A Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena, Colombia

A picture of Cartagena showing the buildings of the Centro in the distance.

From hipster backpacker hostels, to boutique bed and breakfasts in majestic colonial houses, to beachfront high-rises, there is a wealth of options of places to stay in Cartagena.  In this guide to the best places to stay in Cartagena, we will look at some of the most popular tourist areas and what they have to offer for travelers.

*Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links, which simply means if you click them and go on to make a purchase, I can receive a commission.  There is no additional cost to you.  To learn more please consult out Disclosure Policy.
A picture of Cartagena showing the buildings of the Centro in the distance.
The tourist zone has several good options for areas to stay in Cartagena.

General Tips on Finding a Place to Stay in Cartagena

This post is primarily going to focus on the areas to stay in Cartagena that are in the tourist zone.  For each, I will discuss briefly what the area has to offer, why it might be an attractive area to stay in Cartagena, and link to some places to stay.  I have not stayed in most of these places, but did research the recommendations and read reviews of the properties listed.  I have tried to provide my very best recommendations.  I opted to mostly list properties with at least 100 reviews (with the exception of the apartments and a couple others where there were not other options).  You should definitely still do your own due diligence and compare prices and reviews yourself.

Finding Places to Stay

I’m going to link to places listed on Booking.com.  Booking has become my go to site for reservations.  It’s a terrific site, and what I particularly like about it is that it has an absolute ton of properties listed, including many smaller, locally run properties.  They also frequently run deals.  The only disclaimer I would perhaps give on Booking is they often don’t include tax in the listed price (although it should specify if it is included or not) and occasionally properties will forget to charge you the special discounted price and charge the standard, so make sure you keep tabs on the price you were offered.

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Before I continue, I want to provide a link to Vacation Rentals Cartagena.  They offer apartments for short term vacation stays in Centro.  In the interest of full disclosure, the manager of the site is a personal friend, and she has been nice enough to link to this site as well.  The reviews of the apartments up on the site speak for themselves, so check them out if you are looking for apartments.  There is also one apartment available for longer term stays if you are planning to spend a month or more in Cartagena.  Beyond trying to return the favor for the links she has given me from her site, I have no financial or commission relationship with her.

Lately, my wife Susana and I have also used AirBnB some during our travels, and we’ve been very pleased with it.  Short term vacation rentals of apartments and condos has always been a common practice in Cartagena, and lately AirBnB has really been growing.  I won’t be providing links to specific AirBnB properties here, but I would encourage you to check it out as well, as you will likely get a better deal than a traditional hotel.

*If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

The Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena

The Historic Walled City

Known as El Centro, Cartagena’s historic downtown with its iconic wall is probably the image that enticed you to visit in the first place.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that it is the class of the best areas to stay in Cartagena.

The Centro offers just about everything you could want, from fine dining to street food, from upscale luxury hotels to hostels, from night clubs, high end cocktail bars, and craft beers to local watering holes, plus everything in between.  Best of all, it’s all in walking distance and with a heavy police presence is safe for the most part even in the wee hours.

Furthermore, some of Cartagena’s best attractions are located inside the walled city of the Centro, including the Gold Museum, Inquisition Museum, and excellent Naval Museum .  The Castillo San Felipe Fortress is also only a short 15 minute walk away.  Just strolling along the beautiful colonial streets and atop the wall are must dos in Cartagena, and if they are part of your walk home, all the better.  I would really recommend to all visitors, but especially first time visitors, to stay in Centro.

There are a few possible drawbacks to being in the Centro.  If you plan to beach it a lot, you won’t be beachfront.  Centro can also get quite crowded, particularly during peak seasons around Cartagena’s November Festivities, New Years, and Easter.  Also, there are lots of street vendors selling all sorts of things, and the prostitution around the Clocktower has gotten a little too obvious as of late.  However, these are things you will deal with in Getsemaní and Bocagrande as well.  Finally, you will of course pay a premium, so if you are on a super tight budget, you might be better off looking at options in Getsemaní or El Cabrero instead.

A photo of a colonial city street in the Centro with multicolored buildings, hedges, and balconies, all of which make it one of the best areas to stay in Cartagena.
The charming and historic colonial architecture is part of what makes the Centro one of the best areas to stay in Cartagena.  Image Source:  Pixabay Creative Commons
Options for Places to Stay in El Centro
From Vacation Rentals Cartagena:
From Booking.com:

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in the Centro.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Getsemaní

Getsemaní is an incredibly historic neighborhood just outside of the wall of the Centro.  During the colonial era, it was a working class neighborhood with a large population of free black artisans.  They were the carpenters, masons, and shipbuilders that quite literally built Cartagena.  The neighborhood also played a leading role in the movement for independence and is considered the birthplace of Cartagena’s unique Afro-Caribbean culture.

