What to Do in Cartagena – Cartagena Tours & Things to Do in Cartagena

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Vibrant street life, incredible food, Caribbean culture, and fun in the sun: start here when it comes to things to do in Cartagena Colombia. Whether you’re looking for what to do in Cartagena with kids, with friends or on your own, you’ll find plenty of Cartagena attractions to keep you busy. Maybe you have specific Cartagena travel advice or questions. Where should you stay? What should you do? Is Cartagena safe? Read on for answers to these questions and plenty more Cartagena travel tips.

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What to Do in Cartagena – Our Cartagena Travel Tips

As soon as I stepped into Cartagena’s walled city, I knew we were going to love the place. This former Spanish colonial town on the Caribbean oozes old world charm, but with modern flourishes. Faded cathedral walls sit next to galleries and cutting-edge graffiti. Young backpackers take selfies while sitting on cannons and crumbling fortress walls. The most obvious attractions in Cartagena are the beaches and the city itself. Yet there are so many things to do in Cartagena that it would take months to do them all. In this post, I’ll tell you about some of the best things to do in Cartagena Colombia, as well as insight on food, accommodation and getting around. 

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Is Cartagena Safe?

walled city cartagena attractions

One of the first questions I hear from those new to travel in Colombia is usually “Is Cartagena safe?” The answer is yes. Sure, travelers should always use their street smarts in Latin America just like they would in Europe or Southeast Asia. But is Cartagena safe? Yes, basically. There are loads of things to do in Cartagena, but worrying about being mugged isn’t one of them.

To be clearer: Is Cartagena safe from violent crime? Yes. That said, there are scammers, pickpockets and opportunists here like there are everywhere. So use your wits and watch your wallet. No matter what you do in Cartagena, use common sense and you’ll be fine. 

Cartagena Safety Tips

Cartagena is safe if you use common sense and stick to the usual safety protocol in developing nations. There are loads of things to do in Cartagena — don’t let a fear of danger hold you back. Is Cartagena safe? It will be if you follow these simple rules:

  • Stay in the main areas of town, such as Getsemani, Bocagrande, Manga, San Diego and the walled city (aka Old Town).
  • Don’t flash your valuables (jewelry, expensive phones, cameras, gadgets, etc). Don’t show lots of money when paying for Cartagena attractions
  • Watch your stuff. Most thefts here are just because it’s easy. Don’t be a sucker: keep your bag closed and valuables zipped up or in deep pockets.
  • Be vigilant with money. Be polite but always confirm prices before any money is exchanged. This goes for street food as well as taxis. Don’t take a bite or step into a cab until you’ve both agreed on the price. Most Cartagena attractions have the price indicated easily – don’t pay more.

Best Things to Do in Cartagena City

Walled city Cartagena what to do in Cartagena

We have lots of recommendations for what to do in Cartagena, but we’ve chosen a few top Cartagena activities to start off with. Maybe your time is limited. Maybe you’re traveling to Cartagena with kids or just want to relax without spending too much time, money or effort. If that’s you, then here are the things to do in Cartagena we generally recommend.

Take in a Sunset on the City Wall

Walk along the top of the walled city and you may get a sunset to remember. We sure did. Lots of other Cartagena travel blog posts will tell you to go to Café del Mar for the sunset. We saw it and it looked nice. Just keep in mind that the drinks were crazy expensive and there are people walking around selling water and beer everywhere. So instead of Cafe del Mar we just grabbed a few cold ones and perched on an old canon nearby and soaked in the atmosphere from there. I’d definitely say it’s one of the easiest and fun things to do in Cartagena Colombia for just about anyone. Then once the sun goes down and the air cools by a few degrees, head back into the old city and look for some dinner.

Wander Through Getsemani

Getsemani Cartagena colombia

One of the most popular things to do in Cartagena is to wander the streets of the Getsemani neighborhood. Now we know why. The buildings and alleys in this area are a riot of color, with bougainvillea and other tropical greenery adding natural filigree. Then there is the street art throughout the neighborhood. Taken together, the Getsemani neighborhood is where to go in Cartagena for atmosphere and pictures. Of course, there are plenty of charming restaurants, bars, and cafes as well.

