Introduction

Welcome to Cartagena, a vibrant and historic city nestled on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Known for its colorful colonial architecture, lively streets, and rich culture, Cartagena is a must-visit destination for backpackers seeking an unforgettable adventure. Whether you’re wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Town, exploring the ancient forts, or enjoying the sun-drenched beaches, Cartagena offers a charming blend of old-world charm and modern excitement.

This in-depth travel guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to make the most of your backpacking trip to Cartagena. From when to visit to how to get around, where to stay, top attractions to explore, and even insider tips on safety, budgeting, and local phrases, we’ve got you covered.

Cartagena is a city with a fascinating history that dates back to the Spanish colonial era. Its well-preserved architecture and cultural heritage have earned it the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is a perfect mix of old and new, where vibrant street art coexists with grand palaces and centuries-old churches.

Aside from its historical charm, Cartagena is also home to stunning beaches and nearby islands. Whether you want to relax on the white sands of Playa Blanca, take a boat trip to the Rosario Islands, or partake in thrilling water sports, the coastal beauty of Cartagena will not disappoint.

Furthermore, Cartagena is a haven for food lovers. Indulge in the flavors of Colombian cuisine, from traditional dishes like arepas and empanadas to fresh seafood and exotic fruits. And after the sun sets, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. From rooftop bars offering panoramic views to salsa clubs where you can dance the night away, Cartagena offers a variety of entertainment options.

Whether you’re a history buff, beach lover, foodie, or adventure seeker, Cartagena has something for everyone. So pack your backpack, grab your camera, and get ready to explore this captivating city. Let’s dive into this comprehensive guide and discover the best of Cartagena!

 

Overview of Cartagena

Cartagena is a city with a rich history and a vibrant present, making it a top destination for backpackers looking for a mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation. Located on the northern coast of Colombia, this coastal gem has become synonymous with charm and beauty. The city is divided into two main areas: the historic Old Town and the modern Bocagrande district.

The Old Town, also known as the Walled City, is where you’ll find the majority of Cartagena’s colonial architecture and historic sites. As you wander through its labyrinthine streets, you’ll be greeted by vibrant buildings painted in shades of yellow, blue, and pink. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a living testament to Cartagena’s colonial past and offers a glimpse into its fascinating history.

Bocagrande, on the other hand, is the modern part of Cartagena. This bustling area is known for its high-rise hotels, upscale shopping centers, and beautiful beaches. If you’re looking for a more cosmopolitan experience, Bocagrande is the place to be. You can spend your days lounging on the sandy shores, indulging in delicious cuisine at beachside restaurants, or exploring the numerous shops and boutiques.

Both neighborhoods offer an array of accommodations to suit every budget and preference. From luxury hotels and boutique hostels to cozy guesthouses and budget-friendly options, there’s something to cater to every backpacker’s needs. Whether you prefer the charm of a historic hotel within the city walls or the convenience of a modern beachfront resort, Cartagena has it all.

Cartagena’s tropical climate ensures warm temperatures throughout the year. The dry season, from December to April, is the most popular time to visit, as the weather is sunny and rainfall is minimal. However, if you prefer fewer crowds and don’t mind occasional showers, the wet season from May to November still offers plenty of enjoyable days to explore the city.

As you plan your visit to Cartagena, be sure to set aside enough time to immerse yourself in the city’s unique culture and history. Take a guided tour of the historic sites, such as Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and the Palace of the Inquisition, or simply get lost in the enchanting streets of the Old Town. And don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, experience the vibrant nightlife, and soak up the sun along the picturesque shores.

Cartagena is a destination that ignites the senses and captivates the soul. With its blend of history, architecture, culture, and natural beauty, this Colombian gem promises to be an unforgettable experience for backpackers seeking adventure and discovery.

 

Best Time to Visit

When planning your backpacking trip to Cartagena, it’s important to consider the best time to visit in order to make the most of your experience. Cartagena’s tropical climate means it enjoys warm temperatures year-round, but there are certain factors to keep in mind when deciding on your travel dates.

The dry season, which runs from December to April, is considered the peak tourist season in Cartagena. During these months, you can expect sunny days with minimal rainfall, making it the ideal time for beach activities and outdoor adventures. However, it’s important to note that this is also the busiest time of year, with tourists flocking to the city to escape the winter in their home countries. As a result, prices for accommodations and tours tend to be higher, and popular attractions may be more crowded.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds, consider visiting Cartagena during the shoulder seasons. The months of May to November constitute the wet season, with increased rainfall and lower tourism numbers. While you may encounter occasional showers, the rain usually doesn’t last long and there are still plenty of sunny days to enjoy. The advantage of traveling during this time is that prices are generally lower, and you’ll have a better chance of finding discounted accommodations and special offers.

It’s important to note that Cartagena is located in the Caribbean and can be affected by hurricanes or tropical storms during the wet season, particularly in September and October. While the risk of a major storm hitting Cartagena is relatively low, it’s always a good idea to stay informed and check the weather forecast before your trip.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Cartagena depends on your preferences and travel goals. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, vibrant festivals, and bustling streets, consider visiting during the dry season. On the other hand, if you prefer a more relaxed and budget-friendly experience, the shoulder seasons might be more suitable for you.

Regardless of the time of year, Cartagena offers a unique and unforgettable experience for backpackers. Its rich history, cultural heritage, stunning beaches, and vibrant atmosphere make it an enticing destination to explore anytime. Just pack your sunscreen, your sense of adventure, and get ready to immerse yourself in the magic of Cartagena!

 

Getting There

Getting to Cartagena is relatively easy, thanks to its well-connected transportation options. Whether you prefer to travel by air, land, or sea, there are several ways to reach this captivating city.

By air: The most convenient way to get to Cartagena is by flying into Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG). This airport receives regular domestic and international flights, making it easily accessible from major cities in Colombia and various destinations around the world. Several airlines operate direct flights to Cartagena, including Avianca, LATAM Airlines, and Copa Airlines. From the airport, you can take a taxi or arrange a transfer to your accommodation in the city.

By bus: If you prefer a more budget-friendly option or want to explore the surrounding regions, traveling to Cartagena by bus is a viable choice. The city is well-connected to other major cities in Colombia, including Bogotá, Medellín, and Santa Marta. Several bus companies, such as Berlinas and Brasilia, offer comfortable and reliable services. The journey from Bogotá, for example, takes around 20 hours, but overnight buses with reclining seats are available for a more comfortable trip.

By boat: For those seeking a unique and adventurous experience, arriving in Cartagena by boat can be an exciting option. Several cruise lines include Cartagena as a port of call on their Caribbean itineraries. Additionally, there are ferry services that connect Cartagena to nearby destinations, such as Bocachica and the Rosario Islands. These ferry services offer a scenic journey and a chance to explore the pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean.

Within the city: Once you’ve arrived in Cartagena, getting around the city is easy and convenient. The historic center of Cartagena is best explored on foot, as the narrow streets and colonial architecture make it a pedestrian-friendly area. You can take leisurely strolls, marvel at the beautiful buildings, and discover hidden gems tucked away in the charming alleyways.

For longer distances or if you prefer to save time, taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber are readily available in Cartagena. Just be sure to confirm the fare before getting in the taxi or use the meter. Public buses, known as Transcaribe, also provide an affordable mode of transportation. These buses have designated stops throughout the city and can take you to different neighborhoods and attractions.

Getting to Cartagena is just the beginning of your adventure. The journey itself can be filled with excitement and anticipation. Whether you choose to fly, take a bus, or embark on a boat, you’ll be rewarded with the vibrant and captivating beauty of Cartagena upon arrival.

 

Getting Around

Getting around in Cartagena is relatively easy, thanks to the city’s well-established transportation options. Whether you’re exploring the historic Old Town or venturing to the outskirts, there are various means of transportation to suit your needs.

Walking: One of the best ways to get around the historic center of Cartagena is by walking. The Old Town is compact and easily navigable, with its charming narrow streets and colorful buildings. Walking allows you to soak in the beauty of the city at your own pace and stumble upon hidden gems along the way. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated, especially during the warm Caribbean weather.

Taxis: Taxis are readily available throughout Cartagena, and they offer a convenient mode of transportation, especially if you’re traveling with luggage or venturing to areas outside the Old Town. It’s always recommended to use official taxis with the yellow roof sign and ask the driver to turn on the meter. Alternatively, ride-hailing services like Uber are also available in Cartagena, offering a reliable and often more affordable option.

Public Buses: The city of Cartagena operates a public bus system called Transcaribe. These buses provide an affordable way to travel around the city, with designated stops and routes that cover various neighborhoods and attractions. Transcaribe buses are air-conditioned and offer a convenient option for those on a budget. It’s important to note that the buses can get crowded during peak hours, so plan accordingly.

Bicycles: Cartagena is a bicycle-friendly city, and renting a bike can be a fun and eco-friendly way to explore. Many rental shops offer bicycles with different sizes and styles, including electric bikes for those who want a little extra assistance. Biking allows you to cover more ground while enjoying the sights and breeze along the coastal roads. Just be mindful of traffic and follow the local rules and regulations.

Boats: Given Cartagena’s location on the Caribbean coast, boats are a common mode of transportation for visiting nearby islands or enjoying water activities. Ferries and boats are available to the Rosario Islands, a chain of picturesque islands located just off the coast. These boats provide a scenic journey, and many tours offer snorkeling, diving, and beach-hopping opportunities.

Guided Tours: If you prefer a hassle-free way of getting around and exploring the city, guided tours are an excellent option. There are various walking tours, bike tours, and even horse-drawn carriage tours available. These tours not only provide transportation but also offer insights into the history, culture, and landmarks of Cartagena, giving you a more enriching experience.

As you navigate the streets of Cartagena, keep in mind that the Old Town can get crowded, especially during peak tourist season. Be aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings secure, and practice basic safety precautions. With a little planning and flexibility, getting around in Cartagena will be a breeze, allowing you to fully enjoy the treasures this captivating city has to offer.

 

Accommodation Options

When planning your backpacking trip to Cartagena, you’ll find a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Whether you’re seeking a luxurious hotel experience or budget-friendly hostels, Cartagena has something for everyone.

Hotels: Cartagena is home to a variety of hotels, ranging from luxurious five-star resorts to boutique hotels and budget-friendly options. If you’re looking for a truly indulgent experience, consider staying in the heart of the historic center, where you can find beautifully restored colonial buildings with modern amenities. Not only will you be surrounded by the city’s charm, but you’ll also have easy access to the main attractions and vibrant streets of the Old Town. If you prefer to soak up the sun and enjoy beachside living, you can opt for a beachfront hotel in the Bocagrande district, which offers stunning ocean views and convenient access to the bustling beaches.

Hostels: Backpackers on a budget will find a plethora of hostels in Cartagena that offer affordable accommodation without compromising on comfort and atmosphere. Many hostels are located within or near the Old Town, making it convenient to explore the city’s historical sites and vibrant nightlife. These hostels often feature shared dormitory rooms as well as private rooms, communal spaces for socializing, kitchen facilities, and organized activities. Staying in a hostel not only allows you to save money but also provides an excellent opportunity to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories and recommendations.

Guesthouses: Another popular option for budget-conscious travelers is guesthouses or bed and breakfast establishments. These smaller, family-run accommodations offer a more intimate and personalized experience. You can expect comfortable rooms, friendly hosts, and a homely atmosphere. Guesthouses are often located in residential areas of Cartagena, giving you a taste of local life and a chance to immerse yourself in the city’s authentic culture.

Shared Rentals: For those who prefer a more independent stay, shared rental options such as apartments or vacation homes are available in Cartagena. These rentals provide additional space and privacy, making them ideal for families or groups of friends. Many properties offer fully equipped kitchens, allowing you to prepare your meals and save money on dining out. With shared rentals, you can truly experience Cartagena like a local, living in your own temporary home and exploring the city at your leisure.

