11 Best Cartagena Tours and Excursions to Consider Adding to Your Visit

To do tours or not to do tours in Cartagena, Colombia?

That’s a question I know I find myself asking a lot when visiting a new place.

On the one hand, I really like going at my own pace and feeling like I’m not just seeing the “tourist trap” sites.

On the other hand, I’ve done some awesome tours and excursions in Cartagena, not to mention elsewhere, that I got a lot out of.

In those cases, not only did I get to see places or things I might not have otherwise, but I also got great insight about the history or culture or just fun tidbits.

I can also often get a lot more into a day with organized tours and experiences than if I am just exploring on my own, a key advantage if you have limited time.

So, even if you’re more of a DIY type of traveler like me and want to do more than the average whistle stop tour that everyone else does, you can still get a lot out of doing some tours in Cartagena. And, well, yes, sometimes the typical tourists tours are popular for a reason and are even worth doing!

Photo of a ship in the water in front of the wall and churches in Cartagena, Colombia.
Read on to learn about 11 great Cartagena tours that will let you experience all the city has to offer!

There are a lot of fun things to do in Cartagena, including a lot you can do on your own, but there is also a lot to be gained by doing some Cartagena excursions or guided experiences.

Even after living in Cartagena for 11 years, there were still times I learned something new on a Cartagena tour. There is a good reason after all that Cartagena is considered one of the best places to travel in South America!

I’ve got a whole list of more than 75 things to do in Cartagena I put together myself, a lot of them geared towards exploring on your own.

However, there are some things that are really only recommendable to do with an organized Cartagena excursion as well as some things that can be done on their own but really are better to do with a tour.

Many of them are especially great choices for those with limited time, those who like to learn a bit more, and those who want access to some places outside the city that are hard to do on your own.

So read on to learn my picks for the 11 best tours in Cartagena, Colombia you could consider adding on to your itinerary for your visit.

Photo of a church with tall buildings behind it in Cartagena, Colombia.
Cartagena is gorgeous, and you can get even more out of a visit by doing one or more of these top tours in Cartagena.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I am a member of Amazon Associates, LLC and other affiliate programs and earn from qualifying purchases made after clicking those links. There is never any additional cost to you. To learn more please consult our Disclosure Policy.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I am a member of Amazon Associates, LLC and other affiliate programs and earn from qualifying purchases made after clicking those links. There is never any additional cost to you. To learn more please consult our Disclosure Policy.

*Want to take the hassle of out planning your trip?

Let the experts at our partner BnB Colombia Tours help you! Check out their predesigned packages or fill out this form and they will work with you to design a truly unforgettable, custom made trip. Especially nice, nearly all their tours are private with great, bilingual guides. Packages start at $250 USD a day per person.

And if you’re more interested in just doing a few day tours like those on this list, I’m happy to say BnB Colombia also offers Cartagena Explorer readers a 20% discount on all their day tours. Click here to see all their tours in Cartagena (plus other places in Colombia) and use the discount code ExploreColombia20 for your exclusive discount off the listed prices!

Photo of a girl sitting on a beach overlooking the ocean during a Cartagena excursion to the islands.
Of course the beach is a can’t miss in Cartagena, so rest assured we’ve got your sun and sand covered in this guide to the best Cartagena tours, in fact, it’s #1!

Best Tours in Cartagena, Colombia Quick Tips

I’ll be going into more detail about each of these tours and excursions in Cartagena below as well as go over some different options for doing them.

However, if you want a quick guide, here is a quick summary of the 11 Cartagena, Colombia tours I’ll be discussing in more detail below:

