In case you have not figured it out yet, I absolutely love Cartagena. Cartagena is located on one of Colombia’s Caribbean coasts. It is probably not for everyone. Cartagena boosts year-round high temperatures and humidity. But, for decades, it has been a top travel destination for locals and foreigners alike.
Cartagena has been popular for years. It has a vibrant hotel industry which consists of a mixture of boutique hotels and hostels (some of which were formerly residences) located within the Old City, as well as some newer and chain hotels located in Bocagrande and other areas around Cartagena.
Cartagena’s historic center (including the port, fortresses and monuments) was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. Due to the steady number of visitors, Cartagena can be a bit pricey depending on where you go and stay. One of Cartagena’s main attractions is the historic Old Town. It was founded in the 16th century and is home to forts, squares, cobblestone streets, graffiti art and colorful buildings. Within the walls of the Walled City, you will also find churches, museums, historic sites from the slave trade and the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which is a castle built around the 17th century.
Cartagena is also widely known for its seafood and local cuisine. The food is fresh and is distinctive from the cuisines offered in Medellin or Bogota. Coconut flavored rice is very popular. For me, I am not a fan. I prefer rice dishes from other parts of the Caribbean. Cartagena is full of excellent restaurants that fit every budget. Cartagena’s local cuisine pays homage to Cartagena’s Afro-Caribbean heritage. I will write a separate post on Cartagena’s restaurants.
I love the people of Cartagena. You have good and bad people everywhere, but I find many, in Cartagena, to be sincere, down to earth and more accepting. They also seem to embrace their afro heritage and history.
Cartagena is vibrant and comes alive at night. Of course, I have several favorite spots, which I will tell you about later. You can catch professional salsa performances, dance the night away at one of the late-night clubs, bar hop, take a Chiva party bus ride around the City or listen to fantastic live music (including Cuban and Afro rhythms).
One of my favorite things to do at night in Cartagena is to sit in one of the many Squares. They are surrounded by restaurants and are good places to have some beer (or tequila, if you prefer), grab a snack and people watch. There are also musicians, street performers, artists and street vendors selling food, drinks and other handmade crafts. My personal favorite is sitting on the steps of the old church located in Trinidad Square, and meeting new people.
In my humble opinion, the beaches located in Bocagrande are underwhelming. Beautiful to look at and to experience for a day, but nothing compared to the gorgeous, white sand beaches found in other parts of the Caribbean. If you are a beach lover, please do not let this deter you from visiting.
The islands of Rosario, Baru and San Bernardo are only a short distance away. Traveling by boat is probably the fastest way to reach one of the neighboring islands. But beware. The waters surrounding Cartagena can be extremely turbulent and choppy in the afternoons. For those of you who are prone to sea sickness or are not fans of traveling by boat, these islands are accessible by car. It may take a bit longer, though, because you have to contend with traffic.