While the heat and humidity was way too much for me, I did love Cartagena. A beautiful old colonial town on the coast, the vibe of Cartagena is unlike that of Colombia’s other popular destinations like Medellin and Bogota. Just a short flight from the States, it is a perfect coastal getaway.
The easiest way to get there is to fly into the local airport. A taxi into town from the airport is about 12,000 Pesos. There are buses to Cartagena from the other cities in Colombia but flights between cities are extremely cheap. I flew on the budget airline VivaColombia.
Most everything is in walking distance but there are plenty of taxis around as well. Ask the price before accepting the ride and note that they are cash only.
Currency: Colombian Pesos ($1 USD = approx 3,000 Pesos)
ATMs: There are several banks with ATMs mostly in the Old City.
Hotels: Accept Colombian Pesos, most accept credit cards and USD as well.
Restaurants: Cash is best but some accept credit cards.
Shops: Cash is best but some accept credit cards.
If you’re looking for a meal Old Town, San Diego and Getsemani are full of restaurants on every corner. And while Cartagena has some pretty good restaurants the in between meal foods were my favorite.
Palettas: My favorite thing to eat in Cartagena especially when it was so hot outside.
Gelato: If you’re tired of palettas drop in Gelateria Paradiso for some air conditioning and gelato.
Street Fruits (and coconuts): On every street corner you can buy fresh coconut milk, giant cups of fresh watermelon, mango and more.
Guarapo: The water in Colombia is safe to drink so definitely stop and try some of this lime and sugar drink.
Ceviche: La Cevicheria was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and is on every top restaurants of Cartagena list. It was pretty good but you can find equal quality ceviche for a much cheaper price elsewhere in the city.
Arepas: An iconic Colombian food, on the street they are usually made with cheese. They are not my favorite but they’re definitely a must try while you’re in Colombia.
Stefano’s bistro: Just off the Parque del Centenario this was a simple can’t go wrong spot. Try the seafood here.
Juan Valdez Cafe: The Starbucks of Colombia if you are looking for a cup of coffee. There are a few in Cartagena.
*Make sure you ask for the Menu del Dia. Otherwise you will get the tourist menu that is much more expensive.
Old Town: The most touristy part of the city. If you want to be closest to everything this is the area of town to stay in.
San Diego: Right next to Old Town, a little farther but a little bit quieter and fancier. There are lots of more luxury hotels in this area.
Getsemani: I stayed here because the hotels were a little bit cheaper and I’m glad I did. The neighborhood sits outside the Old City walls and has a lot of character.
Wander the Old Town: There is an okay free walking tour if you are looking to meet other people or have the time but you can just wander on your own very easily.
See the street art of Getsemani: A must do. I would recommend watching this video first that tells a little bit of the story of the graffiti in the area. There is a free walking tour but I don’t recommend it.
Walk the walls at sunset: If you feel like splurging have a cocktail at one of the bars along the wall.
Playa Blanca: Boats leave everyday to Playa Blanca and it’s quite a crazy scene. You can book a day or overnight trip through your hotel .
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: Just across the river this is a pretty impressive castle with a great view over the entire city.
El Totumo: I didn’t do this but I had read a lot about it and it is very popular. Climb into a mud filled volcano for a massage and bath. Check out the #eltutumo Instagram gallery and see for yourself.
Chiva bus tour: If you’re looking for a night out to explore the nightlife of Cartagena this is the way to go! If you’re out at night you’ll see the lively buses full of tourists bar hopping through the city.
The streets are the biggest place to shop in Cartagena. Buy a Panama hat, a miniature of the famous Boleto sculptures or the most iconic souvenir, a brightly colored woven Mochila bag.
Casa Abba: My favorite store in Old Town. It is a curated space showcasing different Colombian artisans with booths sharing one space that rotate periodically.
St. Dom: This is definitely a more upscale store but everything here is so beautiful. The curation of the product is spot on.