The essentials to know before you go to Cartagena.
Best Time to Visit
It is best to travel to Cartagena, Colombia, between December through April, as this is the dry season. This tropical destination stays hot all year round and in the mid- 80-degree temperatures. These are also the summer months for this city and the most popular time to visit. Months outside this window are less crowded, but you run the chance of rain and heavy humidity in this already tropical climate.
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How to get there
The main airport to fly into Cartagena is the Rafael Núñez International Airport (airport code CTG). It is slightly easier to get there from the East coast than the West, as there are direct flights from Montréal, Toronto, JFK, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. From the West Coast, you most likely will have to connect through Panama City, Miami, or Bogota (the country’s capital).
Regarding getting from the airport to your hotel, I always rely on my booked hotel to assist with transport. Having your hotel arrange transport is the easiest, best, and safest way to ensure that you will arrive at your hotel problem-free. Your hotel can assist with transportation back to the airport as well.
Despite Colombia’s notorious drug trafficking reputation, Cartagena is relatively safe. The city thrives off of its tourist culture, and Cartagena generally was not compromised during the height of this infamous time. With that being said, I still recommend abiding by common sense etiquette and behavior. My general rules are:
- Don’t go out alone at night.
- Stick to populated areas after dark.
- Stick to areas with women and children. If you are ever in doubt, do not allow yourself to be coerced by strangers.
The currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). There are no cents; the coins come in $20, $50, $100, $200, and $500. The bills are $1.000, $2.000, $5.000, $10.000, $20.000, and $50.000. Always check the exchange rate before traveling and download an exchange rate converter on your phone.
I like XE Currency. A bank will give you the best exchange rate. When traveling, I either arrange to get the desired currency with my US bank. Or, I have my driver stop at a local bank when traveling from the airport to my hotel.
Most places in Cartagena accept credit cards, but I always recommend having some cash on you for tips, street vendors, food stalls, etc.
Cartagena is a very walkable city, and I encourage you to explore all the stunning Spanish colonial architecture and beauty. However, yellow taxis are the easiest and best way to get around the city if you require transport. When getting to your hotel, ask the concierge what the going rate is for a short taxi ride. This information will allow you to negotiate better on your own.
Cost of Traveling
Traveling to Cartagena is very affordable from the US. You can choose to travel modestly or quit lavishly. Either way, both prices will be less than what you would pay for comparable hotels and restaurants in the United States.
What to wear and pack
Cartagena is a tropical city, so the weather is always quite hot. Generally, the temperature stays in the 80’s most of the year. Check the weather before you depart, but below are some of my travel essentials:
- Walking Sneakers
- No show socks
- Shorts, t’s, tanks, rompers
- Crossbody bag or belt bag
- Pool/ beach attire: bathing suit, kaftan/coverup, flip flips, pool tote
- Dressy sandals
- Shorts and tank outfits
- Dressy clutch/crossbody
Where to Stay
Whenever I travel, I scout out charming boutique hotels with all amenities. For my last trip there, I split my time between Casa San Agustin and Anandá Hotel Boutique by Cosmos. Both hotels are gorgeous and luxurious, and it’s nice to get a different feel when exploring a city.
The one MUST while booking for me in this destination is for the hotel to have a pool! Cartagena gets extremely hot while walking and exploring during the day, and having somewhere to chill out and cool down for a respite is a definite must.
Below are all outstanding choices, all with pools and spas for the ultimate gift of relaxation.
- Casa San Agustin: This is in a great location near the University. The hotel is chic while still maintaining its colonial heritage. The pool is outside on the ground level and is enchanting and relaxing.
- Anadá Hotel Boutique by Cosmos: It is located near the Plaza Santo Domingo and is quite luxurious, with a rooftop pool and daybeds.
- Bastión Luxury Hotel: This elegant hotel is in Cartagena’s old town. It has a rooftop terrace with a bar and pool and most ideal for watching the sunset.
- Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena: This hotel was a former monastery in the 17th century and is luxurious and grand. There are rooms with terraces looking over the garden and then some over the Caribbean, and it has a lavish pool on the ground level.
- Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa: This sophisticated hotel has everything you need to make your stay a complete dream. A bit bigger than the other hotels, it retains its charm through its architecture and history. There’s a palatial rooftop pool, daybeds, and spa for extra self-care.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cartagena, Colombia
Below are some of my favorite spots in the city! The food is fresh, flavorful, and exquisite. You must try all the local ceviches and seafood to taste your way through this colorful and enchanting city! I recommend booking some of the restaurants below in advance, as they fill up quickly in the busy season.
- Carmen: I went here and had the incredible tasting menu! The food is sensational, and the ambiance is stunning. The chefs are a husband and wife team who studied at Le Cordon Bleu and are passionate about local ingredients and flavor. Carmen was my favorite meal in the city and an absolute MUST!
- Restaurante Celele by Proyecto Caribe Lab: It was voted one of the world’s 50 best restaurants in 2021! It has won multiple other awards for best restaurants in South America. This is Colombian food at its finest!
- Mar y Cielo: It’s festive and alive in a historic townhouse. The food is all local, and it’s a gem within the city.
- Alma: This restaurant is located in the Casa San Agustin hotel. It is elegant Colombian fine dining with delicious food. It’s both a romantic and gourmet experience.
- Restaurante Candé: You will have the ultimate Cartagena experience at this restaurant with a live music show, traditional dress, and dance.
- Restaurante Donjuan: Local seafood is a specialty at this Caribbean restaurant.
