Colombia, 8 must-see attractions in Cartagena

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Colombia, 8 must-see attractions in Cartagena

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Our trip to Colombia ends in Cartagena, one of the biggest and most populated cities in the country, which with its colourful facades and Caribbean spirit has been attracting tourists and travellers from all over the world for years. We dedicated two and a half days to the city, which we found enough time to appreciate the main tourist attractions and discover some of its characteristic corners. We also saved some time for two experiences that we really enjoyed! In this article we point out 8 attractions not to be missed during a visit to the city and some useful tips!

We love... Cartagena!

Our trip to Colombia ends in Cartagena, one of the biggest and most populated cities in the country. Its Caribbean spirit, colonial character and palace facades rich in colour and history make this city on the Caribbean Sea coast a must-see for anyone visiting the country. Not surprisingly, its extraordinary cultural heritage led to the city being declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1984. We recommend at least two full days to visit Cartagena. The historic centre is small and cosy and can be explored on foot, but in this article we suggest at least two must-see experiences that will take from half a day to a full day. So here are for you all the main attractions not to be missed during a short stay in the city!

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Our visit

Where to stay and eat in Cartagena

As already mentioned, the historical city centre is small and cosy, easily explored on foot. For this reason, our suggestion is to choose a hotel in the old city centre so that you can easily reach all the main points of interest. We stayed at the Hotel Boutique Santo Toribio, on Calle Segunda de Badillo Nº 36-87. The hotel is in a great location and within walking distance of excellent restaurants and rooftops for an evening aperitif. If you are looking for something different, you can find all the hotels in the city on
For dinner, near the hotel we can suggest the Restaurant Mistura Cartagena (Calle Segunda de Badillo) or the Restaurant Cancha (Cra. 7 #36 50).

What to know before visiting Cartagena

Cartagena is a fairly simple city to explore and does not require any special precautions. However, here we give you some tips that will be useful during your stay in the city.

GETTING AROUND THE CITY. Given its size, getting around the historic centre of Cartagena is rather simple. Almost all attractions can be reached on foot, with the exception of the castle of San Felipe de Barajas and the convent of La Popa. As already mentioned for Bogotá, for travelling by car we suggest relying on Uber (warning: only rental with driver and not Uber Pop!) so that you always pay for the ride via the official App and leave a trace of your route and the chosen taxi. Alternatively, to visit attractions further away from the centre you can take part in an organised tour, which mostly also offers the advantage of skipping the queue for the entrance to museums and historical buildings. You can find all kinds of them here.

CLIMATE. Be prepared for really hot and humid weather! After all, we are on the Caribbean Sea! Although the locals are certainly used to the climate here, for us visitors experiencing the city can be tiring. Our advice is to limit your activities to the early morning and afternoon hours and avoid being outdoors between 12 noon and 3pm. After all, life in Cartagena is also very pleasant in the evening!

SAFETY. Both during the day and at night, the city and its historic centre are well policed and frequented by many tourists, so it is a very safe area that requires nothing more than the usual rules of caution typical of large cities with regard to petty theft or scams against tourists. You may be approached by locals – some rather insistent – who will try to sell you guided tours, watches or objects of all kinds. Be careful of casual sellers! To turn them away, simply say thank you and go ahead on your way.

FOOD AND DRINK. We ate very well in the city and the local cuisine is something unique in Colombia, the result of the particular mixture of cultures and traditions typical of this fascinating city. Rely without too many worries on the city’s restaurants and bars, but we suggest you avoid street food and fresh drinks sold on the streets, products prepared under precarious hygienic conditions for which our bodies – contrary to that of the locals – may not be ready!

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8 must-see attractions in Cartagena

Historical Center

The old town of Cartagena is a true jewel of music, colours and Caribbean atmospheres. As soon as you arrive in the walled city – the oldest part of Cartagena surrounded by the original city walls – you will inevitably be surrounded by a spirit of celebration and fun that you will experience everywhere throughout your stay. What’s more, in the heart of the city you will find the oldest buildings dating back to colonial times and some very quaint and picturesque narrow streets. We suggest you lose yourself in the alleys and squares, visiting little shops and, where possible, exploring the old buildings and their inner courtyards. Don’t miss during your walk a visit to the Puerta del Reloj – the clock gate, the city’s main entrance -, the Plaza de la Aduana – Cartagena’s oldest square, truly fascinating – and the Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría.

