10 things to do in Cartagena in one week

11:01 AM

 Cartagena de Indias is a beautiful coastal city north of Colombia, in which the Caribbean Sea touches the shore. It is also called Cartagena La Heroica (Heroic Cartagena) in honor of their resistance during the Hispanic war in 1815. There is a lot of history and beauty. Here I share what I did and some tips for traveling safe to a precious country.

It was exciting to visit Colombia, homeland of one of my best friends, as it was also my first visit to another Latin American country. I arrived in Bogotá and took a flight to Cartagena, where summer-like temperatures welcomed me. Being born in Puerto Rico, I am more than used to the hot-all-year cities and the humidity from the beach. I took an inDriver (similar to an Uber) and crossed Old Cartagena to reach to where I gladly call my home in Colombia. The moment I saw the center, the murallas, the people, I said “wow this feels like Old San Juan.” I am amazed at the similarities both cities hold, despite being in two different countries. Each one has its charm.

I stayed for four days before seeing other cities. So, what to do in Cartagena?

1. Visit the historic center – the city has lots of colonial buildings that are beautifully kept, in which now there are restaurants, stores, and hotels. You will find artisans who sell local candy and handmade items, see the Cathedral, the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver in front of Plaza de San Pedro, the Clock Tower, and various museums for history, design, and naval enthusiasts. 

2. Las Murallas – the Walls that served as protection for the city, are open to those who want to walk around and feel the night breeze.  Remember to respect this and all other landmarks. You are not supposed to run bikes, so, even if you see locals doing it, don’t.

3. Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – if you don’t visit this fortress, you are missing out on a part of history, back when Spain was the colonizer. Go ready with a sombrero or a hat because the sun is heavy.

4. Go to la Serrezuela mall – I’m not a shopaholic, but this mall is unique since it is located inside a former theater arena. It also has a lot of Colombian brands and handmade jewelry from artisans for those who love unique pieces truly made in the country. 

5. Swim at the beach (and maybe take a boat to Tierra Bomba) – I may be biased, but the Caribbean sea is the most beautiful in the world. You can visit the beaches at Bocagrande and spend the day under the sun. Likewise, there’s Tierra Bomba, a nearby cay where you can purchase a day pass from places like Margarita Beach Club and Medussa Hostel. There you can enjoy the facilities, the food, drinks, and music.

6. Eat local food – the food in Cartagena is delicious. Fish, coconut rice, patacones (fried green plantain) and natural fruit juices are tasty and inexpensive for those who carry a currency like USD or euros. The services is warm and welcoming.  

7. Drink local coffee – if you’re in Colombia and you didn’t try their coffee, were you really there? The city is full of coffee and tea shops, along with Juan Valdés, a chain of only-Colombian coffee. Just do yourself a favor an order coffee with milk, expresso or cappuccino. If you go to Colombia to ask for an “Americano” just… maybe go to the US? I’m joking (or not?), you can choose whatever you want.

8. One-day trips – from Cartagena you can go to Barú, Barranquilla and other nearby places to spend the day. I went to Barranquilla and Barú, where I visited the aviary but didn’t get to see the beach.

9. Enjoy the nightlife – Cartagena is lively and at night you can go to the center and find great places and latino music. Their local alcoholic beverages and beers are pretty good, just don’t go overboard!

10. Visit las Islas del Rosario – I have this one still in my bucket list because time seems to never be enough. Rosario Islands are farther away from Cartagena, so take a whole day (and maybe one night) to enjoy pristine beaches where you can continue living the tropical life.

Safety tips

  • Use Taxis and independent services like inDriver 🚕, available all around. Pay attention if you’re taking a taxi and make sure it’s official. Have Colombian pesos with you because that’s the most common payment method. 
  • Don’t exchange currency at the airport 💱– it is better to visit some exchange houses in the city, as you can compare and decide which one gives you the best value. If you’re going to exchange a small amount, find out the rates to your destination. If you’re going from the airport to the center, it shouldn’t be more that 25,000 pesos. 
  • Be mindful of motorcycles 🏍 – when you’re walking by the road, be alert to the motorcycles that pass by as robbery is often done while riding. 
  • Avoid getting in trouble 🚨– Colombia has laws just like all the countries in the world. Forget about clichés, tv series, movies, and cartels. Don’t even try to imitate what you see on TV. It’s both disrespectful and stupid. Use common sense.

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