Top 6 Things to See and Do in Cartagena

Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage site that looks like the stuff of fairy tales. Our local insider Jacqui shares her top tips for places to go and things to see.

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Photo © iStock/patrickheagney

Old Town

From the Clock Tower, the main entrance to the walled city, the Old Town is best explored by aimlessly wandering the small alleyways and plazas.

This exquisitely preserved part of town conjures up images of pirates, treasures, and romances initiated between old colonial buildings and along cobbled streets. Admire the old colonial Spanish architecture and spend some time snacking on street food or grab a coffee at an outdoor café.

Highlights here include the large Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena’s oldest plaza, and the Plaza San Pedro Claver.

Nearby is also Cartagena’s oldest church, Santo Domingo. It's filled with artisans selling handmade crafts.

Touch the breasts of “the fat Gertrudis”, a large bronze sculpture created by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, to bring good luck to your relationships.

At sunset, climb up to the western sea-facing wall for brilliant shots of the sun setting over the Caribbean.

Local tour agency, Free Tour Cartagena, offer donation-based tours of the Old Town and Getsemaní.

San Felipe Castle

Perched on top of San Lázaro hill lies one of the most resilient fortresses the Spanish ever built.

The strategic position of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, 40m (131 ft) high overlooking the sea and made with superb military engineering, provided the perfect means to defend the city.

The secret tunnels, cannons, and immense fortifications led to Spain’s defeat of the British Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, during his famous attack, leaving South America to speak Spanish and not English.

English audio tours are available and walking in the tunnels is an eerie, yet fascinating experience.

Getsemaní

Just outside the Old Town’s walls is Getsemaní, a neighborhood formerly used to house slaves and in modern times, a red light district.

History and seediness aside, it is now Cartagena’s trendiest barrio. Highlights include La Plaza de La Trinidad, a popular evening hangout that gets crowed with street vendors, musicians, and locals enjoying the cool night’s breeze.

Bocagrande

Considered as the Miami Beach of Cartagena and in stark contrast to the Old Town, this long stretch of apartments, restaurants, boutiques, and bars is where the wealthy live, work, and party.

While the beaches aren’t as nice as Playa Blanca on Barú Island or within the Corales del Rosario National Natural Park, they do provide respite from the strong Caribbean sun.

Mercado Bazurto

“Dirty”, “vibrant”, “authentic cultural experience”, “don’t go”, “go” are just some of the conflicting opinions of this local market.

Mercado Bazurto is only for the adventurous and those wanting a glimpse of the other face of Cartagena; far removed from charming streets and shiny skyscrapers.

You'll be able to find anything here from exotic fresh fruit and vegetables, to clothes and electronics. Wear closed shoes and avoid flashing wallets and fancy cameras, as pickpocketing here is a common crime.

Playa Blanca

Spend a glorious day relaxing on Cartagena’s most popular beach, Playa Blanca, on Barú Island.

The calm, turquoise-blue water and stunning white sand is perfectly complimented by a massage, fresh fish, and coconut rice.

Reaching the beach is relatively easy, but it’s advised to book a tour with a reputable agency to avoid being scammed by bogus tours with exorbitant prices.

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1 Comment

  • Joe Kneppers said

    Don't forget to say it's "blerry" hot....and what is the inice time of year......

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