11 Best Day Trips from Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is well known as Colombia’s coastal Caribbean gem. The city has a charming colonial history, a vibrant nightlife, and an growing restaurant scene. Plus, it is located near lots of nice beaches.

Many people travel to Cartagena from all over the world, using it as their gateway to explore Colombia. There are some excellent other destinations in Colombia, including some others on the Caribbean coast.

There are also lots of great things to do in Cartagena itself. In fact, I have a whole list of over 75 things to do in Cartagena! There are also some excellent tours in Cartagena you can do.

However, in this post, I’m going to go over the best day trips outside of Cartagena.

After living for the city for over a decade, I’ve been able to get to know the area well. All of these day trips from Cartagena within a few hours and some can even be done in a half day or combined together for a full Cartagena day trip.

The first one on this list of best day trips from Cartagena is basically a must see, and everyone that has more than 3 days in Cartagena should consider doing at least on of the other day trips in Cartagena below.

So read on to learn all about the best day trips in Cartagena, Colombia!

Photo of the waterfront in Cartagena with an old sailing ship with the walls and churches in the background.
While exploring Cartagena itself is a charm, there are some great day trips you can do nearby too. And yes, a number of them includes boats! Read on to learn all about them.

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Best Day Trips in Cartagena – Contents

  • Introduction to the Best Cartagena Day Trips
  • A Few Nearby Places that Should Not be Done as a Day Trip
  • Top 11 Best Day Trips from Cartagena
  • Honorable Mentions for Cartagena Day Trips

If you’re currently planning a trip to Cartagena and would prefer to have some expert assistance, consider planning your trip with BnB Colombia Tours, an agency I’ve partnered with that offers premium, custom, tailor made trips to Cartagena and everywhere else in Colombia. Bruce, the head of BnB Colombia, and his team can put together the Colombia trip of your dreams. They’ll even give you a discount for being a Cartagena Explorer reader! If you’d like to see what they have to offer, fill out this form and they’ll get back to you to start planning!

Best Day Trips from Cartagena Introduction

I’m going to be honest, putting together a best Cartagena day trips list was a bit of a challenge.

There is one, can’t miss place to enjoy the sun and sand that tops the list. Then there are several that I think are great additions for everyone interested in history, culture, and seeing a bit of the other side of Colombia.

Then, there is a niche place that is probably Cartagena’s weirdest attraction, a uniquely pretty place that is only in season part of the time, and a neat place for bird lovers that is a bit difficult to reach. Finally, there are some good other beaches, some of which offer some unique cultural and historical experiences of their own.

Actually writing all that out makes me realize the are better day trips in Cartagena than at first glance. Some of them offer similar experiences though, and there is a fair amount of beach in the list of best day trips from Cartagena below.

So, you probably won’t want to do all these best Cartagena day trips on a visit. They should give you some good options to consider though, especially since I’ve tried to include a little something for everyone.

Places You Should Not Do as a Day Trip from Cartagena

First, though, I want to talk about a few places you occasionally see mentioned as day trips from Cartagena, but I would highly discourage trying to do as day trips.

The most common one I see as a day tour from Cartagena that you really shouldn’t do is Tayrona National Park.

With ideal traffic conditions, you’re talking at least 4 hours (and probably more like 6) to get there, plus a 2 hour hike in to the most popular beach. So, you’re going to get a few hours beach time if you’re lucky and then hike back out and sit in a car for 4+ hours again? We are talking 12 hours minimum combined of driving and hiking.

Not worth it!

Photo of one of the beaches at Tayrona National Park, not recommended as a day trip from Cartagena.
Tayrona’s unspoiled beaches are gorgeous, and absolutely worth a trip, but I highly discourage trying to do it as a day trip from Cartagena!

Even if you do a boat to one of the beaches in the southern section of Tayrona, I still don’t think it’s remotely worth it to do this as a day trip. Maybe, maybe, if you are short of time and just must see it, you could do a private tour, or rent a car, or something that allows you to leave really early and come back really late. I really don’t recommend that though.

Ditto all of the above for Santa Marta and Minca, both of which are close to Tayrona.

Now, I definitely do highly recommend including Minca and Tayrona as additions to your itinerary. I’ve been to both multiple times and they are both beautiful and fun places to visit.