A walk along the city walls (Murallas de Cartagena)

Cartagena gained its fortune from the fact that it was, for many years, one of the main harbours of the Spanish crown. It was here that treasures taken from the indigenous population were collected and, because of this, the city was constantly under attack by pirates. That is why an imposing defensive wall was built at the end of the 1500s, which can still be covered almost entirely on foot. From the Walls you can observe the city from a privileged vantage point or wait for the sunset over the sea. A must for visitors to the city is undoubtedly a sunset aperitif at Café del Mar. However, the place is rather crowded. So we suggest you book well in advance!

Castle of San Felipe de Barajas (Fuerte de San Felipe de Barajas)

This Castillo was certainly the largest fortress ever built by the Spanish in Latin America. Still well preserved, this 17th century building stands just outside the city walls and offers visitors many panoramic terraces, underground passages and some fascinating corners that will take you back in time. The fortress is always quite busy and the line at the entrance can be exhausting. Our advice is to buy tickets in advance to skip the line or, better still, join a guided tour that can tell you about the place and its interesting history.
You can find all the information about the Castle at this link.

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Convent La Popa (Santa Cruz de la Popa)

This 1600s convent is situated on the highest point of the city, a hill shaped like the ‘stern’ of a ship, thus the name of the place. The place has a lovely chapel and a marvellous patio that is always in bloom (miracles of the tropical weather!) and, above all, allows a 360° view of the city. To reach the Convento de La Popa you will have to travel by car. Our advice is to take an Uber or join a guided tour. Although you can walk to the top of the hill in about 30 minutes, we advise against doing so for safety reasons, as you would have to walk alone through one of the city’s least safe neighbourhoods! You can find all the information about the convent at this link.

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Cruise along the coast and day trips to the Rosario Islands

The sea is a fundamental part of the city and its history and is still a major attraction for tourists from all over the world.
Indeed, many daily tours depart from Cartagena to one of the beautiful Rosario Islands, where you will find crystal clear sea and palm trees on the beach. All tours depart from the city, take you by boat to one of the islands where, in a resort, you can enjoy the beach, hotel facilities and, in some cases, an included lunch. It is certainly an experience not to be missed if you are in town for a short time and feel like taking a dip in the sea!
An easier alternative to enjoy the wonderful view of the city from the sea is to take part in a guided boat tour of the city coast. We suggest this one, to see the city at sunset in all its glory, or this one, which includes a romantic dinner and a view of the city at night, including its most modern part made of lights and skyscrapers.

2 top experiences: the Mercado de Bazurto and the cooking class at the Lunático Cooking Studio!

But there are two things you should definitely do if you visit Cartagena. The first is to plan a visit to the amazing Mercado de Bazurto! This is the largest central market in the city where you can really find everything: meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and many ready-made foods. We suggest it not only because it is a truly non-touristic experience that will allow you to immerse yourself in the reality of the locals, but also because the Colombian food culture is so particular and varied that here you will be able to discover and taste a quantity of products never seen before! For safety reasons, we suggest you take part in a guided tour like this, which also includes some tastings along the way.
The second thing you should absolutely do in Cartagena is to attend one of the cooking classes offered by Lunático Cooking Studio, a small cooking school located in the Getsemani neighbourhood that will teach you how to prepare typical Colombian dishes in a pleasant atmosphere and in a small group. We really enjoyed it and we can only thank Chef Maria for having teached us how to prepare at home some of the typical local dishes that kept us company for many, many days during our visit to Colombia! It is an experience that will remain in your heart!

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How to get there

See the location in Google Maps. Most travelers reach Cartagena by plane as the first or last stop on a tour of Colombia. Rafael Núñez International Airport is located about 15 km away from the city center. Once you arrive, you can take an official cab or Uber to reach the center or, alternatively, book a private transfer. If you have rented a car, the rental counters of the main rental companies are located in the external area of the domestic arrivals area.



As mentioned above, heat and humidity can be a huge challenge for foreign visitors. Our suggestion is to avoid the hottest hours of the day, concentrating your activities in the early morning and afternoon, preferably after 3pm.


Some of the city’s main attractions are quite crowded. To avoid long queues and waiting in the hot sun, we recommend joining a guided tour with priority entrance or buying tickets in advance.


Are you planning a trip to Colombia? Then read all our articles on the subject and if you have any questions or need further suggestions let us know by leaving a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible!

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