Overview | What to Do | Other Attractions | Get Around | Eat & Drink | Stay in Touch | Shopping
Cartagena, Colombia is a city full of historical and cultural delights waiting to be explored. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, it served as a major fortress and port for the Spanish Empire until the 18th century. The city is divided into several regions, each with its own unique flavor. While the new portion of the city is similar to Miami with its skyscrapers and modern conveniences, the old portion of the city presents a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of this area. Cruise ships dock at the Port of Cartagena, located at Colombia Manga at the Terminal Maritimo.
Spanish is the principal language of Cartagena. Most people involved in the tourism industry speak some English, or will at least make an attempt to understand and converse with you. The national currency in Cartagena is the Colombian Peso (COP), although the US Dollar (USD) is widely accepted, as are most major credit cards.
Note: While Colombia as a country may have a reputation for being unsafe due to political turmoil, Cartagena is safe and clean, particularly in and around the Old Town area. Still, there are hustlers and beggars in Cartagena, and the best thing to do when confronted is to ignore them.
The Old Walled City
The Old Walled City (La Ciudad Amurallada) was built in the 17th century. It features Colonial Spanish architectural and plenty of destinations like museums, cathedrals and the shops and boutiques in what was once the dungeons of the fortress. The entrance to the city is through the Clock Tower Building (Puerta del Reloj). This is the best (and safest) place to go exploring in Cartagena.
How to Get There: The Old City is located a couple of miles west of the port (see map), and a taxi ride will take about 15 minutes.
Palace of the Inquisition (Plaza Bolivar)
The Palace of the Inquisition (Palacio de la Inquisicion) may seem a bit macabre, but the instruments of torture and items from the Spanish Inquisition offer a fascinating glimpse into that dark era. The musuem is located within the Old Walled City in the Plaza Bolivar, which also features a cathedral and the Museo del Oro Zenu.
How to Get There: The Plaza Bolivar is fifteen minutes northwest of the port by car (see map).
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas stands proudly overlooking the city and harbor. Dating back to the mid 1500’s, this walled fortress once withstood a massive three-month siege of the city by the English in 1741. The Spaniards held firm in their fortress, despite being heavily outnumbered.
Volcan De Lodo Totumo
The Volcan De Lodo Totumo (Volcano of Mud) offers a truly unique experience. Here you can take a dip in mud said to have medicinal properties followed by a soothing massage. It's definitely something to talk about when you return home!
How to Get There: The Volcano of Mud is located a little over 30 miles north of the port (see map). The trip should take around an hour.
Playa Linda on the Isla Tierra Bomba offers water sports, boat tours, restaurants and bars. While beaches aren't the main attraction in Cartagena, Playa Linda is one of the best beaches in the area and provides plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation.
How to Get There: A ferry from the cruise ship dock will take you to Playa Linda (see map).
Club Campestre de Cartagena
Club Campestre de Cartagena offers an 18 hole, par 72 championship golf course. Although not a match for many Caribbean resorts, it is well designed and more than adequate for an afternoon excursion.
How to Get There: The Club is located 8 miles from the port, and should take about 30 minutes by taxi (see map).
The best diving near Cartagena is in Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Barnardo (Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park) and Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands), which is located about an hour from the port area (see map). Here you will find warm water and a large variety of marine life to enjoy. Listed below are several dive shops that operate in this area:
- Diving Planet has a shop at the Hotel San Pedro de Majagua and another at the Hotel Cocoliso. There are more than 25 dive sites located within minutes of both hotels which offer daily trips to the islands.
- Buzos de Baru operates out of Hotel Caribe in Bocagrande.
- Cartagena Divers operates out of the Old City near the Las Bovedas.
Check out this video of a dive off of Cartagena with a giant Devil Ray.
Chiva Party-City Tour
The Chiva Party-City Tour is a more up-beat tour of Cartagena. The tour is about 3 hours long and economically priced. This tour will take you to several museums, cathedrals and souvenir shops, ending at Las Bovedas with a guided tour through the Old Walled City. This tour is meant to fit within a cruise iternary, and is highly recommended!
How to Get There: For more information, contact Rafael Perez Excursions.
Paseo en Coche
A "Paseo en Coche" (horse and carriage ride) is a wonderful way to see the city. If necessary, ask any driver to point you to a driver who speaks your language. The driver will provide a running commentary on the sites, and will be happy to take photos of you whenever you ask.
How to Get There: The carriages operate both day and night, and you can flag down an empty carriage as it passes.
Walking in the Old City is safe and fun. However, please do not attempt to walk from the port area to the Old City – the cruise ships dock is in the industrial port area of the city and the surrounding neighborhood is not suitable, or safe, to walk through.
Water taxis in Cartagena are generally speedboats, and are available at the port area. You can go to one of the Rosario Islands, which have excellent beaches. Be aware that the boats go extremely fast, and high waves make for a bumpy ride.
Taxis have uniform rates in Cartagena, which should be posted inside the cab. Even so, it is wise to agree on the price before getting into the cab. If you get the same rate from 3 different drivers, then it is probably a fair rate. Some taxis accept Colombian pesos only, so be sure to check before getting in the cab.
Buses are readily available and very inexpensive in Cartagena. They will stop for you if you flag them down.
Rental cars can be found at nearby hotels and the airport. Of the major rental companies, only Hertz and National Car have offices in Cartagena, although other local companies are represented. Renting a car in Cartagena can be quite expensive due to security issues and poor road conditions, not to mention the crowded streets. Driving outside the city limits, due to security concerns, is not recommended unless you are familiar with the roads and the way to get to your destination. For all of these reasons, renting a car in Cartagena is likely more trouble than it's worth.
Carimanolas are fried yucca croquettes stuffed with ground meat and served with a local Caribbean sour cream. You can find them at Café del Santisimo, located about 2 miles northwest of the port (see map) near Las Bovedas.
Ceviche consists of fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice, corn, cilantro, onions and pepper. One of the best places to get ceviche is Juan del Mar Restaurante, about 2 miles northwest of the port area (see map), just outside the Sofitel Santa Clara Hotel.
Colombian Coffee is one of Colombia's most famous exports, and with good reason. It can be enjoyed almost anywhere in Cartagena and is an absolute must. Try the Juan Valdez Cafe in Bocagrande (see map).
Cerveza Aguila is the distinctive Colombian beer. It is a pale lager and can be enjoyed most any place in the city. Try Donde Fidel Salsa Club and Bar in Centro (see map).
Internet cafes in Cartagena are located in Centro and Bocagrande districts. While cheap, you shouldn't expect blazing fast speeds.
Cafe.com is located in Bocagrande (see map).
Internet Cafe Colombiano is also in Bocagrande (see map).
Caribenet in the Centro district is around the corner from Bolivar Square (see map).
Cyber-Cafe Olano is located at the Pasaje de la Candelaria (see map). They also serve food, drinks and coffee.
Micronet is in the San Deigo neighborhood (see map).
Where to Shop
Shopping in Cartagena is a happy mix of inexpensive souvenirs and high-end luxury items. There are numerous small shops scattered everywhere – in alleys and along the main streets. Prices are lower here than in the various malls. These shops offer a nice selection of art, local crafts, and leather goods, such as purses, handbags, wallets and belts. Below are some of the best shopping options in Cartagena:
Centro Comercial Pierino Gallo is the main shopping complex in Cartagena. It is located about 5 miles by taxi, from the port area (see map). Near Pierino Gallo, you will also find good shopping in Bocagrande and El Laguito.
Las Bovedas is an excellent choice if you're in the Centro or San Diego neighborhood. This market was once a dungeon, and offers a variety of shops that have local arts, crafts, souvenirs and more (see map).
Export-grade Colombian Coffee is a very port appropriate gift. Cafe CONVIDA is a great choice as it is considered one of the best brands of coffee available in Colombia. For some variety, pick up a gift set of five coffees, each from a different growing region in the country. Available at Coffee And..., located upstairs at Pierino Gallo Plaza in the El Laguito district of Cartagena (see map).
Guayabera shirts are extremely popular in Cartagena, and a great reminder of your trip. The Ricardo Pava Shop offers a great variety of men’s linen shirts, slacks and even loafers to go with them. The store is located about 2 miles from the port area (see map).
Colombian Emeralds are pricey but beautiful. Combined with their Filigrana Momposina (intricate filigree jewelry in gold or silver), a necklace, set of earrings, or rings, they can make for truly a stunning gift. Find them at Filigrana Momposina at the Palacio de la Inquisicion, located about 2 miles northwest of the port (see map).