MY CARTAGENA ITINERARY
When I got the e-mail notification about round-trip tickets to Cartagena, Colombia for $360, I didn’t hesitate (thanks Scott’s Cheap Flights!) I finally had the chance to visit South America, a continent I had longed to set foot on for years. So I hopped on a plane 3 months after booking the flight and touched down on my 5th visited continent in April.
Colombia is not a country that many people desire to visit – or even think about traveling to. When I told my family and friends where I was headed, they were shocked and worried. The country’s reputation for violence and drugs had them terribly concerned for my safety – and about my sanity. But, if you’re like me and choose not to listen to the media, you’ll find Cartagena, Colombia to be an incredibly safe, friendly, welcoming, and FUN place to explore! (I can’t speak for the rest of the country, though I’ve only heard amazing things as well!) And if you’re still not convinced, maybe this sample itinerary will do the trick!
HERE’S MY SUGGESTED ITINERARY FOR SPENDING 4 DAYS IN CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA:
After you settle in to your accommodation, your first day in Cartagena is best spent wandering around the enchanting Old City. The colorful buildings and stunning architecture are a photographers dream; each street seems to be more colorful and picturesque than the last! There are plenty of shops, restaurants, street-food stands, and beautiful narrow streets to keep you busy for hours. I also recommend taking a FREE walking tour of the city to learn about it’s fascinating history and discover your way around with an expert, local guide.
Here are a few walking tour companies you can check out:
Cartagena Connections – Not free, but offers a great walking tour of the city + food tours and more.
FREE Walking Tours Cartagena – A free walking tour (but don’t forget to tip!)
Cartagena City Tours – Not free, but great if you’re looking for something more involved and in-depth (this tour is 3-hours long)
WHERE TO STAY:
I booked all of my accommodation through HostelWorld, which is an amazing website to help you find hostels in locations around the world. I always use them whenever and wherever I travel. In Cartagena, we stayed at the top-rated El Viajero hostel, and El Arsenal Boutique Hostel, both of which were great places to stay for what we needed. We booked private-rooms for about $17-25 each per night (because I cannot sleep in dorm rooms even though they are even cheaper).
We also stayed in an AirBNB for our last two nights. AirBNBs in Cartagena are another great option if you’re on a budget! If you’re booking an AirBNB for the first time anywhere in the world, use this link to get $34 off: BOOK AIRBNB
Note: There are PLENTY of amazing hostels around the city of Cartagena and they’re all extremely affordable (from as little as $10 a night!). Private rooms are often times just as nice as hotel rooms, too! I highly recommend staying in a hostel if you’re looking to save money.
WHERE TO EAT:
Cartagena has INCREDIBLE seafood. Honestly, some of the best I’ve ever had. Here are some of my favorite restaurants you should visit during your time in Cartagena!
Don Juan: A little more upscale than what I’m used to, but the prices in Cartagena made this fine-dining experience super affordable! Try the mushroom ravioli, the shrimp, the octopus, and all the deserts!
La Mulata: Incredible lunch spot with delicious food, large portions, and fun ambiance!
La Cevicheria: Get here EARLY. There will be a line every night! And get the ceviche, obviously.
Juan Del Mar: Fun outdoor atmosphere (or indoor if you want) located in the Plaza San Diego! Great prices for amazing meals.
My second day in Cartagena was spent about an hour off of the coast, exploring the nearby Rosario Islands! I opted for a tour through Viator after researching all of the tour-operator options. It was a full day tour from 6AM to 3:30PM with lunch included, 3 islands, snorkeling, and plenty of time to relax on the stunning Colombian beaches. Shout out to the best guide ever – Jorge!
We visited Playa Azul, Cholón, and Playa Blanca on Isla Barú. My favorite was Playa Azul – there was NO ONE there and the white-sand beaches boasted some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen.