Do Some Animal Spotting in Centenario Park

This Cartagena attraction shouldn’t take you long, but do a quick stroll through Centenario Park and keep an eye out for wildlife. Here you might see monkeys, sloths or an iguana or two. This is an even more fun thing to do in Cartagena with kids.

More Cartagena Tours – What to Do in Cartagena

graffiti getsemani things to do in Cartagena colombia

One of the best ways to experience the city and other Cartagena attractions is to sign up for a few Cartagena tours. Some of the best things to do in Cartagena and any other city are food tours and walking tours. We recommend doing these early in your trip. Why? Because they help you orient yourself in a city and ask questions directly to a local. Even better, Cartagena walking tours and food tours may help you find places that you’ll want to return to. For example, you may find a restaurant or shop you want to visit one last time before you leave. Here are some Cartagena tours to consider.

Walking Tours in Cartagena

Cartagena is a beautiful walking city with a fascinating history. You could spend days exploring the walled city alone. Just remember that Cartagena weather is hot and humid all year. Look for tours that start in the morning when it’s slightly cooler.

Cartagena City Tour

Half-Day Cartagena Tours by Air-Conditioned Vehicle

Historic Cartagena Tours (Includes Entry Fees)

Private City Tour of Cartagena

Street Food Tour

Fruits, fish, and deep fryers. These are three elements to Cartagena’s street food scene. Take a Cartagena food tour and you’ll try a variety of delights. My personal favorites are grilled arepas (corn cakes) with cheese.

Book a Cartagena Street Food Tour

Bazurto Market Tour & Cooking Class

fruit at cartagena Bazurto Market

We’ve been to lots of local markets in our travels. From Vietnam to Mexico, we make a point to visit the places where locals shop and hang out. Cartagena’s Bazurto Market is one of the most in-your-face markets we’ve ever been to. It’s large, crowded and easy to get lost. There is also a chaotic vibe and the presence of pickpockets. But guess what? We loved our visit, and you will too. But we ask you to consider going with a guide, as we did.

More Cartagena Market Tours

Bazurto Market Tours in Cartagena

Bazurto Market Tour & Colombian Cooking Class in Cartagena

Outdoor Things to Do in Cartagena City

lunch on the playa during cartagena island tour

Visiting Cartagena for longer? Then there are loads more great Cartagena attractions that take advantage of the open water and sunny skies. Here are a few of them.

Beaches, Snorkeling & Island Hopping

You’re in a prime spot here on the Caribbean Sea. That’s why one of the best things to do in Cartagena is to put your toes in the sand. Speaking of sand, most Cartagena beaches on the mainland have sand that is a grayish color. This dulls the emerald and sapphire hues you want to see, but the water is still clean and refreshing.

For white-sand beaches, head to the islands around Cartagena. Isla Bomba and the Rosario Islands both have postcard-perfect beaches. These are some of the most popular beaches in Colombia. Just make sure you tour with a reputable company and not just some guy on the street. We’ve heard more than a few stories of people being extorted for more money to get their return trip back to the mainland! Do your research and make sure to look at both positive and negative reviews. In addition to beaches and snorkeling, there are lots of Cartagena tour operators focused on sunset cruises.

Snorkeling & Island Hopping Tours in Rosario and Cholon

Private Speed Boat Experience Rosario Islands & Barú Island Tours

Small-Group Cartagena Sunset LED Paddle Board Tours

Full-Day Playa Blanca Tours from Cartagena

2-Hour Sunset Cartagena Cruises

Rosario Islands Sailing Catamaran Cartagena Tours

Baru Island Culture Tour

mangrove boat trip cartagena

Trips to Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands are more for cocktails and chilling out. If you’re interested in island culture and life beyond the sunbeds, then consider the Baru Island Tour by Taroa Adventures. Our guide took us to the village where many of the people work serving drinks and driving boats. We visited a gallery of local art and had a drumming lesson with local boys. Then we floated through the mangroves to a few beaches for lunch.

Surfing in Cartagena (Windsurfing & Kitesurfing too!)

