Cartagena is a bustling colonial port city, contrasted by a traditional walled old city and exclusive high rise apartments.
No trip to Colombia or South America would be complete without one of its most beautiful cities – one which is in large parts being restored to its former glory. During the Spanish colonial era the city served as the largest Fort in the New World, a key trading port which was the focus of attention for the Spanish, French, British and pirates.
Cartagena also serves as a hub for tours to the famed Rosario Islands.
The city is divided into districts; the most popular with low budget travellers being Getsemani, with its trendy bars and restaurants and proximity to the major sights.
If you’re planning a short trip to Cartagena, here are our top things to see and do:
South of Cartagena is a the Rosario archipelago of some 30 islands with white-sand beaches – named as such because it is strung like rosary beads through the deep blue Caribbean Sea. Boat tours leave from the marina outside of the Old City Wall, a two minute walk from the Clock Tower. Tour costs vary depending on how much the locals can rinse out of you but expect to pay between $50-80 per person.
The electric atmosphere of Cafe Havana is as legendary as its cocktail menu and live salsa music. Located in Getsemani and Trinidad, Cafe Havana
Entrance costs $25,000 pesos per person, meaning it’s usually worth getting in early and staying until late.
A free walking tour (tipping of guide is expected) departs from the Naval Museum at 4pm daily – check online for details – and take around 2-3hrs exploring the cobbled streets, historic colonial buildings and squares, and a number of impressive churches.
San Felipe Fort
With the increasing threats of attack by the British, the Spanish governor of Cartagena began fortifying the city in the 1650s, including the construction of the first phase of San Felipe Fort.
The city was attacked several times through to the 1720’s requiring additional defences and a network of underground tunnels.
Entrance to San Felipe Fort costs COP17,000 ($6) and can be walked in approximately an hour. The Fort is stop number 4 on the City Sightseeing Tour bus.
If you want to see the real Cartagena then pay a visit one evening to the Trinidad Plaza, in Getsemani. The beautiful yellow church overlooks a small bricked square which comes alive at night with dance, music and kids playing soccer. Surrounding the square are a dozen or so restaurants with outside seating, great views, decent food and cold beers.
Cartagena features a red top bus tour costing from $22 for 48hrs which is purchased midday will run across to midday on day 3. In addition to taking you to the sights, it’s not a bad way to travel the city, even if you’re just hopping a ride to the beach or restaurants.