Just not as day trips out of Cartagena. You should plan to spend the night in both places. Ideally I’d suggest 1 or more nights in Tayrona, and 2-3 nights in Minca with a possibly half day spent seeing Santa Marta’s historic center.

You can learn more about these places and decide if they are worth including as overnight stops in my guide to Tayrona, my guide to Minca, my suggestions for the best hotels in Minca, and my tips on getting to Santa Marta from Cartagena, which you’ll need to route through for both.

The hip beach town of Palomino makes for another nice stop a bit further up the coast. For the really adventurous, seeing Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas in the desert Guajira Peninsula is a really neat experience too.

Turning south for a moment, another nice spot that makes for a good overnight trip from Cartagena is the San Bernardo Islands. This sister island chain to the closer Rosario Islands, best known for the beaches on Mucura and Tintipán Islands, is really gorgeous and lesser traveled. A day trip here is also not feasible since high currents mean the boats that travel direct from Cartagena return early in the afternoon so you can’t really get enough time to enjoy the beach to make it worth the trip in just a day.

Learn more about them and spending a night or two there at my guide to the San Bernardo Islands.

Photo of a girl sitting in a hammock over the water with the sunset in the background in the Colombia San Bernardo Islands, not a good place for a Cartagena day trip.
The Colombia San Bernardo Islands are also a great escape, but not appropriate for a Cartagena day trip.

And, of course, there are tons of other great places to visit in Colombia too!

Check them out in the other destinations section of the site.

These are just a few on the Caribbean coast that make for nice overnight trips but really aren’t appropriate for a day trip from Cartagena even though they are sometimes suggested as such.

Top 11 Day Trips from Cartagena


Now that we’ve made sure you don’t try to do any of those places above as Cartagena day tours, let’s get to this list of the best day trips from Cartagena you’ll actually be able to enjoy doing!

For each, I’m going to discuss why it’s worth considering, if there are organized tours/experiences that can be booked ahead, if they can be done independently, and other general tips for planning. I also have longer, dedicated posts on most of these places, so be sure to check out those links for more info.

One other quick note, I generally discourage renting a car in Cartagena or anywhere else in Colombia for that matter. Parking and traffic in the city can be annoying, people drive very aggressively, and it’s generally easier to just take taxis or go with tours for day tours from Cartagena and the like.

However, if you want to do several of these day trips from Cartagena and are comfortable driving, you could opt to rent a car. You can compare prices and book a rental car at Rentalcars.com and Discovercars.com.

Ok, now let’s get into these 11 best day trips from Cartagena, Colombia!

1. The Rosario Islands, A Can’t Miss in Cartagena

If you do check out my post on the best things to do in Cartagena, you’ll notice that seeing the nearby Rosario Islands is an absolute must do.

It is definitely one of the things that I always tell people you can’t come to Cartagena and not do.

These tiny coral islands are located about an hour’s boat ride away. They are surrounded by beautiful, crystal clear water, and there are some nice beaches and snorkeling spots.

Photo of a boat on a day trip from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands with some people dancing on the boat and some swimming in the water next to it.
A private boat rental is a great way to do the Rosario Islands as a fun day trip from Cartagena!

You can do the Rosario Islands as a day trip from Cartagena, or, if you have the time, spend the night.

I recommend spending the night only if you have at least 4 nights in Cartagena.

If you want to do multiple day trips on this list, I’d actually say only spend the night if you have at least 6 or more nights. If you do want to spend the night, you can check out my list of the best Rosario Islands hotels to help you decide where to stay.

If you want to do them as a day trip, there are a number of good options for Cartagena day tours to the Rosario Islands.

A private boat rental is the most expensive but is totally worth it, especially if you can put together a group to make it more cost effective.

For a relaxed day, book a day pass at IslaBela, which has a pretty beach and nice atmosphere. Book a pass at Bora Bora Beach Club for a party beach atmosphere. Book a catamaran day trip for a great value on a shared tour that includes a day sailing and snorkeling.

Photo of a small stairwell with a margarita on top in the waters on shore with a small island and boat in the background.
This is at IslaBela, our favorite chill spot in the islands and great for a day trip from Cartagena or overnight stay.

You can learn more about these options and see more ideas at my full list of the best Rosario Islands day tours from Cartagena.

Or you can compare the pros and cons of spending the night in my full guide to the Rosario Islands.

Regardless of how you do it, this is a must do and makes for the very best day trip in Cartagena, Colombia!