As you choose your accommodation in Cartagena, consider your budget, preferred location, and desired amenities. It’s always recommended to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure the best deals and availability. Whether you’re looking for luxury or seeking a budget-friendly option, Cartagena offers a diverse range of accommodations that will make your backpacking experience comfortable and memorable.

 

Top Attractions

Cartagena is a city brimming with captivating attractions that showcase its rich history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring the winding streets of the old town or lounging on the sun-drenched beaches, there’s something for every traveler to enjoy. Here are some of the top attractions to add to your Cartagena itinerary:

1. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: Visit this remarkable fortress and marvel at its impressive architecture and strategic location. Take a guided tour to learn about its intriguing history and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

2. Old Town (El Centro): Lose yourself in the enchanting streets of the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admire the colorful colonial buildings, browse through boutique shops, and soak in the lively atmosphere of Plaza Bolivar.

3. Getsemani: Explore the bohemian neighborhood of Getsemani, known for its vibrant street art, charming squares, and trendy cafes. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy live music and cultural events.

4. Rosario Islands: Take a boat trip to the stunning Rosario Islands and immerse yourself in the beauty of their crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, and white-sand beaches. Snorkel, dive, or simply relax and sunbathe in this Caribbean paradise.

5. Islas del Rosario Aquarium: Visit this unique aquarium located on Rosario Island and get up close to a variety of marine species. Enjoy interactive exhibits and learn about the region’s rich marine biodiversity.

6. Palace of the Inquisition: Step back in time as you explore this well-preserved historic building, now a museum. Discover the dark history of the Inquisition in Colombia and witness the chilling torture chambers.

7. Playa Blanca: Escape the city and head to the idyllic Playa Blanca, located just a short boat ride from Cartagena. Relax on the white sandy beaches, swim in the crystal-clear waters, and indulge in local seafood delicacies.

8. Convento de la Popa: Visit this convent perched atop a hill for breathtaking panoramic views of Cartagena. Explore the beautiful chapel and enjoy a peaceful atmosphere as you learn about the history and religious significance of the site.

9. Bocagrande: Spend some time in this modern part of the city, known for its high-rise hotels, upscale shopping malls, and beautiful beaches. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront or indulge in delicious cuisine at seaside restaurants.

10. Palenqueras: Encounter the iconic Palenqueras, the women dressed in colorful traditional attire, selling tropical fruits and candies. Capture a photo with these vibrant figures and learn about the Afro-Colombian culture they represent.

These are just a few of the many attractions that await you in Cartagena. Allow the city to captivate you with its history, charm, and beauty as you explore its unique cultural heritage and natural wonders.

 

Historical Sites and Architecture

Cartagena is a city steeped in history, and its architecture reflects the influences of its colonial past. From well-preserved fortresses to grand palaces and centuries-old churches, there are numerous historical sites that showcase the city’s rich heritage. Here are some of the must-visit historical sites and architectural gems in Cartagena:

1. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: This impressive fortress is considered one of the most significant military structures built by the Spanish in the Americas. Explore its intricate network of tunnels, walk along its ramparts, and learn about its strategic importance in defending the city against attacks.

2. Walled City: The heart of Cartagena is the walled city, also known as the Old Town or the Historic Center. Here, you’ll find a treasure trove of colonial architecture. Admire the vibrant colors of the buildings, the ornate balconies, and the intricately carved wooden doors. Stroll through the narrow streets, discover hidden plazas, and soak in the history that surrounds you at every turn.

3. Palace of the Inquisition: Step into this hauntingly beautiful building, which was once the headquarters of the fearsome Spanish Inquisition. Now a museum, the Palace offers a glimpse into the dark history of the Inquisition in Colombia. Explore its exhibits to learn about the trials, tortures, and superstitions of the time.

4. Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alejandría: This stunning cathedral, located in the heart of the Old Town, is the centerpiece of Cartagena’s religious architecture. With its elegant exterior and elaborate interior, adorned with remarkable frescoes and gold accents, the cathedral is a testament to the city’s deep-rooted Catholic heritage.

5. Convento de la Popa: Perched atop a hill, the Convento de la Popa offers mesmerizing panoramic views of Cartagena. Dating back to the 17th century, this convent is a fine example of colonial architecture. Explore the chapel, filled with beautiful religious artwork, and immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere.

6. Plaza de los Coches: Located just outside the city walls, this vibrant square is a bustling hub with a rich history. Surrounded by colorful buildings and lively restaurants, it encapsulates the spirit of Cartagena. Take a moment to sit and watch the world go by as you absorb the sights and sounds of this historic plaza.

7. Teatro Adolfo Mejía: This ornate theater is a true gem of Cartagena’s architectural landscape. Built in the neoclassical style, its grand facade and lavish interior make it a must-visit for art and culture enthusiasts. Catch a performance or simply admire the splendor of this historic venue.

These are just a few examples of the historical sites and architectural wonders that await you in Cartagena. As you explore the city, allow yourself to be transported back in time and marvel at the blend of European, Caribbean, and indigenous influences that have shaped its unique architectural heritage.

 

Beaches and Islands

Cartagena is not only a city rich in history and culture but also home to stunning beaches and nearby islands that offer a true Caribbean paradise experience. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing day on the sand or an adventurous water sports excursion, Cartagena has a variety of options to suit every beach lover’s taste. Here are some of the top beaches and islands to visit:

1. Playa Blanca: Located about an hour away from Cartagena, Playa Blanca is a picture-perfect beach with its white sands and turquoise waters. Spend the day lounging in a hammock, swimming in the clear waters, or indulging in delicious seafood from local vendors. You can also rent snorkeling gear or take a boat trip to the nearby Rosario Islands for a memorable day of exploration.

2. Islas del Rosario: Just a short boat ride from Cartagena, the Islas del Rosario is an archipelago comprising several idyllic islands. These islands offer pristine beaches, coral reefs, and crystal-clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling or diving. Take a day trip to explore the islands, relax on secluded beaches, and admire the vibrant marine life.

3. Isla Barú: Located near Playa Blanca, Isla Barú is another paradise-like destination that should not be missed. With its palm-fringed beaches and tranquil atmosphere, it offers a serene escape from the bustling city. Explore the mangroves, take a dip in the warm Caribbean waters, or enjoy a rejuvenating mud bath in the Totumo Volcano.

4. Rosario Islands Aquarium: If you’re interested in marine life, a visit to the Rosario Islands Aquarium is a must. This unique attraction allows you to get up close to a variety of fish, sharks, and other sea creatures. You can even participate in a snorkeling or diving adventure to explore the vibrant coral reefs surrounding the islands.

5. Playa de Bocagrande: If you prefer to stay closer to the city, Bocagrande is a popular beach area conveniently located in Cartagena. This stretch of shoreline offers a range of amenities, including water sports rentals, beachfront restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. Relax on the sandy beach, take a dip in the warm water, or enjoy a refreshing cocktail at one of the seaside bars.

6. Playa Manzanillo: Located in the Rosario Islands, Playa Manzanillo is a secluded beach known for its powdery sand and calm waters. Spend your day snorkeling, kayaking, or simply basking in the peacefulness of this hidden gem. The beach is often less crowded compared to other popular spots, providing a serene and private beach experience.

From relaxing on pristine beaches to exploring vibrant coral reefs, Cartagena offers an array of beach and island experiences for every type of traveler. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or a bit of both, make sure to carve out time to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Cartagena’s coastal wonders.

 

Food and Dining

Cartagena is a culinary paradise that offers a diverse array of flavors and influences from Caribbean, African, and Spanish cuisines. From traditional street food to upscale restaurants, the city is a food lover’s delight. Here are some must-try dishes and dining experiences to savor during your visit:

1. Arepas: These delicious corn cakes are a staple in Colombian cuisine. Whether you prefer them filled with cheese, meat, or avocado, be sure to try this popular street food snack. Don’t miss the chance to taste the famous arepa de huevo, a fried arepa stuffed with a whole egg.