  1. Tour to the Rosario Islands – This is an absolute must do Cartagena excursion. The top ways to do it are in a private boat rental, a catamaran boat tour, or a day trip to our favorite place in the islands.
  2. Cartagena City Tour – Your standard city tour of Cartagena hits all the highlights, including the historic Castillo San Felipe and the Walled City.
  3. Walking Tour of the Walled City – Take a walking tour of Cartagena’s historic center to learn even more details on the historic charm of the Walled City.
  4. Walking Tour of Getsemaní – A great way to learn more about the history and see the cool street art of this historic district considered the cradle of Cartagenero culture is to go on a Getsemaní walking tour or Getsemaní graffiti tour.
  5. Bike Tour of Cartagena – A unique way to do a city tour of Cartagena is a bike tour.
  6. Sunset on the Bay – A great way to end the day with terrific views is a sunset cruise on a catamaran.
  7. Tour the Bazurto Market – A unique look into the less touristy side of Cartagena is a tour to the bustling Bazurto Market. Best part is it includes food!
  8. Do a Cooking Class – A neat way to learn more about the culture and culinary traditions of Cartagena is doing a cooking lesson. Plus, you get more food!
  9. Take a Dip in a Mud Volcano – Cartagena’s oddest attraction is taking a dip in the mud volcano, which can be combined to include a bonus trip to a pink sea nearby.
  10. Take a Day Trip to Palenque – Another chance to see the less touristy side of Colombia and learn about this unique historic community.
  11. Take a Ride on the Hop on and Hop Off Bus – A surprisingly good value and way to see lots easily is buying a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off Cartagena.

Got your Cartagena hotel reservations yet? If not, be sure to check out my guide to the best areas to stay or see the best luxury hotels, best beach hotels, best boutique hotels, or best hostels.

Photo of a girl walking on a street at night on a Cartagena tour.
Come along to learn more about these best tours in Cartagena!

In Depth Look at the Best Excursions in Cartagena, Colombia

Ok, let’s dive into each of these top tours in Cartagena de Indias in more detail.

For each, I’ll run down what to expect, why you should consider doing it as a guided experience, and some options for booking it. While I’ll try to mention it below where I link to them, please keep in mind that any of the tours offered by my partner BnB Colombia can be booked with a 20% discount with the code ExploreColombia20.

1. Rosario Islands – The One Cartagena Excursion You Can’t Miss

A visit to the Rosario Islands is an absolute must in Cartagena!

Yes, there are beaches in Cartagena proper, but they tend to be crowded and have lots of vendors. They also aren’t nearly as pretty as the islands! Playa Blanca is another popular choice, but in my opinion, it’s become way too crowded in recent years too.

So, it’s well worth spending the little bit extra to go out to the islands!

Since they are roughly an hour boat ride away, even if you are a DIYer and don’t like doing organized tours, you will need to do something organized to the islands, whether it be a day pass at a resort or a ticket for a tour or excursion.

Undoubtedly the coolest way to do a Cartagena island tour is via private boat. Having dance parties at party spot Cholón, stopping for snorkeling at the reef or site of a submerged plane, and checking out secluded beaches are the advantages of doing a private Cartagena boat tour.

While more affordable than you might think, it is of course, most cost effective if you are traveling with or can put together a group.

Photo of people on a private boat tour in Cartagena, Colombia.
Doing a private boat is definitely the best way to do the islands in style!

If you can’t manage to swing the private boat, there are some other great options for Cartagena tours to the islands.

However, a word of warning: Be wary of cheap tours to the Cartagena islands sold by street vendors.

They are notorious for packing lots of people on tiny boats and having lots of upsells along the way like paying for chairs at the beach or paying extra to enter the oceanarium. Be sure you have clear what your tour will and will not include. Unless you really want to see the oceanarium, I’d avoid booking one that stops there.

My second choice for a Cartagena islands tour is to do the day trip on the Bonavida Catamaran. It’s a great boat and it includes lunch and snorkeling gear.

It’s without a doubt the best choice for a shared boat tour in Cartagena.

For those who want a proper beach, a day trip to IslaBela is also great. If you book at that link use the code ExploreColombia20 for a 20% discount! You can get the same discount on this day pass at a nicer place in the islands too.

By the way,if you have the time, say more than 4 nights total in Cartagena, I’d also encourage spending the night here or at one of the other resorts in the Rosario Islands.

Some other possible fun ways to do the islands are with a multi-island boat tour or on a shared party boat with open bar to Cholón. A day pass at Bora Bora beach club is another popular option for those looking for a bit more party vibes.

You can see even more options for Cartagena island excursions at my guide to the best Rosario Islands day trips and learn more about doing a day trip versus spending the night in my complete guide to the Rosario Islands.