2. Visit Historic San Basilo de Palenque

Cartagena, with its charming colonial streets, imposing Castillo San Felipe Fortress, and city walls, is obviously very historic itself. It was fabulously wealthy due largely to its status as one of the major colonial trade ports of Spain’s New World Empire.

Part of that trade was the trade in human beings, and many slaves were brought to Cartagena. Slaves that escaped fled into the rural countryside. Communities of runaway slaves, sometimes called maroons in English, were at constant risk of being recaptured. Therefore, they created “palenques,” which means “walled cities” due to their use of wooden palisades to defend themselves.

The most successful of these communities in the area was San Basilo de Palenque, often times just called Palenque today.

The community resisted several expeditions to destroy it sent by the Spanish authorities. They even successfully led raiding parties to free slaves in Cartagena.

That led to the Spanish crown seeking a peace agreement and eventually granting it free status. It was the first free town in the Americas to be officially recognized by a European monarch by a royal decree in 1713.

Statue seen on a Palenque day trip from Cartagena showing the upper body of a man reaching out and breaking his chains.
Statue of Benkos Biohó, founder of San Basilo del Palenque.

The community’s residents preserved many traditional African beliefs, traditiona, practices, and even language. In fact, the language spoken by community elders is the only known African-Spanish creole language.

Colombia’s modern constitution grants it special rights to maintain traditional forms of political and social organization. For example, for misdemeanor offenses, a council of village elders serve justice rather than the normal Colombian justice system.

The town has also produced several talented boxers and musicians.

Located in the region known as the Montes de María, one of the most heavily affected areas of the coast by Colombia’s internal conflict, the community was largely neglected.

In more recent years, recognition of the town’s unique historical and cultural significance has brought increased tourism to the area and efforts to preserve its unique identity and language.

The legacy of slavery and impact of the African diaspora on Colombian culture tends to be under recognized, by both foreign tourists and nationals. Those looking to learn more about it as well as see the reality of state neglect that so much of rural Colombia has experienced should definitely consider doing a day tour from Cartagena to Palenque.

Tours of the community often include music and/or dance presentations with traditional African drums, in addition to explanations of the religious and cultural traditions practiced in the community. It’s a terrific opportunity to learn more about Afro-Colombian culture and see a unique place that is a UNESCO site of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Palenque is located a few hours southeast of Cartagena.

Traffic and construction on the road can vary and make travel times range from 90 minutes to 3 hours. While it’s possible to arrive on your own in a rented car and hire a guide, most travelers will benefit from booking a tour to Palenque as a complete day tour from Cartagena.

Click here to book a private tour with our partner agency BnB Colombia Tours (use the code ExploreColombia10 for a discount). You can also book the popular and highly rated Palenque Freedom Tour on Viator.

3. See the Pink Sea of Galerazamba

This next best day trip from Cartagena can be done in a half day and combines well with the place below on too. However, it is not always in season and can be a bit unpredictable.

Located about 90 minutes north of Cartagena is the small town of Galerazamba.

Here, you’ll find an active sea salt mine located in the waters next to the town. The salty environment is the perfect breeding ground microorganisms that, along with bright sunlight, give the waters a beautiful pink hue.

In recent years, the site has become a popular tourist destination, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen some pretty photos up on Instagram if you’ve been researching popular Cartagena day trips.

Photo of a girl standing on a rocky bank looking out at a pink sea during a Cartagena day trip.
The Pinks Sea at Galerazamba is one of the more interesting of the best day trips from Cartagena.

The pink sea effect is really pretty. We were really impressed when we took our niece here one day (Read about our experience and learn more here).

While I wouldn’t characterize this as a can’t miss, if it interests you, it’s definitely worth doing. The one caveat is that the pink effect is not permanent. Rain and the harvesting of the salt ruin the effect.

Generally, the season is from about December-February and then again in August-September. However, we went in July and saw it, although one section had been recently harvested and was no longer pink.

While there are tours that can be reserved online ahead of time for this Cartagena day trip, this is one of the things that, to be honest, I’d wait until close to your date to book, preferably only after asking around.

Some tour companies may refund your money if it is not pink, but less scrupulous ones may not.

Therefore, I’d recommend waiting and either hiring a taxi to take you here, or, if you are interested in the next place on this list, booking one of the tours below that include both and treating this as an extra bonus if it is in season.

