Discover the top things to do in Cartagena, Colombia with this ultimate guide! Cartagena, located in South America, is one of the most colorful places in the world to visit. Cartagena, which translates to “new city” is full of energy and fun vibes that are unlike any other city you’ve visited. From the cute fruit ladies known as palenqueras to the vibrant street art and the sunny beaches, you’ll never run low on things to do here. Plus, the year-round sunshine makes it an appealing destination for all.
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Quick Facts before visiting Cartagena:
💱Currency: Colombian Pesos. You can divide by 4 to convert to US dollars.
💶 Budget for a trip to Cartagena: The average daily cost for a trip to Cartagena is $60 a night for both food and accommodation.
💜 Is tipping required in Cartagena? Tipping is generally expected in Cartagena, Colombia, with a customary range of 10-15% in restaurants and discretionary tipping for other services such as tour guides and taxi drivers.
☀️ Best time to Visit: The weather is the same year round! With an average high of 87F/30C and an average low of 75F/24C. The peak season is in January when tourists want to escape the winter for a warm destination. The best time to visit Cartagena is during the dry season, which typically runs from December to March, as the weather is pleasant with less rainfall, making it ideal for exploring the city and enjoying its beaches.
🏥 Travel Insurance in Cartagena: It’s a good idea to get insurance when traveling to Cartagena. I recommend SafetyWing which will cover you in case of trip cancellations or any accidents during your travels. Colombia can be notorious for pick-pocketing and crime so better safe than sorry!
Top Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia
1. Stroll through the Walled City admiring the colorful buildings
My favorite thing to do in Cartagena was simply strolling through the colorful cobblestone streets. Actually, the reason Cartagena was even on my bucket list is because I absolutely love colorful places! You’ll find the most instagrammable locations down Calle 37 and 38. You can see many lovely streets between Carrera 7 towards Carrera 10.
A great way to acquaint yourself with the city, I’d also recommend a free walking tour (although tipping is expected) by a local guide. This was the first thing I did when I arrived and I really loved my tour. I went with the Free Tour Cartagena company with the yellow umbrellas.
Also, the city has some fantastic shopping too, I got a beautiful pink swimsuit at a store called Aguabendita. You will see what it looks like in number 10 in this post!
2. Visit the The Cathedral of Cartagena de Indias
The Cartagena Cathedral, an iconic symbol of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, stands as one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas. The Cathedral is designed with Spanish colonial architecture and has an impressive facade which has become the front and center of the Cartagena backdrop. Constructed in the 16th century and consecrated in 1612, it’s adorned with intricate altars and religious artwork.
Located in the heart of the old town, the cathedral serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Cartagena, playing a central role in both religious and historical contexts. With crypts housing the remains of notable figures and ongoing preservation efforts, the Cartagena Cathedral continues to be a cherished and well-preserved landmark.
The best place to take a photo of the cathedral is down the side streets near the coffee shop Abaco Libros Y Cafe (Google Maps Location). Here, you see the beautiful yellow facade in the background.
3. Get a photo with the fruit ladies
One of the most iconic things to do in Cartagena is getting a photo with the fruit ladies. Most are located near Plaza Santo Domingo but you’ll also find them in Getsemani.
The Palenqueras of Cartagena, originating from San Basilio de Palenque, are iconic women celebrated for preserving Colombia’s African heritage. Dressed in vibrant traditional dresses, including colorful headscarves and ruffled blouses, these women are often seen carrying large baskets of tropical fruits through the streets of Cartagena.
My tour guide told me that these women used to sell fruits to tourists until they started getting tipped by tourists who wanted a photo with them. They then quickly realized the tourists weren’t interested in their fruit and started to charge for photos instead! They don’t even sell fruit nowadays. Instead, the men do (like in the photo below).
4. Try the Fruit and the Local Street Food
When you visit Colombia, you have to try all the delicious local cuisine.
Must-try foods include:
- The fruit – it’s delicious and so many people sell it through the streets. The one you see above was in Getsemani.