Photo of a girl on a beach raising her hands during an excursion in Cartagena's Rosario Islands.
Regardless of which tour option you choose, just make sure you get out to the Rosario Islands!

2. Cartagena City Tour

Well, what would a list of the best tours in Cartagena be without your classic Cartagena city tour!

This is a great way to see the highlights and main historic sites of the city and learn a lot about Cartagena’s history in a day or half day, depending on which of the tours of Cartagena, Colombia you pick.

I often recommend doing this your first day as it can be a great introduction to getting around and give you some valuable background and insight into the city’s culture and history.

There are, of course, different variations of this tour, so be sure to find out what is and is not included on any city tour of Cartagena you book.

Typically, they will include a visit to the Castillo San Felipe Fort, the convent atop the hill known as La Popa, and a walking portion of the Walled City.

Some may include stops like the San Pedro Claver Church, the Palacio de la Inquisición Cartagena history and Inquisition Museum, or the Cartagena Gold Museum, although I’d try to maximize your time with a guide and do those things on your own later. Oh, and if you like museums, the Cartagena Naval Museum is my favorite for learning more about the city’s history.

You can book a private city tour with our partners BnB Colombia Tours (be sure to use the discount code ExploreColombia20 for a 20% discount!) or book one via GetYourGuide or via Viator.

I like the idea of doing this private so you aren’t stuck with a big group which either always seem to move too slow or too fast. You can go at your own pace, get the photos you want, not wait for the photos you don’t want, and get to ask your guide all the questions you have!

There is also this shared tour that includes some street food tastings, about as good of an added bonus as there is, if you’re looking to save some pesos on a shared tour though.

Photo of the Castillo San Felipe fort with a Colombia flag flying over it and water in front seen during a Cartagena city tour.
Most city tours will include a visit to the impressive Castillo San Felipe.

3. Walking Tours of Cartagena’s Historic Areas

Perhaps you’d like to get the benefit of a guided tour in the historic city but explore the fort and other sites on your own?

If so, you might want to opt for a Cartagena walking tour of the historic districts rather than the full city tour. You can get 20% off a private walking tours in Cartagena with the code ExporeColombia20.

That tour not only includes a longer walking tour in Cartagena’s Walled City but also a tour of the adjacent district of Getsemaní, home of the colonial era artisan class and considered to be the birthplace of Cartagena’s culture (and the next place on this list, so you can’t beat the value!).

You can also book a shared walking tour via GetYourGuide or a private walking tour via Viator.

There are also some free walking tours of Cartagena. Just keep in mind though advertised as “free,” the expectation is that you do pay something at the end. I believe they do give you a suggested price. It’s an interesting business model, and we’ve enjoyed free walking tours before.

Photo of a near empty street during a walking tour of Cartagena's Walled City.
Doing a walking tour of the Walled City is another great way to learn more about Cartagena’s history.

4. Tour of Getsemaní

As mentioned above, Getsemaní was the home of the colonial artisan class, many of them former slaves. In fact, the area remained a largely working class neighborhood into the opening years of the 21st century.

While there are still some long time resident holdouts, it’s now also home to lots of trendy bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and hostels. It’s still managed to keep a local vibe that isn’t quite as evident in the Walled City though.

By the way, do feel free to check out my guide to the Cartagena nightlife. You’ll see plenty of places from Getsemaní mentioned there!

It’s a great place to learn more about the history of the city, especially Cartagena’s independence, as the support of the artisan class for independence was crucial.

There is also some terrific graffiti and street art.

Not to mention, there are lots of neat photo ops with colorful umbrellas, flags, or both over several streets.

In short, whether you decide to explore here on a tour or on your own, it’s a can’t miss area of Cartagena.

Photo of a sign saying I heart Getsemaní over a narrow street with colorful umbrellas behind it seen during a Cartagena walking tour.
A tour of the historic and colorful Getsemaní is another top walking tour in Cartagena.

While Getsemaní can be explored on your own, there’s some good benefits of doing it with a tour. Much like the Walled City, you’ll get lots more valuable insight on the area’s and the city’s history, like for example the role played by mulatto leader Pedro Romero in independence.

A guide will also make sure to point out all the best street art and photo ops.

