As Colombia’s tourism capital, Cartagena has remained one of the safest places in the country for decades. As such, the tourism infrastructure is far more developed, prices are higher and touts are more annoying (and more bilingual). Nonetheless, it’s difficult not to be enchanted by the city that plays more like an open-air museum than somewhere people actually live. History surrounds you at every corner. Even as you nestle inside a small cafe to take a break from the Caribbean heat, there’ll undoubtedly be some story behind the street you’re on or the building your in – you just need to find it.
An itinerary for a trip to Cartagena could well read like this: Walk around, eat food, visit museums, chill. But that wouldn’t be much help now, would it? Still, it should be said that the true beauty of the city is only appreciated by taking to the streets and meandering around. For those that need a little more focus, however, here’s a 2 day itinerary for Cartagena that should see you through.
Wake up and head to the Old City (if you’re not already there). This is why people travel to Cartagena: magical, colourful streets and beautiful architecture. Start the walk at the Plaza de Los Coches. Once upon a time this was the city’s slave market, and following this a place where carriages (coches) could be rented for a trip around the area. Nearby is the Portal de Los Dulces, where you’ll find a number of stalls selling traditional Colombian sweets.
Take a walk then to the Museum of Modern Art, which boasts a fantastic collection. From here, stroll to the Convento de San Pedro Claver, which doubles up as a museum.
Now make your way to Plaza de Bolivar, which is identified by its statue of Bolivar in the centre of the square. It’s a nice place to sit and relax, and also home to the Museo del Oro, which is a free museum dedicated to Colombia’s history with gold. Very interesting and worth a visit. The cathedral in the square was partially destroyed by Sir Francis Drake who, in contrast to what you may have learnt at school, is considered a pirate in these parts of the world.
By now you’re probably pretty hungry and I’d definitely recommend a visit to El Bistro, which can be found on Calle Ayos with Carrera 4, number 46.
Following this detour, head to Plaza de San Diego – one of the nicest plazas in the city. Here you can purchase any gifts you want to take home.
Come mid-afternoon it’s a good idea to grab a taxi and head out of the walled-city. You should go to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barejas to study some history and, if you’ve time, head to Convento La Popa on La Popa Hill. Here you’ll get some great views of Cartagena and the Caribbean.
Come evening you should be sure to get yourself back to La Plaza de Santo Domingo. Pricey but picturesque, dinner here is one of the defining experiences of any trip to Cartagena. Following dinner, either head back to the Plaza de los Coches and enjoy a drink and dance at Donde Felipe or rent yourself a Chiva. Chivas are open buses that provide you with music, drink and an unforgettable night.
Nursing your hangover, it’s a good idea to use day 2 to take a trip to some of the nearby beaches. I don’t recommend staying in Cartagena for your beach time since they’re generally crowded and unspectacular. Instead, book a tour (your hostel/hotel should be able to help) to Las Islas del Rosario and enjoy yourself some typically Caribbean beaches. You’ll enjoy lunch, snorkelling and relaxation at the islands and, typically, will arrive back to Cartagena around 5pm. This gives you enough time to head home, rest yourself and then head out to dinner.
There are plenty of restaurants to recommend in Cartagena, but for somewhere picturesque and full of history, you can do a lot worse than checking out Casa de Socorro. Pricey but delicious, it offers unusual but traditional cuisine.
To end the night you can either wander the streets and enter one of the many bars the city has to offer or, if you still want to party, head to Plaza de los Coches and get yourself into one of the clubs situated there.