4 Days in Cartagena

When you tell people you’re planning a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, prepare for multiple people to enthusiastically say, “THE Joan Wilder of Cartagena?” Apparently it is most people’s only reference point for Cartagena. Which is more than I had, because I didn’t even know that movie quote when I began researching Cartagena. 

 

But Cartagena has more to it than movie quotes. It’s a vibrant colorful city, rich in history, inspiring architecture, stunning beaches and amazing restaurants. In Cartagena you can merge a beautiful tropical vacation of Caribbean waters with a charming historical walkable city. And if you’re a foodie, you won’t be disappointed. Colombians have mastered the art of culinary hospitality. 

 

Back in the day, Cartagena was a hub to expand the Spanish empire. It’s history is important because it is a source of pride for locals, and it should be, because they have managed to preserve it’s Spanish Colonial charm with it’s blend of Italian and Spanish architeture. And the city didn’t just catch the eye of locals, the impressive walled city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

 

Named after Cartagena, Spain, it was founded in 1533 and was known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias and was/is a major port city. It’s strategically located between two rivers (Magdalena and Sinú), faces the Caribbean Ocean and is the 5th largest city in Colombia, as well as the capital of the Bolívar Department. 

 

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WHAT TO DO

Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour – The bus tour is a great way to see the city because it is a relatively short tour and will give you the lay of the land.
Horse-drawn carriage rides
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – Great view of the city once you get to the top. If you have small children, keep them close as once you get to the top, there are areas that aren’t fenced in or don’t have railing.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo – A mud volcano
There are also tours for biking, boating and fly boarding.
Playa Blanca (Baru) – 2 hours away (day trip)
Day trips to Rosario Islands
And day tours where you can see Indigena’s Town, a pink sea and a mud volcano all in one tour.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

 

Most restaurants don’t open until after 7:00 for dinner. There’s no showing up at restaurants at 5:30 for an early dinner with kids at most of the recommended restaurants. They don’t open until after their staff has time to eat dinner before they start their shift.

All the restaurants we ate at were phenomenal, both in their decor and ambiance, but also with their artistic dishes, their service and attention to detail.

 

DonJuán Cartagena – need reservations, amazing.
Marea by Rausch
Carmen
Moshi
Cafe Del Mar – On wall with ocean view, outside seating only, great sunset, but get there early to get a table.
Semolina – Italian
La Cocinadel Socorro (lunch)
La Vitrola
La Perla
Crepes y Waffles – Specializes in, you guessed it, crepes and waffles. But have a full menu and the food is excellent for lunch and dinner as well.
Vera
La Cevicheria

Alma – We ate here multiple times. Alma has amazing service, spectacular food, not to be confused with La Alma chain in Medellin. The dishes that they offer for children are delicious with thoughtful presentation and not an afterthought like many restaurants.

alma kids plate.jpg

WHERE TO STAY

 

Hotels Inside Walled City

Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa

Sophia Hotel

Casa Cochera del Gobernador

Allure Chocolat

Anandá Boutique Hotel

Casa Pombo

Bastión Luxury Hotel

Bovedas De Santa Clara Hotel – Inside the walled city, but close to the wall, so you have an ocean view in some rooms.

Hotel Casa San Agustin – Beautiful, helpful staff and has Alma downstairs.

 

Bocagrande

Estelar del Cartagena de India – Modern high rise overlooking the ocean.

Hotel Dann Cartagena – Ocean view.

Hotel Caribe – A massive older hotel with an old school vibe. Although the service is perfect, and the location is great with beach access, you should know that not all rooms are created equal. Part of the hotel has been renovated, but part has not, and the part that hasn’t been renovated is the only part that offers 2 beds in one room.

 

Outside City

Conrad Cartagena – A great option if you want to be way outside the city. It’s beachfront, but about a 30/40 minute drive to the walled city.

AIRBNB

If you want to Airbnb, I’d recommend staying inside the walled city. Or if you want to be near a beach, look at one of the all white high rises on the peninsula of Castillogrande, This area is less touristy than the beach area of Bocagrande. And if you are traveling with children, many of the buildings have playgrounds. It is a short Uber/cab to the walled city area, 10 – 15 minutes, depending on traffic.

 

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Travel Tips

 

TIP – Always have small bills to pay cab drivers as they will mysteriously never have change to give you back. And most cab rides are very cheap.

 

TIP – Before you book a hotel, look at the hotel’s website, sometimes they offer specials that aren’t listed on other booking sites.

 

TIP – If you are staying outside the walled city and getting a cab to somewhere within the walled city, sometimes it’s easier to just be dropped off at the wall and walk.  Once inside the wall, it’s a lot of one way streets that are difficult to quickly maneuver in a car because of the pedestrian traffic.

 

TIP – Flights within Colombia are inexpensive and short flights. If you’re already in Cartagena, why not also hop a flight to Medellín?

 

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