Playa Blanca was also great, but this beach is best to visit either early before the crowds (between 6AM-11AM), or after 4PM once the crowds leave (and you’ll witness an amazing sunset!)
Cholón is known as “party-island” although I didn’t really understand why. Maybe it’s better to visit at night, but it was underwhelming compared to the other two beaches. It’s extremely small, and the locals there are overtly pushy when trying to sell you massages, food, or drinks. But hey, it was still great and I had an amazing Lobster roll and coconut drink while there!
TIP: Wear more sunscreen than you think you need, and keep applying it! The Colombian sun is VERY hot, and I got burned during this day-trip!
WHERE TO EAT:
Caffé Lúnatico: Colombian tapas restaurant and bar! Fun ambiance and it’s great for families if you’re traveling with kids!
El Boliche Cebichería: Another amazing place for Seafood in Cartagena! Less busy at lunch time!
Restaurante Bar La Vitrola: Nice spot for groups with good live music!
Carbon de Palo: Fish, Steak, Barbecue!
WHERE TO DRINK/PARTY:
Alquimico Bar: Reminded me of a trendy bar you’d find in NYC or LA!
EIVISSA CARTAGENA: Fun rooftop bar/club where you’re guaranteed to meet travelers from around the world!
Cafe del Mar: Located atop the Old City’s historic walls, this is the best spot for a sunset drink!
Media Luna Hostel: ON WEDNESDAY NIGHTS ONLY they open their rooftop to the public for amazing views and a huge party!
By far the coolest thing I did on my trip to Colombia was spend a night at Casa En El Agua. It’s a solar-powered, eco-friendly hostel located in the middle of the Caribbean, just 2-hours off of the coast of Cartagena. It’s basically a giant, floating beach bungalow shared by 20-some strangers for a night or two.
It was here that I was reminded again about why I love travel. We met people from all over the world – a group from England, a guy from Argentina, a family from Belgium, a solo-traveling girl from Canada, and more! Casa was the perfect place to share travel stories and connect with each other despite all of our different backgrounds.
Aside from the opportunity to meet other travelers, Casa offers some fun activities you can’t find anywhere else. A couple hundred meters across the ocean you’ll find Santa Cruz Del Islote, the most densely populated island on Earth. It’s about the size of 2 soccer fields, and 550 people live there without reliable access to water, food and electricity. Casa En El Agua provides a day tour of this strange place where you can see how the people live (and even visit an Aquarium!).
You also have an option to go on a “Plankton Tour” at night. You take a boat out at night to a nearby mangrove where the water starts to glow due to these bioluminescent creatures! You’ll be able to jump in and swim around with these luminescent little guys!
There are a variety of other activities like snorkeling, SUPing, kayaking, diving, and SUBwing-ing, but I didn’t feel the need to partake in any of them (aside from a sunrise kayak ride). The casa’s friendly ambiance, relaxing hammocks, and various ocean floaties were enough to keep me busy and at peace for the full day and a half we spent there!
Note: BOOK YOUR STAY EARLY! The Casa En El Agua website allows bookings up to 60 days before your stay, and I recommend doing this because spots fill up FAST – especially during high-season. Prices range from $15-$80 USD per night and they have a variety of lodging options – hammocks, shared rooms, dorm rooms, or private rooms.
Venture out of the Old City and into the nearby Getsemani neighborhood. It’s located near Holy Trinity Square, the perfect spot to drink beer, listen to street musicians and snack on grilled arepas from nearby stalls! There are tons of great pizzerias and little bistros that serve Colombian staples here. You’ll also find vivid murals and other art lining the streets of this “hip” neighborhood. At night, visit Cafe Havana for salsa and night-life!
I ended up loving Cartagena more than I thought I would, and I would go back tomorrow if I could. There’s so much more to this city and country that I hope to experience someday! If you’ve been to Cartagena, please comment below what you would add to my itinerary! I didn’t have time to do or see it all! And if you’re going to Cartagena and have any further questions leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP!