Where to Stay in Cartagena? – Insider’s Guide (with recommendations, 2019 update)

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

Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena

Deciding where to stay can be tough, especially in a city you haven’t visited before.

I’ve lived in Cartagena since 2011.  In this insider’s guide to where to stay in Cartagena, I’m going to leverage my knowledge of the city to give you a rundown of some of the best areas to stay as well as recommend some of the best places to stay in each.

For each of the areas, I’m going to discuss what they have to offer visitors, the pros and cons of staying there, and finally give a few picks for places to stay there.

Where to Stay in Cartagena – Contents

  1. Practical Tips on Booking Places to Stay in Cartagena
  2. Best area overall – The Historic Walled City
  3. Best area for young travelers and backpackers – Getsemaní
  4. Best area for beach bums- Bocagrande and Laguito
  5. Best area for budget travelers – El Cabrero and Marbella
  6. Best area to get away from it all – Zona Norte
  7. Other areas to stay in Cartagena – Crespo and Manga

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The Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena

The Historic Walled City – Overall Best Area to Stay in Cartagena

If you were to ask me, “Where should I stay in Cartagena?” I would answer immediately Centro.

Cartagena’s historic downtown, known as Centro, enclosed by the iconic city wall is probably the image that enticed you to visit in the first place.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that Centro is the class for where to stay in Cartagena.  It has many of the finest places to stay in Cartagena as well as lots of things to do.

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

There are, however, 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 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.  However, these are things you will deal with in all of the areas to stay in Cartagena as well.  Finally, you will of course pay a premium, so if you are on a tight budget, you might be better off looking at options in Getsemaní or El Cabrero instead.  However, I think you deserve to treat yourself to the best district to stay in Cartagena!

Pros – Why you should stay in the Centro

  • Tons of restaurants, nightlife, and the historic charm that embodies Cartagena.
  • Close to many of the major attractions.
  • Very safe, even in late at night.
  • Speaking of safety, if pirates decide to attack the city, you will be inside the wall.

Cons – Drawbacks to staying in Centro

  • It can get crowded during peak seasons.
  • Though not far away, it is not on the beach.
  • On the higher end for prices.
  • Lots of Vendors.

5 Recommendations for Places to Stay in Centro

1. Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena – Colonial Luxury

Located on the Plaza San Diego, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is housed in a former convent and has all the colonial trappings of tall ceilings and beautiful architecture you would imagine, updated for 21st century guests with gorgeous, luxurious rooms, a stunning courtyard pool, and one of the best and most romantic restaurants in Cartagena.

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2.  Townhouse Boutique Hotel – Trendy and Stylish

Located just off the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid in the heart of the Centro, Townhouse is one of Cartagena’s newest hotels and possibly its coolest.  Townhouse sports a rooftop bar with some of the best cocktails and tapas in the city, neatly decorated rooms, and even a jazz speakeasy with nightly live music.

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3.  Casa Gastelbondo – Best Bang for Your Buck

Sporting a rooftop pool and nice rooms Casa Gastelbono is one of the best deals in Cartagena.  The hotel is adults only, so if you are traveling with children, you will have to look elsewhere.  If you’d like to not see or hear any children during your vacation though, then it’s perfect for you.

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4.  Bourbon St. Hostal Boutique – Best Hostel in Centro

Although a bit on the high end for hostel prices, Bourbon St. Hostal Boutique has terrific ratings.  Below a popular bar and just off the central Plaza Santo Domingo, it offers luxury but with the easy to meet and mingle with other travelers hostel vibe.

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5.  Vacation Rentals Cartagena – Apartments

Vacation Rentals Cartagena offers several apartments of different sizes from studios to 2 bedrooms located in Centro.  In full disclosure the manager of the site is a personal friend and 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. Reserve with Vacation Rentals Cartagena

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Getsemaní – Best Area to Stay for Young Travelers and Backpackers

Located just outside the walled city, Getsemaní has become perhaps Colombia’s hippest neighborhood, with cool street art, lots of cafes and restaurants, and happening nightlife.  That makes it the perfect area to stay in Cartagena for backpackers. 

With boutique and budget hotels to go along with a variety of hostels, Getsemaní honestly makes for a great option for where to stay in Cartagena for anyone, but it’s an especially good area for those looking to do a bit of partying and meet fellow travelers.

