With its iconic city wall, Cartagena, Colombia is well known for its history. It was a major seat of Spanish colonial wealth and power. It also has a rich cultural tradition. Read on to learn about the best museums in Cartagena, Colombia worth visiting while you are here.
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1. Naval Museum – Best Museum in Cartagena
The Museo Naval del Caribe is the best historical museum in Cartagena. Downstairs, you’ll see exhibits on the city’s colonial history. There are some cool exhibits showing the day by day accounts of the major attacks on the city, including the 1586 sacking of Cartagena by Francis Drake and the unsuccessful 1741 attack led by Edward Vernon.
The museum helps bring in to perspective how the city’s fortifications, including its walls and the Castillo San Felipe helped protect it. There are some neat models of the fortifications as well.
Upstairs, you’ll learn about Colombia’s fight for independence and the crucial role Cartagena played in it. There are also exhibits on the modern Colombian Navy, including neat interactive models of a bridge in a ship and submarine.
*See also: Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence
The museum is located behind the San Pedro Claver Church near the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa. If you’re only going to visit one museum in Cartagena, make it this one. Learn more about visiting the Naval Museum in Cartagena at this complete visitors guide.
2. Palacio de la Inquisición and Historical Museum
In a beautiful colonial era building, this was the office of the Spanish Inquisition during the colonial era. It doubles as the city’s official historical museum.
In the exhibits upstairs, you’ll learn about the city’s history. While not quite as informative as the exhibits in the Naval Museum, there is more information translated to English here. There are also some neat 3D maps of the colonial city that will help you better appreciate the geography.
Downstairs, you’ll see exhibits on the Inquisition itself. There are some freaky torture devices on display. Outside in the courtyard, there is even a model guillotine and gallows.
Overall, the Palacio de la Inquisición is definitely worth a visit. It is located by the Parque Bolívar in Centro. Note that there is free admission on the last Sunday of the month. Learn more about visiting at this complete visitors guide.
3. Gold Museum
Colombia’s indigenous peoples were brilliant gold craftsmen. The Zenú people who lived in the inland valleys south of Cartagena were especially talented and used a unique weaved pattern. You can see examples of the beautiful gold work on display at the Cartagena Gold Museum.
While not as impressive as the larger Gold Museum in Bogotá, Cartagena’s is still worth a visit. Best of all, it is always free to enter, and besides seeing the gold pieces, you’ll also get to learn a bit more about Colombia’s indigenous peoples.
The Gold Museum is located on the Parque Bolívar opposite the Palacio de la Inquisición. Learn more about visiting at this complete visitors guide.
4. Religious Relic and Art Museum at the San Pedro Claver Church
The San Pedro Claver Church is Cartagena’s neatest old church. In addition to the church itself, there are also religious relics and art on display inside the Jesuit church’s buildings.
You can also see Saint Peter Claver’s living quarters, a series of paintings depicting his life, and contemporary art on display.
Finally, you can see the inside of the church itself. Particularly neat is the old organ on the 2nd floor and the altar, where Peter Claver’s bones are visible.
The church is located a block away from the Parque Bolívar. You can learn more about visiting at this complete visitors guide.
5. Museum of Modern Art
Cartagena’s Museum of Modern Art has to make the list of museums to visit in Cartagena for any art lover. There are a number of works on display from local, national, and international artists.
Particularly neat are the exhibits of old photographs of Cartagena and the works of Colombian artist Alejandro Obregón. The museum is also located in an interesting old stone colonial building that actually housed galleys that patrolled the coast in the colonial era.
The Modern Art Museum is located diagonal from the entrance to the San Pedro Claver Church. Learn more about planning a visit at this complete visitors guide.
6. Rafael Nuñez Home and Museum
Rafael Nuñez is the only Colombian president from Cartagena. Besides serving as president, he was a key author in a constitution that was in place for nearly 100 years.
His home is a neat piece of colonial architecture. Besides the beautiful courtyard, neat late 19th century period furniture, and gorgeous wrap around balcony, you will also be able to learn more about Nuñez’s life and political work here.
The museum is free to enter and is located just outside the Walled City in the neighborhood of El Cabrero. Learn more about planning your visit at this complete visitors guide.
Also consider visiting Cartagena’s Historic Sites
While not museums per se, the city’s fortifications make for great historic sites to visit for those interested in learning even more about Cartagena’s history.
The Castillo San Felipe, the largest fortification built by the Spanish on mainland South America, is practically a must visit. A massive stone work, it was the site of the defeat of Vernon’s forces and a unique example of colonial era fortification. Learn more about visiting it at this complete visitors guide.
For those who want to learn even more about the city’s fortifications, the forts of Castillo San Fernando, Fort Ángel San Rafael, and Fort San José located at the entrance to the bay in Bocachica are also extremely well preserved. Although you do have to take a boat, and they are a bit off the beaten tourist track, it is not hard to visit them and they are well worth it for history buffs. Learn how to visit them at this complete visitors guide.
There you have it, a guide to the best museums in Cartagena. I hope it helped you plan your visit. I’d love to know in the comments below which ones you visited and most enjoyed.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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You may also be interested in the following posts:
A Comprehensive History of Cartagena (long read)
A Primer on the History of Cartagena (short read)
A History of Francis Drake’s Raid on Cartagena
A History of the 1741 Battle of Cartagena
Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?
Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena