, and even includes a delicious lunch!


Some of the most popular reasons to visit Cartagena are the activities, photo ops, shopping, and sight-seeing – many of which are located in El Centro! We recommend spending at least one full day exploring the churches, adorable streets, colorful buildings, lively plazas, and street food of this lively neighborhood. Be sure to check out some of the iconic sights, including the Clock Tower, San Pedro Claver Square, Plaza Santo Domingo, and the Palace of Inquisition. If you are interested in learning the history behind the sights, check out ‘Explore Colombia’ for some highly rated free walking tours.


Our Cartagena travel guide would not be complete without some shopping recommendations! El Centro is bursting with boutiques, markets, artists – you name it! One of our favorite stores is a small shop called Adda, as well as a boutique shopping plaza called Casa Abba. Cartagena is also know for top-quality Emerald jewelry, sold at very affordable prices.


Between the arepas, empanadas, bandeja paisa, sancocho, and more, Colombia is a true culinary destination! Check out our list of favorite restaurants below. But don’t stop there! If time permits, we highly recommend signing up for an authentic cooking class, as well as a street food tour!


This super trendy and hip neighborhood is considered to be the party area of the city! The neighborhood is located just outside the Old City Walls and offers some of the most trendy bars and nightclubs in Cartagena. And be sure to bring your camera, as the streets are lined with hanging rows of umbrellas and street art, making for the perfect place to take breathtaking Instagram pictures.


Cartagena is also home to an abundance of gorgeous beaches, so pack your swimsuits and get ready for a perfect year-round holiday adventure! The city itself is surrounded by beaches, but many of which are not where you will want to spend your time. Rather, head out to the farther beaches, including Isla Baru and Playa Blanca (considered one of the most famous beaches in Cartagena), Punta Arena, La Boquilla, Rosario islands, among others, where they are as beautiful as any other tropical beach paradise.


Another must-not-miss in our Cartagena travel guide is a visit to the Castillo De San Felipe De Barajas. Located a short 10 minute walk from the walled city, this iconic fortress is an architectural masterpiece and considered ‘the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards’. The entrance fee is $7 USD, and comes with the option to purchase an audio tour (extra $3 USD) or a tour guide (extra $5 USD).

Bar + Restaurant Recommendations


This gorgeous Rooftop on the Hotel Torre del Reloj offers a place of entertainment and variety of drinks.


Popular watering hole for classic Cuban cocktails & live salsa music in festive, old-world digs with unique and flavorful drinks!


Situated on a romantic street in front of the Santa Clara Hotel, this colorful restaurant has a mix of locals & tourists.


Understated restaurant specializing in traditional seafood dishes including rice, pasta & soups.


Donde Fidel is one of Cartagena’s most famous bars, located within the historic walled city by the Portal de los Dulces.


Hip bar with a rooftop terrace serving inventive cocktails, sandwiches, seafood & meat plates.


Laid-back alfresco eatery with sea & city views serving classic meals, spirits & creative cocktails.


Situated in a beautiful, elegant colonial house downtown, the famous restaurant offers contemporary cuisine with Colombian flavors.


Demente breaks away from the norm, preserving its original, rustic structure & combines it with a modern design.

Additional Recommendations

❖ We did not stay long enough! Give yourself a minimum of 3-4 days

❖ Ubers: illegal but safe. Do not be alarmed if they ask you to sit in the front seat 

❖ Know basic Spanish! Super important! Very few locals speak English

❖ Safety!!! Always be aware of your surroundings. Watch your drinks. 

❖ We recommend staying over a weekend for the full experience! 

❖ Weather is gorgeous! We highly recommend staying at a hotel with a rooftop pool.


Overall, Cartagena is one of Colombia’s treasures and an absolute gem of a city. The city is gorgeous, with a striking contrast of old meets new, and truly has so much to offer. We hope you have enjoyed our Cartagena Travel Guide! Don’t miss our Medellin Travel Guide, among other South America Destinations! 

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