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 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 had become a hipster and backpacker haven, although more upscale boutiques are opening up now.  I’d highly recommend Getsemaní as the best district to stay in Cartagena for young travelers, those on a budget, and those looking to party.

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 Getsemaní the best neighborhood to stay in Cartagena for young travelers looking to meet others and save a few pesos while still being just a stone’s throw away from the walled city.

Pros – Why you should stay in Getsemaní

  • All the cool kids stay here.
  • Lots of trendy cafes, bars, and restaurants.
  • Just outside of Centro, so everything remains within easy walking distance.
  • Prices that are generally considerably lower than in Centro.
  • Some of the best nightlife in the city.

Cons – Drawbacks of staying in Getsemaní

  • It can get crowded.
  • With such a big scene, you might want to look elsewhere if you’re looking for peace and quiet.
  • A few areas can be a bit sketchy late, stick to major, lit up streets late at night.

5 Recomendations for Places to Stay in Getsemaní

1.  Hotel Capellán – Luxury Outside the Walled City

In a great location, and with a nice little terrace and pool, Hotel Capellán offers the class and luxury of a 5 star hotel outside the wall.  Their rooms are modern, but elegant, making perfect for travelers looking to enjoy the hipster vibes of Getsemaní’s streets but stay in luxury.

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2.  Hotel Boutique Casa Isabel – Best Bang for Your Buck

Casa Isabel has a cool, chic style.  Just look at those colors!  Its rooms also have a unique decor, and there is a terrace with an amazing view of the Castillo San Felipe Fortress across the water.  A very neat property that would make for a great place to stay in Getsemaní.

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3.  Life is Good Cartagena Hostel – Backpacker’s Paradise

On Calle Larga within easy walking distance of Centro and the nightclubs of Calle El Arsenal, Life is Good Hostel has an awesome location to go along with its awesome name.  With both dorms and private rooms available, it offers backpackers and couples nice furnishings at reasonable prices.

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4.  Hostel Mamallena – Budget Hostel

Mamallena offers your standard hostel dorms and has a neat property with a cool courtyard.  Right on Media Luna, the hostel’s great (and reasonably priced) bar, tends to turn into a popular pregaming spot even for people not staying in the hostel.  Mamallena also offers transportation to and from Playa Blanca and other excursions.

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5.  Arca Smart Rentals – Apartment Pick

This property has 3 apartments for rent.  As you can see it has a gorgeous pool and rooftop terrace.  All the apartments also feature a balcony and sleep up to 5 people.  That makes it perfect for a family or a group of friends.

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*You can find more apartments in Getsemaní or elsewhere in Cartagena at VRBO.com or at AirBnB.com.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first stay at this link.

*Bonus Digital Nomad Pick:  Selina Cartagena

Selina has a chain of properties in several Latin American cities.  Aiming to promote social travel, their Cartagena property has large dorms, small dorms, privates, and even deluxe suites.  There’s also a great rooftop pool and bar that offers great sunset views.  Finally, there’s a co-working space on site, making this the perfect location for Digital Nomads.

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Bocagrande and Laguito – Best Area to Stay in Cartagena for Beach Bums

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.

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 at 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 the most popular 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.

Pros – Why you should stay in Bocagrande or Laguito

  • Right by the beach.
  • Lots lot of restaurants and several supermarkets.
  • Home to much of Cartagena’s well to do, it is very safe.

Cons – Drawbacks of staying in Bocagrande or Laguito

  •  Very touristy.
  • The beaches are ok but not spectacular, and there are tons of vendors.
  • Not within easy walking distance of many of the main attractions, except the beach.

5 Recommended Places to Stay in Bocagrande and Laguito

1.  Estelar Cartagena de Indias Hotel – Beachfront Class and Luxury

The Estelar is located beachfront with a gorgeous and big pool overlooking the beach, and big, elegant, comfortable rooms.  Modern and sophisticated, the Estelar is the perfect way to enjoy Cartagena with class.

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2.  Hilton Cartagena – Secluded Luxury

One of the most luxurious hotel chains in the world, Cartagena’s Hilton doesn’t disappoint.  It is a gorgeous property at the end of Laguito with a great beach that tends to be less crowded than others in Bocagrande.  Besides the big pool, a gym and sauna are also on site.

