An Ultimate Guide With The 9 Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia

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I had been looking at Cartagena, Colombia as a destination since we started to travel in 2018. Cartagena has some of the best things to do while in the walled city but I had a lot of questions. Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage City, so it was on my bucket list for that reason alone. With multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you will want Cartagena on your bucket list as well.

  1. Climb The San Felipe Castle
  2. Take A Photo With A Palanqueras
  3. Take the Chiva Bus
  4. Explore the Old City
  5. Convento De La Popa
  6. Shopping for Colombian made items
  7. Las Bovedas
  8. The Umbrellas At Calle Angosto – Getsemaní
  9. The Cruise Port Zoo

Book Highly recommended Activities and Attractions Below

Also See: Top Tips for Exploring the Panama Canal on a Cruise 

What is Cartagena Known For?

Cartagena was the first Spanish colony in the Americas, and its location on the Caribbean Sea made it a vitally important port city. Since we were on a cruise, we could see it from this vantage point pulling into the port.

From here, the conquistadors shipped the treasures they had pillaged from native cultures back to Spain. This is why 80% of Colombians are Catholic. In order to defend the city and its wealth of stolen goods from pirates, they built a huge stone fortress.

Ultimate Guide To Cartagena
The Virgin Statue Overlooking the Harbor in Cartagena Colombia.

The city would remain under Spanish rule for around 275 years. Cartagena led the charge for breaking free from Spain, with the help of the great liberator, Simon Bolivar. Cartagena declared its independence before the rest of the country on November 11, 1811. If you should find yourself in the city around this time, you can expect a huge party full of parades and festivities.

Is Cartagena Even Safe?

The first thing people ask is, “Is Cartagena even safe?”. The answer is yes; Cartagena is very safe. The Colombian Government is stable, and there are many safe areas that you can visit in Colombia. Cartagena is one of them. The Colombian people are also wonderful and friendly!

In fact, Cartagena is officially the safest city in Colombia. When doing my research, crime statistics show that Cartagena (and the other large cities in Colombia) are actually safer than many cities in the United States. Crime rates have plummeted in Colombia. The main tourist locations like Bocagrande, The Old City, and Getsemani are perfectly safe for tourists. If we had flown there, we would have stayed in Bocagrande or The Old City.

When Is The Best Time To Go To Cartagena?

The best option is to travel to Cartagena just after the busy season in March and from June to August, but I have to warn you, it is very hot and humid with January offering the best weather. The rainy months are April-May and from September to November.

We chose to go during our Thanksgiving holiday. Since there is no holiday for them it was not that busy and it was the end of the rainy season. It was overcast and warm but not raining. I would say that January through March is going to be the busiest since people are looking to escape the cold from the north.


Do You Need A Visa To Visit Colombia?

No, at this time US tourists do not need a Visa to gain entry into Colombia. You will be allowed to stay for less than 60 days as a tourist. Tourists entering Colombia may be asked for evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip ticket. Visitors entering on land will have to cross the border at an official border crossing.

Can I Use US Dollars In Cartagena?

Yes! Everywhere we went accepted US currency. Even the coffee shop we went to had both denominations on the menu so it was easy to know what we would pay.

The 9 Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia

We opted to visit Cartagena on a cruise but that does not mean that taking a week to hang out in the walled city is not a good idea. There are so many things to do in Cartagena and taking a cruise stopped us from experiencing some really cool things, especially in the evening. One thing I am sad about missing was the salsa dancing that you can find in the city in the evenings. I am just learning how to do some of the steps and watching others dance is fun for me. But next time. We will definitely be going back to Cartagena!

Cartagena Colombia
The Chief

We decided to hire a private guide to take us around the city. He made sure to put his name on our nametags that he expected us to wear. I thought this was strange until he said, “You belong to the Chief. I am the Chief, and everyone knows me”. Later I will tell you why he did this.

Climb The San Felipe Castle

The San Felipe Castle was built way back in 1657 to protect against pirates looking to steal the silver and gold that was bound for Spain. There will be a line when you get there but it moves quickly. You will be able to climb to the top to see the well-preserved canons.

San Felipe Castle Cartagena
San Felipe Castle Cartagena

There are tunnels within it specifically designed to allow even small sounds to travel well so that any intruders would be detected easily. On your tour of the castle, you will be able to walk through and experience some of these tunnels.