The neighborhood had remained largely working class up until recently.  The last decade has seen the expansion of tourism to the area, with the Plaza de la Trinidad becoming a popular hang out place and a proliferation of hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars, and clubs into the area.  It particularly became a popular hipster, backpacker hangout.  Although even more upscale places are coming in now.  I’d highly recommend Getsemaní to younger travelers, those on a budget, and those looking to party hard.

In just my 8 years in Cartagena, I have seen Getsemaní change quite a lot, and it is a case study in gentrification.  Whether that is good or bad is a debate for another forum, but if you do decide to stay there keep in mind there are still residents who have lived there for generations, and the neighborhood is historically and culturally significant.

The biggest reason Getseman´i is one of the best areas to stay in Cartagena is the variety on offer.  Besides the blend of cheap street food and hole in the wall type of places there are an increasing number of trendy restaurants.  Probably the best nightlife in the city can be found on Calle Media Luna and Calle El Arsenal.  All of that makes it a great choice for young travelers looking to meet others and save a few pesos by staying just a stone’s throw away from the walled city.

Three girls standing under little flags with the colors of the Colombian flags strung up across the street in Getsemaní, one of the best areas to stay in Cartagena.
One of the streets of Getsemaní decked out for the World Cup.
Options for Places to Stay in Getsamaní

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Getsemaní.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Bocagrande and Laguito as Areas to Stay in Cartagena

Bocagrande

Sporting a mini-Miami Beach vibe, Bocagrande is a mix of high-rise hotels and condos.  There are also a ton of restaurants both along the main strip of Avenida San Martin and off it.  If you’re looking to spend multiple days beaching it and want a home base within easy walking distance, Bocagrande is probably your choice among the best areas to stay in Cartagena.  It also still only a short taxi ride or half hour walk from many of the main attractions in El Centro.

Laguito

Located towards the end of Bocagrande, Laguito surrounds a big lake.  There are a lot of restaurants in the area and a nice beach, particularly the beach by the Hilton.  There are also a few bars and nightclubs.  It is a bit further for taxis.

The downside to Bocagrande and Laguito is that they are extremely touristy.  However, if you are a tourist, that really isn’t so bad now is it?  The beaches in Bocagrande are probably the best in the city proper, although they pale in comparison to the gorgeous, white sand beaches at Playa Blanca and in the Rosario Islands.  They are also crawling with vendors, but that’s true at those nicer beaches as well.

If you’re looking to spend a good part of your time relaxing on the beach while also having easy access to restaurants and shopping and a relatively easy trek into the historic Centro, then consider Bocagrande and Laguito prime areas to stay in Cartagena.

The taller buildings of Bocagrande at night time, one of the best areas to stay in Cartagena.
Bocagrande’s high-rises lit up at night.  Image Source:  Pixabay Creative Commons
Options for Places to Stay in Bocagrande
Options for Places to Stay in Laguito

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Bocagrande and Laguito.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

El Cabrero and Marbella as Areas to Stay in Cartagena

Next up, the two areas to stay in Cartagena up the water front the other direction from Bocagrande.  El Cabrero, sits just outside the walled city with Marbella a bit further up along the beach.  Both areas remain largely residential, but the last few years have seen more restaurants and hotels open up.

Many of the hotels and rental properties are beachfront, and if you’re looking to be on the beach but save some pesos over the more expensive places in Bocagrande, El Cabrero and Marbella make great options for areas to stay in Cartagena.

El Cabrero offers easy walking access to the Centro, and might just be the best budget option for areas to stay in Cartagena.  With a supermarket, a few local watering holes, and a few restaurants, including the awesome Tacos de Mexico, El Cabrero offers a bit of everything, and is among the best budget options for areas to stay in Cartagena.

Marbella is a bit further up, and is more like a 15-20 minute walk to the Centro than the 5-10 from Cabrero, but offers easy access to and might offer even more attractive prices, particularly for apartments.  Like Cabrero, it also boasts an expansive beachfront, a handful of local watering holes, and a handful of smaller restaurants, including the very cool Esquina de Yina.  That makes Marbella another good budget option among the best areas to stay in Cartagena.