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3.  Holiday Inn Express – Best Bang for Your Buck

 

 

 

 

With a pool, nice rooms, and even an onsite gym, the Holiday Inn Express in Bocagrande is loaded with value.  It makes for a great option for those who want to be in luxury with a lesser price by the beach in Bocagrande.

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4.  Oz Hotel – Bocagrande on a Budget

Oz Hotel is an amazing value deal in Cartagena.  Although not beach front, it is within easy walking distance to the beaches in Bocagrande, and it has a terrific terrace bar with a great view of the city.  Although the rooms are small, they are sleek and comfortable.  Stay here to enjoy Bocagrande on a budget.

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5.  41st Floor Morros City Penthouse – Apartment Pick in Bocagrande

This luxury apartment sleeps up to 5 and has an amazing view in one of the newest and prettiest buildings in the city.  It sports a gorgeous rooftop pool overlooking the sea.  Perfect for a family or group that wants the trappings of Bocagrande but the exclusivity and privacy of an apartment over a hotel.

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*You can find more apartments in Bocagrande or elsewhere in Cartagena at VRBO.com or at AirBnB.com.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first stay at this link.

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El Cabrero and Marbella – Best Area to Stay in Cartagena for Budget Travelers

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.

El Cabrero offers easy walking access to the Centro in 10 minutes or less, and might just be the best budget option for areas to stay in Cartagena.  With a supermarket and a handful of small watering holes and restaurants El Cabrero 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 from the Centro, but 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.  That makes Marbella another good budget option among the best areas to stay in Cartagena.

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 along the main waterfront avenue. The parades go right down the Avenida Santander and you can see it all while enjoying the rowdiness in the street or from the calm comfort of your balcony.

Pros – Why you should stay in El Cabrero or Marbella

  • Generally cheaper accommodations.
  • Great for those looking for apartments.
  • Walking distance to Centro.
  • Easy access to public transportation.

Cons – Drawbacks of staying in El Cabrero or Marbella

  • Not nearly as many options to eat and drink as elsewhere.
  • With smaller police presence, it’s best not to walk around late at night.

5 Recommended Places to Stay in El Cabrero and Marbella

1.  Casa Bustamante Hotel Boutique

Casa Bustamante is in a beautiful mansion and sports a beautiful pool in addition to big, elegantly furnished  rooms and the kind of friendly service you would expect in a small, boutique hotel.  A great option for those looking for luxury and exclusivity.

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2.  Hotel Boutique Castillo Ines Maria

Also set in a former mansion, Castillo Ines Maria lies just a stones throw outside the walled city and at a fraction of the prices of the boutique located inside.  That makes it a great option for couples, families, or those looking for the charm of a boutique on a budget.

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3.  Hotel Aixo Suites – Best Bang for Your Buck


 With sleekly decorated, nice rooms and a nice little rooftop pool and terrace across the street from the beach, Hotel Aixo Suites offers a good option for those looking for comfort and modernity.  It is also less than a 10 minute walk from the walled city.

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4.  Hotel Marbella Tradition – Budget Pick

Basic but clean and comfortable, the Hotel Marbella Tradition offers rooms at bargain prices.  Located a bit further from the Centro, the location is still fine, and while you may not have a pool, you’re still across the street from the beach and you’ll have extra spending money to boot.

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5.  Apartments in El Cabrero and Marbella

There are a lot of apartments available in El Cabrero and Marbella, including some in newer buildings.  Apartments make for especially good options for groups and families.  Because there are so many good options, I’m not going to link to any specifically, but I highly recommend that you check out the apartments listed in AirBnB and VRBO.com in these areas as they are usually very nice and very nice values.

 Get a discount on AirBnb  Check out Apartments at VRBO

Bonus Business Traveler Pick – Hotel Ibis

One of a small handful of hotels that offer desks in their rooms in Cartagena, Ibis has become a popular hotel for those traveling for work and at reasonable prices.

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Zona Norte – Best Area to Stay in Cartagena for Those Looking to Get Away from it All

Located just outside the city proper, the area known as Zona Norte offers 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.

Nicer, more exclusive beaches and for the most part considerably fewer vendors than the beaches in Bocagrande, El Cabrero, and Marbella make Zona Norte 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 still only 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.  There also isn’t a whole lot else around.

Do be aware you will have to spend a bit more on taxis to and from the area.  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.

Pros – Why you should stay in Zona Norte

  • The nicest and least crowded beaches in the city proper.
  • Secluded and quiet.
  • Resort style hotels perfect for relaxing.