Once again, you can book a private walking tour of the Walled City and Getsemaní together or just a private walking tour of Getsemaní via our partners BnB Colombia and get 20% off with ExploreColombia20 discount code.

Another fun option would be this unique tour that focuses on the graffiti. There is also this neat tour that includes rum tastings. Drinking rum and talking history, what could be more fun! (Yes, I was a history major and I also like rum).

5. Bike Tour of Cartagena

If you’d like to do a guided experience to Cartagena’s historic highlights that isn’t quite your typical Cartagena walking tour, consider doing a bike tour!

Keep in mind Cartagena gets really hot, and you’ll definitely want to do this earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.

It’s a neat way to do a Cartagena tour while also being active. In fat, this would be one of my top recommendations for excursions in Cartagena for families.

You can book a private bike tour with our partners at BnB Colombia (use the ExploreColombia20 discount code) or a shared one via GetYourGuide.

It is also possible to rent bikes hourly if you’d prefer to do this on your own or you would prefer to do one of the walking tours and just enjoy cruising.

Photo of a bike next to a yellow building with a white wooden window in Cartagena, Colombia.
Doing a bike tour in Cartagena is a unique and fun way to explore the city.

6. Sunset on the Bay

Outside the more traditional Cartagena city tours and Cartagena walking tours noted above and doing a trip to the islands, this would be my top choice for a fun excursion in Cartagena you should absolutely consider doing.

There’s nothing quite like a beautiful sunset over the Caribbean.

While Cartagena has some great sunset spots, doing a sunset cruise on the bay is also a lot of fun. This is one of those things that we would do periodically and always enjoyed time and time again while living in Cartagena.

In addition to getting a great view of the sun setting over the ocean, you also get a unique perspective of the city, which is particularly pretty lit up once it gets dark on the return trip.

My top choice for a sunset cruise is on the Bona Vida Catamaran. Susana and I have done this and agree it’s the coolest boat (see our review here). It includes a couple drinks and snacks.

For those looking to do a bit more imbibing, there is also an open bar sunset cruise on the Sibarita. We’ve also done that one on the smaller Sibarita Express boat and enjoyed it a lot (see our review here). Sibarita also has a dinner cruise that looks like it would be a lot of fun.

Finally, the pirate boat also offers a sunset cruise with an open bar that looks like it would be good fun! I’m hoping to do it on our next return visit, and pretty much all I’ve heard about it has been positive.

Or for something unique and active, you could do a kayak tour at sunset.

Photo of a girl on a tour in Cartagena overlooking the sun setting behind big buildings across the water.
You can get some neat views of the city both on the way out and way in too!

7. Tour to Cartagena’s Bazurto Market

If you’ve seen the Anthony Bourdain episode where he visits Cartagena, you got to see him head to the hectic Bazurto Market of Cartagena to get fresh ingredients with one of the chefs he visits. While there he marvels at the fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish and even has a fresh lunch from a small food stall.

After Bourdain’s visit, a place that does not look like your typical tourist attraction became one. Recreating his experience is what these tours attempt to do.

I’ll never forget walking by the market nearly every weekend to catch the bus back out to Barú where I worked as a volunteer teacher my first year in Colombia in 2011. It was definitely dodgy and even walking along the edge was a bit of an assault on your senses.

While Susana would occasionally go and buy fresh shrimp or lobster at the market, I mostly just avoided it during my time in Cartagena.

Honestly, I never would have expected it to become a tourist attraction, much less one of the top tours in Cartagena.

But, well, here we are.

Tours to the market are quite common now, and given its location away from the tourist areas and the fact that parts can still be a bit dodgy, I would not recommend going here except with a tour.

However, if you do go with a tour, you should feel safe doing so. It is a neat experience to see all the fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention the fish mongers, and you can really get some very delicious fresh cooked meals.

Photo of people at stalls with fruits and vegetables and a muddy ground during a Cartagena, Colombia tour to the Bazurto Market.
A Cartagena tour to the market of Bazurto is a unique way to see another side of the city.

I would give the caveat that even though it’s become a common tourist stop, it is still definitely not exactly your yuppie, granola mom’s idea of a farmers’ market. It’s the city market for the city, one that draws more of Cartagena’s underprivileged than its well off, and it is still very much an assault on the senses (especially if it’s rained!).

It’s a very neat way to see the less touristy side of the city and have a unique experience, but if you have a sensitive nose, have a weak stomach, or are a hygiene freak, it’s probably best avoided.

There are a few variations of the Cartagena Bazurto Market tour, but usually they include fruit tasting and a fresh lunch prepared with fish and/or shellfish caught that morning (I’m sure all can arrange a non seafood and vegetarian friendly option too).

You can book a private a tour to the market with out partners BnB, or for a better value book a half day experience that includes a walking tour of Getsemaní and the tour to the market (use discount code ExploreColombia20 for 20% off on either!). You can also book a tour to just the market on GetYourGuide.

8. Do a Cooking Class

If the Cartagena market tour interested you, you might also enjoy a cooking class.

I guess this isn’t a Cartagena tour or excursion per se, but it’s a neat and organized experience that is a bit different and allows for some hands on fun and learning.

Plus, the best part is you get to eat what you make!

Photo of a man with of a big plate of lobster and other seafood.
This actually isn’t from a cooking class, but you should expect to be able to learn how to make some tasty seafood if you do one!

The best cooking class in Cartagena is at Cafe Lunático. You can book a spot via GetYourGuide or via Viator.

It includes preparation of several dishes, which vary according to the day of the week. It’s a fun way to combine a bit of learning about culture and tradition with one of everyone’s favorite activities on vacation, eating!

If you want to do a Cartagena food tour that doesn’t require you to do any work or head to the hectic market, you could also consider doing a street food tasting tour.

Or for dessert, consider a rum and chocolate tasting (use discount code ExploreColombia20).

And, be sure to check out my guide to the best restaurants to try in Cartagena too!

9. Tour to the Mud Volcano (and Pink Sea depending on season)

The Totumo Mud Volcano is probably Cartagena’s oddest attraction!

My experience is usually this is a love it or hate it kind of experience.

I remember going here during my first year in Cartagena. It was, well unique. Not something I’d repeat to be honest, but it was neat, and is certainly a good story.

Supposedly, the mud is great for your skin too.

Photo of people on one of the Cartagena, Colombia excursions to the mud volcano.
The mud volcano is a bit odd, but certainly a unique Cartagena tour.

While it is possible to do this on your own by hiring a taxi or doing a combination of bus and motorcycle taxi, there are plenty of tours to the Cartagena mud volcano that are reasonably priced, so I’d recommend just doing it that way.

Depending on season, some tours here also include a visit to the Pink Sea of Galerazamba, which is itself a unique attraction. The only issue is the pink effect can be a bit unpredictable, so treat it more as an added bonus.

Our partners BnB Colombia offer both shared and private tours to the mud volcano as well as shared and private tours to the mud volcano and to the mangrove forests north of Cartagena (use that discount code ExploreColombia20 for a 20% discount on any of them).

You can also book this Cartagena tour via GetYourGuide.

Read more about this unique Cartagena attraction at my complete guide to the mud volcano.

10. Do an Excursion from Cartagena to Palenque

The town of San Basilio de Palenque, often just called Palenque, was a colony of runaway slaves.

They were so successful at repelling Spanish attempts to destroy them and at carrying out raids to free other slaves in Cartagena, that the Spanish crown actually negotiated a peace treaty that granted them legal recognition as a free town, the first town of runaway slaves to receive such recognition.

Photo of a statue of a slave breaking his chains in the town of Palenque.
Statue of Benkos Biohó, often said to be the founder of San Basilo del Palenque.

This designation is why it is often called the first free black town in the Americas. While it was the first town of its kind to be recognized by a European colonial power, it was far from the first town of its kind.

In fact, there is a fair amount of myth about Palenque. I did a deep dive researching it for this site and you can read more about Palenque’s history here.

Still, it remains a culturally and historically significant site, and is pretty fascinating. While it used to be quite off the beaten path, it’s really grown as a tourist destination in recent years, and is a common excursion from Cartagena today. In fact, after the islands, I’d say it’s one of the very best day trips from Cartagena.