The only possible drawbacks to both areas are there can occasionally be some shady characters roaming the streets at night.  The beaches also do get extremely crowded with locals on the weekends, particularly Sundays and Monday holidays so leaving your things unattended is probably a bad idea.  On the flip side, there are generally less vendors than on the beaches in Bocagrande.

One more note:  If you’re coming during the Independence Festivities in November, I would highly recommend El Cabrero and Marbella as ideal places to stay, especially if you get a place beachfront.  The parades go right down Avenida Santander and you can see it all while enjoying the rowdiness in the street or from the calm comfort of your balcony, rather than paying up for bleachers in the Centro.  Particularly wild (good or bad depending on your craziness tolerance) is the gathering that annually takes place on the street behind the beachfront in El Cabrero.

A truck with people on it passing by along the waterfront in Cabrero.
The parade during the Cartagena Independence Festivities goes along the waterfront through Marbella and Cabrero, making them great areas to stay in Cartagena if you’re coming for the annual November festivities.
Options for Places to Stay in El Cabrero and Marbella

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Cabrero and Marbella.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Zona Norte/La Boquilla as Areas to Stay in Cartagena

Located just outside the city proper, Zona Norte and La Boquilla offer some of the nicest beaches in the city and more exclusive areas to stay in Cartagena.  The area is sometimes also referred to as Morros due to a series of condo and apartment buildings with that name in the area.  La Boquilla is a mostly poor, Afro-Colombian beach community.  The abject poverty next to high-rise condos and resorts is noticeable.

Still, nicer, more exclusive beaches and for the most part considerably fewer vendors than the beaches in Bocagrande, El Cabrero, and Marbella make Zona Norte/Morros and La Boquilla a great option for travelers who want primarily a beach resort style vacation.

The downside of staying here is you are a good distance from the other main tourist attractions.  Still, that distance is 10-15 minutes in a taxi depending on traffic, so if you’re looking to spend most of your time on the beach and relaxing around the hotel, Zona Norte is a good choice of the areas to stay in Cartagena.  If you are in La Boquilla, you might want to watch out for petty crime as well, and although there’s really no reason to be wandering around out at night here to begin with, well you shouldn’t do that.

Do be aware you will have to spend a bit more on taxis to and from the area, especially considering there’s been a lot of construction on the roads in the area recently.  I would advise against staying here if it’s your first time visiting, but if you’re a return visitor who wants to just chill out and/or you have kids who will want to be on the beach, I’d say its a great option.

Photo of a mostly deserted beach at La Boquilla, one of the areas to stay in Cartagena, with shade tents in the background.
While a bit father away from the Centro, the beaches around La Boquilla and Zona Norte are larger and less crowded, making them great options for areas to stay in Cartagena for beach bums.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons.
Options for Places to Stay in Zona Norte and La Boquilla

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Zona Norte.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Other Options for Areas to Stay in Cartagena

Crespo

A mostly residential neighborhood located next to the airport, Crespo is a quiet neighborhood with a decent number of cheaper restaurants, and in particular would be one of the good areas to stay in Cartagena for budget travelers or business travelers.  Easy access to the airport is the advantage here, while being out of reasonable walking distance from the main tourist attractions and limited transportation options outside of taxis and the Transcaribe are the disadvantages.  The beach nearby Hotel Las Americas is a nice option for budget beach bums staying in Crespo.

Options for places to say in Crespo:

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Crespo.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.
Manga

Another mostly residential neighborhood, Manga does sport some great views of the bay and a variety of restaurants.  Like Crespo, it is a bit removed from the major tourist destinations, but may make a good option among the places to stay in Cartagena for budget travelers and/or people with families looking for a quieter place to stay.

Options for Places to Stay in Manga:

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

*AirBnB also has options in Manga.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.
Elsewhere

Unless you’re coming strictly on business or planning to only use Cartagena as a layover before catching a bus elsewhere, I wouldn’t recommend staying elsewhere.  While there are both areas to stay in Cartagena and neighborhoods that are very safe outside the central tourist zone, there’s not much to do there as a visitor to the city.

I hope you will visit Cartagena and that this guide to the areas to stay in Cartagena has been of use to you in planning your visit.  You really can’t go wrong staying in any of the above mentioned areas.  Decide what’s best for your needs, wants, and desires, pick a date, and make a reservation!  If you’re ready to do so, you can even do so below.

A view of the sunset over Cartagena.
Regardless of where you decide to stay, make sure you catch the sunset, beautiful from anywhere.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

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