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Things to do in Cartagena

Things to do in  Cartagena

Welcome to Cartagena

Founded in 1533 as a center of the Spanish empire, Cartagena developed into a sea of colors and a UNESCO World Heritage site within the colonial walled city. City tours–by car, foot, or even horse-drawn cart–take visitors through the cobbled streets and to the famous San Felipe fortress. Focused tours shine light on the multi-cultural worlds of local gastronomy or music, or the life of locally born author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Nearby La Popa hill offers views of the old city, the harbor, and the 17th-century Santa Cruz monastery. Taking a cooking class or visiting a gold museum reveals the city's heritage, a mix of African, European colonizer, and Native American. At night, the streets of the hot and humid city fill with markets, traditional dances, and revelers spilling out of bustling nightclubs. For those who want to escape, a short boat tour brings travelers to Barú and Playa Blanca, where the white beaches and crystalline water are pure Caribbean paradise. A little further and travelers reach the Rosario Islands, a national park featuring one of the most important coral reefs in the country. To the northwest of Cartagena, the renowned El Totumo mud volcano allows locals and travelers to enjoy therapeutic massages and the natural healing properties of mud baths.

Top 15 attractions in Cartagena

Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

The Rosario Islands(Islas del Rosario) are a highlight of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, famous for their vibrant marine life, pristine white beaches, and sun-soaked beach resorts. A cluster of 28 idyllic islands dotted offshore of the port city of Cartagena, this archipelago sits atop the world’s third-largest barrier reef and makes up Islas del Rosario National Park.More

Totumo Mud Volcano (El Totumo)

Totumo Volcano (El Totumo) ranks among Cartagena’s most popular day trips. A small volcanic caldera has become a top attraction—a naturally heated bath of grayish brown silt. After bobbing around in the soupy mix, head to the lagoon next door to wash off the mineral-rich mud, thought to have therapeutic properties.More

San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas)

Some historians say that if it weren’t for San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas), South America would now speak English. The 14th-century fortress protected the coastal city of Cartagena from English invasion, allowing the Spanish to maintain their rule. Besides the role it plays in Colombia’s history, the castle attracts visitors with its panoramic harbor views.More

Old Town Cartagena

With brightly-colored buildings, colonial landmarks, and bougainvillea-covered balconies, Old Town Cartagena is known for its beauty and its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Highlights include the leafy Plaza de Bolivar, the striking Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj), and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro).More

Convento de la Popa de la Galera

Sitting atop the highest point in Cartagena, Convento de la Popa is a 17th-century convent characterized by graceful stone arcades and an interior courtyard filled with flowers. History and architecture aside, the biggest draw of the convent is the scenery: from the 500-foot (152-meter) perch, travelers are rewarded with sweeping views of the Caribbean coast and colonial city.More

Las Bovedas

Shoppers, barhoppers, and photography enthusiasts flock to picturesque Las Bovedas, located at the northeastern corner of Cartagena’s old walled city. Dozens of archways—stretching from Santa Clara to Santa Catalina Fortress—are home to souvenir shops, jewelry stores, small bars, and galleries.More

Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia de Santo Domingo)

Founded in 1534, Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia Santo Domingo) is the oldest church in Cartagena. As well as being notable for its marble altar and imposing central nave, the church boasts a prime location on Plaza Santo Domingo, where street vendors and al fresco cafes create a vibrant atmosphere.More

Bolivar Square (Plaza Bolivar)

As well as offering respite from Cartagena’s Caribbean heat with its leafy trees, Bolivar Square (Plaza Bolivar) is home to both the Palace of the Inquisition museum and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu). In between museums, sample Colombian coffee and snacks from street vendors and admire the eponymous statue of Simon Bolivar at the square’s center.More

National Aviary of Colombia (Aviario Nacional de Colombia)

Home to around 190 different species of bird, the National Aviary of Colombia harbors diverse flora and more than 2,000 birds. The 17-acre (7-hectare) park categorises birds according to three Colombian ecosystems—tropical rainforest, coastal zone, and desert—and promises an enriching experience for wildlife lovers.More

Cathedral of San Pedro Claver (Iglesia de San Pedro Claver)

Cartagena’s Cathedral of San Pedro Claver (Iglesia de San Pedro Claver) immortalizes the life of Saint Pedro Claver, one of the first human rights pioneers in the Americas. The austere stone facade of the cathedral alludes to a peaceful interior, where visitors can pay their respects to the remains of the saint, which are visible through a gilded glass case.More

Cartagena Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena)

Discover paintings and sculptures from Colombia and beyond during a visit to the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art, or the Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena. Located within the 17th-century Royal Customs House, this museum is home to both a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions featuring young artists from around the world.More

Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu)

Opened in 1982, Cartagena's Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu is dedicated to Colombia's indigenous Zenu people. The collection, displayed in a colonial mansion in Plaza de Bolivar, includes more than 530 gold pieces (including a pre-Hispanic golden jaguar, as well as bone carvings and textiles from Colombia’s indigenous peoples.More

