Captivated in Cartagena: A Travel Guide
Hola! After spending a week in Colombia, I have so much to share with you. I had never been to South America, and knew little about what to expect. I knew a bit about the country's struggles with drugs and violence, but I didn't want that to cast a shadow on what my trip might be like. I felt confident in my travels to this country, as part of our trip was being planned by one of the top Colombian travel experts in the world, Joe Sandillo from Almaz Journeys. But before I'd meet Joe in the country's capital, Bogota, I first got to warm up and spend a few days on the Caribbean coast in Cartagena.
The 500-year-old walled city of Cartagena, Colombia, is full of history, but it also happens to have a rising food scene, nightlife, excellent shopping, and beautiful beaches nearby. In other words, it ticks a lot of my destination boxes. This rapidly developing Caribbean tourist destination is sprinkled with storybook and bright colored buildings, historic landmarks, and white sand beaches. For three days, I got to immerse myself in the culture, cuisine, and beauty of this vibrant city along with the chain of islands just off its coast...Now, let's start our adventure!
Why I love Cartagena
There is so much history and culture to see and experience.
It's perfect for both a long weekend, or a more relaxing week-long trip.
The weather is WARM! A great winter getaway.
The architecture is unique and beautiful.
Many top-notch restaurants.
Cannot beat the Rosario Islands, their white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
When and How To Go
The best time to visit Cartagena is December to April during their "dry season". The city's tropical climate means that temperatures tend to stay around the mid-80s year-round.
There are a handful of direct flights into Cartagena from the United States. I chose to fly from Fort Lauderdale International Airport on Jet Blue, and found it very easy and convenient. It's about a 3 hour flight.
The only Covid requirement to enter Colombia is to complete an online form 24 hours before your flight.
Tip: Brush up on your Spanish before you make the trip. Some Colombian's speak English but it's helpful to know some common phrases.
Where To Stay
I stayed at the Casa San Agustín, a charming boutique hotel located right inside the walls of the "Old Town". Make sure to have breakfast included in your stay~it's lovely! But what made our stay truly unique and spectacular was our journey to Acasi: The hotel owns a private beach club in the Rosario Islands, on the island of Baru, which you can visit by arranging with the staff (I made arrangements in advance).
Other places I would stay...
Movich Cartagena De Indias (has an amazing rooftop bar!)
Hotel Las Islas (Located right on the Caribbean sea on the shores of the Colombian island of Barú. Only accessible by boat or helicopter from Cartagena. I would have loved to add this to our trip if we had stayed 2 more nights.)
What To Eat & Drink
Many restaurants have online reservation systems.
I recommend booking in advance!
Celele: the jewel in the crown of Cartagena's burgeoning culinary scene
Carmen: fashionable restaurant featuring sustainable dishes, creative cocktails and live music.
Restaurante Bar La Vitrola: from the decor to the menu to the clientele, it’s Colombian through and through. Popular with locals and visitors.
Movich Hotel Rooftop Bar: you cannot beat this view of the city... and a Caribbean sunset to top it off.
La Picua: stumbled upon this for lunch and would have gone back for dinner it was so good! Very close to the Casa San Augustin.
Alma: located inside Casa San Augustin, this charming indoor/outdoor restaurant has everything you need and impeccable service. We loved dining outside!
Demente: a fun bar to hit before dinner at Celele (or for drinks AND dinner!)
El Baron: best place for unique cocktails.
See and Do This
Take a Tour: Cartagena is a very historic city with many sites to visit. Hiring a professional tour guide that speaks fluent English is a great idea. You will need a driver to visit some of the sites. Here are some iconic places that we visited:
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Baluarte de Santo Domingo (great views, there's a fun bar on top)
Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa
Monumento Torre del Reloj
Plaza de Santo Domingo
Santuario de San Pedro Claver
Plaza de la Aduana
Las Botas Viejas
Walk around the Old City: There is SO much to take in here. It was visual overload to me at first! Pro tip: the Old City doesn't really become alive until after 8 AM, so we enjoyed wandering around early to avoid the congestion.
Boat Ride to the Rosario Islands: This was my favorite adventure of the trip! We boated to the island of Baru where Casa San Augustin has their private beach club. However, there are many beach clubs that you can access which aren't private. Touring around the islands was fascinating. We had the option to go snorkeling off our boat as well since the reefs are quite spectacular.
Emerald Museum & Shopping: Did you know that Colombia produces the world's finest emeralds? Caribe Emerald Museum and Store is the place to learn about and shop for emeralds if you desire. It was very interesting, I really enjoyed this little museum! And of course, I enjoyed my own emerald hunting :)
I hope you enjoyed following along with me to Cartagena, Colombia. Like I said, this is a great vacation spot, especially if you can fly out of South Florida. I will be keeping this lovely Caribbean city on my list as I wish to return and stay at the Hotel Las Islas on Barú! My journey to Colombia doesn't end here...keep an eye out for my next travel guide
coming soon: BOGOTÁ!
Adios for now,