Cartagena first made its way onto my bucket list with pictures of brightly coloured colonial houses and bougainvillea covered streets. It’s undoubtedly one of the most photogenic places I’ve been, but there’s a lot more to the city than just its Instagram appeal.
We would wander the streets at night, listen to the sound of salsa music and watch horse carriages trot by, and feel like we stepped back in time. Plazas and patios buzz with locals eating and drinking and the atmosphere is magical.
Cartagena is a food and drink hotspot. For a city of its size, it has an unfair share of amazing restaurants and we wish we could have stayed longer just to try them all.
Here are 8 things you can’t miss during your trip, and you’ll see why Cartagena is one of the most charming cities in the world.
1. Wander the streets of the old town
The old town of Cartagena sits within the city walls and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s pretty small and walkable, and can be easily covered in one or two days. Though you’ll stroll by so many photo ops you may be tempted to stop every 5 minutes.
I found the most picturesque streets to be:
- Calle 38 (near Carrera 9) – this is where you’ll find that picture perfect pink house with turquoise windows.
- Carrera 8 between Calle 38 and Calle 39 – the street from the cover photo above.
- Calle 37 between Carrera 7 and Carrera 10 – where you’ll find the cutest hanging street decor.
See my map at the bottom of this post for exact locations!
2. Eat at La Cevicheria
This place was featured by Anthony Bourdain and totally worthy of all the hype. The food here was so good we came to eat twice. Once for lunch for the mouth watering ceviche and again for dinner where we had the most sumptuous seafood paella. It does get busy but if you come right when they open at lunch you can avoid a wait.
3. Watch the sunset from the city walls
The best place to watch the sunset is from the city walls near Cafe del Mar. It gets pretty crowded here so if you want a good seat on the walls try to get here a bit earlier. The music from Cafe del Mar definitely adds to the ambience but there’s no need to eat there, you’ll find much better food elsewhere.
4. Explore Getsemani
Getsemani is just steps away from the walled city but has a totally different vibe. If you appreciate wall art and graffiti then this place will be a feast for your eyes. Spend some time just wandering around and admiring all the works of art you can find. If you get hungry and are in the mood for Italian, head to Di Silvio Trattoria and make sure to sit in the open-air space of the restaurant that’s housed in a roofless building.
5. Grab a drink at EL BARÓN and sit outside
It’s often so hot during the day that at night is when the city truly comes alive. Walk by any plaza and you’ll see locals gathered, grabbing a drink, and listening to live bands play salsa music. At Plaza San Pedro Claver you’ll find El Baron with its extensive cocktail menu and outdoor seating for the perfect people-watching view.
6. Day trip to the Rosario Islands
There are a couple of beaches in Cartagena, but for the best ones in the area head to the Rosario Islands. They’re about a one hour boat ride away and make for a great day trip. Expect to spend the day relaxing on the beach, swimming, stand up paddling, and being treated to a feast of fresh fish. Many tours to different islands are available and can be easily booked in Cartagena through your hotel.
7. Have dinner at Carmen
Definitely one of the best meals we had in Cartagena. Carmen is a bit on the pricier side but the food is absolutely amazing. Think seared local lobster, octopus ceviche, butter poached prawns, I’m drooling just writing this. Go take a look at the menu and I’m pretty sure your mouth will start watering. Reservations are recommended but you may get lucky like we did.
8. Go on a horse carriage ride through the old town
I usually think horse carriage rides are pretty touristy and avoid them, but in Cartagena they seem to just belong. They add to the colonial charm of the city and make you feel like you’ve been transformed to another era. I hate to admit it but they are pretty damn romantic especially at sunset. With that said, if you do decide to go on a ride make sure the horse looks like it’s in good shape and well taken care of.
So? Ready to book that flight to Cartagena? If you’ve already been let me know if there’s anything I missed!