4. Take a Dip in a Mud Volcano

The Volcán del Totumo, or Totumo Volcano in English, is probably Cartagena’s oddest attraction.

It is an active mud volcano, where you can hop in and float around in the mud in its crater. It’s also one of the best day trips in Cartagena, at least for those interested in it!

Photo of people floating in a mud volcano on a day trip from Cartagena, Colombia.
The mud volcano is probably the oddest of the best day trips from Cartagena, Colombia!

My experience is this is usually something that people see and immediately think, I really want to do that, or think no, thanks, count me out. There usually isn’t much in between.

If your immediate reaction was the latter, well you can go ahead and skip down to the rest of this list of the best Cartagena day trips.

However, if you’re interested, it does make for a good half day trip from Cartagena.

The feeling of the squishy mud is certainly interesting, and locals claim it does wonders for the skin. You can read more about what to expect and my experience doing this in my write up on it.

If you did want to do this and the pink sea, they combine perfectly for a day trip from Cartagena as they are located near one another. In fact, when the pink sea is in season, they are often offered together. Click here to book a shared tour to both at Viator.

You can also book a shared tour to the mud volcano only on GetYourGuide or book a private tour with our partners BnB Colombia (use the code ExploreColombia10 for a discount).

5. Tour the Mangroves of La Boquilla

Next up on this list of the best day trips from Cartagena is a trip to the northern outskirts of the city, just past the airport and only a short distance from the Walled City.

That makes this one of the easiest Cartagena day trips to do with minimal travel time.

It’s a neat experience and an under appreciated chance for a bit more local tourism that includes some nature and culture. In fact, this is one of the things that I have listed as something I’d like to do the next time we get to go and visit Cartagena.

La Boquilla is a small Afro-Colombian community on the northern edge of Cartagena. It was traditionally a fishing community. It’s been largely neglected and is caught in the middle of development of hotels and high end condos on either side.

A visit to this area for the beach is actually pretty decent, and in my opinion, preferable to the beaches in Bocagrande. However, a really neat Cartagena day trip is to plan a tour of the mangroves and some other unique experiences in the community.

Going out on the mangroves in small canoes is not only a neat chance to see nature, including some good bird watching, but also learn about traditional fishing methods. Many tours here include some mini-fishing lessons.

Tours here also often include drum and/or dancing performances back in town and some even include cooking lessons. You may very well end up learning how to cook the fish you caught for your lunch!

Click here to book a private tour of the mangroves and community. You can also book a tour that includes the mangroves and a traditional drum presentation and lesson or either a shared or private tour that combines the mud volcano and mangroves (a good value!). Use the code ExploreColombia10 to get a special discount on any of those tours!

You can also book a tour of mangroves and community with lunch on GetYourGuide or also on Viator.

6. Visit the Colombian National Aviary

I have to be honest. I remember when I heard about the aviary, or Aviario Nacional, opening up on Barú, very close to Playa Blanca and the little town I lived my first year in Colombia as a volunteer teacher.

I wasn’t expecting much, but Susana and I finally made our way out there one day to check it out.

I was incredibly, and pleasantly, surprised!

It’s really well done!

Photo of a girl looking closely at a small parrot at the Colombian Aviary on a day trip in Cartagena.
Susana made a new friend on our day trip from Cartagena to the Aviary in this little guy who was all too happy posing for the camera.

By the way, did you know that Colombia has nearly 2,000 species of birds?

That’s the most in the world! If you’re in to birds, check out this neat Birds of Colombia website to learn about all the species you can see.

There are a variety of birds native to Colombia at the Aviary. Most have pretty open enclosures, and there are several neat sections where you can get up pretty close to the birds.

The rarest birds on display here are the Harpy Eagle and the Condor. There is a Condor couple, and they had a baby a few years ago, which is extremely rare. There is also a neat show called “Birds in Flight” that they do twice a day and is definitely worth catching.

This is more of a half day trip, and you should expect to spend 2-3 hours at the aviary itself. I highly recommend going early in the morning when the birds are more active before it gets too hot.

Photo of a bird sitting on a post seen during a aviary day trip from Cartagena, Colombia.
If you do a Cartagena day trip to the aviary, you can hang out with this guy.

Most travelers will benefit from booking a tour here or hiring a taxi to take them and wait on them. It’s very close to the next place on this list and is easily combined with it.

