Visitors to Cartagena continue to grow every year. Given my entire website is devoted to it, it should be obvious I can’t tell you enough how much you need to come visit. But don’t just take my word for it! Read on to learn why 5 other travel writers think you should visit Cartagena and their tips to best enjoy your visit.
For the Food
By Sarah Carter from A Social Nomad
We visited Cartagena in December 2018 and always like to seek out unique aspects of places that we visit – and what better place to start than the food. Cartagena’s position on the Caribbean coast means that you’ll get food here that you won’t find in other parts of Colombia. There’s a great mix of seafood, hearty meals and amazing soups as well as most of the Colombia staples.
However, there is one place that you should go and eat because you won’t find anything like it anywhere else. A women’s prison. Yep. That’s right, you can go and eat inside the San Diego women’s prison inside the city walls of Cartagena. Restaurante Interno is an NGO set up to provide work-based training and money for the inmates, it is staffed by those imprisoned here.
Yes, it’s somewhat surreal. There’s a set menu which includes a starter, entrée and dessert. You’ll get a fruit juice with your meal and can buy wine for an additional cost. What eating here does do is provide an income and a second chance for those prepared to work at it.
You won’t even notice Restaurant Interno as you walk past it – but you can book via email or WhatsApp. Book as soon as you arrive in Cartagena as the restaurant is only open for dinner. You can pay for your dinner with a credit card, or, if you have cash, then Colombian pesos.
Restaurante Interno: Cárcel de Mujeres de San Diego, calle 39, Barrio San Diego, Cartagena. Reservations: +57 (310) 2 600 134 : [email protected]
Make your visit to Cartagena unique – and be the one able to tell friends and family that you not only ate a great dinner in prison but you walked out again as well.
For the Castillo San Felipe and the Beaches
By Babs from Travel Gear for Kids
I visited Cartagena with my wife and 2-year-old daughter in December 2017 as a part of a 6,5 weeks Colombian trip.
While I felt it was the only destination in Colombia that was very touristy, I couldn’t stop myself from falling in love. The colourful colonial buildings, the cobblestone streets, the charming plazas and the townlike feeling all added to that.
Travelling with a usually overheated toddler didn’t allow us to see that many sights, but we loved exploring the Castillo San Felipe, even though it was very very hot!
Cartagena’s beaches were a big favourite as well as they offered the opportunity to cool down a bit. Many people find them too busy, too small, too little picture perfect (with a couple of white-sand beaches on nearby islands I get their point) BUT I think they are perfect for small children. Thanks to the little bays, the water has hardly any current and it’s shallow for quite some time. And it’s only a couple of minutes cab ride from the old town (we would usually walk that distance, but again – too hot).
Apart from these sights, just wandering the old town is the perfect way to spend a couple of days. There’s always something new to discover. Cartagena actually has it all: the weather, the charm, the beach. It’s one of my favourite cities in the world.
Find out more about Bab’s travels and her recommended gear for traveling with children at her site TravelGearforKids.com.
*See also: Playa Blanca Complete Guide if you want to venture out to one of the white sand beaches outside the city.
To Stroll Around the Colonial City
By Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views
I visited Cartagena in February of 2019 and it was the centerpiece of my Colombia itinerary. February is a great time to visit Cartagena because it’s out of the rainy season and past the crush of holiday travel. Because of Cartagena’s history as a walled city, it’s compact core in very walkable.
Here are three ways that I recommend strolling in Cartagena:
- Walk the narrow Old Town streets in the early morning. Low morning light creates a beautiful glow on Cartagena’s colorful building facades. Getting out before the shops are open (and the cruise ship passengers disembark) can make you feel like you have the city to yourself.
- Walk the wall at sunset. Cartagena’s exterior wall faces west and it’s the best place to be at sunset. Start at the northeast section by the Plaza Bovedas and you’ll end up in a prime spot just for sunset.
- Wander around Getsemaní at night. Getsemaní is like Cartagena’s cool younger sister. It’s a great place for a cheap dinner and drink in the evening. Start in the Parque Centenario where you can shop the book vendors, find something to eat along Carrerra 10 and then hang out on the plaza at the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad.
Score a 2nd for the Beaches (Especially the Rosario Islands)
By Nicole LeBarge from Nicole LeBarge Travel Blog
I visited Cartagena in June of 2017 and spent a week there exploring the city and the surrounding area.
The number one highlight for me was the beaches of Cartagena. Picture white sand beaches and the most beautiful turquoise waters.
You can’t visit Cartagena without taking a day trip to see the Rosario Islands. The Rosario Islands are 30 islands in a national park that is protected.
The entry fee to the park was $16,500COP. This money helps protect and conserve the area. The National Park is located 100km off the Cartagena coast. The park has an aquarium, and there is a large coral reef area ideal for diving and snorkeling. You can also just admire the beautiful picturesque beaches.
The beaches really are the highlight of Cartagena.
As Jumping Off Point to Visit the Lost City
By Rosie Julin from Popcuria
I visited Cartagena in February 2018. The city was an incredibly fun and colorful destination, perfect for escaping the cold up north.
I stopped over in Cartagena for a few days before going on the Lost City trek. I spent a few days exploring the city – essentially warming up my hiking legs – before heading over to Santa Marta to leave on the hike.
While Santa Marta is the starting point for the Lost City trek, I would recommend spending the majority of your time leading up to the hike in Cartagena for its local history and culture. It’s home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site after all!
Cartagena is the perfect complement to the Lost City Trek. Enjoy the city’s historical sites and bustling commerce before hiking through the Sierra Nevada’s jungle. In addition to the natural beauty and ancient ruins, the Lost City hike offers the opportunity to learn about the Wiwa people, one of the local indigenous communities, and their way of life. The contrast between the two destinations – Cartagena and the Lost City – make for a very rich travel experience.
Learn more about Rosie’s travels with her podcast on local cultures at Popcuria.com.
There you have it, 5 others who have been here on why you need to plan to visit Cartagena this year and what to see. I hope after seeing their love for the city, you are even more ready to plan your own trip.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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You may also be interested in the following posts:
Visitors Guide to the Castillo San Felipe Fortress
Playa Blanca, Barú – Complete Guide from Cartagena
Complete Guide to Visiting the Rosario Islands from Cartagena
10 Local Dishes You Have to Try in Cartagena, Colombia
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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