Located in the Montes de María region that was site to some of the worst violence of Colombia’s internal conflict, it’s a neat and largely community driven type of tourism that highlights Colombia’s under-recognized Afro-Colombian cultural traditions. It also offers a glimpse of the neglected state of much of rural Colombia.

I remember finding our visit here fascinating.

Many of the town’s colonial era residents kept alive their West African traditions, including traditional belief systems and language. In fact, the language that is still spoken by many of the town’s elders is the only known Spanish-African blended creole language, sort of akin to a Spanish patois.

I thought the most interesting thing was their unique justice system. For minor offenses, village elders decide the punishment rather than the normal legal system.

You can book a private tour with BnB Colombia (one final time, use that discount code ExploreColombia20!). You can also book a private tour via Viator.

You can read more about Palenque and why it’s worth visiting in my complete guide to San Basilio de Palenque.

11. See Lots at Your Own Pace on the Hop On Hop Off Bus

I know, I know, your first reaction here is probably similar to mine: this looks and sounds like the ultimate in tourist trap cheese.

However, the Cartagena Hop On Hop Off Bus is actually not a bad value, especially because the ticket is good for 2 days.

It has stops at a lot of Cartagena’s top attractions, including the Castillo San Felipe, and can be a much cheaper way to get to these sites than doing individual taxis.

If you want to see the main sites in Cartagena without necessarily doing a full guided experience with a guide but just get easy transportation there, it’s a decent option.

For that reason, I’m ending this list of the best Cartagena tours with it.

Photo of people walking on the streets of Cartagena, Colombia with the cathedral spire in the background.
Now you have a lot of options for tours in Cartagena you could do!

Some More Honorable Mentions for Tours in Cartagena

Here are handful more Cartagena tours I considered for this list that may make for some more fun ways to explore the city:

  • Salsa Lessonsbook this private lesson to get ready for hitting the dance floor.
  • Colombian National Aviary – the Cartagena Aviary is really well done, and you can book a private tour that includes transportation and a guided experience.
  • Playa Blanca – I still think you’re better off doing the Rosarios for a Cartagena islands tour or beach tour in Cartagena, but if you really want to do Playa Blanca or perhaps do both, this tour that includes lunch is a good option.
  • Bioluminescent plankton tour – Seeing the bioluminescent plankton doesn’t look quite as cool as in the pictures, at least in my experience, but it is neat.
  • Horseback riding on the beach – this would be especially fun for families or as a couple. Book with our partners or via GetYourGuide.
  • ATV Tour – This ATV tour is a pretty recent thing, but it’s got tons of great reviews and would be a bit more extreme way to explore the beach for a unique Cartagena excursion.
  • Paratriking Over the Beach – a unique and more extreme experience is this paratriking over the beach tour.
  • Nightlife and barhopping tourthis tour that includes drinks at several bars would be a fun way to meet some other travelers to party with.
  • Cruise excursionthis tour is designed for those arriving to Cartagena on cruise boats and is a good way to see the highlights similar to what you’d see on a Cartagena city tour if you are arriving by cruise for the day.
Photo of a street with flowers overhanging it in Cartagena.
Now you have a lot of great options for tours in Cartagena to fully enjoy the charm and beauty of Colombia’s Caribbean colonial gem!

Which of these Cartagena tours will you do?

There you have it, my picks for the best tours in Cartagena, Colombia!

All of these are good ways to see different attractions in the city while learning more about its fascinating history and culture.

Whichever of these Cartagena tours you do, I hope this guide was useful and, most importantly, you enjoy them and your entire time in Cartagena!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

Did you like this post?

Check out these others you might like:
Guide to Tayrona National Park
Guide to the San Bernardo Islands
Getting Around Cartagena
Cartagena Safety Tips
Cartagena Nightlife Guide including the Best Bars and Clubs

Planning a trip to Cartagena?

Be sure to check out the rest of the site to help you plan!

In particular, you might want to check out my complete guide to planning a trip to Cartagena, my guide to the best areas to stay, my list of over 75 things to do, my picks for the best Cartagena tours, the best day trips from Cartagena, my suggested packing list, my guide to the Rosario Islands, and my guide to all the beaches of Cartagena.