You can book a private tour with guide to the Aviary or a private driver to take you there and back with our partners BnB Colombia (don’t forget that discount code ExploreColombia10).

You can book a tour to the aviary with the afternoon at a nice beach club on Playa Blanca (more on it below) via Viator, If you’ve arranged transportation or rented a cary, you can buy your Aviary entry tickets ahead of time on GetYourGuide, although I wouldn’t consider it necessary.

For those more interested in seeing birds in their natural habitats, this day trip to a nature reserve nearby makes a great alternative to the aviary. I highly recommend Minca, and if you have the time to get a bit further afield, Casanare and Guaviare for those interested in birdwatching.

You can also read more about the aviary and see more photos at my full guide to the Cartagena aviary.

7. Try to Beat the Crowds at Playa Blanca

Ughh, I really struggled with whether to include Playa Blanca as one of the best day trips from Cartagena or not.

Playa Blanca is an absolutely gorgeous stretch of white sand beach with crystal clear waters on Barú, about 10 minutes from the aviary.

You’ll likely see it recommended on most lists of things to do in Cartagena, or day trips to take from Cartagena, or best beaches near Cartagena around the web. A lot of these will probably note that it’s an idyllic and hardly developed beach.

Well, that was true a decade ago…

Unfortunately it just isn’t anymore.

I remember back in 2011, my volunteer year in a town nearby, maybe a quarter of what has been developed now had been developed then.

Getting there was more complicated since there was no bridge or paved road, and it was mostly a haven of backpackers spending the night in hammocks and tiny shacks with some day trippers. I remember many a fun day taking mototaxis out here even after my volunteer year nearby was over and many a fun night sleeping in hammocks. I remember when sleeping in a bed in a little shack felt like a major upgrade now that I wasn’t a volunteer!

Those idyllic descriptions were absolutely true. It was a gorgeous beach, felt largely unspoiled, and had a get away from it all vibe.

Photo of the beach front at Playa Blanca with people on day trips from Cartagena.
The beach at Playa Blanca is gorgeous, why it’s so often mentioned as one of the best day trips from Cartagena. However, it has become overdeveloped and overcrowded and is best avoided on weekends or high tourist season.

However, the paving of the road and construction of a bridge brought more crowds, and there was never proper infrastructure or plans in place. As Cartagena has grown in popularity, it has only gotten worse, and Playa Blanca suffers from a lot of overcrowding.

Which is why I generally don’t recommend it anymore. For beach days, there are just better options in the Rosario Islands and more comfortable, if not quite as beautiful beaches on Tierra Bomba (see below).

The beach is still really, really pretty though.

So, if you are going to the Aviary and it is not a weekend or high season, opting to get some fresh fish for lunch and hang out a bit is still ok. Just be sure to walk down to the right at least a little ways to get out of the largest crowds by the entrance.

Again, on a weekday, preferably not in high season, if you want a cheaper day trip than the islands, you could opt to head out here. Just walk down the beach. You’ll often hear this area referred to as Playa Tranquila, which I think was just a clever name to try to make people think it’s not Playa Blanca, but it is usually less crowded.

Photo of people on day trips from Cartagena to Playa Blanca walking on the beach and swimming with boats in the water.
As you can see, this area right around the entrance gets way too crowded. You’ll have better luck further down, but during peak season and weekends, there’s only so much you can do to escape the crowds.

As mentioned above, you can book this full day tour to the aviary and Playa Blanca.

You can also book this tour that includes snorkeling, a tour of the mangroves, and afternoon at Playa Blanca. Finally, you can book a tour like this one that includes transportation, lunch, and beach chairs at beach club.

You can read more about this beach, why I’m hesitant to recommend it anymore, and how best to navigate the crowds and vendors at my full guide to Playa Blanca.

8. Or Check out the Quieter End of Barú

Ok, a quick mini geography lesson, as I find most people, including most who write guides about day trips from Cartagena or offer other advice, don’t really get the geography of Barú and the Rosario Islands.

Barú is a peninsula located to the south of Cartagena.

During colonial times, the Spanish cut a canal across it to connect the Magdalena River to the Cartagena Bay, Hence why it’s called Barú Island or Isla Barú today, because it is now technically an island.

About half way down the peninsula island, you’ll find Playa Blanca, which is what most people associate with when you hear Barú. A lot of times people mean Playa Blanca when they say Barú.

