With its balconies dripping with flowers, the colorful houses, cobblestone streets and palenqueras posing for pictures, Cartagena never fails to steal even the most traveled tourist’s heart. It is unique, romantic and bold at the same time. If you have just a few days to visit the Walled City, this guide can be a good way to fit it all in during your stay.
Do like Cartageneros do.
If you want to start your first day in Cartagena like a real cartagenero, you need to have breakfast like one. Head over to Plazas de los Coches, where countless street vendors sell fritos, the mouthwatering fried food that the locals love to start their day. Arepa de huevos (a sort of fried corn patty with an egg inside) is an absolute favorite.
After the energy boost from the fritos kicks in, you’re ready to wander. In order to find your way in Cartagena, or any city, is to get lost. From Plaza de los Coches you can start the tour of what the locals call Centro and let the mesmerizing beauty of the Old Town guide you. In the Old Town there are the main museums of the city, like Museo del Oro, Palacio de la Inquisicion and the Modern Art Museum.
All the walking around Centro will probably make you hungry and hot... like really hot. The best way to refuel and refresh is to try the local food at one of the numerous restaurants of the Getsemani neighborhood, a short walk away from the city center, where you can eat flavorful and hearty meals like fish, meat and chicken accompanied with arroz de coco (coconut rice), patacones (fried plantain) and frijoles (beans). These plates are best paired with delicious jugos naturales. If you decide to try one, you will be served a giant glass of juice that is made with fresh fruit (mango, mora, papaya, fresa.. you name it!) and you can ask it en agua (water based) or en leche (milk based – a crowd pleaser!).
Insider Tip: You can not leave Cartagena without trying the famous Limonada de Coco! 🥥😋
Nighttime is the best time to experience the city, as the unique elegant glamour of the city is in its full potential, and depending on the time of the year, a gentle breeze might even be delighting your evening stroll with some fresher temperatures. In order to get a very authentic experience, you should start your night by going to Donde Fidel. This bar has been heading the salsa scene since its openings and it didn’t change throughout the years, refusing to bend to the new trends. Not a dancer? No hay problemas. You can just drink your night away with a cold cerveza and watch couples spinning around to the salsa beats.
National Aviary and Beach Day
If the first day was all dedicated to exploring and getting the vibe of the city, we definitely recommend you to use the second day in Cartagena to dig in the wild nature that surrounds Cartagena.
The best way to do it is by combining a beach trip with a visit to the National Aviary, one of the biggest in Latin America, where tourists can interact with hundreds of colorful and magnificent birds like eagles, flamingoes, parakeets, condors, woodpeckers and so on.
The Aviary is located just 50 minutes away from the city close to Playa Blanca, where you can get your tan on after you’re done birdwatching.
At night, in case you want to try some of the steps learned by watching the couples dancing at Donde Fidel, we recommend you to stop by Quiebra Canto, a salsa bar just outside Plaza de los Coches. Here locals will mix and mingle with tourists, offering a great taste of what having fun is all about in this country.
Coffee Roasting, Souvenir Shopping and Sunset Watching
Colombia is famous for its rich and strong coffee and one simply cannot go to Cartagena without having tried a coffee roasting experience. These kinds of activities are fun to do in couple or in groups: who doesn’t like to get high on caffeine while learning something new?
After several cups of Joe, you will want to walk into town, not only to release some energies but also to shop for souvenirs to bring a piece of Caribbean home with you. Between mochilas, summery straw bags, colorful hammocks, nostalgic paintings of the city and hand-crafted jewelry, there are so many things to choose from to gift your loved ones..or yourself!
After spending your afternoon shopping, the best way to end your stay in Cartagena is by catching the sunset at Café del Mar, that offers an outstanding location overlooking the sea. This chic bar set on top of the wall is a must do and will not fail to delight any palate by offering delicious food and a wide range of cocktails, all made with tropical flavors and served in Instagram-worthy presentations. Make sure you get there by 5.30 pm, since the seats to see the sunset fill up quickly.
This list of activities is just an idea, but it is created so that you can taste and try a bit of everything during your stay in Cartagena.