Franklin kitesurfing in colombia

The city’s location on the Caribbean makes it an ideal spot for surfing of all kinds. Strong, steady winds create the right conditions for kitesurfing and windsurfing in Cartagena. One of the best things to do in Cartagena for adventure junkie is learning to kitesurf. Just keep in mind it takes more than one lesson. 

Kite Surf Lessons in Cartagena

Skydiving

joy after chute opened - Skydiving in cartagena colombia 2

Looking for something more extreme? Or maybe you have a teen into “adrenaline stuff,” as our boy likes to call it? Then perhaps skydiving will be one f the things to do in Cartagena worth considering. Our skydiving experience was about an hour north of town but organized by Cartagena tours operators. It’s something the boy will never forget!

The Totumo Volcano

Cartagena mud volcano

This is actually not a volcano, but the geothermal mud (and its dubious healing properties) are really popular. Loads of people come here to take a mud bath and have their picture taken doing so. I’ve done something similar once (the Dead Sea in Israel) but decided against it here. Lots of people asking for tips for simple things like guiding you up some stairs or holding your shoes.

Lots of Cartagena travel blog posts say this as what to do in Cartagena. Personally, I could take it or leave it. It depends on if you like this sort of thing, but I see it simply as a selfie opportunity. A cool one, for sure, but don’t make a half-day tour of it. Instead, look for bundle tours that go to a variety of places along the way, or see if your Cartagena tour will be in the area and you can stop by. For example, our Cartagena skydiving trip (see above) drove by and asked if we wanted to stop. 

Cartagena Tours of Mud Volcano, Pink Sea & Indigenous Town

Where to Stay in Cartagena

suite kids beds Radisson Cartagena Ocean Pavillion Hotel

I’ll be writing a more in-depth article about the best hotels in Cartagena once I get my notes together. However, during our last visit, we stayed at the Radisson and can easily recommend it.

Where to Eat in Cartagena

We had some great meals in Cartagena. And we had some not so great ones. Here are a few places to eat in Cartagena that I can happily recommend.

Beer & Laundry

Beer & Laundry restaurant in Cartagena

It’s a novel idea: build a laundry service for travelers, but then also give them a place to relax, have a drink and chow down on good pizza while they wait. That’s what Beer and Laundry is. They wash and fold. You chill and eat. The pizzas are good and guys like me appreciate the beer selection (plenty of juices and other drinks for those not imbibing). This city is hot and humid. This is what to do in Cartagena when your sweaty clothes have piled up. 

Osteria del Mar Rojo

Here’s where to get cups of fresh and succulent fish, shrimp and octopus ceviche on the go. This is not much more than a concrete booth on a street corner, but it’s hard to miss. After all, there is a Colombian-style sombrero made of concrete adorning the roof, and usually a semicircle of plastic chairs with customers digging into their purchases.

Restaurante Coroncoro

Nothing fancy, but great traditional Colombian fare here. Think grilled fish and rice, etc. My bandeja paisa was a heaping plate of beans, meats and other goodies best washed down with a cold beer.

Cebiches & Seviches

You don’t have to go to Lima or Puerto Escondido to get fresh and delicious ceviche. This place serves the real deal, and we loved our meal. Most of the seats are high like bar stools, which may be problematic for those traveling with young kids, but everything we ate here was great.

Pacha

This is essentially fast food but in a clean and hip environment. Their specialty is piadina, a type of Italian sandwich made with flatbread. It’s cheap and easy for everyone to like. They have good beer and ice cream, too.

Cartagena Weather

Cartagena weather is hot and humid all year round. The (relatively) coolest time of year is December through February, with temps around 88ºF/31ºC with around 75% humidity. That’s the coolest month. It gets hotter/more humid, but only by a few degrees/percentage points. The Cartagena rainy season runs May through September. The dry season in Cartagena runs January through April.

You can visit Cartagena almost any time of year, weather-wise. The rainy season is mostly comprised of hard squalls and then clear skies. Also, the temperature and humidity levels don’t change that much season to season. It’s pretty much hot and humid year round. Most things to do in Cartagena are available any time of year. 