On the very tip of the peninsula, which is closer to the Rosario Islands than Cartagena, you’ll find a small town actually named Barú. There are also a handful of hotels and beach clubs in the vicinity.

Photo of two men, one sitting, one standing rowing a canoe near the beach front.
You’ll find far less crowded beaches at the end of Barú. This is from the beachfront at Isla del Encanto.

Popular party island Cholón and Isla Agua Azul are also just off the coast near the far end of Barú as well.

If you just want a chilled out pretty beach that is less rocky than those in Rosarios, I’d recommend checking out a day pass at Isla del Encanto, pictured above. Agua Azul is also very nice, and we’ve stopped there a number of times during private boat rentals for lunch and some beach time. However, it seems to get more crowded every year.

By the way, if you want to spend the night at the beach, Isla del Encanto, the amazing Las Islas eco-resort, and the newer Sofitel Calablanca are all great options in Barú that offer slightly more upscale accommodations than the more rustic bungalows and ecolodges out in the Rosarios.

I’d actually consider this area either as a day trip or overnight stay as a good alternative to the Rosario Islands and generally include these places in suggestions for the islands since they are more akin to the islands than Playa Blanca or the beaches in town.

Photo of a beachfront with people on day trips from Cartagena sitting on beach chairs and swimming.
This is the larger beach front at Isla del Encanto. Just about as pretty as Playa Blanca but without being so overcrowded.

However, there are a handful of neat cultural tours with a nice dose of beach to this area too.

For example, this tour of Barú includes a visit to the mangroves, snorkeling in the islands, beach time, and presentations from local artisans.

Taroa Adventures, whose owner Olinto is terrific, offers a neat tour to the village that includes presentations on the history, culture, and music from locals and includes visits to hidden gem beaches. You can book it on Viator.

These are some of the more unique day trips from Cartagena you can do.

9. Visit the Closer Beaches of Tierra Bomba

On the outer edge of the bay of Cartagena, you’ll find the island known as Tierra Bomba.

Just a 5 minute boat ride away, it lets you get away from the crowded beaches in town without having to go as far as the Rosarios or Barú for a Cartagena day trip.

It was once the site of many quarries and kilns to produce stone for the colonial city. For example, the impressive facade of the San Pedro Claver Church, not to mention Cartagena’s walls and forts, were built with stones from Tierra Bomba and other areas on the periphery of the city such as Barú and Manzanillo.

Today, it is home to a few small communities. Most of them lived as fisherman for generations. More recently, tourism has grown on the island. You’ll find a number of nicer beach clubs and hotels as well as some more public beaches here.

Photo of a girl during a Cartagena day trip to Tierra Bomba standing on a beach with a jetty and the city across the bay in the background behind her.
While the sand here isn’t white and the water isn’t nearly as clear as the Rosarios, Tierra Bomba’s beaches do have a great view of the city!

There are a few different sectors, so to speak, on Tierra Bomba.

Punta Arena is probably the most popular and has a nice little stretch of beach where there are some beach clubs or where you can also hang out on your own, rent chairs, or arrange for lunch and chairs.

The view across the bay of the high rises of Bocagrande from this entire side of the island is pretty sweet.

For most travelers, I think it’s easiest to book a day pass at one of the beach clubs. You’ll have your transportation, lunch, chairs with umbrella or beach bed, and usually a drink included. Most have decent bathroom facilities and a few even have pools too.

Susana and I have always enjoyed Palmarito Beach, and we’ve been there for numerous day trips as well as overnight stays (see a writeup on it here). They have a good space that is off on its own in a little area enclosed by a jetty, so it feels very private and there’s lots of space for swimming. There’s a nice, little pool, and we’ve always felt the food was very good.

Oh, and they have great Coco Locos and Piña Coladas!

I’ll vouch for their Mojitos and Margaritas too!

You can book a day pass or an overnight stay at Palmarito if you want to do more than just a day trip from Cartagena.

Photo of a drink in a coconut and a drink in a pineapple behind it on a table at the beach during a day trip in Cartagena.
Coco Loco in a coco or Piña Colada in a piña? Tough choice!

We’ve also been to Namaste several times, which used to be called Bomba Beach and have always enjoyed it.

It’s got a semi-private area on the edge of Punta Arena and a little pool of its own. They also have both day passes and recently added overnight stays in new bungalows that look pretty cool. I’ve always felt that Palmarito was always a slightly better value, but there is a cool vibe here too.