- Marea: This beautiful eatery is on the waterfront. It’s romantic, has stunning views, and is run by one of Colombia’s most famous chefs (one of the Rausch brothers). It primarily focuses on fresh seafood caught daily.
- Restaurante El Gobernador: This is another restaurant by the Rausch brothers in the Bastión Luxury Hotel. The food and atmosphere are elegant, sophisticated, and a gastronomic delight.
- Cuzco Cocina Peruana: You will find perfected Peruvian food at this gem, and you can experience live music while dining in a lovely ambiance.
- Harry’s Sasson Restaurant: This menu mixes Mediterranean and Caribbean flair to bring you one of the most elevated Colombian menus.
- La Cevicherìa: This spot has become famous because it was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spots. I love going for lunch because it’s casual, and the ceviches are the perfect light fair for the middle of the day. It can get very crowded, so go early and reserve a table!
- La Laguna Azul Cocktails: Despite the name, this unassuming and low-key restaurant is not where you get stellar libations. Instead, this restaurant is where you get seafood cocktails, a dish similar to ceviche with the addition of tomato and lime juice.
- Buena Vida MarMarisqueria y Rooftop: A hip and lively rooftop spot.
- Los Fritos de Dora: This is noted to be one of the best food stalls in town, with deliciously fried arepas, empanadas, yucca fries, and more. It’s also open until midnight if you need a snack after the bars.
- Quero Arepa: A casual restaurant specializing in delicious arepas.
- Caffé Lunático: Located in the artsy district of Getsemaní, this small and hip café is a lovely spot to enjoy a delicious local meal.
- Arepas Colombitalia: Crowds flock to this local food stall at all hours because it’s that good.
Coffee and Dessert
- Café San Alberto: This popular caffeine heaven is known to have some of the best coffee in Cartagena.
- Epoca Espresso Bar: There are two locations in Cartegena, and both capture the essence of strong and rich Colombian coffee. They also have light snacks and pastries if you need some nosh while sipping.
- La Paletterìa: This popsicle spot is a place you may need to frequent daily, or at least I did. When strolling around a hot city, there is nothing better than an organic, fruity, icy treat.
- Portal de Los Dulces: This has become a famous and iconic spot in Cartagena. A myriad of traditional Colombian sweets is spread out on carts in a square near the Plaza de Los Coches, near the Clock tower.
- El Barón: Located in the plaza of San Pedro Claver, this sexy mixologist-driven bar is not to be missed!
- Alquimico Bar: This is rated one of the 50 best bars in the world! It’s a three-floor bar serving craft cocktails with an incredible rooftop. Each floor has a different aesthetic.
Where to Shop
- St. Dom Cartagena: This high-end luxury boutique showcases some of Colombia’s best designers.
- Lucy Jewelry: Cartagena is known for emeralds, considered some of the best in the world. There are probably hundreds of emerald stores in the city, and this store has the best reputation.
- Agua Bendita: The bathing suits and kaftans/coverups are a dream! The colors and aesthetic are vibrant and chic.
- Chiqui House Boutique: I love this lavish interior design store. It’s chic and cool, as a famous Colombian socialite created it.
- Mercedes Salazar: You can not go wrong at this spot for purchasing inexpensive and colorful jewelry!
- Azul: Fun bathing suits, prints, coverups, and kaftans.
- Silvia Tcherassi Boutique: Silvia is one of the most famous designers from Colombia and is known worldwide.
- Loto del Sur: You must visit this high-end Colombian skincare brand, as it’s the ultimate in local self-care and luxury.
Things to Do
- Explore the Old City and walk the wall
The Centro Centro Amurallado is the Old Town. You can revel in the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture.
- Explore Getsemani
This artsy neighborhood is located right outside the city walls. It’s an excellent spot to explore art, bars, and cafes.
- Visit the grand castle of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Walking through this castle is a definite must while visiting Cartagena. It’s an iconic landmark, and you can walk up the walls and explore the underground passages while admiring the architecture’s exquisite beauty.
- Visit the Gold Museum: Museo de Oro
This small museum has a compressive display of the area’s treasured gold, artifacts, and pottery.
- Stroll through the Mercado de Bazurto
This VERY RURAL market displays the city’s most authentic foods and crafts. If you want to immerse yourself in the most local culture of the town, this is it.
- Charter a boat and explore the Rosario Islands
It’s best to speak with your hotel to arrange the best company for your party’s size and needs.
- Check out Playa Blanca Beach and nearby Tayrona National Park.
Playa Banca, located on Baru Island, is considered one of the best beaches in Cartagena, with brilliant blue water and white sand. It’s about a 2-hour drive from the city center but only a 45-minute boat ride from the port. Consider arranging a day visit with your hotel and hiring a local guide to show you the best spots. The Tayrona National Park, where tourists flock to visit what is known as the “Lost City,” is nearby.
- Get MUDDY and visit the Totumo Mud Volcano.
I did this with my sister, and we had an absolute blast! I recommend hiring a guide or car service to take you there.
My conclusion on Cartagena, Colombia
Cartegna, Colombia, is a colorful city of dreams, rich in culture, architecture, and passion! You cannot go wrong when visiting this Caribbean gem, and you will most likely have the time of your life:) You’ll feel like you just stepped into the Spanish movie of your dreams and won’t want the film to end. Between the incredible food, the history, and the blooming flora and fauna dripping over the vibrant buildings, Cartagena is a beautiful cultural experience with so much to offer. It should definitely be at the top of your travel wish list!
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