Top Tips for Visiting Cartagena, Colombia
Our first trip out of the country in over a year!!
We were beyond excited to leave the country for our yearly getaway. Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve been staying put. After getting vaccinated, I felt ready to go and was inspired by a blog post I came across and other articles. So, in late May, we boarded a plane for Cartagena, Colombia, one of the most vibrant and most visited cities in South America — and to be honest, it was the most amazing feeling. We’re finally free to go on an international trip! 🤗
Where is Cartagena, Colombia?
Officially the Republic of Colombia, Colombia is located in South America and has coastlines along both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is Bogotá and the official language is Spanish (though over 70 other languages are spoken there as well!). And yes, it gave Jonah a chance to practice his Spanish!
For this trip, I was inspired to go to Cartagena, a city located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in the northern part of Colombia (it kind of looked like a little Miami). A beautiful city with squares, cobblestone streets, and colorful colonial buildings, Cartagena offers tropical weather and is a popular beach destination!
General Requirements and Precautions for Traveling to Colombia
For travel to Colombia from the United States, you need a valid passport with at least 6 months before passport expiration.
On the COVID-19 end, at the time of this post, international travelers entering Colombia no longer need to present a negative PCR test. However, they do still need to complete Migracion Colombia’s Check-Mig immigration form 24 hours in advance of departure and follow other protocols upon arrival.
For Migracion Colombia’s Check-Mig immigration form, head here: https://www.migracioncolombia.gov.co/
For more details on traveling to Colombia, here are some additional resources:
On the safety end, as of the time of our travel – yes, there were protests and other unrest present in parts of the country. However, with advanced planning to make sure we avoided the high-risk areas, we ended up having a wonderful experience in this beautiful country.
Join us on our adventure and read more about our incredible vacation to Cartagena, Colombia, vámonos!
8 Must Dos in Cartagena: Our Favorites
Here is a list of places we visited (and would recommend you check out!):
- Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
This place is truly amazing and a must see when in Cartagena. The castle is located on the Hill of San Lazaro and was built by the Spanish during the Colonial era, which is where the name comes from, to honor King Philip IV of Spain. There is so much history in this castle – it’s fascinating. More about the castle history here: https://www.cartagenaexplorer.com/visit-castillo-san-felipe-fortress-cartagena-guide/
- Visit the Convento de la Popa Church
At the top of the mountain (500 ft), at the highest point of Cartagena, Colombia, stands the Convento de la Popa Church. The views from this place are absolutely breathtaking and spectacular. It was founded by Augustine fathers in 1607, and it was initially just a small wooden chapel before being transformed into a beautiful church filled with flowers, history, and architecture. We took a cab up with our wonderful driver and really enjoyed our time here. They are right when the locals say, if you don’t visit la Popa Church when in Cartagena, then consider it like you were never here 😁. Learn more about this sanctuary here: https://www.inspirock.com/colombia/cartagena/convent-of-santa-cruz-de-la-popa-a192031973
- Totumo Mud Volcano (“El Totumo”)
This volcano visit (50 minutes from our hotel) was the highlight of our trip! We could not stop laughing and enjoying ourselves the whole time we were at this warm mineral-infused mud bath. The locals say there is a healing power in the mud bath at Totumo Volcano, and it’s a must that you check it out while in Cartagena. Keep in mind that there are no working bathrooms, so you have to wash up at the lake with the ladies there washing the mud off your body. Then after you’re all cleaned up, you have to tip everyone. And on that note: It’s important to make sure to bring enough cash with you to tip the tour guides that work there and the ladies that wash you at the end of the tour. It’s not too much — just $1 for each person, which is around $3K in Colombian Peso.
Visiting Totumo Mud Volcano is a unique lifetime experience and you can book your tour with Viator at the link below or hire a taxi driver (which is what we did) for half a day to pick you up from your hotel take you there, and then bring you back after you’re done.
Half-Day Tour to Totumo Mud Volcano from Cartagena
- Dinner sunset at Café del Mar Ltda
It can’t get more romantic than watching the sunset at Café del Mar. It’s the perfect place for cocktails and fun music with a magical view of the sea and the city’s skyline. However, keep in mind that the food menu is very limited if you don’t like seafood. It’s a very hip spot and highly recommended, so make sure to go early or make reservations at the link below. Trust us — you won’t be disappointed; the experience is incredible.
