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Cartagena de Indias, located on the Caribbean coast, is the capital of the department of Bolivar. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena soon became one of the main ports of the Americas and the 5th most populated city in Colombia. It is surrounded by a great wall that protected it from pirate invasions. Cartagena is a city full of contradictions and enchantments.
Its architecture, beautiful colonial houses and picturesque streets scented by the scent of tropical fruits and a delicious sea breeze make the unique charm of this illustrious city, considered the most beautiful colonial city in South America. Cartagena’s soft nights, illuminated with colors that contrast with its colonial history, make it the ideal destination for those who love romance.
The city is divided into two parts, the old town or “ciudad amurallada” and a more modern area filled with skyscrapers: “Boca Grande”.
Cartagena : The essential
- What to see in Cartagena: Torre del Reloj, San Pedro de Claves church and museum, Santa Catalina cathedral, Cartagena walls, Bolivar square, Trinidad square, San Felipe de Bajaras castle…
- Cartagena’s districts: The historical center, Getsemani, Boca Grande, La Boquilla
- Climate in Cartagena: little rainfall throughout the year
- When to go to Cartagena : From November to April
- Safety in Cartagena: Cartagena is synonymous with tranquility but also with vigilance and common sense.
- Cultural events in Cartagena: From the film festival to the Hay festival
- How to get to Cartagena: Cartagena has an international airport and many buses and cabs.
Cartagena de Indias in video :
What to see and do in Cartagena?
La Torre del Reloj
This is probably one of the first things you will see when you arrive in Cartagena, because the clock tower is located above the main gate of the historic district. separates the old
History: Built in the 19th century, this neo-Gothic style clock tower was built by the engineer Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor. The emblematic clock of Cartagena was imported from Switzerland more than 65 years ago.
Plaza de los Coches
Once a place where slaves were sold, it is now a pleasant place to have a drink when the sun goes down, like in Donde Fidel, where salsa and rum flow freely! In this square you will find the famous Torre del Reloj. Adorned with colonial houses with balconies of various colors, this triangular-shaped square is the gateway to the old city.
Santa Catalina de Alejandría Cathedral
You must have seen it in the pictures of Cartagena, the famous emblematic bell tower, the one from all the postcards… it is a monument that you will see everywhere as you walk through the streets where it brings a touch of extraordinary to the place. In the evening, the bell tower of Santa Catalina Cathedral is even more beautiful due to the superb lighting.
- Open from 9am to 12:30pm and from 3pm to 6pm
Its history and architecture: This superb colonial relic was created between the 16th and 17th centuries. It is THE cathedral with the emblematic bell tower. This orange colored church has the appearance of a fort, and its interior is decorated in a simple manner.
San Pedro de Claver Church and Museum
We think it is one of the most beautiful historical monuments in Cartagena and we strongly recommend you to have a look at it. Its decoration is superb, with beautiful paintings representing the life of the saint, the passion of Christ and other martyrs.
- Entrance fee : 12.000 pesos
- Every day from 8am to 5pm
Did you know that? The church was built by the Jesuits in the 16th century in a baroque style. It houses the remains of the patron saint of Colombia, Pedro Claver. There is a flowered patio inside, as well as a dome added in the 20th century by a French architect named Gaston Lelarge.
Walls of Cartagena de Indias
For a romantic walk in front of a beautiful sunset: go to the walls of Cartagena de Indias. It is an architectural marvel that will transport you to a bygone era of pirates and Spanish settlers.
Some information: This impeccably preserved wall was built in 1586 by Bautista Antonelli, engineer. Its construction took more than 200 years, between the pirate attacks and the nearby sea. It was the military Antonio de Arevalo who completed its construction in 1796. Out of 23 fortifications, 16 are still intact today.
The Palace of the Inquisition
If you are interested in the colonial era, you will love the Palace of the Inquisition. It is above all a sublime colonial building that dates from 1776. You will find many objects from the colonial era, relics in memory of the struggle for independence, but also old torture rooms! Of baroque style, this palace, where the religious offences were judged, has many patios what makes the museum very pleasant to stroll.
- Open from 9am to 6pm on Saturday, from 10am to 4pm on Sunday and public holidays
- Entrance fee: 19.000 pesos
Right next to the Palace of the Inquisition you will find this square decorated with an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar. It is one of the liveliest squares in Cartagena, where many street performers come to dance and sing to the rhythms of Colombian cumbia when the sun goes down.
Did you know that? Under the statue, the words of the liberator can be read: “If Caracas gave me life, you gave me glory”.
Plaza de la Trinidad
This square is the heart of the Getsemani neighborhood. It is the ideal place if you want to meet people and party with young mochileros. A place of exchange and meetings in the evening, the music is in full swing and this pretty colored square, surrounded by many bars and a colonial church, is invaded by people.
San Felipe de Bajaras Castle
It is a superb monument and not to be missed during your stay in Cartagena. It is a beautiful military castle of Spanish style.
