Cartagena: the city of magical realism

Colonial Cartagena

Cartagena is an exceptional destination where you can transport in time by wandering its well-preserved historic centre. You’ll find yourself in the city’s colonial heart, walking around a place that still preserves in its streets plenty of stories that have marked Colombia’s past. 

Walled City, Cartagena
Walled city, Cartagena
Historic Centre, Cartagena
Cartagena’s historic centre
Historic Centre & Getsemaní

In the historic centre you can visit the Museum of Gold. Here you’ll find a great collection of precious pieces, shells, gold and ceramic objects from the Zenú indigenous community. The culture of Zenú was one of the most prominent that was developed in this part of the country in the pre-Columbian times, from 200 BC until 1600 AD. 

Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena

Additionally, it’s worth visiting the impressive Palace of Inquisition, a place of great importance during the Spanish colonisation. This is one of the city’s finest buildings, as it preserves its colonial architecture with its baroque style entrance and its long wooden balconies in the façade. Today it houses the Historical Museum of Cartagena de Indias.

As you enter the old town of Cartagena from the east, you’ll come across the famous monument of India Catalina, a tribute to an indigenous woman who served as interpreter for the Spanish in the time of conquest. Continue your tour by visiting some of the oldest religious temples of the city, including Cartagena’s Cathedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría, the San Pedro Claver Church & Convent and the Church of Santo Domingo. Take some time to rest in some of the best plazas in the city. The Plaza of Santo Domingo in the historic centre or Getsemaní’s Plaza de Santísima Trinidad are always filled with energy, music and life. The bohemian neighbourhood of Getsemaní is characterised by its vibrant streets, colourful buildings, creative street art and an exciting nightlife scene. 

Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
India Catalina, Cartagena
Monument of India Catalina, Cartagena
Old City, Cartagena
Part of the walled city, Cartagena
Food & Drink

The food scene in Cartagena reflects indigenous, African and European influences. Make a stop in one of the traditional restaurants in the historic centre or in Getsemaní to try the delicious Caribbean cuisine. Fish and seafood are prevalent in this region due to its proximity to the sea. Taste some of the most typical dishes, such as the sancocho de pescado (fish soup), coctel de camarón (prawn cocktail), arroz con chipi chipi (a type of local shellfish) and mote de queso (yam soup with cheese and coconut). Also, in various spots throughout the city you’ll find several exotic fruit sellers – among those the palenqueras – and street food like empanadas, arepas de huevo (corn dough with an egg inside), papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), carimañolas (cassava pastries stuffed with meat and cheese) and cocadas (coconut based sweets).

Caribbean Food
Gastronomic offer in Cartagena
Colombian Fruits
Tropical fruits, Cartagena
Tropical fruits of Colombia
Street Art, Cartagena
Street art, Cartagena

By the end of the day, get immersed in the magical sunset from the walls surrounding the old town and view the sun vanishing into the Caribbean waters. Try to get here as early as possible to find a good spot. You can also enjoy the sunset from one of the wall corners where the famous Café del Mar is located – make sure you ask for a tropical cocktail! Sooner or later you’ll realise that the music and dance are always present in the life of the costeños – as the people from the coast are called. One of the most iconic bars in Cartagena is the Café Havana where you can enjoy your drink dancing in the rhythms of salsa, cumbia or champeta.

Old City, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas

One of the most iconic attractions in Cartagena is the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, built in 1657 on the hill of San Lázaro. Once you’re in, explore the ramparts and underground passages, learn about its long history and enjoy the stunning view over Cartagena from the viewpoints. The castle is just a 10-minute drive from the historic centre and is open daily from 08:00 to 19:00 (except the last Sunday of each month that is open until 17:00). We recommend you take a taxi to the castle and avoid going on foot, as the surrounding area is not the safest. Also, try to get here early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the strong sun and midday heat. 

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Bocagrande

To experience the modern side of Cartagena you can visit the district of Bocagrande, located about three kilometres away from the city centre. In Bocagrande you’ll find contemporary tall buildings, luxury hotel brands, casinos, shopping malls, high-end restaurants as well as a long coastline with sandy beaches. There’s a big architectural difference between Cartagena’s historic centre and Bocagrande that doesn’t go unnoticed – perfect for an alternative plan to the classic stroll in the walled city.

