Out of all of the amazing Colombian cities we visited, Cartagena was the one that really stole my heart. Having spent just a few days there, I can totally understand why this spot is the most visited part of the country.
There are dozens of exciting attractions in Cartagena, and it felt like the perfect blend of history and culture, along with a touch of luxury.
Although the city is known for its well-preserved defensive walls and hip neighborhoods, that’s just a taste of what this tourist hub offers. Some of the other top things to do in Cartagena include trips to nearby islands, excursions to mud-filled volcanos, and countless coffee shop visits.
If all this information is sending you into a frenzy, fear not, as I’ve put together this complete list of what to do in Cartagena to help you pick and choose activities to add to your must-see list.
With this in mind, let’s dive into the best things to do in Cartagena.
*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*
Table of Contents
Are you planning a last-minute trip to Cartagena?
If your trip is coming up soon and you still haven’t booked anything, we have you covered! Below you can find our top picks when it comes to hotels, tours, getting around, and more.
Best Tours and Experiences in Cartagena
- Rosario Islands Catamaran with Lunch and Snorkel (the best day trip from Cartagena)
- Totumo Mud Volcano Experience (the coolest experience ever)
- Historic Center and Getsemani Shared Walking Tour (top-rated walking tour, perfect for first-timers)
- Playa Blanca Full-Day Trip (the most beautiful beach in Cartagena)
Best Places to Stay in Cartagena
- Movich Hotel Cartagena (amazing luxury hotel in Centro with an epic rooftop pool and bar)
- Hyatt Regency Cartagena (best luxury hotel on the beach)
- GHL Hotel Armeria Real (great mid-range option with rooftop pool and bar)
- Hotel Blue Concept (budget-friendly hotel with a great restaurant in Bocagrande)
Can’t speak Spanish very well? As people in Cartagena (and in Colombia in general) don’t really speak English, our best tip is to download Spanish on Google Translate so you can use it offline! Trust us, you’re going to need it.
Best Things to Do in Cartagena
1. Explore the Historic Walled City and Getsemani on a walking tour
If you know me, then you’ll know I’m a sucker for a walking tour whenever I land in a new city.
What I love about this one is that it doesn’t just stick to one area, as it covers both the historic center, where you’ll find the iconic Spanish-era city walls, as well as the beautiful and colorful Getsemani district.
Both areas are full of gorgeous colonial buildings and are oozing with history and culture. Your guide will give you all you need to know about the Spanish and Caribbean influences on this north-coast city and how the indigenous Colombian people lived.
Street art, centuries-old churches, and lively walkways are just a taste of what you can look forward to as part of this walking tour, which runs for just under 3 hours.
2. Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
I can’t talk about the best-loved attractions in Cartagena without mentioning the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
This almost 500-year-old fortress is an emblem of Cartagena and was used by Spanish forces to protect the city from potential attacks. The tunnels that wind through the castle are super cool, too, and they are a welcome relief from the heat if you’re visiting during midday.
As the area around the castle has limited shade, aside from the tunnels, your best bet is to arrive here as early as possible. From 7 am onwards, the fortress is open, and tickets are available at the entrance for 30,000 COP ($7.5 US).
If you’re keen to get a bit more background on the castle, I highly recommend hiring a guide when you arrive, as there’s little information on display here.
3. Go street art hunting in Getsemani
The Getsemani district is possibly the most photogenic place in all of Cartagena, and that’s largely due to the incredible street art that has brought the whole area to life.
Getsemani is bursting with color from the adorable colonial buildings and famous hanging umbrellas, but it’s the graffiti and street art that give it its hipster edge.
This is a neighborhood that helped to kickstart the movement that aimed to abolish slavery in Cartagena, so much of the artwork represents people’s yearning for freedom and change.
In addition to this, Getsamani also had a reputation as an unsafe and crime-riddled part of town, and expression through art has played a major role in redeveloping the area.
Plaza de la Trinidad is a great place to start, as many of the streets branching off from here are filled with striking and inspirational works of art. My favorite streets are Calle de la Lomba and Calle de Las Sombrillas so definitely don’t miss these!
4. Join a tour to Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is one of the best places to go in Cartagena to soak up some sun and experience a little slice of island life.
This dreamy white sand beach is situated around a 90-minute drive from Cartagena on the island of Baru. Historically, Baru was a peninsula, but it was cut off from the mainland when the Canal del Dique was formed.
Unfortunately there’s no public transport or shuttle services to Playa Blanca, so the easiest way to get there is by joining a tour.
You can also get there by yourself by taking a taxi but I would honestly not recommend doing this. We made the mistake of wanting to go by ourselves and we ended up having a really sketchy journey and quite a stressful day.
We were constantly being followed by “vendors” selling us things, constantly saying no to them and they were not taking no for an answer. Even after paying for a sunbed in a fenced-off area they were still coming up to us and trying to sell us things.