At the foot of the castle you will find the monument to the old shoes (Monumento a los zapatos viejos), where two bronze shoes were created in honor of the poet Don Luis Lopez el Tuerto.
- Open every day from 8am to 6pm
- Entrance fee: 25.000 pesos
History: The castle was built between 1536 and 1657. It was the engineer Antonio de Arevalo (who completed the construction of the walls of Cartagena) who perfected the defense and strategic attack positions of the castle, after the battle of of Vernon in 1741.
Do you want to get some height? La Popa is the highest hill in Cartagena, 150 meters high and 1 km from the San Felipe Castle. On its summit you will find a convent built in 1608 and a beautiful church that houses the statue of Our Lady of the Candelaria who is considered the patron saint of Cartagena.
- Open every day from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm
To do: the main areas of Cartagena de Indias
The historical center
It is the district not to be missed to transport you in the colonial universe during your stay in Cartagena. A stronghold of the upper middle class, stroll along the colorful streets and have a drink in the shade of the bougainvillea in the many squares of the neighborhood. One of the most beautiful experiences in Cartagena is a night stroll through the historic center.
You can admire the magnificent monuments lit up at night during a romantic walk. A unique show where the district changes its face.
After your visit to the historic center, this is the second neighborhood you should visit. It is located right next to the historic district but Getsemani has managed to keep an authentic flavor, despite the influx of tourists and the “gentrification” of the area. The flowery and bougainvillea-filled streets remain just as colorful as those in the historic center, but their facades are less polished, and sometimes even support urban art.
Want to party?
In the evening, Getsemani is alive with activity. While the historical center becomes quieter, the music rumbles in Getsemani and the terraces fill up, for a wild evening in the many bars of the district, or even in the streets.
For us, Boca Grande is not a must-visit neighborhood. A modern neighborhood full of skyscrapers, Boca Grande is adorned with beaches without much charm but close to the center, where many street vendors pass by to sell you trinkets. Boca Grande is a neighborhood where you will find hotels of all standards as well as numerous department stores.
If you want to get to know the lesser known corners of Cartagena and take a break from the bustling center, La Boquilla is a small fishing village that is a must-see. With its feet in the water between the sea and the lagoons adorned with mangroves, La Boquilla is a timeless place, only 8km from the historical center of Cartagena. You can go fishing with the locals on boats, or sit on the huge beach. On the weekends, Cartagena’s guinguettes and families invade the beach for a moment with their feet in the water.
Cartagena : Restaurants
NATIVO This excellent restaurant offers dishes concocted with seafood. The choice of the menu is large. The restaurant is quiet and pleasant. Ideal for a romantic evening or with friends. Address: Cl. Sargento Mayor n° 6-12, Cartagena Opening days and hours: Mon – Sat: 11am – 8pm Prices: Dishes between $20,000 and $40,000
PASTELERIA MILA Ideal to enjoy a brunch. A wide range of sweet and savory choices. Address: Calle de la Iglesia, #35-76, Cartagena Opening days and times: Mon – Sat: 9am – 10pm, Sun: 10am – 9pm Prices: pallets between 25 000$ and 50 000$.
THE CEVICHERIA You can taste a delicious ceviche typical of the coast. Address: Calle Stuart n°7-14, Cartagena Opening days and times: Mon – Sun: 1pm – 10:30pm Prices : dishes between 24 000$ and 51 000$.
PERÚ FUSIÓN The dishes mix Peruvian flavors with modern cuisine. Address: Calle Ayos #4-36, Cartagena Opening days and hours: Mon – Sun: 12:30 – 15:30, 19:00 – 23:00. Prices: dishes between $25,000 and $50,000
ESPIRITU SANTO Restaurant offering typical Caribbean dishes for lunch, for a reasonable price. Address: Calle del Porvenir #35-60, Cartagena Opening days and hours : Mon – Sun: 11:30am – 3:30pm Prices: dishes between 15 500$ and 26 000$.
CARMEN Gastronomic restaurant inspired by local cuisine and products. Address: Calle 38 #8-19, Cartagena Opening days and hours: Mon – Sun: 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm, Mon/Wed/Thurs/Fri: 12 noon – 3 pm, Sat/Sun: 12:30 pm – 3:30 pm Prices: dishes between $15,500 and $26,000
Cartagena : Bars
BAR DEMENTE Tapas bar where the atmosphere and the service are the best. Ideal for a drink in the Getsemani district. The decoration is atypical. Address: Cra. 10 #29-29, Cartagena Opening days and hours: Mon – Sun: 6pm – 2am. Price: dishes between 15 000$ and 30 000$.
ALQUIMICO Sensory experiences, this bar promotes local culture, integrating several exclusive cocktails based on experimental infusions, inspired by recipes from around the world but with Colombian ingredients and techniques.
The stores of LAS BOVEDAS Colonial building where you can find many stores selling typical handicrafts from the Caribbean coast and Colombia.