Cons – Drawbacks of staying in Zona Norte

  • Not much to do outside of the hotel in the area.
  • Will spend more on transportation to and from other attractions.
  • Removed from the colonial historic center.

Recommendations for Places to Stay in Zona Norte

1.  Las Americas Casa de Playa – Best Resort in Cartagena

Las Americas Hotel has two impressive resort properties, the Torre del Mar and the Casa de Playa.  At Casa de Playa, there are two pools, including one with a bar, a mini-golf course, and an entertainment center for kids.

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2.  Radisson Ocean Pavilion – Affordable Luxury

The Radisson has a beachfront pool and bar to go along with a restaurant, and fitness center, making it a great option for those who want to be able to relax around the hotel and beach and just be away from everything else.

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3.  Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros – Best Bang for Your Buck

The other Holiday Inn property in Cartagena, the beachfront resort in Zona Norte is a terrific value for those looking for beachfront resort luxury at reasonable prices.  There’s also a great restaurant and lounge/work area, meaning it is a good place for business travelers too.

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4.  Posada Kalea – Budget Option for Zona Norte

On the beach, Posada Kalea is a guesthouse/hostel blend that offers a laid back atmosphere.  It is also offers kite surfing, paddle boards, and fishing, making it a great option for those looking to enjoy more than just taking a dip in the Caribbean.

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5.  Morros Suites Apartments – Best Apartments in Zona Norte

There are a number of different sized apartments available at Morros Suites with room from 2 up to 9.  One of the nicest condo complexes in the city, there’s an incredible and huge pool along with the ocean front location.  For those traveling with family, it’s a terrific option for a vacation rental.

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*You can find more apartments in Zona Norte or elsewhere in Cartagena at VRBO.com or at AirBnB.com.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first stay at this link.

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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.

3 Recommendations for Places to Stay in Crespo:

1.  Corales de Indias – Modern and Luxurious

A new hotel and condo complex, the Corales de Indias has great and spacious rooms just a short 5 minute ride from the airport and 10 minute ride from the historic walled city.  With a pool and restaurant and bar on site, it makes a good option for families, and the included desks make it a good option for those traveling for work as well.

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2.  Mucura Hotel and Spa – Class on a Budget

A pretty property located near the airport with a garden, restaurant and bar, and of course, a spa, Mucura offers those who want the trappings of a spa and romantic boutique hotel at bargain prices.  Some of the rooms even offer a balcony, meaning luxury is not only found in the Centro and Bocagrande.

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3.  Wonderland – A Hostel Close to the Airport

With a sweet pool, a ping pong table, and even a grill available, this hostel really is a wonderland for travelers.  Rather you’re looking to party or chill out, this is the best hostel outside of Centro and Getsemaní.  In addition to dorms, private rooms are also offered.

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*You can also find apartments in Crespo or elsewhere in Cartagena at VRBO.com or at AirBnB.com.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first stay at this link.

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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.

3 Recommendations for Places to Stay in Manga:

1.  Holiday Inn Express Manga – Luxury on the Other Side of the Bay

The third and final Holiday Inn Property in Cartagena overlooks the bay in Manga.  With an outdoor pool, fitness center, and business center, the Holiday Inn Express Manga could be a good option for business travelers or families.

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2.  Hotel Casa Castel – Boutique on the Other Side of the Bay

The Hotel Casa Castel has spacious, luxurious rooms with an elegant decor that includes local art.  A small hotel, it has the feeling almost of a guesthouse, and would make a wonderful place to stay in Cartagena for a romantic getaway.

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3.  Suites Bahia Cartagena – Budget Guesthouse in Manga

The Suites Bahia Manga offers standard hotel style rooms as well as apartments equipped with a kitchen and a studio that sleeps up to 4.  Prices are very budget friendly and the property is pretty and cozy with a lounge and terrace sitting area.

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*You can also find apartments in Manga or elsewhere in Cartagena at VRBO.com or at AirBnB.com.  If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can get up to $37 USD off your first stay at this link.

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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!

Ready to make a reserve a place to stay in Cartagena?

  • If you choose to make AirBnB your reservation method of choice, you can earn up to $37 USD off your first stay by signing up here.
  • If you are new to using Booking, you can earn up to $15 off your first stay by signing up here.

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