Bocagrande, Cartagena
Bocagrande, Cartagena
Beyond Cartagena

If you feel like escaping from the city and the heat and want to relax on a Caribbean beach, go on a day trip to one of the beautiful islands just off the coast of Cartagena. You can take a boat from the pier (Muelle de la Bodeguita) and in less than two hours you’ll find yourself in front of an exotic beach enjoying a coconut cocktail. The most popular are the Islas del Rosario and the Isla Barú.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

The archipelago of Rosario consists of 27 small islands and is located southwest from Cartagena. The biggest of the islands and one of the most popular is Isla Grande, where you can not only enjoy the fantastic beaches but also explore the amazing natural environment. If you’re looking for something more exclusive and tranquil, the Isla del Pirata is one of the smallest of the archipelago and is ideal for enjoying the nature without distractions.  

The Isla Barú, which you can reach by land, is well-organised with restaurants, bars and accommodation places to spend the night. Its most famous beach is Playa Blanca with white sand, palm trees and blue waters. To extend your holiday and spend a night in the island is a great idea, as you’ll be able to appreciate the beach without the noise of the crowds, who normally go back to Cartagena by 5pm. When the night comes you’ll have the chance to swim or go in a kayak among bioluminescent plankton that glow in the dark.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

As of the menu in the islands, the typical dish is fried fish that comes with coconut rice and patacones (fried pieces of plantain). Give it a try, it’s delicious!

Caribbean food
Fried fish with coconut rice and patacones

In these islands are found the best beaches of the area around Cartagena. Like in many Caribbean islands, be prepared to come across not only idyllic beaches with crystalline waters, coral reefs and palm trees but also forests of mangroves and lush vegetation.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

After all, there are not enough words to describe the beauty of Cartagena. You just need to witness it with your own eyes!

Historic Centre, Cartagena
Old Town, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
City Hall, Cartagena
Cartagena’s City Hall
Old City, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena

Insider’s guide to the best of Bogotá

Street art, Bogotá
Discover the beauty of Bogotá’s historic centre

The neighbourhood of La Candelaria is definitely one of the most beautiful parts of Bogotá’s historic centre and a major tourist attraction. Here you’ll find old streets with beautiful colonial buildings and also the legendary Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo filled with street performers and the traditional chicherías. These are local producers of a fermented corn drink which is consumed by hippies and local artists.

La Candelaria, Bogotá
La Candelaria, Bogotá

One of the most popular activities for tourists and locals is the graffiti tour. Bogotá as well as Medellín are artistic epicentres and one of their principal manifestations is the street art. Through the graffiti tour you can experience the capital’s great urban artwork and learn about Bogotá’s past and present, its social movements and the recent history that has moulded the city.  

Street Art, Bogota
Street art, Bogotá

The Plaza de Bolívar is also located in the area, where you can admire Bogotá’s Primary Cathedral and other neoclassical buildings surrounding it, including the National Capitol, the Palace of Justice and the Liévano Palace, seat of the mayor. If you’re interested in the religious art, in about three blocks on the southern side of the plaza you can visit the Santa Clara Museum. The museum is located in an old church, just next to the presidential building Casa de Nariño. On the other side, north-east of the Plaza de Bolívar, you can visit the Independence Museum – Casa del Florero. A historic place where the battles that lead to Colombia’s independence originated from. Just a few steps from this museum you’ll find the old restaurant Puerta Falsa with more than 200 years of history. This restaurant is famous not only for the Colombian tamales (corn dough with pork or chicken wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed), but also for the traditional Bogotanian dish ajiaco (chicken soup with different kinds of potatoes, corn and guasca herbs garnished with sour cream, capers, rice and avocado). The area around the Plaza de Bolívar is full of history and activities for every taste. 

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá

The bohemian neighbourhood of La Macarena is another place in the historic centre worth visiting. In this area you can find plenty of restaurants with different types of cuisine, including Asian, Italian and Spanish. In case you haven’t tried the famous Peruvian cuisine, there are a couple of good options as well. You’ll also find restaurants serving Colombian dishes, and a good place to try the typical beverage chocolate con queso: small pieces of sweet cheese submerged in hot chocolate (it’s not as appalling as it sounds!). This is a Bogotanian kind of beverage that you can’t miss.

Learn about the history and art through excellent museums

One of the most visited museums in Bogotá is the Museum of Gold featuring large collections of unique archaeological objects and thousands of gold pieces. In this museum you can learn about the indigenous societies, like the Muisca people that lived in today’s territory of Bogotá and its surroundings. The Museum of Gold is located on the east side of Santander Park in the city’s downtown and is open daily except Mondays.