Fenix Beach is also highly regarded and photos look really great.

It’s slightly more upscale and offers day passes as well as overnight stays. Photos of Éteka Beach also look great.

Finally, Amare Beach Club, located around the northern tip of the island also looks very nice and is run by the same people as Blue Apple, which I’m going to recommend in the next Cartagena day trip suggestion.

For a unique day trip in Cartagena and way to see the beaches here and get some neat views of the city, you could also do this kayak tour across the bay to Punta Arena on Tierra Bomba.

If you don’t care all that much about having nicer chairs with an umbrella or a beach bed and/or a big lunch, you can also opt to go on your own to save some pesos. You can get boats across to the beaches from behind the hospital in Bocagrande.

Be aware, you’ll likely be swarmed by vendors when you get there, so be ready to make sure you ask prices and what is and isn’t included. Actually, to be honest, I’d probably just beeline it to the boats themselves and ask there.

If you have booked a day pass at a beach club, you’ll also likely get swarmed by vendors so just let them know you’ve already got reservations. The beach clubs should give you instructions on who to meet and they will usually have a flag, hat, or vest.

Pro tip: there’s always vendors with empanadas, arepas de huevo, and other snacks and drinks around here so if you need a breakfast on the go before heading to the beach, you can grab it while waiting for the boat.

10. Visit the Hidden Gem Forts (plus beach!) at Bocachica

For the former history majors like me, or just those who enjoy seeing old forts, this actually would be one of my top recommendations for a Cartagena day trip.

In fact, I’d probably put it number 3 after the islands and Palenque for history buffs.

Photo of a fort with rounded walls on the sea and a Colombian flag flying above it.
The Castillo San Fernando’s cannons pointed out to sea to guard the entrance to Cartagena’s Bay.

There are three forts out here near the southern tip of Tierra Bomba Island.

This area is known as Bocachica, or “little mouth” in Spanish because the channel here was the smaller entrance to the bay as compared to the Bocagrande, or “big mouth,” channel on the northern side of the island.

If this is confusing, pull up Tierra Bomba on a map and it should make a little more sense!

During the colonial era, due to shifting currents and sediment buildup, the Bocagrande channel was closed. So, the Spanish focused their defensive efforts at Bocachica. Even after currents changed and reopened the Bocagrande channel, the Spanish built an underwater wall, which remains in place today, to ensure the more easily defensible Bocachica channel was the only entrance to the bay.

During the 1741 Battle of Cartagena, forts here delayed Edward Vernon’s invasion. Despite their ultimate destruction, the losses they inflicted on the British played an important role in their eventual defeat at the walls of the Castillo San Felipe Fort in town.

Later, the forts were rebuilt and were never attacked again, leaving them in tact.

They have actually been wonderfully preserved and are very lightly visited!

Photo of the San José Fort in Bocachica taken from across the channel.
Fort San José, direclty across the channel from San Fernando with its “water flower” battery to the left, designed to have its cannons fire one by one on any ship that made it into the channel.

Ok, history lesson aside (I did say I was a history major), these are some of the hidden gem attractions in Cartagena for those that like this sort of thing.

Plus, they are free to visit!

The trouble is getting out here.

You can actually get small water taxi-esque boats from the port in Cartagena. Occasionally, they will go all the way to the main fort, the Castillo San Fernando, but more often you’ll have to get out at the docks in the small town and walk there.

Battery San Rafael is on a hill near town. Fort San Juan is located just across the channel, and you’ll have to hire a fisherman to take you across.

You can read more about these forts, their history, and visitng them in this post on the forts of Bocachica.

Photo of the inside of a fort with a stone walkway up the wall and the Colombian flag flying overhead.
Inside Castillo San Fernando.

If you do head out here, you can choose to hang out on the beach nearby for lunch and some afternoon swimming. There are a couple beach clubs on this side of the island too.

Blue Apple Beach is a really great spot out here.

It’s a former vacation home turned beach club and hotel.

They have a sweet pool and a large, semi-private feeling beach area. We spent a day out here and really enjoyed it. The beach was practically deserted, they had great cocktails, and tasty food. Plus, the service was really good and there is a cool vibe with good tunes.

Even if you don’t want to see the forts, it makes for a good option for a beach day and is a good option to consider alongside the places mentioned above (read our review of it here).