Plaza de San Diego

In Cartagena's Old Town, every evening the Plaza de San Diego becomes lively with street performers entertaining the crowds. Vendors sell everything from jewelry to Cuban cigars to paintings, and as the day ends, the traffic gets blocked on two sides so that more outdoor seating can be laid on outside the restaurants lining the square.Surrounded by ice cream-colored buildings and bougainvillea-covered balconies just outside the Old Town’s core area, the Plaza de San Diego is a lasting relic of the wealth Cartagena held during the days of the gold, sugar, and slave trade's peak. Home to the famous Hotel Santa Clara, the square is a popular place to sit down, order a drink or a bite to eat, and watch the world go by while listening to live music by the local street performers.More

Old Shoes Monument (Los Zapatos Viejos)

Located at the base of San Felipe Castle, the Old Shoes Monument (Los Zapatos Viejos) is a giant sculpture of a pair of old boots. A popular spot for a selfie, the monument was created by Hector Lombana Piñeres in response to the poem “Mi Ciudad Nativa” by local poet (and one of South America’s most respected writers) Luis Carlos López.More

Cartagena Cathedral (St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral)

A striking reminder of Cartagena’s colonial heritage and standing proud at the heart of the historic district, Cartagena Cathedral (St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral) is not only one of the city’s most notable landmarks, but one of Colombia’s most famous cathedrals. Dating back to 1577 and taking over 84 years to complete, the historic church is remarkably preserved, with recent renovations helping to restore its original features.Today, the cathedral stands out thanks to its domed clock tower and bright yellow-painted façade, and makes a popular tourist attraction, as well as hosting daily services. Highlights of the cathedral include a series of exquisite frescos, an 18th-century gilded altar and a gleaming marble pulpit.More

Trip ideas

How to Spend 3 Days in Cartagena

How to Spend 3 Days in Cartagena

How to Spend 2 Days in Cartagena

How to Spend 2 Days in Cartagena

Top activities in Cartagena

Full-Day Rosario Islands Including Barú, Cholon and Playa Blanca
Likely to Sell OutLikely to Sell Out
Bora Bora Cartagena Beach Club Full Day Experience
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Cartagena ATV Tour

Cartagena ATV Tour

Street Food Tour in Cartagena

Street Food Tour in Cartagena

Boat Rental in Cartagena de Indias

Boat Rental in Cartagena de Indias

per group
Freedom Tour of Palenque

Freedom Tour of Palenque

ATV Half-Day Tour in Cartagena

ATV Half-Day Tour in Cartagena

Sunset Cruise in Cartagena

Sunset Cruise in Cartagena

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All about Cartagena

When to visit

There’s no escaping the heat in Cartagena, but a winter visit reduces the chance of rain. Though crowds are guaranteed, December through February is an ideal time for hitting the beach, and winter also coincides with Hay Festival and Storyland. If you can stand the rain, an off-season visit from August through November promises fewer crowds and lower prices.

People Also Ask

What is Cartagena known for?

Cartagena is best known for the colorful colonial architecture of its UNESCO-listed Old Town—top sights include San Felipe de Barajas Castle and Bolivar Square—and its proximity to Rosario Islands and Totumo Mud Volcano. It also boasts vibrant culture and cuisine that combines the best of Latin America and the Caribbean.

How many days do you need in Cartagena?

To fully explore Cartagena’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town and venture to the neighboring Caribbean islands, you need a minimum of three to five days. As well as exploring the Walled City, spend a day at the Totumo Mud Volcano and another on the idyllic shores of Playa Blanca and Isla Baru.

What is there to do in Cartagena?

Things to do inside the UNESCO-listed Walled City of Cartagena include admiring the colonial architecture of Las Bovedas, and visiting San Felipe de Barajas Castle and Bolivar Square. Day trips head to Playa Blanca and Baru Island, the African town of San Basilio de Palenque and Totumo Mud Volcano.

How do I spend a day in Cartagena?

With one day in Cartagena, you can fully explore the UNESCO-listed Walled City. Admire the bright buildings and bougainvillea-covered balconies of Old Town and Las Bovedas; delve into the colonial history of San Felipe de Barajas Castle and the 17th-century Convento de la Popa; and sample coffee and Caribbean-style street food.

Is it safe to walk around Cartagena?

Yes and no. During the day, Cartagena is a safe and welcoming place to explore—exercise the usual caution when it comes to valuables, and your chance of encountering petty crime will be low. After dark, the city can be riskier, so avoid walking alone in dimly-lit areas at night.

Is Cartagena worth visiting?

Yes. Cartagena should be on your Colombia itinerary. The jewel in the crown of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, the city offers a vibrant mix of colonial architecture and a brightly colored, UNESCO-listed Old Town, plus easy access to natural delights such as Playa Blanca, Isla Baru, Totumo Mud Volcano, and Rosario Archipelago.


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