- Getsemani Street
Forbes listed the laid-back Getsemani as the 4th most beautiful neighborhood in the world, and they were not kidding about the beauty of this place with all the wall art and graffiti paints. The best way to see everything in this area is by walking around and exploring. However if you want to learn about the history, it’s recommended to get a walking tour. There are also several really good restaurants you can check out, including: Caffé Lunático, La Olla Cartagena, Dona Lola Comida del Caribe, La Cocina de Pepina, and many others.
- Take a walking tour of Old Town
This area reminded us of Havana, Cuba, and it’s where you can find old colonial buildings and some amazing landmarks, such as the clock tower with all the art and colorful houses. It takes you back in time — the authenticity is pure. The best way to get around the Walled City is just to walk through Old Town and take a walking tour so you can learn more about the history of Spanish Colonialism, slaves, and Catholicism, and touch on all the amazing places to see in Cartagena. More information on things to know before you check out the Walled City of Old Cartagena: https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/colombia/articles/10-things-to-know-before-visiting-the-walled-city-of-old-cartagena-colombia/
- A day trip of island hopping and lunch at Playa Blanca
You can’t leave Cartagena without doing an island excursion filled with fun water activities. It’s a full day of swimming, snorkeling, jet skiing, paddle boarding, and many more in the beautiful Caribbean. Playa Blanca and Rosario Islands are a must see when in Cartagena. You can get your tickets prior to your travel from the link below or ask a concierge once you arrive.
- San Basilio De Palenque
This is a beautiful place to learn and educate your loved ones about the history of slavery in Colombia and Latin America as a whole. San Basilio de Palenque is known to be the first free slave town in the Americas and is a few miles away from the city of Cartagena.
Travel Tips for Visiting Cartagena and the Surrounding Areas:
- How much cash should you have?
Research all the activities you would like to do and how much each costs. Then get the cash prior to your trip, as there aren’t that many ATMs or places that take credit cards in town, so it’s critical to have extra cash with you and learn the conversion rates prior to the trip so you don’t get confused when you get there.
- Where to stay?
You have many options — from hotels to vacation rentals. Some places to stay in Cartagena: Old Town, Getsemani, Boca Garnde, or El Cabrero. Do your research on what’s affordable for your budget and convenient to the areas you want to visit. We stayed at the Intercontinental Cartegena de Indias in Bolivar; you can also stay at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena, Hilton Cartagena, or Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena. All of these hotels are at the center and easy to get to everywhere. Renting Airbnb for your stay is also an option. Just make sure to do your research on the area and read the reviews.
- How to get around?
We found the best way to be getting a personal tour guide that took us around the city (and gave us history lessons as well!). If interested in seeing if our guide is available, you can call him via WhatsApp at + 57 304 3685789. He speaks English (and lived in the US at one time). If not, there are bus tours and many taxi drivers that can take you around the city. Just make sure to negotiate prices with them ahead of time and that they speak English (if you don’t speak Spanish!) so you can understand them well during the tour.
- Where to eat best Colombian food?
There are MANY great restaurants in Cartagena. Our favorites: La Casa de Socorro (a must try), El Muelle- Cartagena de Indias, La Mulata, Alma, and Restaurant Mar De Las Antillas.
- A note on vendors
Vendors were very pushy in Cartagena. We’ve been all over the world and never had such experience. Learn how to say “No, gracias” and negotiate every price given to you if you want to get the product. We made a mistake of trusting a vendor the first day we got to Cartagena and got scammed. Make sure to be careful and learn how to bargain hard.
Overall Perspective on Cartagena, Colombia
If/when you travel to Cartagena, be sure to plan in time to explore the city and all the highlighted spots above as the city charm will take your breath away and leave you speechless with its beautiful architecture, ocean views, colorful plazas, amazing restaurants/cafes, and so much more! It’s a perfect vacation getaway for everyone. We absolutely loved our 5 day stay and look forward to next time!