You can book a day pass or overnight stay at Blue Apple.

Photo of a beach front with a boat and a child enjoying a day trip from Cartagena in the water.
The beach front at Blue Apple.

Another way to see the forts and get some beach time at Bocachica is on a tour aboard the pirate ship.

Check out this one of a kind ATV tour of the island for a unique way to tour Tierra Bomba with a taste of extreme.

Finally, if you just want a chilled out, normal beach day, check out this day pass at a beach club just around the corner from the San Fernando fort.

11. See Some Nature and Go Hiking with Taroa Adventures

There are a few other beaches you could consider as alternatives to the ones above for day trips from Cartagena, but there’s already quite a few options for that here (I’ll mention one more in the honorable mentions below).

So, instead, let’s talk about doing something more unique.

Cartagena isn’t particularly well known for hiking or nature travel, but Olinto at Taroa Adventures is working to change that. He has several nice hiking tours that offer a nice slice of nature near Cartagena. Actually, his Barú tour is mentioned above as a unique experience as well.

Susana and I went on the Footprints of the Jaguar Tour (read our review of it here) and enjoyed it. It’s a hike through the forest in the lush Montes de Maria region where Palenque is located.

I liked that it not only had some decent hiking but also a nice cultural element with an explanation and performance of traditional Gaita music.

Photo of a couple on a hiking day trip from Cartagena looking out over a green trees from a trail.
Susana and I on the Footprints of the Jaguar hike with Taroa Adventures.

However, I’m actually going to recommend a newer tour he has started more recently over it. We haven’t gotten to do it yet, but I hope to one day soon. It’s called the Howling Trail and visits a nature reserve that’s closer to Cartagena than the Montes de Maria.

But even better, it has monkeys!

Honestly, even in the well known nature destinations on the Caribbean coast mentioned above like Tayrona and Minca, we’ve never seen monkeys. So, I really think that for the nature lovers, this should be a top option as one of the best day trips from Cartagena. And Olinto is a great guide.

Click here to learn more and book your own experience on the Howling Trail.

Cartagena Day Trips Conclusion and Honorable Mentions

There’s eleven great Cartagena day trips to consider taking. Several can be done as half day trips and several of those can even be combined into longer, full day trips from Cartagena.

I really can’t stress enough making the islands a must do and ensuring you do them as at least a day trip. Then, I’d suggest considering at least one of Palenque, the mangroves, or the cultural experiences in Barú.

History buffs should try to see the forts at Bocachica, while hikers and nature lovers should consider including the Howling Trail or one of Taroa’s other tours in. Beach lovers who want some more sun and sand than what they got in the islands could consider adding on a day at Tierra Bomba or possibly a weekday at Playa Blanca or the south of Barú.

Speaking of beaches, for the extra big time beach bums, you could also consider a day at Manzanillo Beach. It draws a mostly Colombian crowd and has a big area of beach. It’s also reachable over land, so especially if you chose to rent a car it is easier to reach than the beach options on this list.

You can also do a really cool horseback riding on the beach tour in Manzanillo.

There is also a neat sunflower farm near the town of San Jacinto that is pretty and is a good spot for photos. The town of San Jacinto itself is famous for artisan crafts, so if you wanted a hammock or something like that, it’s a good spot to get it.

It’s hard to get here on your own though, so this might be a better fit for those that did opt to rent a car. It’s not too far from Palenque so you could probably combine it if you went on your own. Maybe you could also ask a private guide nicely if they could include it.

Finally, my last honorable mention is the Botanical Gardens, or Jardín Botánico, just outside the city in the town of Turbaco. A picnic here was actually one of Susana and my first dates, haha. They are pretty decently done and there’s a decent chance you’ll see sloths and monkeys here. If you want to get a little slice of nature without paying for a guided tour, it’s a nice way to do it, but it’s not something I’d prioritize or go out of my way to do either. If you do go out here, you should also do your favor and stop and get chicharrón at one one of the spots along the highway nearby!

Ok, there you have it, my picks for the eleven best day trips from Cartagena, plus a few honorably mentions!

Depending on your time and interests, there should be a some good Cartagena day trips options here for everyone.

I hope you found this useful in planning whatever day trips in Cartagena you choose to do and please do check out all the other content on the site to help you plan your visit to Cartagena and the rest of Colombia!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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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.