I’ve visited Cartagena Colombia 3 times now, and can say that it’s my favorite place to visit in Colombia.
I recently visited during the 2012 Cartagena International Film festival (FICCI) which was an experience of a lifetime that I highly recommend. Entry to the screenings is free once you get a pass from the Centro de formacion de la cooperacion Española situated on the Plaza Santo Domingo.
My wife and I also made a short weekend trip just recently. 2 days, 3 nights. Just perfect.
There’s also the Cartagena nightlife that combines drinking and dancing with a unique charm, all of its own.
The Old Town
The old town, is the main tourist attraction which makes sense. However, it’s also worth it to check out Getsemani, across from the clock tower – an area that is quickly becoming just as touristy as the old town and is now fairly safe, especially during the day.
Cartagena Colombia has a population of just under one million and the contrast between rich and poor is extreme. The old town however, is very well maintained, safe and clearly run for tourism. For better or worse, this is the Cartagena tourists come for.
Views of the colonial buildings dating back to the 16th century, church towers, domes and the Caribbean sea in the distance. It’s romantic and beautiful.
Hotels in Cartagena
There are dozens of hotels in Cartagena in addition to larger ones such as the renowned Sofitel Santa Clara that has a large swimming pool, enormous and refreshing courtyard and views from the upper deck over the Caribbean.
Boutique hotels are in vogue and perfect in this location. They are exclusive with top notch service but obviously, some are far better than others.
Restaurants in Cartagena
Cartagena Colombia has some of the best food in Colombia but it comes at a price. Main dishes cost around COP 30-50.000 (US$ 16 – 26) at a decent place.
Things to do in Cartagena
I recommend strolling about without necessarily feeling the need to take in this or that attraction. The entire old town is surrounded by walls and the area is said to be the safest in Colombia with 2000 police officers patrolling what is in reality, a very small area.
It might be a good idea to have an idea about where you want to eat because the difference in price and quality between the typical tourist traps and best restaurants is significant.
– Bolivar Park
This is next to the gold museum and close to the Plaza de Aduana. It’s a very nice park but this area does have a lot of street vendors.
– Gold Museum
Especially if you haven’t seen the bigger one in Bogota, this gives a taste and some important insight into Colombian history.
– Heredia Theater
A beautiful theater next to the wall facing the sea. Beautiful.
– Plaza de Aduana
Close to Bolivar Park and a great large space to get a feel for the architecture. You can dip through the fortifications and see the harbor and Bocagrande in the distance from this location.
Bocagrande outside Cartagena Colombia
Not what I expected. Its reputation is of a jet-setter place with fancy shops and restaurants. Yes, there’s an element of that but really, Colombia has so many other “fancy” areas now that it doesn’t stand out as it perhaps did before. El Poblado in Medellin is far more up-market than this area in my opinion with more options for things to do.
That said, it’s worth seeing if only once, but the beaches are not the best nor the sea particularly clean, so I’m not sure what the attraction is except for proximity to the Old Town.
There were some good supermarkets and a nice outdoor Juan Valdez on the main road. There are of course a number of high rises that I’m sure have a great view.