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Best Things To Do in Cartagena
Most of the tourist attractions in Cartagena sit within the Old City Walls, which are home to the Plaza Santo Domingo and the Museo del Oro Zenú. For travelers who want to explore the rest of the city, they can enjoy panoramic views from the San Felipe de Barajas Castle or the Convento La Popa de la Galera. Meanwhile, those in search of secluded patches of sand can plan daytrips to the Rosario Islands or Playa Blanca. No matter what you do, take your time. From its food to its statues to its culture, Cartagena is a city best savored.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all PhotosfreeOld City Walls#1 in CartagenaFree, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Cartagena's most famous attraction, the city's historic walls, began construction on the eastern edge of the city in 1586 and finished in 1796. Fast forward to 1984 and the iconic walls were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Now, the Walled City of Cartagena draws travelers hoping to explore its colonial architecture and peruse the wares of its numerous street vendors.
Recent travelers appreciated the area's historic charm, complete with horse-drawn carriages. They recommend taking your time in the walled city, as you can easily spend a full day wandering its narrow streets. To make sure you don't miss any of the top sites, sign up for one of the area's many walking tours. The only downside? Recent visitors warn about the street vendors who persistently hawk their wares.
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Located just east of the Getsemaní neighborhood, San Felipe de Barajas Castle finished construction in 1657. The castle sits on top of a 130-foot hill, and houses a complex system of tunnels through its mountain base.
Past visitors praised the castle for its magnificent views of the city and historical significance. They also warned that getting to the castle is a bit of an uphill trek, and suggest bringing bottled water as well as wearing a hat and applying sunscreen. According to travelers, audio guides provide additional information about the San Felipe de Barajas Castle and are available for a small fee.
- #3View all Photos#3 in CartagenaFree, Neighborhood/Area, Monuments and MemorialsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/Area, Monuments and MemorialsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
The Plaza Santo Domingo is primarily known as the home of the bronze statue La Gorda Gertrudis, which was created by the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The popular square is located in the Old City Walls, and it has a macabre history as a place for execution. Thankfully, the area has transcended its morbid past, and the most notorious interactions you'll experience now are scammers selling fake IDs.
Past travelers appreciated the cultural significance of the Botero statue, as well as the array of souvenirs for purchase. A handful of travelers expressed disappointment that the plaza is so crowded during the day, making it hard to move around.
- #4View all Photos#4 in CartagenaChurches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
At the peak of a nearly 500-foot hill, Convento La Popa de la Galera towers over Cartagena. Because of its location at the highest point in the city, travelers can expect gorgeous panoramas that capture all of Cartagena, making the convent an excellent option for photos. The convent itself is surrounded by a courtyard with flowers, while the small chapel houses an ornate gold altar.
Recent visitors were impressed by the Convento La Popa de la Galera's incredible views. In fact, many said the main attraction is the convent's view, claiming that the convent is nothing special in and of itself. While a visit to the convent is worth the trip, don't expect to spend a significant amount of time here.
- #5View all Photos#5 in CartagenaChurches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Saint Peter Claver is remembered for baptizing more than 300,000 people, many of them slaves. As an ordained priest, Peter Claver primarily provided spiritual guidance to the numerous slaves who were moved through Cartagena. He died in 1654 and was canonized in the late 19th century by Pope Leo. Claver's body is preserved in the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver in Cartagena. The church also houses a small museum, where travelers can learn more about Saint Peter Claver.
Recent travelers praised the stunning architecture of the building, as well as its historical significance. Visitors can even view the remains of Saint Peter Claver through a glass coffin enshrined in the church's main altar.
- #6View all PhotosfreeMuseo del Oro Zenú#6 in CartagenaMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located in the old city, the Museo del Oro Zenú showcases a collection of gold, silver and ceramic relics. The museum is relatively small, and it focuses on Colombian culture before Spanish colonialism. In total, the museum boasts 902 archaeological objects, in addition to a workshop for kids, a reading room and a movie room.
Past visitors praised the museum, especially for its focus on indigenous people. They were also pleased that the museum is air-conditioned and free, making it exceptionally inviting on a hot Colombian afternoon. Recent travelers also noted that it doesn't take long to go through all of the exhibits, so you won't need to set aside much time to see it.
- #7View all PhotosfreePlaya Blanca#7 in CartagenaBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
This beautiful beach, located south of downtown Cartagena, is one of the best and most budget-friendly beaches in the area. Visitors and locals alike share space on the white sand and in the azure waters of the popular Playa Blanca. But, keep in mind that the beach can get very crowded.
While nearly all past visitors at this beach appreciated the stunning location, many found themselves jaded relatively quickly. Some complained of persistent, intrusive vendors selling massages and food. Meanwhile, others couldn't get over the immense crowd.
- #8View all Photos#8 in CartagenaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located in Bocagrande, a neighborhood on the eastern edge of the city, Caribe Jewelry was founded by three brothers in 1983. The facility is far more than just another jewelry store: it doubles as a museum. Visitors to the museum learn about the history, techniques and heritage around emeralds and gold. Then, they are given the option to buy emerald and gold jewelry of their own.
Past visitors were impressed with the museum aspect of the attraction, saying that the tour is very informative and showcases many beautiful pieces. They also mention that an indoor, air-conditioned activity is always a plus. Visitors can expect a sales pitch at the end of the museum, but there is little pressure to make a purchase.
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Committed sun-seekers and nature enthusiasts will make the hour-long trek south of the city to the Rosario Islands. The collection of small islands are only accessible via an hour-long boat ride, which means that they offer an exceptional feeling of privacy. The beaches boast white sand, while the islands' clear water and national park designations makes spotting marine life relatively easy.
Past visitors to the islands were disappointed that many of the activities and amenities cost extra, such as snorkeling equipment and towels, chairs and food. Travelers also warn that large waves can be an issue on windy days. Also, keep in mind that the various operators that are available to take travelers to the island receive mixed reviews. While you can book a trip in advance, we’d recommend waiting until you arrive so that you can ask questions to clarify which amenities cost extra and the itinerary of your specific trip. Also, opt to book through your hotel or another reputable vendor if possible.
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