- Pandebono – a type of cheese bread. You can try it at La Esquina Del Pan De Bono
- Bocadillos – These are guava-stuffed pastries.
- Arepas – Arepas is a type of bread made from cornmeal. It’s served plain or filled with a variety of toppings such as cheese, meats, or avocado.
- Empanadas – Fried or baked pastries filled with meat, potatoes, or cheese.
- Limonada de Coco Hierbabuen – A drink that combines coconut water, lime juice, and fresh mint for a tropical flavor.
- Kola Roman – a Colombian soft drink that was invented in Colombia.
5. Explore the many parks and plazas
There are many parks in Cartagena where you can relax under the shaded trees, enjoy street vendors, and even entertainment.
Here are some of the main ones:
Plaza De Bolivar
The Plaza de Bolivar or the Parque de Bolívar in Cartagena de Indias is a picturesque square located very centrally next to the Cartagena Cathedral and the Palace of the Inquisition. It is full of lush greenery and centered around a statue of Simón Bolívar.
The statue of Bolívar pays homage to the historical significance of the leader’s role in South American independence. With its shaded benches and historical surroundings, Parque de Bolívar stands as a testament to the cultural richness and colonial charm that define Cartagena.
In this popular square for locals, you’ll find vendors selling “tinto,” black coffee, shell jewelry, woven hats, and more.
Plaza Santo Domingo
This is one of the busiest squares in the Old City of Cartagena. You will find some of the artwork by the famous artist, Botero who created a large-breasted statue of Gorda. It is also where you can find the fruit ladies!
Parque del Centenario is a park you will likely walk through on the way to Getsemani. I loved all the greenery here and if you look closely you’ll even spot sloths and monkeys in the treetops!
Plaza de la Trinidad
Located in Getsemani, Trinidad Plaza is another spot where you’ll find the fruit ladies. By night, the place transforms and is filled with crowds and street performers.
6. Hunt for Street art in Getsemani
Getsemani is a neighborhood full of amazing street art and food. You can’t miss this stop on your top things to do in Cartagena, Colombia. Just get lots in the winding pathways and keep your camera close to capture some amazing artwork. This creative hub was one of my favorite places to visit as I really appreciate the colorful vibes and energy here.
Read my full guide on Getsemani
7. Visit the Umbrella Streets in Getsemani
I have an obsession with umbrella streets. In Cartagena, there are 2 umbrella streets! If you’re wondering where the Cartagena umbrella streets are located, it’s in the Getsemani neighborhood. The really narrow umbrella street is on Callejón Angosto and the other umbrella street is on Calle de la Magdalena.
8. Read a book at Abaco Libros Y Cafe
Abaco Libros Y Cafe is a super instagrammable bookstore with a cafe inside. It’s a great place to escape the Cartagena heat with a book in hand and an ice-cold drink.
9. Lounge at a rooftop pool
Lounging at the rooftop pool of the Movich Hotel is ultimately the best thing to do in Cartagena. I really loved doing just that on one of my days in Cartagena.
There are many rooftop pools in Cartagena to help people escape the heat but this one is the most special. It has the best panoramic views over the city. Plus, the cocktails and food are great.
You can enjoy the view as a non-guest if you purchase food or drink. The pool is reserved only for guests but you can pay for a day pass which is partially inclusive of food and drink to visit here and take a swim.
10. Enjoy the sunset from the city walls
Another top thing to do in Cartagena, Colombia is to enjoy the sunset from the walls of the city. The walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site after all! The Clock Tower, built in the 17th century, serves as the main gateway to the historic walled city. It was originally part of the city’s defensive fortifications and marked the entrance through which travelers entered the city from the docks.
For sunset, be sure to arrive early, maybe an hour or more before sunset to grab the best spot. The place fills up with people standing on the nooks of the wall and in front of the walls awaiting a beautiful sunset.