Book Now: San Felipe Castle Guided Tour

Take A Photo With A Palanqueras

The minute you get to any popular spot in Cartagena you will see women with fruit baskets on their head dressed in brightly colored outfits. Palanqueras are an important part of Colombia’s history. They originally came from San Bassilo de Palenque, which is a small town just south of Cartagena. This little village was actually one of the first places in the Americas to be freed from slavery.

Ultimate Guide To Cartagena, Colombia

In Colombia, you’ll find lots of interesting fruits that you won’t find in the US, including lulo, maracuya, and granadilla. You can also buy the fruit from the Palanqueras. They will ask for a tip for the photo as well so be prepared for that request.

Take the Chiva Bus

Stand on any street in central Cartagena for a while, and you’ll eventually see a Chiva bus. You will most likely hear it first! These super colorful, open-air buses take tourists around the city on a tour that’s part sightseeing, part pub crawl. The Chiva Bus is basically a party bus. There’s loud music blasting, people dancing, and rum flowing.

Chiva Bus Cartagena Colombia
The Chiva Bus

Explore The Old City

This was my favorite part of Cartagena. When I first started looking at Cartagena as a destination, I could only think of the beach, sun and sand. But when I would look at the photos, the beaches in Cartagena are not that inviting. At least coming from Sunny Florida.

The Old City is full of charm and would be the area I would stay in if I was there longer than a day. You have many luxury and boutique hotels to choose from. In the morning you would be able to grab some of that Colombian Coffee and stroll the beautiful and colorful streets of The Old City.

Cartagena Colombia
Walking to the Old City in Cartagena

Here you’ll be close to the most historical parts of the city and its picturesque streets, particularly within the walled city (La Ciudad Amurallada), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Old City Cartagena Colombia

You’ll get to see the main sites of the walled city – including churches, plazas, and the home of Gabriel Garcia Marquez – and learn about some of the city’s quirks – like what the different colonial door knockers mean.

Cartagena Old City
Free Guides Will Take You Through The Old City

There is a free walking tour that you can take advantage of as well. You can book a spot online for free. A tip is expected for your guide.

You’ll find tons of colorful colonial architecture, flowers, artists, and people selling trinkets on the streets.

Ultimate Guide With Things To Do Cartagena Colombia
Cartagena Old City

Convento De La Popa

Our guide took us up a winding road through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Cartagena. Many of the homes did not have electricity and women were carrying water jugs on their heads to take home. Many tourists do not care for this type of visit but I think it was nice to see real life in Cartagena on the trip up to the convent.

Located on a hill overlooking Cartagena, you will be able to see the entire city from this spot. It was a convent that was built in 1616. We were fortunate to beat the crowds there. You will find food trucks, trinkets and water for sale at the convent. There was also a police presence so you felt the place was well protected.

Things to do in Cartagena
The view from the convent

You will be able to view the church and the artifacts from the convent. There is also a priest that was killed for spreading the gospel you will be able to learn about.

Ultimate Guide To Cartagena Colombia
La Popa Convent

Shopping in Cartagena

While working our way through The Old City, I found the shopping much more pleasurable and far less crowded than other areas we went to. Also, there were no high-pressure salespeople trying to push everything on us. I also enjoyed walking around The Old City with its colorful buildings and coffee shops.

You will want to stop at San Alberto Coffe Shop in the Old City for a cup of that infamous Colombian Coffee.

Things to do in Cartagena Colombia
San Alberto Coffee

Las Bovedas

Next, our guide took us to Las Bovedas. If you can’t find it on the streets, check out Las Bovedas, the little shops built into the walls of the city with alcoves and columns all around.

It was a crowded shopping area loaded with jewelry, trinkets, t-shirts, and souvenirs mostly made in Colombia. There were also hammocks, larger wood and glass items for home decor.

Cartagena Colombia
Tribal Colombian Face Masks

They house everything touristy, from cheap trinkets to clothing, original artwork, and hammocks.

While shopping you will be prepared to have a lot of people try to entice you to buy their items. A find that a firm, “no” will usually work. My husband would engage every single person in conversation so he would get stopped a lot. This was not the best approach for me as I do not like telling people “no” all the time. You will find your own way while you are there but have some kind of plan in place to handle the people trying to sell you their trinkets.