Worst & Best Time to Visit Cartagena

Old town Cartagena

Want to avoid the crowds and still have (relatively) cooler weather? Then the best time to visit Cartagena Colombia is in March or from mid-June through August. The worst time to visit Cartagena is during the Easter and Christmas seasons, as thousands of local tourists head for Cartagena beaches. Prices and crowds are at their highest during Semana Santa and December through February. The weather is as cool as it gets during the first two months of the year, however.

Getting to Cartagena Colombia

getting to Cartagena colombia

Before you start planning what to do in Cartagena, how are you going to get there? There are many direct flights from North America and elsewhere. However, the price often drops significantly if you transfer in Bogota or Panama City.

Getting to Cartagena from the US/Canada

Atlanta to Cartagena
Direct flights from Atlanta to Cartagena are on Delta only. These take approx 4 hours, but plenty more airlines leave from ATL making stops in Miami or Ft Lauderdale.

Ft Lauderdale/ Miami to Cartagena
Direct flights between Ft. Lauderdale & Miami to Cartagena leave almost daily and take less than 3 hours. Other flights make a stop in Panama City or Bogota.

New York to Cartagena
There are direct flights from New York to Cartagena that take off from JFK. Direct flights take approx 5 hours. Even more flights to Cartagena make stops in Atlanta, Miami/Ft Lauderdale, Panama City and Bogota.

Toronto to Cartagena
No direct flights from Toronto to Cartagena but plenty of planes arrive after a stop in Florida, Panama or Bogota. Flight time is between 7.5 to 13 hours, depending on the layover.

Getting to Cartagena from Mexico/Latin America

San Jose to Cartagena
Flights between Costa Rica and Cartagena take approx 4-5 hours with a stop in Panama City or Bogota.

Lima to Cartagena
Direct flights between Lima and Cartagena leave daily and take less than 4 hours. Indirect flights stop in Bogota or Medellin.

Mexico City to Cartagena
Direct flights from Mexico City to Cartagena are available and take approx

Getting to Cartagena from within Colombia

Bogota to Cartagena
Flights between the capital Bogota to Cartagena leave daily and take less than 90 minutes.

Medellin to Cartagena
Direct flights from Medellin to Cartagena leave daily and last just over an hour.

Cali to Cartagena
It takes 90 minutes to go from Cali to Cartagena direct.

Getting to Cartagena from Europe

Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the only European destinations with direct flights to Cartagena. KLM only. Amsterdam to Cartagena is approx 14 hours, while the return flight is less than 10 hours.

London to Cartagena
Daily flights from London to Cartagena take approx 15 hours with a transfer in Bogota.

Madrid & Barcelona to Cartagena
No direct flights to Cartagena, I’m afraid. But you can fly to Cartagena from either Spanish city in under 15 hours, depending on your layover time.

Getting Around Cartagena

Unfortunately, Medellin is the only Colombian city with an impressive public transportation network. You can take buses in Cartagena, sure, but the schedules are hard to follow and they can get very hot and crowded. Instead, we suggest taking taxis.

That’s right, taxis. I know we suggested not to take taxis in Medellin and use Uber instead. In Cartagena, we were told taxis were better and had a good experience. That said, I’ve read since we left that Uber and other ride-share apps work there. For what it’s worth, I opened my Uber app on my phone and saw no cars. Either way, it’s worth having both as options. Just keep in mind that both taxis and Uber cars in Colombia are small — too small for a family of four with luggage. Some hotels have larger taxis (SUV style) sitting out front. These are generally more than a normal taxi but can be worth it when carrying all your stuff.

If you’d rather stick to conventional taxis, just flag one down and agree on a price before you get in. We always negotiated. Some of the best hotels in Cartagena are on the beaches north and west of the city proper. It’s not really walkable at all — long stretches of hot and windy sidewalks by busy roads. The distance is enough that you’ll definitely want to take taxis to and from.

Do You Know What to Do in Cartagena?

getsemani

This list of what to do in Cartagena is far from complete. What’s missing? What other attractions in Cartagena would you add? Are there any Cartagena tours you’d recommend? Is Cartagena safe in your opinion? Have you been to Cartagena with kids? Let me know in the comments. 

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for Cartagena tours and other things to do in Cartagena. This costs you nothing, but when you use our links, we might receive a small commission. My opinions are my own and I only recommend things to do in Cartagena that we think you will enjoy. 

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