Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena for short, is a charming city full of history and romance on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. In this city, the only thing you won’t worry about is to find something to do—Cartagena has something for everyone from the backpacker, to the historian, to the beach bum, to the family vacation takers. In this post, we’re going to introduce you to a few of the things you can do to make Cartagena your destination.
If you’re a beach bum, you’ll have your choice of beaches in Cartagena. There are the beaches of Bocagrande that lie a short walk or taxi ride from the historic city centre. These beaches are filled with vendors selling homemade coconut sweets, sunglasses, and sarongs, masseuses offering cheap massages, and boom boxes playing the hottest Latin hits. If you want a more serene and relaxing beach, where you can sunbathe, snorkel in crystalline waters, and enjoy nature, you might want to catch a boat to Playa Blanca, the Islas del Rosario, or Isla Barú—all of which can offer you a more tranquil beach environment. All of these beaches, though, must be reached by boat, and the Islas del Rosario require you to pay a fee as they are part of the Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo National Park.
If you are more of a historian, you’ll want to head to Cartagena’s historic city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you’ll find places like the Cartagena Cathedral (officially named the Metropolitan Catheral Basilica of Saint Catherina of Alexandria), the Church of San Pedro Claver, the Inquisition Palace, and the famous clock tower in the midst of enchanting colonial homes and buildings surrounded by a stone wall constructed to keep out invading pirates and the ever fluctuating Caribbean Sea. If you’re lucky, maybe you can even catch a play or performance in one of the historic theatres!
If you’re a looking to do some shopping, the historic city centre can also be the place for you. Within the historic city centre of Cartagena, you’ll find an incredible number of unique boutique stores as well as certified emerald shops, artisan stores, and high-end chain stores. If you can’t satisfy your shopping urge in the historic city centre, the chic Bocagrande sector of Cartagena also boasts its own unique collection of boutique shops. While not as charming as the colonial streets of the historic city centre, the boutique shops of Bocagrande deserve at least an afternoon of browsing for those of you looking to do some serious shopping.
If you’ve got children, and you’re looking for a fun family outing, look no further than the Castillo de San Felipe Barajas, built by the Spanish during the colonial period—it’s claimed to the be the best defensive fortress built by the Spanish anywhere in their colonies. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress offers a fun day for anyone, especially kids who will enjoy exploring what’s left of the fortress as the run around the fortress grounds and explore ancient tunnels. The Castillo de San Felipe Barajas is about a 15-20 minute walk from the historic city centre or a short ride by bus.
There’s also the Cerro de la Popa—the hill of the Popa, which offers an incredible and breathtaking view of the city. Atop the hill is a beautiful monastery and museum. While this is a plan for anyone—backpackers, families, historians, etc… to get here, you’ll need to take a taxi—walking up the hill is discouraged for health and safety reasons. A taxi shouldn’t cost you more than £5, and if you want, you can pay a little extra and have your taxi wait on you to take you back down to the city after you’ve finished taking in the sites and views.
So, whoever you are and whatever you’re looking for, Cartagena’s got something for you.
The Uncover Colombia Team