Book Now: Old City Walking Tour with Private Photographer

The Chief, made sure to tell us that he had to take us to one shop and show us around but assured us we did not have to buy anything. He stated, ” I have to do it for the business owner.”

Some Shopping Warnings

The Chief also warned us that if someone is trying to sell you silver in the street it is not real silver and not to buy it thinking it was real.

I believe that is why he had labeled us with his name on our name tags. Not only was it to show people we are in a particular store or area so he got credit for bringing us, but also to keep other tour guides from poaching us in a store or one of the tourist areas he would take us to.

The Umbrellas At Calle Angosto – Getsemaní

The residents of Getsemani have embraced an eclectic look just outside the entrance to The Old City. You will find the classic colonial architecture and brightly colored murals and of course these umbrellas in this former working-class neighborhood. Boutique hotels have popped up and people are now able to tour the streets admiring the art and seeking out the unique food of the indigenous people of Colombia.

The Cruise Port

If you are taking a cruise then you will inevitably have to go through the port area to get into Cartagena. Cartagena definitely has one of the best ports I have come across cruising. You will be entertained by monkeys, birds and giant anteaters. There is shopping and food as well.

Book Now: Cruise by the Bay with Dinner and Wine

Things to do in Cartagena
Macaws at the Port of Cartagena
Things to do in Cartagena
Monkey in the jungle at the cruise port.

Regardless of how you get to Cartagena, you must get there. With safety no longer an issue Cartagena will provide you with a lot of color and LIFE! Cartagena has a lot to offer from a beautiful history and architecture to an eclectic nightlife!

Giant Ant Eater at the Port of Cartagena

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Ultimate Guide to Cartagena Colombia
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90 responses to “An Ultimate Guide With The 9 Best Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia”

  1. Michele Avatar

    It was never on my list before, but it is now! The photos are amazing!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks Michelle! You will love it!

  2. Susan Avatar

    That sounds like a great city excursion. I’m glad you got a guide with your welfare in mind. I think that makes for a happier trip.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Absolutely! We loved him!

  3. Lisa Avatar

    What a fantastic trip!

  4. Amanda Avatar

    Cartagena has been on my travel list since I was a kid. I will get there one day 🙂 It is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thank you for stopping by! I can not wait to see what you love about Cartagena!

  5. Missy Avatar

    We have not been to Colombia. I appreciate the “when to Go” section. many times I have to research like crazy to find the best times go visit an area.

  6. Taci -life Beyond zebra Avatar
    Taci -life Beyond zebra

    I have never heard of this city. It sounds like an awesome place to visit!

  7. Courtney Avatar

    Columbia has never been on my radar to visit, but your post definitely makes it an interesting place to consider traveling!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by Courtney!

  8. Lori Nielsen Avatar

    I would like to see the castle and visit the old city. Everything looks so festive! I love the umbrellas.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      South America, in general, is so friendly and festive. I love the lifestyle in Cartagena.

  9. Hera Avatar

    That’s a huge anteater! I’ve never seen one outside a zoo. Colombia looked scary coming off the cruise ship when we went years ago with many militia with big guns present. But after getting to an offshore island by speedboat nearby, it was really nice and private. Good to know about Cartagena.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Wow, we did not see any of that! I think things have changed greatly.

  10. Melissa Jones Avatar

    That looks like an amazing trip! Beautiful area!

  11. Julie Avatar

    Never really thought about visiting Cartagena, thanks for sharing all the history.

  12. Kristen Avatar

    I love your photos!

  13. Cindy Avatar

    Columbia is on the bucket list. We have been to South America but not here.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I would like to see more!

  14. CJ Avatar

    WOW, the area looks stunning, and those animals!!! Thank you for providing all this detail!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by CJ!

  15. kmf Avatar

    I need to visit! Love all the beautiful photos and all the great info and travel tips. A friend of mine visited last year and I had never heard of it. Would especially love to wander around the Old City!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      You will love it, Karen!

  16. Brianna Avatar

    This looks like such a beautiful place to explore. Your pictures are so great! Thank you for sharing.

  17. Jordin Avatar

    Cartagena looks so colorful and full of life! I would stroll through the brightly colored streets sipping my columbian coffee!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      The coffee was AMAZING! I do not drink coffee in the US but I will in Colombia and Cuba!

  18. Christina Furnival Avatar

    Wow! Looks amazing, and there is so much to take in!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      There is a lot to take in. I definitely could have spent more time there.