But the worst part was definitely the journey. On the way to Playa Blanca, our taxi was stopped by a group of men trying to block the road and starting to hit the car and demand for us to pay.
And when we wanted to go back to Cartagena, we realized that there were no taxis or Ubers in the area so we had to arrange transport with our broken Spanish and had to get into a car with two complete strangers which was quite stressful. Luckily, we made it back safely but it wasn’t a pleasant experience overall.
So please learn from our mistake and visit Playa Blanca on a tour as it’s much safer and more convenient that way.
Unlike most day-long excursions, this tour gives you lots of free time to chill out on the beach, so you can swim and sunbathe as you please for most of the morning. Each trip is inclusive of a local lunch, and there are usually plenty of vendors around if you’re looking for a drink or snack.
5. Take a boat trip to the Rosario Islands
Another fabulous (and I personally think a much better) way to spend a day in Cartagena is to set sail on a luxurious catamaran around the Rosario Islands.
This archipelago of tiny islands looks like it came from the front of a postcard. The untouched beaches and rustic vibe make these islands feel like they’re totally isolated despite being just an hour away from the city. For sure, these islands are some of the best places to see in Cartagena.
As you cruise around these idyllic islands, you’ll have opportunities to hit the water to snorkel with tropical fish and swim past colorful coral reefs. If you’d prefer, you can always lounge on the catamaran and take in the views for the day.
The tour includes lunch and light snacks, as well as an open bar with beer, wine, and rum cocktails. It was honestly one of the best days we had in Cartagena, and I would highly recommend it.
6. Head out on a sunset cruise
If you don’t have time in your itinerary for a day-long boat trip, a sunset cruise is a brilliant alternative. It’s also one of the most romantic things to do in Cartagena if you’re on the hunt for a date night idea.
Cartagena is blessed with some wonderful sunsets, and this cruise gives you uninterrupted views of both the shimmering sea and the city skyline.
These tours usually only run for around two hours and include a beer or wine to sip as the sun goes down, making them the perfect way to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing.
7. Enjoy the sunset at Café del Mar
Strategically perched upon the city walls overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Café del Mar is regarded by many as one of the best places to go in Cartagena to catch the sunset.
All of the tables are outside, so there’s not a bad seat in the house. In saying that, this restaurant gets busy quickly around dusk, so I definitely suggest getting here early or making a reservation.
We stopped by for a drink and the cocktails were amazing and the view was just incredible. In saying that, I’d been eager to sample some of their seafood if we made it back here, as everything we saw looked absolutely delicious.
8. Discover the history of Cartagena at the Museum of Cartagena de Indias
No matter where you find yourself traveling, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local history, and the Museum of Cartagena de Indias is just the place to do it here.
Set in a stunning building in the heart of the Walled City, this museum gives a pretty good overview of the hardships that Cartagena has been through over the centuries. From the struggle of slaves to the Spanish Inquisition, you’ll find artifacts from all the key moments in Colombian history here.
One downside to this exhibit is that not all of the displays are translated into English, so you’ll likely feel a little lost unless you come equipped with a translator app on your phone.
Your tickets can be purchased on arrival, and they go for 24,000 COP ($6 US) each.
9. Spend the day on Playa del Bocagrande
As heavenly as both Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands are, sometimes something a little closer by is just what you’re looking for.
Bocagrande is Cartagena’s most upscale neighborhood and is all about beaches, high-end hotels, and premium restaurants.
Playa del Bocagrande is the main beach here and is only around a 15-minute drive from the Walled City. Many of you might find yourself staying in this neighborhood for your trip, meaning the beach will likely be within walking distance from your hotel.
The beach itself is great, but there are a ton of vendors here offering snacks, drinks, and massages, which can become a little overwhelming at times.
10. Get muddy on the Totumo Mud Volcano Experience
One of the most peculiar but unmissable activities in Cartagena is to make the half-day trip to El Totumo, a tiny mud volcano.
El Totumo is among the world’s smallest volcanoes, and it produces thick, mineral-rich mud rather than lava!
Making the hour-long drive out to El Totumo is a quintessential Cartagena experience and typically involves making a quick climb to the top of the volcano, where you’ll then immerse yourself in warm mud amongst your fellow travelers.
While you’re busy rejuvenating your skin, you’ll likely be offered a massage for a small extra fee, although it’s pretty packed in there, so it may not be the most comfortable encounter!
When you’ve had your fill of bathing, simply walk down the steps and into the lake to wash off the mud before you start the journey back to the city with your group.
11. Have a cocktail at the rooftop bar of Movich Hotel
Another place to rest up during golden hour is the rooftop at the Movich Hotel.
