The best way to spend 72 hours in Cartagena, Colombia
Cobblestone streets, lush plazas, and vibrant neighborhoods are just a few things to expect when exploring the Caribbean gem of Cartagena. It doesn’t take long to realize that the city is teeming with history. Today, the old walled city is a living museum, where traces of Spanish influence still remain. Modern luxury coexists with colonial-style mansions, and the bustling, colorful streets offer a glimpse into Cartagena’s tumultuous history. Here is how to spend 72 hours in the city.
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Start with coffee at Ábaco Libros y Café
In the center of the old walled city, this beautiful bookshop and café is the perfect place to enjoy some of Cartagena’s best coffee. The old colorful building is filled to the ceiling with books in both Spanish and English, and is frequented by both locals and travelers.
*Looking for the best hotels to lay your head down in Cartagena? Then check out our recommendations for the best 3 star, the best 4 stars, and the best 5-star hotels in Cartagena!
Stroll the old Walled City
Wander the colorful, colonial-style streets of the Walled City, which used to protect the city from invasions. Stepping inside former 17th-century mansions will certainly take you back in time, and make sure to snap some pictures under the photogenic balcony windows overflowing with flowers. Cool off inside a cozy bar or cafe with a delicious blended coffee or fresh smoothie, and don’t forget to check out Cartagena’s unique shops, with everything from designer dresses to artisan crafts. *Interested in a private walking tour of the Walled City and its surroundings? Click here for more information.
Feast on fresh seafood at La Cevichería
For lunch, head to La Cevichería, where the late Anthony Bourdain once visited. Enjoy delicious paella, ceviche, shrimp empanadas, and many other types of fresh seafood typical to the region.
*Check out our guide to the top 5 Cartagena restaurants here!
Explore the hipster neighborhood of Getsemani
Once a hotspot for drugs and prostitution, this historic neighborhood has now evolved into a cultural hub. Admire Getsemani’s incredible street art, step into trendy cafes and bars, and head to Plaza de la Trinidad, where people strum guitars on the church steps and kids start up soccer games. To cool off, try a delicious smoothie made from fresh Colombian fruit at the award-winning cafe Ceiba Juice Bar.
Watch the sunset along the watch tower
As day fades, climb the fortified wall of the old city and watch as the sunset over the sparkling Caribbean. Then enjoy a cocktail at an outdoor cafe and soak up the last moments of the evening.
Dance salsa at the famous Café Havana
After evening fades, head back to Getsemani and watch this neighborhood turn into the center of Cartagena’s nightlife. For an authentic salsa experience, step inside Café Havana and dance till the early morning. This lively, historic bar welcomes live salsa bands and draws a mix of both locals and tourists. If your feet are too tired to dance, sip on a delicious cocktail, enjoy the music, and watch others take the dance floor.
Discover paradise on Rosario Islands
Take a boat tour to Rosario Islands, an archipelago and national park located about 100 km off the coast, that was created to protect one of the most important coral reefs in the Caribbean. On Bendita Beach, bathe in crystal-clear waters and then relax on the white sand with a delicious plate of fresh fish and coconut rice. This peninsula is perfect for a day trip or staying the night for a more tranquil and exclusive experience. *Interested in a full-day tour to the Rosario Islands, complete with lunch, personal beach space, kayaking, and other watersports? Click here to book now.
Visit the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas
Peering out over the city, this castle’s construction started in 1639 by the Spanish and was finished 150 years later. Since its completion, it stands as Cartagena’s crowning landmark, and visitors can now tour the underground passages and marvel at the impressive architecture. With a grand entrance and complex maze of tunnels, this striking castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see while in Cartagena. *Like to take a complete tour of the city of Cartagena including this amazing landmark? Be sure to click here for more info.
Wander the bustling Mercado de Bazurto
Visit the busy and a little overwhelming Mercado de Bazurto, which offers a huge selection of fresh fruit, produce, and cheap, delicious lunches. For those wanting to experience the authentic Cartagena, this market is not to be missed. More daring eaters can even try cooked turtle, which is discouraged by authorities but considered a traditional meal by many indigenous communities. Make sure to come hungry! *Interested in sampling some produce and learning more about Colombia’s exotic fruits on a guided tour? Click here to book now.
Buy fruit from the palenqueras
The fruit vendors known as palenqueras serve as an icon of Cartagena and make up an important part of the city’s history. These women originally came from San Basilio de Palenque, a small town just south of Cartagena. This village was actually one of the first places in the Americas to be freed from slavery. You can find more information here about visiting Palenque on a day trip. Purchase some fresh fruit from one of the women, and leave a small tip if you take photos with them and their vibrant dresses.
Relax at Cafe del Mar
Sitting on top of the historic city wall, Cafe del Mar is the perfect spot to enjoy another Caribbean sunset while sipping a tropical drink. Take advantage of the ideal photo opportunities and savor your last evening in Cartagena.
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