Cartagena de Indias is without a doubt one of the most visited destinations when it comes to travel to Colombia. It is a perfect mix of history and the development of modern cities, this combined with the friendliness of its people gives, as a result, an unforgettable experience. This magical city is located on the north coast of this Caribbean country and is also known as “La Heroica” among its inhabitants due to a historical event.
How to get there
This city has an airport right by the sea, which makes the landing a little scary and at the same time fun, as you can feel you are actually landing directly on the water! If you are traveling from abroad, you can take a flight to Bogota and then a connecting flight to Cartagena, or Panama city – Cartagena is also another option. The airport is close to the tourist areas, so you can have a nice walk along the beach or get a taxi, and then start your tour!
Departing from any region of Colombia
If you are already in Colombia, depending on the region of the country you are in, you can either travel by air or by land. If you are not on the north coast both options would work well, but have into consideration that if you decide to take a bus from Bogota, for example, it’s a 23-hour trip!
Departing from the north coast of Colombia
If you are already on the coast, for example, in Barranquilla like it was my case, I would say that it is very easy and fast to get to Cartagena, you have two options: you might depart from the passenger terminal, which is located in the very south of the city, this can be a little far from the north maybe one hour by car, there you can take a bus to Cartagena which will leave you far from the tourist areas, so you will have to take a taxi, which can be a little expensive. For these reasons, I don’t recommend this option. Or you might depart from any of the private bus terminals located in different parts of the city. The most popular ones are Berlinas and Marsol. Both have similar prices and the service they offer is very alike, nonetheless, I prefer Berlinas because, in my opinion, the customer service is better. The bus will leave you very near the tourist places, close to the beach, so you can have a 25-minute walk or take a taxi and then you will get to the walled city. In both cases, the trip from Barranquilla to Cartagena takes 2 hours.
What to do
There are so many things to do in Cartagena, but definitely, the first thing you must do is to tour the city up on the wall and watch the colorful traditional houses from above, enjoy the view and the wind. I recommend using sunscreen and maybe a hat because after a few minutes walking your face can turn very red! After that, you can go down the wall, and start walking through the little streets of the old city, delight yourself with the typical architecture that has so much history behind its walls, and start visiting some great places.
Plaza Santo Domingo
Visit Santo Domingo square located on the west of the walled city, there you will find a few restaurants and cafes that offer traditional food and also some drinks, so you can have snacks and some beers while you enjoy live music traditional from the Colombian coast, this among an environment that I would say it is similar to a European square with some touches of the Latin America colonial era. For sure, It is all a contrast!
Juan Valdéz Cafe
You cannot leave Colombia and much less Cartagena, without visiting a Juan Valdéz cafe in the old city. Enjoy the good Colombian coffee maybe accompanied with a banana cake, in one of these beautiful cafes with contemporary style, among the walls of this city of diversity.
Portal de Los Dulces
If you love sweets, go to Portal de Los Dulces located on the south west of the old city. There you will find a big variety of delicious traditional Colombian sweets, and better still, at a really good price!
Café del Mar
Definitely, you cannot leave Cartagena without going to this amazing place called Café del Mar. It is an outdoor cafe located in the north-west of the wall. The perfect moment to go maybe would be at 4:30 pm, so you can have a seat there, I recommend to go early because otherwise, you will not find a table. It is an ideal place to see the sunset because it has an amazing view of the sea, the walled city, the new city, and the exquisite sunlight tuning off among the orange clouds and the water, again contrasts! While you watch this show, enjoy a good cocktail and get to know some people, have a conversation with some world citizens and enrich your perspective of the world, there are so many persons and you can listen to so many languages at the same time. A curious note I would like to add is that the view of the street and the beach from the cafe looks very alike to Havana’s Malecon. This is something that tells me how similar so many distant places may be!
Cartagena at night
The walled city at night is just beautiful, the lanterns, colors, and rhythms of this magical city make it fabulous. So I recommend to have a tour, but this time you should try going by bike, or by carriage!
The nightlife in Cartagena is for sure one of the best ones. The environment at night is really great, you just walk through the little streets of this city, listen to different rhythms and come across with people of different nationalities ready to have fun. There are so many options to choose. If you like Salsa and want to experience the Latin American culture in its essence, go to Café Havana, Quiebra Canto or Donde Fidel. But if you want to know more about the urban culture from the north coast of Colombia, then you should go to Afrikan Club. And if you prefer more an alternative style and like more to be sitting listening to classic rock or alternative music, I recommend going to The Clock Pub, this is an amazing place where you will find a great environment, good cocktails and live music, it is located at Torre del Reloj.
A destination for all tastes
I can absolutely say that Cartagena de Indias has all that it takes to be the perfect destination for any tourist because it has landscapes, places, and activities for all tastes. Overall, amazing contrasts that can charm anyone and nice hosts that always welcome you with a beautiful smile.