Cartagena Colombia Travel Guide
Cartagena recap and travel guide:
The “IG-hubs” and I had a truly AMAZING experience in the romantic, colorful city of Cartagena, Colombia. We decided to switch it up from our usual Euro trips– partly because we were working with a time constraint and partly because we had been daydreaming about Cartagena/finally visiting South America. We almost didn’t go because we read it was the rainy season (we visited the 1st week of September), but after further research we learned that this “rainy season” just happens to be “more rainy” than other times of the year and not necessarily wet. And we are SO happy we took the plunge because the weather was perfect (a bit on the hot side, but what else would you expect from the tropics?), and the city of Cartagena was such a feel-good gem.
We spent our first two nights in the historic walled city of Cartagena, the next three nights on Isla Grande, and our last two nights in the hipster neighborhood of Cartagena, called Getsemani (walking distance to the walled neighborhood).
The flights to Cartagena were inexpensive and so were the taxis to and from the airport (and anywhere else you chose to go..what a refreshing break from the prices we are used to!). It was a short drive from the airport into the walled city, where we found our Airbnb on THE cutest, exceptionally instagrammable street. Ugh the whole city is too IG-able, I thought I would faint from excitement and cuteness overload.
Our first Airbnb was our favorite– Book here (highly recommend staying here). The large, picturesque balcony with views of colorful Spanish colonial architecture adorned with bougainvillea vines was fit for a painting. TAKE MY PIC. We don’t splurge for crazy expensive hotels since we don’t spend a lot of time in the room, and this Airbnb choice was everything. The room was spacious, equipped with a kitchen and A/C, the balcony was a dream, the location couldn’t be beat..
Free walking tours of the city are offered but we decided to amble down cobbled alleys on our own, stopping to sip Colombian coffee or swigging Redds beer while darting into shops and stumbling upon rooftop bars. The most beautiful rooftop bars and spaces seem to be hidden throughout the city, and we managed to find them without prior knowledge of their existence (and heard from people later on that we “must go to such and such bar”…oh don’t worry, we did!) I’m sure there are plenty more that we missed, and we are eager to return and sip a cocktail or coffee at each and every one.
Our second Airbnb, here, was not as good as the first. We slightly regretted not staying put at the first Airbnb, having originally booked each night at a different spot simply to enjoy new views and amenities– the second bnb had a pretty rooftop area with a shallow pool (not as good in person as in the photos) and a pleasant view of the city. This was nowhere near as good as the picture perfect balcony mentioned above, though. It was, however, a very easy walk from this bnb to the lovely Plaza de Santo Domingo and the port where we caught the boat to Isla Grande (not that this walk would be difficult from elsewhere in the walled city).
A lot of people pop over to the port and day-trip to nearby islands or beaches, but I recommend staying on Isla Grande instead and enjoying peace & quiet when the day-trippers aren’t present (which is the majority of time). Our hotel on the island arranged our boat to and from Cartagena (included in the price of our stay), and it was a tame ride, despite some pretty extreme reviews we read about tumultuous boat rides.
After a solid amount of sun and sand (and only two short rainstorms over the four days), we returned to Cartagena to explore the up-and-coming Getsemani neighborhood– what was once a dangerous, drug-ridden area, is now a vibrant, artsy spot. Here we stayed at the Les Lezards Airbnb, on yet another precious, multi-colored, floral clad strip. The location was ideal, just around the corner from an adorable square and an old church, past an umbrella alley and enticing restaurants and shops. The bnb had a couple of small, relaxing roof deck spaces; a delicious breakfast included with the stay (freshly blended juices, fresh fruit, eggs, bread, coffee); a comfortable room with an open air shower; cacti sprouting up in the hallway outside our door; a friendly tortoise friend; and a kind and helpful owner, who spoke perfect English.
As lovely as Getsemani was, we decided we would have preferred to spend yet another night inside the historic walled city and limit our Getsemani stay to one night, since Getsemani isn’t very large. …Although, it was nice to leave our belongings in one spot and not move around so much, and walking into the walled city from Getsemani was quick and easy (and taxis are plentiful and cheap).
Cartagena has multiple neighborhoods, a few of which we did not bother to visit because the walled area and Getsemani seemed like they held more than enough beauty and excitement for us (they did indeed), but if you’re into tall, oceanfront buildings, maybe check out the high rise hood of Bocagrande, just across the way.
At the end of the trip, it was hard to say bye to this glorious, loving place. In my dreams we are still belting out songs alongside the local street musicians as we glide past architectural eye candy.
There are drinks yet to be toasted, emeralds to be bought and town squares to uncover. You will see me again, Cartagena.
Suggestions on food and fun:
Cartagena Walled City:
- Eat breakfast at the Bacones de Alheli bed & breakfast, take in the rooftop views and lounge by the shallow pool.
- Shop at Fashion Site for very inexpensive trendy items unless you are too fancy for that (it’s totally one of those cheap stores but FUN), in which case, you will have your fill of nice boutiques dotted throughout. Leather goods, high-end clothing, emeralds…
- Have your photo taken with the ladies wearing traditional Colombian costume in the square/plaza.
- Nibble and drink at Town House rooftop bar & restaurant– they had amazing vegetarian food, pretty pools, beautiful views, and the oh so coveted neon “bitch where’s my champagne” sign!
- Sip mixed drinks by the rooftop pool of Rooftop La Cata
- Hike to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
- Take in the sunset with an aperole spritz in hand at Cafe del Mar (a lively spot right along the old wall, looking out to sea and across to the high rise buildings in the distance (everyone will tell you this is a must)
- Grab dinner at the very popular Don Juan (had to make a resi on our first night for the end of our stay, because it was booked up)
- Dine at the Rum Box! The food and drinks are A-maze, the vibe is relaxed and cozy, the staff is wonderful (they have a whole bit about free hugs), and when we arrived, the boo’s name (aka Alexi) was written in big letters across the table cover.
- View the Arte Getsemani shop
- Enjoy some seriously delectable cocktail creations (we watched the drinkmaster pour love and care into each bev) at Rosa Mezcal Taqueria , and devour the flavorful Mexican dishes while taking in the unique, vibrant decor.
- (Mayyybe) take a mud bath. Book an excursion to “spa it up” in volcanic mud. We didn’t have time for this but also heard that it gets super packed. You can check Airbnb for excursions, like this one.