Destination: Travel Cartagena, Colombia

Why travel Cartagena, Colombia? It's one of our favorite destinations in the world for its rich history, charming walled city, and tasty food.
October 30, 2020

Why travel Cartagena, Colombia? It’s one of our favorite destinations in the world for its rich history, charming walled city, and tasty food.

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It’s Close to the US

While South America is viewed as a long distance from the US mainland, northern South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Equador, Suriname) is relatively close from several US hubs. From Fort Lauderdale or Miami airports, Cartagena is just over three hours. It’s slightly longer from Dallas or Houston, but still shorter than US cross-country flights.

What Makes Cartagena Great

Cartagena (Cartagena de Indias – to distinguish from a Spanish town of the same name) is lesser-known to many Americans but shouldn’t be. Here are the things that make travelling Cartagena, Colombia great.


Unlike Mexican food, Colombian food isn’t particularly spicy. Arepas are a (northern) South American traditional sandwich served in a “corn-pita” (for lack of a better term.) Fresh juice is the order of the day, or try a sampling from the grill complete with fried plantains.

Travel Cartagena Colombia for the delicious food
Travel Cartagena Colombia for the delicious food

Walled City

The original city (founded as a port for the Spanish) sits behind fortified stone walls, replete with original canons and turrets still in place. These original colonial buildings date back to the 1500s. Behind the city walls are beautiful restaurants, colorful boutiques, gorgeous hotels, and cobble-stoned roads where horse-drawn carriages carry romantic visitors through the evenings.

In fact, the port and these walled fortresses are designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the entrance of the city is Plaza de La Trinidad, but inside are many more including the Plaza De San Pedro Claver.

Travel Cartagena Colombia for the Best Family Vacation
Travel Cartagena Colombia for the Best Family Vacation


One of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, Cartagena is less expensive than even Mexico. Transportation via taxi from the airport to the city is less than $10, taxis within the town can be under $2 for a short distance. A dinner for three with appetizers and dessert at a top-notch restaurant will struggle to reach $50.


Cartagena has three different types of hotel experiences. Within the walled city, boutique properties fill the streets. Sofitel has converted a nunnery (Convent De La Popa) into a stunning level of luxury while retaining its historical perspective.

In the city of Cartagena (outside of the walled city) major chains overlook the Caribbean from brands like Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG with a business hotel feel but the benefits of a Caribbean destination.

About 20 minutes outside the city is the brand-new Dreams Karibana Cartagena Golf & Spa Resort. This stunning property has won our hearts with the privacy and quiet of a remote resort but the convenience of being close enough for nightly dinners in the old city. This Hyatt all-inclusive family property has several restaurants, game rooms, nearly a dozen pools and jacuzzis (including one at the sea), a private black sand beach, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course.

Conrad Hotel lobby Cartagena Colombia
Dreams Hotel lobby Cartagena, Colombia
Conrad hotel Cartagena Colombia
Dreams Hotel Cartagena, Colombia


Just north of the equator and on the stunning Caribbean Sea, Cartagena, Colombia is warm year-round. Rain and clouds make appearances but Caribbean hurricanes rarely enter the area – making any time a good time to go.

Experiencing the Local Culture

After exploring the well-trodden paths of Cartagena de Indias, it’s time to delve deeper into what makes this city the heart of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Cartagena’s soul lies not just in its famous landmarks but also in its vibrant local culture, bustling markets, and hidden gems that offer a more authentic experience.

The Artisan Markets and Local Crafts

A visit to Cartagena’s artisan markets is a journey into the heart of its cultural heritage. Here, you can find everything from intricately woven bags to handmade jewelry, offering a piece of Cartagena’s soul to take home. These markets are not just shopping destinations; they are vibrant hubs of creativity and tradition.

Festivals and Cultural Celebrations

Cartagena comes alive during its festivals and cultural celebrations. These events are a spectacular display of music, dance, and tradition, showcasing the rich African and Spanish heritage that influences the city. Participating in these celebrations is an excellent way for travelers to connect with the city’s history and people.

Gastronomy: A Taste of the Caribbean

The culinary scene in Cartagena goes beyond its renowned restaurants. Street food in Cartagena is a world of flavors waiting to be explored. From arepas filled with cheese to fresh seafood dishes, each bite is a testament to the city’s diverse culinary influences.

Cooking Classes and Culinary Tours

For those looking to take a piece of Cartagena’s cuisine home, cooking classes and culinary tours are available. These experiences not only teach you how to prepare traditional dishes but also provide insights into the local ingredients and cooking methods that define Cartagenian cuisine.

Uncharted Territories: Off the Beaten Path

Exploring the Barrios

To truly experience Cartagena, venture into its barrios (neighborhoods). Each barrio has its unique character and charm, offering a glimpse into the everyday life of Cartagena residents. Walking through these neighborhoods, you’ll discover local cafes, vibrant street art, and friendly locals, each adding to the tapestry of Cartagena’s story.

The Mangroves and Nature Reserves

Nature enthusiasts will find a haven in the mangroves and nature reserves surrounding Cartagena. These ecological wonders are not only crucial for the environment but also offer serene escapes from the city’s hustle. Kayaking through the mangroves or bird-watching in a nature reserve are experiences that connect you with Colombia’s natural beauty.

Final Thoughts

As we draw our Cartagena travel guide to a close, it’s evident why this vibrant city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is a must-visit destination in South America. Cartagena de Indias, as it’s officially known, is a city where history, culture, and natural beauty blend seamlessly to create a travel experience like no other.

From the historic walls of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a testament to the city’s rich past and resilience against invaders like Francis Drake, to the serene beaches of Playa Blanca, Cartagena offers a diverse array of experiences. The city, a recognized World Heritage Site, captivates visitors with its colorful architecture and lively streets, especially around Plaza de San Diego and Plaza de los Coches, where people-watching can become an enjoyable pastime.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the city’s culture is by exploring the variety of restaurants in Cartagena. From local seafood delicacies to international cuisine, the culinary scene here is as vibrant as its streets. For a luxurious stay, consider booking a room at a boutique hotel like Casa San Agustin or one designed by fashion icon Silvia Tcherassi, where the elegance and charm of Cartagena are reflected in every detail.

Timing your visit is crucial to fully enjoy what Cartagena has to offer. The city is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit may depend on your preferences. Whether you’re seeking the lively atmosphere of the high season or the more relaxed vibe during other times of the year, each period offers a unique perspective of the city.

For those looking to explore beyond the city, day trips to nearby islands and beaches provide a perfect escape into the Caribbean paradise. Whether it’s lounging on sandy beaches, exploring coral reefs, or enjoying water sports, the options are plentiful.

In conclusion, Cartagena Colombia is a city that truly caters to a variety of interests and tastes. It’s a place where every corner tells a story, every meal is a celebration, and every sunset by the sea is a reminder of nature’s beauty. With this guide, you’re now equipped to explore Cartagena’s wonders, from its historical landmarks like the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas to the modern-day luxuries of its boutique hotels and restaurants. No matter the time of year, Cartagena promises an unforgettable journey through one of South America’s most enchanting cities.

Let’s Go

Want to see a sample itinerary? Contact us and get a no-obligation itinerary customized for you. We can select dates that are convenient for you, flights to and from your home airport, hotel preferences, and even dining reservations. Contact one of our concierges today!

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