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Cartagena Colombia : Complete Travel Guide

In this article, you will learn everything about Cartagena de Indias.

You will discover all the best places to stay in Cartagena, things to do, where to eat, how to get around and more.

Let’s dive in

Table of Contents

Cartagena de Indias : The Essentials

Best things to See in Cartagena : Santa Catalina Alejandria Cathedral, Monastery of San Pedro,  Gold Museum and the Plaza Bolivar

Best Things to do in Cartagena de Indias : Visit the historic centre, stroll along the ramparts and watch the sunset.

Best time to Visit Cartagena for Sun :  January to March (also the high Season,

Best time to visit Cartagena for Prices : April may and September to November

Why Visiting Cartagena de Indias ?

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena de Indias is the most touristy city in the whole of Colombia.

In the time of the conquistadors, the city was the main port of the continent and one of the largest turntables in the slave, gold and merchandise trade.

It still boasts a beautiful colonial historic centre and an extremely complete set of fortifications, all built in the 16th century by Pedro de Heredia.

Cartagena de Indias is the ideal place to stroll through the old quarters and be guided by the family atmosphere that reigns here.

Take a stroll along the city walls, the best preserved in all of South America, and lose yourself in the colourful and lively streets of the city centre where the atmosphere blends the Caribbean and Latin spirit.

At nightfall, San Felipe Castle is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the city.

History buffs will be delighted. Cartagena played a very important role during the time of the conquistadors.

Without even taking an interest in the city’s history, Cartagena de Indias offers the perfect backdrop for a stroll.

There’s nothing like strolling through the streets, amidst bougainvilleas and colourful colonial houses, to feel the special atmosphere that reigns here.

The city boasts a multitude of vast squares decorated with historical monuments and café terraces where you can take a break and enjoy a refreshing coconut water.

Cartagena Wiki

Characteristics of Cartagena

Tourist city par excellence of Colombia, Cartagena de Indias, most often called Cartagena, is located in the north of the country.

A former stronghold of the Kingdom of Spain in South America, but also a former site of the gold trade and slave trade, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city of Cartagena has approximately 895,400 inhabitants (2006 estimate).

Cartagena Travel Guide : Palenquera - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

History of Cartagena

Founded in 1533 by the conquistador Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena is the port of entry to the Andes and is highly coveted.

It was plundered in 1697 by the French during an expedition led by Admiral Jean-Bernard de Pointis and Jean-Baptiste du Casse.

Then, in 1741, the forces of Admiral Edward Vernon attempted to lay siege to the city, but without overcoming the tenacity of its occupants.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cartagena became a hub of the slave trade.

It was then the first city of the vice royalty of New Granada to declare its independence in 1811.

In 2013, Cartagena is a very touristy city, welcoming about two million visitors every year.

Cartagena Travel Guide - Sunset in Cafe Del Mar - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Geography of Cartagena

Located in the department of Bolivar, in the north of Colombia, Cartagena lies on a group of low islands and rocky peninsulas.

A port city, it is open to the Caribbean Sea.

More Information :

What is the best time to visit Cartagena de Indias

The first thing to know is that it’s always very hot in Cartagena.

Throughout the year the temperatures range from 28°C to 32°C (with 90% humidity).  Always.

The climate is tropical so “winter” and “summer” do not differ by large variations in temperature, but by the chances of rain and humidity

High season runs from January to March (which is also the dry season) and from mid-June to August.

November is not the best time to travel to Cartagena

Although November is not the best time to travel to Cartagena because of the rains, the preparations for the city’s festivities give it another color, and the water soothes the heat (and is appreciated)

April-May and October-November are the least recommended months to travel because of the climate (but very good to get more availability and better prices).

We just got back (late October) and although it did rain a lot, it was always intermittent, we got lower fares and didn’t suffer too much walking in the sun.

See Also : Best time to visit Cartagena de Indias

How to get to Cartagena

If you have the possibility,  invest a little more and fly: you will save many hours of bus that you can take advantage of on the beach.

Flights to Cartagena

Cartagena’s airport is international, so many companies have flights, which do not necessarily pass through Bogotá.

If you are already in Colombia, Viva Colombia offers low cost flights from Medellín, Cali and Bogotá.

Buses to Cartagena

If you are already in Colombia, Cartagena is very well connected with the rest of the country, although trips are usually slow due to the state of the routes and traffic.

Cartagena Travel Guide - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

How to get around Cartagena?

The city of Cartagena offers various modes of transport, Bus, Taxi or Car Rental, to choose from.

The bus: the city buses are available day and night.

Taxi: the price of the trip must be fixed in advance.

The average fare is 3000 pesos (and about 4000 pesos at night).

Car rental: there are many agencies in Cartagena.

Cartagena Travel Guide - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

What to see in Cartagena ?

The city of Cartagena has many tourist sites to see.

Tourists will mainly go to

  • The Torre del Reloj
  • the Plaza de los Coches
  • the Sen Felipe Castle
  • Gold Museum and Archaeology

Other interesting sites

  • Plaza de Bolivar
  • Bullring in the Plaza de Toros de la Serrezula
  • San Fernando Forts
Cartagena Travel Guide - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

What to do in Cartagena ?

  • Take a walk on the beaches of Bocagrande or El Laguito.
  • Visit the historic centre of the city with its palaces and churches.
  • Attend the Miss Colombia pageant in November.
  • Stroll along the ramparts of the fort of San Felipe de Barajas and watch the sunset.

See also :  Best things to do in Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena Travel Guide - Cumbia Show - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

What Souvenirs to bring from Cartagena ?

The heart of the city is full of shops and small businesses where you can make various purchases.

During a trip to Cartagena, don’t forget to bring back in your luggage

  • Purses (bolsas)
  • Scarves (bufandas)
  • a Ruana (Colombian pancho)
  • Beautiful blankets
  • Indian pottery
  • Leather goods
  • Ceramics
  • Wood sculptures painted in the shape of tropical birds
  • Jewellery and emeralds
Cartagena Travel Guide - Street Seller - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Gastronomy and local dishes of Cartagena

The dishes: Arroz con coco (rice with coconut milk), Arepa de huevo (corn cake with eggs), Sancocho de pescado (fish and tuber soup), Patacones (fried bananas), Seafood.

Desserts: Panela (cane sugar loaf), Dulce de millo (millet dessert).

Drinks: Fruit juice, Colombian coffee, Local beer, Rum.

Cartagena Travel Guide - Palenquera - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

What to see Around Cartagena ?

In the surroundings of Cartagena, there are various sights to see.

The peninsula of Baru, located one hour from Cartagena; The Rosary Islands, perched on a coral base.

Mompox - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Health ?

Travellers are advised to consult their doctor before departure and to take out repatriation insurance.

For any emergency, dial 123.

Cartagena Hospital:

Bocagrande Hospital

  • Calle 5ta C/Carrera 6ta, Barrio Castillogrande
  • + 57 5 665 4380.

Time difference

  • In summer : -7h
  • In winter : -6h
Now Your Turn

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:

Do you have any questions about Cartagena ?

Or maybe I didn’t mention one of your favorite tips about this destination ?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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