Museum of Gold, Bogota
Museum of Gold, Bogotá

Another outstanding attraction is the Botero Museum, housed in a beautiful colonial style house in La Candelaria. It was founded in 2000 after a donation by the famous Colombian painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. The artist handed over a private collection of 208 pieces of art, from which 123 are of his own making and the other 85 are of other international artists, including Picasso, Dalí and Monet. The museum is open daily except Tuesdays and the entrance is free.

Botero Museum, Bogota
Botero Museum, Bogotá

In the city centre and across the Park of Independence you’ll find the Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá (MAMBO) housed in a four-storey building of postmodern architecture. The museum exhibits pieces of contemporary art mainly of artists from Latin America. You’ll find it open from Tuesday to Sunday. 

Just next to the museum there is an open-air local market taking place every Sunday and public holiday. At the Mercado de las Pulgas you will find unusual handicraft items, books, old furniture, clothes and antiques. For more than 30 years this market has been considered as a cultural meeting place.

Enjoy the view of the city from the top of Monserrate Hill
View from Monserrate Hill, Bogota
View over Bogotá from Monserrate Hill

During your stay in Bogotá, don’t miss the opportunity to go up the Monserrate Hill to enjoy the panoramic view of the city from an altitude of 3,152 metres. The best time to visit this site is at the late afternoon hours so you can also spot the beautiful sunset and enjoy the view of the entire city with its lighted buildings. 

Monserrate Hill, Bogota
Monserrate Hill, Bogotá

The easiest and shortest way to reach the top of the hill is by cable car or the funicular railway. If you feel adventurous enough and you’re in a good physical condition, you can also hike the trail that leads to the top. The path is open from 05:00 to 16:00 (last entry to go up is at 13:00) and it takes roughly an hour. As soon as you get to the top you’ll find various restaurants and stores selling handicrafts and souvenirs. You can also visit the church Basílica del Señor de Monserrate and the restaurants of Casa Santa Clara and San Isidro, both housed in beautiful buildings. Lastly, pay attention to the nature around you, as it’s very likely you can observe adorable hummingbirds flying free in short distance.

Monserrate Hill, Bogota
Monserrate Hill, Bogotá
Discover an incredible variety of exotic fruits

If you want to have an authentic experience and get to know a great local market, the Paloquemao Market is the best choice. Local farmers come together in this place from 04:00 to 16:00 to sell their products. Here you’ll find yourself surrounded by endless amounts of exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers among other products. It’s about an explosion of colours and smells, with plenty of vendors selling all kinds of fresh produce, street food and local handicrafts.

Don’t forget to try delicious empanadas (fried pastries filled with beef or chicken and potato), a portion of lechona (an entire pork stuffed with rice and vegetables and roasted for hours) or the classic meal corrientazo: soup for starter, a piece of meat with plantain, potato, rice and legumes for main, served with a glass of fresh fruit juice (a dish particularly popular among workers which is worth to try).

Paloquemao Market, Bogota
Paloquemao Market, Bogota
Paloquemao Market, Bogotá
Have fun like locals

In the northern part of Bogotá you’ll find the district of Chapinero, famous for hosting some of the best restaurants in the country, shopping malls with international brands, trendy hotels, and also renowned for the good nightlife. Among others, there’s Tejo Turmequé, a trendy playground that brings together the traditional habit of having a beer and playing tejo – a traditional Colombian game that’s about exploding small triangles of gunpowder with a metal disk on a surface of clay. If you’re into an experimental and contemporary cuisine, you might like to try one of the city’s innovative restaurants, such as Villanos en Bermudas, Salvo Patria or El Chato. For brunch lovers, Club Colombia by Harry Sasson (one of the most prestigious chefs in the country) is a good option where you’ll find a wide range of traditional dishes. 

Colombian food
Colombian empanadas

Further to the north of the city there’s the upscale neighbourhood of Usaquén. Here you can try good quality Colombian coffee in one of its lovely coffee shops. We recommend Colo Coffee, Catación Pública or Café San Alberto. The latter is a good option as well if you want to have a coffee tasting experience and learn about the collection and production process. Lastly, Usaquén is famous for its fancy flea market where people sell handicrafts and local products every Sunday.

Usaquen, Bogota
Usaquén, Bogotá