This lodging is tucked away in the center of the Walled City and is home to an elegant rooftop with sweeping views of the old and new Cartagena. Best of all, you don’t have to be a resident here to enjoy dinner or drinks on the rooftop.
The menu has plenty of classic and signature cocktails available, and my lychee martini went down a treat!
Bookings aren’t required here, but it’s always best to call in advance and make a reservation to be safe.
12. Join a street food tour
Eat like the locals do and tuck into some traditional Colombian dishes as part of a street food tour.
As is the case in most countries, the best way to experience authentic and tasty food is to leave it in the hands of a local guide.
In addition to giving you the lowdown on the must-try local eats, your guide will know exactly where to go to find the absolute best version of every dish, so it’s a win-win.
This particular tour takes you on a culinary adventure through 9 different tastings of various Colombian foods and drinks, from fresh juices to savory snacks.
13. Cafe hop in the Walled City
While the Walled City is, of course, especially famous for its captivating history, I also loved it for its fantastic cafe scene.
We stopped by so many gorgeous cafes while we were there, and I had a tough time narrowing it down, but I have a few top picks that I’m confident you’ll love.
Época Café Bar was our go-to spot for brunch (huevos divorciados was a personal favorite), while Ábaco Libros y Café had such a great setting. Hidden in an old-school bookstore, this is such a relaxed little haunt with the most delectable coffee.
Café La Manchuria was another cafe that we kept going back to, and it’s perfect for when you fancy a quick pitstop for coffee and a pastry.
14. Visit the Museo Naval del Caribe
If you’re looking for things to do in Cartagena with kids, the Museo Naval del Caribe is an excellent option, but it’s just as interesting for the grown-ups, too.
The museum is home to a collection of scale models, artifacts, and navy equipment, which come together to recount the history of Cartagena and its status as a maritime city.
I think the little ones will have a blast exploring the likes of the submarine simulator experience and the life-sized replicas of helicopters and coastguard boats, and there are also plenty of interactive exhibits.
Unfortunately, not all of the display boards are in English, so it can be hard to get a clear understanding if you don’t have a guide or translation app.
15. Take a walk in Centenario Park
When you want to slow the pace down a little, go for a wander around Centenario Park and spend a few hours taking shelter from the sun and spotting wildlife.
Centenario Park is not just your average green space; it has quite a unique bunch of residents, including sloths, monkeys, and iguanas. Considering that this park is relatively small, it’s astounding to think that it’s home to such a variety of animals.
It’s also a superb place for anyone interested in bird-watching, as parrots and parakeets are known to make an appearance from time to time.
The park was built as a symbol of Colombia’s independence, though the wildlife often tends to overshadow the historical significance!
16. Explore the Museo del Oro Zenú
A free, small, but informative museum, the Museo del Oro Zenú focuses on Cartagena’s pre-Columbian era and is packed with ancient relics from the Zenú people, an indigenous community from northern Colombia.
Goldsmithing, ceramics, and pottery were the traditional crafts of the Zenú community, and a wealth of examples of each make up most of the museum’s exhibits.
Also on display inside are a number of short films that give a bit more detail on the way the Zenú people lived and how they developed the skills to craft such ornate pieces.
17. Walk along the city walls
Café del Mar isn’t the only place along the city walls that are open to the public. In fact, most of the walls are perfectly walkable and offer some of the most breathtaking views over Cartagena.
As you can probably imagine, there aren’t exactly a great deal of shaded patches along the walls, so the late afternoon or early evening is most definitely the best time to amble your way around the area and admire the vistas.
You’ll likely notice that some parts of the walls are in much better condition than others. There are plenty of steps along the way connecting the walls to the main streets below, should you stumble upon some inaccessible areas.
18. Take in the views from Convento de la Popa
When talking about the best viewpoints in Cartagena, you can’t go without mentioning Convento de la Popa, which might just have the best views of them all.
Convento de la Popa is an enchanting convent positioned at the top of Cartagena’s highest hill, meaning some of the most staggering views in the city can be seen from the terrace.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to explore the beautifully kept cloister and small chapel before going to the observation area, as I felt these both made the convent grounds even more impressive.
The entrance fee is 11,000 COP ($2.8 US) and you also have the option to hire a guide which would make the experience much more worthwhile and put everything on the grounds into context.
Planning a trip to Colombia?
Then you might want to take a look at all our other travel guides about Colombia. I promise, they are just as awesome as this article was!
- The Ultimate 2 Weeks in Colombia Itinerary
- 3 Days in Cartagena: The Perfect Cartagena Itinerary for First-Timers
- 18 Best Things to Do in Cartagena You Can’t Miss
- Where to Stay in Cartagena: 6 Best Areas & Hotels
- How to Spend 3 Days in Bogota: The Ultimate Bogota Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Bogota: 5 Best Areas & Hotels
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