For the second leg of my Colombian adventure, I flew to Cartagena. Let me confess, I am the biggest telenovela fan you will ever find outside of South America and the first time I fell in love with Cartagena was on a series set there actually. So all was not a waste, as I found myself realizing my dream to visit the city many years later.
You know you have arrived in the Caribbean the moment you land. Cartagena boasts with color, energy, sunshine, and culture; something about this place keeps you smiling. A lot more laid back than Medellín, this historical city has so much to offer and below my attempts as 15 cool things you should do when in Cartagena.
1. Hit the Beach!
This is literally the first thing I did! dropped my bags, changed and off I went. Did I mention the Caribbean sea? Playa Blanca is a must-see on anyone’s itinerary. Think white sand and warm water, paradise. Beach bars are lined up and you are bound to find something suitable for your taste. I ordered a traditional plate of fried fish, coconut rice, and plantains, heaven! Say yes to that massage. If you have more time there are many beaches to visit and day trips to neighboring islands absolutely worth it.
2. Take photos with Palenqueras
Whenever you search Cartagena online, you are bound to see many photos of the women fruit sellers called the palenqueras. Their colorful dresses are impossible to miss. This might be the most touristy thing you will do, but go ahead and take that photo.
They are pretty business savvy, so don’t expect to snap a pic for free; you will be asked for a tip or at the very least by some fruits.
Feel free to read my blog about Palenque here.
3. Watch the sunset at Café Del Mar
Café Del Mar is quite a popular landmark for tourists and locals alike. Cartagena is full of bars for every taste, however, what’s special about Café Del Mar is that it is located in the ruins of the old fortress towers, which makes for some memorable photos and its patio faces the sea making it one of the best spots to catch the sunset too!
4. Go explore Centro Historico
Whilst Cartagena is all the rage with travelers today, the history of the city is just as fascinating. Do take a walking tour of the old town, visit the Cartagena wall and museums, and learn more about the many layers of influent that make up this region’s people as well as Colombia as a whole.
5. Take street art photos in Getsemani
Take some of the most beautiful street art photos ever in the Getsemani neighborhood in the old town. I must say that I haven’t seen black women being celebrated this much in street art. This was pretty special.
6. Totumo Volcano is worth a stop
Fancy a mudbath? This man-made “volcano”, about 1h 30 minutes away from the city was quite the experience. The muddy clay substance pushes you back up so you keep floating and bumping into strangers or if you’re like me, praying for balance 🙂
This place has no therapeutic attributes but as a once-off, I totally recommend this little craziness.
7. Wander by the Pink Sea
Ok, the second most touristy thing you will do in Cartagena would be visiting the Pink Sea. This was a total bucket list moment for me. The pink sea (El Salar de Galerazamba) is a result of a high concentration of microbes and algae that attract salt. The water is only this pink for 2 to 3 months in the year, generally January to March, due to the low levels of water in the region during that time. So plan your travel carefully if this is also on your list.
8. Indulge in Caribbean food
Be it street food or fine cuisine, the food is undeniably good here and flavorful. The simplest dishes will have you ordering seconds. Restaurante La Casa de Socorro is one of the oldest traditional restaurants in Cartagena that I fully recommend.
9. Go for sundowners at one of the many Rooftop bars
Take in the views and mingle with the crowd in one or a few of the many rooftop bars around the old town. I felt perfectly safe as a solo traveler and blended in just fine.
10. Find some of the best Rum Cocktails
If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am a bit of an amateur mixologist and I simply love a good cocktail. The idea of trying out a few cocktail bars and finding my faves is just up my alley. I would suggest you head over to El Arsenal, for some of the best Rum based cocktails you will get in Getsemani. I realized later that it’s also a boutique hotel, I would totally stay here 🙂
11. Go Salsa at Café Havana
Café Havana will have you booking that Cuban holiday I day I tell you. I enjoyed my time there, I am not even the best salsa dancer but, what’s a holiday without a little embarrassment 🙂
12. Hop on a Party Bus
Chivas or Colombian party Buses are crazy fun. Imagine a moving club, music drinks and cool people and yet an opportunity to go past the top landmarks of the city. I booked mine via Airbnb experiences.
13. Visit Palenque
Depending on how much time you have in Cartagena, a short day trip to Palenque is truly eye-opening. I spoke of the Palenqueras earlier, well this is the village they come from. There are many tours offered so you’ll get to learn about the fascinating story of the former African slaves’ settlement in Colombia.
14. Buy Emerald
If gemstones are your thing, the Colombian emerald is one of the best in the world for their purity and higher grade. Cartagena Centro Historico is the place to go to get your money’s worth. I bought silver earrings that I can’t wait for one day to give to my daughter.
15. Do some night shopping in Getsemani
You can absolutely shop any time in Getsemani, but I preferred the evenings; one because it’s let hot so it’s more enjoyable, and the restaurants and bars all come to life too! like who’s sleeping anyway.