Cartagena, Colombia is a coastal city at the northernmost point of Colombia on the Carribbean Sea. Ryan’s business school planned a trip there in October, so we had the joy of going with 70(!) of his classmates. The trip was largely planned for us, while still giving us lots of free time to explore on our own.
We were there at the end of September/beginning of October & let me just say it was hot as shit and probably the craziest humidity I’ve ever experienced. I think it’s sort of like that all year round, but don’t quote me on that because I’m not the weatherman nor am I an official travel blogger. Basically—check the weather and prepare to pack extra clothes, because I sweat through everything & wish I brought more.
We went for a full week, but the planned group trip was only about 4 days, and honestly that’s all you really need there. It’s a super cute but small city, and a tourist town, so once you check the main things off the list, you may get a bit bored. I recommend stopping here as part of a larger Colombian adventure (cough-Medellín-cough).
We split our time between a hotel and an Airbnb, both within the Walled City, which is the part of the city you’ll want to stay in. We stayed at the Sofitel Santa Clara throughout the group activities, which was gorgeous and had a nice pool, but opted to switch to an Airbnb for a few days once the group activities finished because an apartment was more conducive to working remotely. You can’t go wrong with either—it just depends on your preference!
Without further ado, here’s what we did & what I would recommend:
Cartagena has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1984, which means that there are strict regulations on what you can do to the outside of a building and therefore, the buildings all have the same traditional, colorful look. Just wander around to soak it all in and take some nice photos. If you want, you can take a free walking tour to get your bearings and learn a bit about the history and culture—this is something I always love to do when I get to a new city.
One of the planned group activities was taking a boat out at sunset for unlimited drinks, snacks, and dancing. It was gorgeous, fun, and a nice reprieve from the heat. This activity was planned for us as a group, but here’s a similar one you could book online.
Going to the islands are a must when visiting Cartagena. Isla Rosario is the main one and it’s about a 45 minute boat ride from the mainland. Plan a day trip and relax on the beach for the day. This was also planned for us as a group, but there are tons of options online to book such as this one.
If you haven’t caught on by now, this is a city to slow down and relax in. Head to the Sofitel Santa Clara to order drinks and relax by the pool. We were staying there, but they were never monitoring who came in and out, so I think as long as you’re buying drinks or food, you’re fine to hang by the pool even if you’re not staying there.
La Unica → A yummy Mexican restaurant. I loved the shrimp tacos!
Buena Vida Rooftop → The cutest rooftop restaurant + bar for specialty cocktails + bites.
Restaurante Candé → An upscale place for a nice dinner. Expect NYC prices.
Epoca Espresso Bar → This place had a decent amount of seating, good wifi, great coffee & food. I loved the huevos divorciados for breakfast.
Al Alma → The cutest café + restaurant that has everything from fresh juices to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A comfortable place to work.
Bozha CafeBar → This place doesn’t have much food but is a hidden gem. It was always quiet in there when we went, and the staff takes great care in the preparation of the coffee.
Cevicheria wasn’t good. → This came highly recommended from several people, but I personally found it gross. There, I said it. The ceviche was chewy and the marinade was bland. Pass.
Don’t buy from street vendors. → They’re incredibly annoying, but not dangerous. And if you’re a woman walking alone, chances are they’ll leave you alone completely. I found that when I was walking with Ryan or with a group, they were persistent and would follow us with their products for multiple blocks, but when I was alone, they left me alone (probably because that would classify as harassment!). Honestly, just ignore them. Even saying “no gracias” encourages them to keep annoying the shit out of you.
Don’t forget your umbrella. → If it’s rainy season (May/June + October/November, according to Google), you may get dumped on at any moment. BYO Umbrella.
Don’t drink the water → It’ll make you ill. Unfortunately, water filters aren’t really a thing there either, so the only option is to buy plastic water bottles. I recommend grabbing a large jug from a grocery store and refilling your reusable bottle to save money and plastic.
It’s a very safe city → UNESCO heritage sites have a reputation for being super safe, and the Walled City runs on tourism. Practice common sense—don’t put your cell phone in your back pocket, be aware of your surroundings, etc.—but generally it’s super safe.
Tips are usually included → 10% tip is standard and typically added to the bill ahead of time. You can always add more, of course, but it’s not expected or necessary.
Café del Mar → A bar on the water with an amazing view of the sunset. Apparently a “must do” but welp… we didn’t get there.
Cooking class → Being a coastal town, Cartagena has a lot of seafood which is my fav. If I had a little more time, I would’ve loved to take this class!
Massage → Because even in relatively expensive tourist towns like Cartagena, a massage is still cheaper than in NYC, and this is something I always seek out when I’m traveling. I had my eye on Uraku, where a 60 minute massage is about $45 USD.
Going to Cartagena anytime soon? Email me if you want more deets or have questions. I can also send you allll the places I have saved in my Google Maps for you to try!