Many people also visit the famous Cafe del Mar, the perfect place for a drink at sunset. This place gets busy, so you will need to go early to get a seat. I just hung by the walls instead and took in the views!
11. Go Salsa Dancing at Cafe Havana
Cafe Havana is the go-to place if you want to check out some great salsa dancing! The dance floor will surely have you entertained!
12. Get Drinks at Alquímico
Alquímico was named number 9 on the top 50 bars in the world so I knew I had to check it out. It’s situated in a renovated colonial mansion in Cartagena de Indias. The drinks are tasty and the vibe is really nice. It’s the perfect pre-dinner drinks spot and one of the best places to enjoy a drink.
13. Have Dinner at Alma
Alma is one of those places you go to treat yourself but it’s still pretty affordable as a foreigner with seafood plates in the $20 – $25 USD price range.
Recommended starters include the ceviche or the lobster empanadas. The fresh fish is a must-try. For my main, I enjoyed the creamy seafood rice and it didn’t disappoint!
The ambiance is also really nice and they play live music in the evenings. It’s part of the Casa San Agustin Hotel which is a boutique hotel and one of the nicest places to stay in Cartagena.
14. Take a day trip to Rosario Islands
Rosario Islands is worth a day trip or even an overnight stay if you have extra time in Cartagena. It takes about an hour to get there and it’s most convenient to do a boat tour like this one.
The Rosario Islands are located off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia and form the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park. It is known for its stunning coral reefs and marinelife. With beautiful pristine white sand beaches and crystal-clear Caribbean sea waters, the islands offer an idyllic escape. It’s perfect for water activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving on the Caribbean Coast.
15. Swim at the nearby Baru Islands
While Playa Blanca, Isla Baru are not as nice as the Rosario Islands, it’s much closer to Cartagena. That’s why many people choose to visit here for a swim or other nice water activities. I’d definitely recommend booking a day trip like this one!
Where to Eat & Drink in Cartagena
🍽️ TO EAT:
- Cafe San Antonio by Casa Jaguar
- La Cevicheria
- Restaurante Candé
- Di Silvio Trattoria
- Restaurante San Valentin
- Malagana Cafe & Bar
- Restaurante Donjuan
- Restaurante 1621
- Los fritos de Dora (street food)
- La Esquina Del Pan De Bono (try pandebono)
- Cafe Del Mar
- Movich Rooftop Bar
Where to Stay in Cartagena, Colombia
- Casa San Agustin ($$)
- Movich Hotel ($$)
- Ananda Hotel ($$)
- Sophia Hotel ($$)
- Hotel at the Park ($)
- Hotel Casa Agustina ($)
Is Cartagena Safe to Visit?
Visiting Colombia in general means you should be extra cautious as a traveler. Cartagena is one of the safest cities in Colombia especially if you stick to the touristy areas like the Walled City.
I traveled here solo but I am an experienced solo traveler who has traveled to 20+ countries alone. It is not a place I would recommend traveling solo if you are new to solo travel.
During my trip, I was extra careful and had a safe visit.
- I didn’t go out alone at night on my own. Instead, I booked a guided tour nearly every day of my visit with Get Your Guide.
- I kept a close eye on my belongings. I heard that Colombia is notorious for pickpocketing especially for phones. I had no problems on my trip, however.
- I wasn’t naive. I did my research ahead on safety in Colombia. There are some scams to be aware of. There is a drug called Scopolamine which is targeted mostly towards male foreigners and it makes you lose all knowledge while the attacker will steal your money or have you get money out of the atm for them.
- I took Uber, instead of cabs. I hear the cabs can sometimes be sketchy and you could be at risk of robbery.
- I asked for prices before buying so people would not try to overcharge me or change prices on me.
- I hired a photographer from Flytographer so I could still enjoy taking photos solo without the risk of leaving my camera on a tripod in the street.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this guide on the top things to do in Cartagena. If you’re looking for more inspiration for your trip to Colombia, be sure to check out my 7 Day Colombia Itinerary.