  19. Leeanne Avatar

    I love your photos. The statue in the harbor is beautiful. What a great place to visit.

  20. Lee Anne Avatar
    Lee Anne

    I would have never thought to visit here! It sure looks beautiful!!

  21. LaurenGlobe Avatar

    Columbia is SUCH a beautiful country! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by Lauren!

  22. Stacey Billingsley Avatar

    Cartagena looks like such a beautiful place to visit. I’d love to go. I like that you included some safety tips, like not purchasing silver in the street. Great post!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      He was great about explaining the culture too which I really enjoyed.

  23. Susan Avatar

    Cartagena has been on our “must see” lists for a while. I love how colorful the city is! I’ll be referencing this post for when we finally make it down to Colombia.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I would love to hear about your trip when you go! Thanks, Susan!

  24. Noelle Avatar

    Wow, this looks like an amazing trip with a lot of great history. I just love all of the architecture.

  25. Charlotte Avatar

    This sounds so interesting! Thank you for sharing such valuable information.

  26. vanessa Avatar

    I have a friend who is seriously considering moving here. We were just talking about it today…He’s really excited and I’m excited for him.. Your pictures look so relaxing. I may visit myself.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I bet he is. He will love it there. Especially if he likes the heat! lol Thanks Vanessa!

  27. heather Avatar

    Great information. Thank you for addressing the safety issue. I had not realized it had become a lot safer over the years. I love the colorful buildings. Chief sounds like a character!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      He was a wonderful guide!

  28. Suzan Avatar

    What an awesome guide you had, “Chief”, lol. I too would want to explore how the people of Cartegena truly live. Some of our best times have been when locals take us in and share a meal or advice. What a lovely stop you had!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I agree. Experiencing the local way of life is the best!

  29. Sydney Delong Avatar

    Wow, looks like a beautiful place to visit!!

  30. Jenniefr Avatar

    Cartagena looks like an interesting place to visit with many activities to see and do.

  31. Kareena Avatar

    Seems like such a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for providing all the useful information!

  32. jen Avatar

    A lovely guide for a place I’ve never heard of. You’ve taught me something new 😉 I love it

  33. Jane Avatar

    I love the vibrant colours! I heard amazing things about Cartagena and would love to visit. There’s so many things to see and do. I can see myself exploring the Old Town.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      As I am posting my photos on Instagram, I miss it already! I definitely want to spend more time there!

    2. cathy creech Avatar
      cathy creech

      Looks like a beautiful destination! I need to put this on my bucket list.

      1. Tricia Snow Avatar

        Awesome! I hope you get there soon!

  34. Lisa Manderino Avatar

    Great post! It makes me think South America is an option! My biggest fear is safety for sure!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      There was no time I felt unsafe. The place was loaded with tourists.

  35. Candy K Avatar

    So much amazing culture to see here. Thank you for sharing this destination with us.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thank you for stopping by!

  36. Cindy Avatar

    We have wanted to go to Columbia for a while. We went to Ecuador but didn’t get to Columbia yet. It’s on the list. This looks like a great trip!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Ecuador is next on my list. They have a UNESCO Heritage city as well.

  37. Angela Avatar

    The wildlife & scenery is really unique- thank you for sharing

  38. Holly Avatar

    What a wonderful place to visit! I love your pictures and information! Thank you for sharing!!

  39. Tiffany Avatar

    Beautiful photos – this sounds like a lovely vacation – might have to add to the list once we finish exploring the UK!

  40. Debbie Avatar

    I must go here! Loved reading about Cartagena!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thank you for stopping by Debbie! I can not wait to hear about your experience when you get there!

  41. Lucy Avatar

    Aw I went to Cartagena last year for two days so didn’t get to see much of the beauty that you did! Your pictures make me want to go back to see what I missed! Lol

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Oh wow! I would have loved an extra day. I feel like I missed out on the night life!

  42. Maria G Avatar
    Maria G

    Well Cartagena wasn’t specifically on my list, though it wasn’t not on my list either, but now I’m inspired! Thanks for the insight!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I had not thought of it that much in previous years, only because I went to boarding school with people from there and eventually how they were affected by the turmoil there. Now so much has changed I wanted to see it for myself!

  43. Christina Siwik Avatar

    Don’t know if I will ever get there, but the information will help if I do.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      It is a wonderful city!

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