Planning to travel to Colombia? Then a visit to Cartagena is a must!
Being the 2nd oldest city in the country, the place is bursting with history. It’s colonial architecture, vivid colors and hot temperatures all year round have made it an obvious travel destination among travelers from all over the world.
Local vendors have quite rightly set up to capture this foreign footfall which a handful of travelers have told us they found to be rather overwhelming. You’ve probably heard similar stories if you’ve read other blogs on Cartagena. Certain levels of tourism can indeed take away the magic of a place.
What we found is that, yes, Caratagena is certainly well-equipped for tourism. But at the same time maintains its authenticity. It isn’t as over-the-top as people make it out to be - especially after Covid-19. You can spend hours exploring the streets, sitting in coffee shops, drinking at bars, whilst feeling perfectly at ease and so deeply curious about what lies around the next corner!
We absolutely fell in love with the place after spending a full day there before our flight to Peru. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had a plane to catch we could easily have stayed longer, but we definitely got a good taste of what Cartagena has to offer in one day. And so can you!
If you’re planning to transit through Cartagena, or simply just want to stop by for a day, here’s how we would recommend best spending 24 hours there:
Start the day with a scrumptious breakfast at Brioche OR make the most of your hotels menu (depending on time)
Brioche is a lovely venue that serves sandwiches, pancakes and other tasty morning goodies. It is a popular little haunt so just be wary of time as it can take a while for your food to arrive (it will be seriously tasty though!)
If the clock on our trip is ticking, we sometimes find it easiest to grab breakfast where we are staying. You’re mostly guaranteed pretty quick service which is ideal in these time-crunch situations. Most establishments will serve a simple local breakfast which normally includes eggs, fruits, coffee and natural juice.
Attend a Free Walking Tour of Old Town Cartagena
Whenever we visit a new city we love to start with a Free Walking Tour. They are the best and easiest way to learn about local history, top places to hangout and see much more of a particular place than when wandering around on your own.
In Cartagena we opted to go with GuruWalk and our guide was fantastic! The walks are hosted every day at 10am. Whilst they are technically free, the guides do rely on tips which is totally at your discretion. We gave 50,000 Colombian pesos (equivalent of $10 USD.) Bookings must be made in advance via their website: Free Walking Tour of Old Town Cartagena by GuruWalk
Another Free Walking Tour company we would recommend is Beyond Colombia. We enjoyed multiple tours with them in Bogota and Medellin. Again you will need to head to their website to book your spot in advance: Free Walking Tours of Cartagena by Beyond Colombia
Replenish with an ice cold beer at Clock Pub
Pre-warning… Cartagena can get sweaty (it rarely sees temperatures lower than 73°F (22°C!) After walking around for 2-3 hours you’ll be craving an ice cold beverage, and where better to replenish your thirst than at a good ole’ pub?! Clock Pub is located by Plaza del Reloj, plays old school music, and, offers an extensive beer collection.
Head for a seafood lunch at Restaurant Mar De Las Antillas
Knowing we only had one chance to get this right, Selini researched lunch spots profusely! (We take our food very seriously.) Being right on the coast, it felt only right to indulge in some seafood. But where?
In the midst of a detailed Google search we read that Restaurant Mar De Las Antillas was popular amongst locals. We decided to give it a shot, and the place was packed when we arrived! Paul opted for salmon in garlic sauce and Selini went for ceviche - a staple of South American seafood. Both dishes were absolutely incredible, some of the best of our trip, and not badly priced either. The venue itself is really colorful and staff wear the most gorgeous outfits - creating a really nice vibe in general. If you only get the chance to eat one lunch in Cartagena, you certainly won’t regret devouring it here!
Explore the Getsamani neighborhood
During our walking tour we learned there were three main neighborhoods perfect for travelers; San Diego, Centro and Getsamani. Getsamani is Cartagenas arty district and more indie in comparison to its historic surroundings. It’s the ideal area to spend an hour or so strolling around, and perfect for capturing those Cartagena-esque instagram photos. There are also plenty of cafes and bars if you fancy chilling out in the neighborhood a little longer.
Cool down with an ice cream from Cremeria Italiana
In Pauls own words “that was the best ice cream I’ve ever had!” The shop itself is no more than a doorway and an ice cream counter in the heart of Getsamani. It doesn’t appear to be all that impressive, but just wait until you’ve had a mouthful. They have a delicious selection which you can choose to serve in a cone or a cup. Creamy, soft, and, flavorsome, your taste buds will love you for it!
Grab an award-winning coffee at San Alberto
One thing Colombia is famous for is their coffee, but did you know that they export the majority of their highest-quality products? There are actually only a limited number of sellers that stock the coffee that you would hope for. The majority of places sell the bitter, not-so-good tasting stuff. But there is hope for all us caffeine junkies! You can indulge in Colombias finest beans right here at San Alberto.
Enjoy a different kind of dinner and drinks at Terraza Municipal
If, like us, you’ve been traveling for a while at this point, then you might well be experiencing restaurant fatigue too. Whilst we absolutely adore exploring a city through its food, sometimes we crave doing it a bit differently. This is why we really enjoyed spending an evening at Terraza Municipal in Cartagena. Food trucks gather along the waters edge to offer items such as burgers, pizza, tacos, and more. There is also a central bar where we inhaled ice cold beers and Aperol Spritz. Its a no-frills kind of setting and certainly one that we appreciated. You may quite rightly prefer finding somewhere with more of a genuine local feel for your only dinner in Cartagena, but do try getting here for an afternoon refreshment as the sun goes down.
Finish off the evening at one of the ‘Worlds Best 50 Bars’
Colombia is no stranger to world class gastronomy. In fact, you will find one of the ‘Worlds Best 50 Bars’ right here in Cartagena! Alquímico is a diverse hospitality concept spread across 3 floors of a colonial-era mansion. Not that you need any more details to convince you to go, but the team also strive for sustainability and use of local ingredients. You can feel their passion right from the moment you walk through the door, not to mention the DJ’s high-energy beats vibrating through the whole of your body. A cocktail will set you back around 30,000 Colombian Pesos ($8 USD) - which sounds pricey, but is an absolute steal when you consider the standard of what you’re consuming!
After experiencing Cartagena first-hand we are over the moon we decided not to pay too much attention to the things a few people had said they disliked. Like anywhere else in this stunning country, Cartagena is full of life and exciting things to discover.
Traveling to Colombia during or post-pandemic?
At the time of writing Colombia requires either a Covid-19 double vaccination or negative PCR test when entering the country. Most restaurants, bars and other general leisure/entertainment facilities will also ask to see your vaccination card. From our experience, wearing a face mask is rarely enforced on the streets, but we would recommend carrying one with you wherever you go (for airports, taxis, public places, some restaurants, etc.) There is no curfew currently in place.