2. Ceviche: Given its coastal location, Cartagena is known for its fresh and flavorful ceviche. Made with marinated raw fish or seafood, mixed with lime juice, onions, and cilantro, ceviche is a refreshing and tangy dish that perfectly captures the taste of the Caribbean.

3. Bandeja Paisa: For a hearty and satisfying meal, try the traditional Colombian dish called bandeja paisa. It typically includes rice, beans, ground beef, chicharrón (fried pork rinds), plantains, avocado, and a fried egg. This dish is a true representation of the country’s rich and diverse culinary heritage.

4. Seafood: With its abundant coastal waters, Cartagena is a seafood paradise. Indulge in fresh catches of the day, such as shrimp, lobster, snapper, and crab, prepared in a variety of mouthwatering ways. From grilled and fried dishes to ceviches and coconut-based seafood stews, the options are endless.

5. Street Food: To truly experience the local flavors, be sure to explore the street food scene in Cartagena. Join the locals and sample delights such as empanadas (stuffed pastries), arepas, patacones (fried plantains), and buñuelos (cheese fritters). These inexpensive and flavorful bites are perfect for a quick snack on the go.

6. Fusion Cuisine: Cartagena also boasts a vibrant dining scene that offers a fusion of international and traditional flavors. Experience the creativity and innovation of local chefs who are blending traditional Colombian ingredients with international techniques, resulting in unique and exciting culinary creations.

7. Fruit Juices and Exotic Fruits: Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the abundance of delicious tropical fruits that grow in Colombia. Try refreshing fruit juices like lulo, guanabana, and maracuyá (passion fruit). You can find fruit vendors throughout the city, serving up a rainbow of colors and flavors.

When it comes to dining, Cartagena offers a range of options to suit every taste and budget. From casual eateries and food markets to upscale restaurants overlooking the sea, the city’s culinary scene will leave you satisfied and eager to discover more of its delicious treasures.

 

Nightlife and Entertainment

When the sun sets in Cartagena, the city comes alive with a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene. From salsa clubs to rooftop bars and live music venues, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Here are some of the top nightlife and entertainment options in Cartagena:

1. Salsa Dancing: Cartagena is known for its lively salsa scene, and you can’t visit the city without experiencing the infectious rhythms of this vibrant dance style. Put on your dancing shoes and head to one of the many salsa clubs or bars where you can learn some moves or simply enjoy the electrifying atmosphere.

2. Chiva Party Bus: For a unique and lively experience, hop onboard a Chiva party bus. These brightly decorated buses take you on a tour of the city while providing live music, traditional Colombian drinks, and a festive ambiance. It’s a fun way to explore Cartagena’s streets and experience local music and dance.

3. Getsemani’s Nightlife: The neighborhood of Getsemani is known for its vibrant nightlife and bohemian atmosphere. Explore this trendy area and discover a variety of bars, clubs, and live music venues where you can dance the night away to local beats or enjoy live performances by talented musicians.

4. Rooftop Bars: Enjoy breathtaking views of the city while sipping on cocktails at one of Cartagena’s rooftop bars. These elevated venues provide a romantic and stylish atmosphere, perfect for a relaxed evening out or a celebratory toast under the stars.

5. Street Performers and Musicians: As you wander through the streets of Cartagena, you’ll often come across talented street performers and musicians showcasing their skills. Stop and listen to the melodic sounds of live music or be entertained by the vibrant performances that bring the city’s streets to life.

6. Casino Nights: If you’re feeling lucky, try your hand at one of Cartagena’s casinos. Enjoy an evening of gambling and entertainment, with options ranging from slot machines to card tables. Whether you win or not, you’re guaranteed an exciting and enjoyable night out.

7. Cultural Performances: Immerse yourself in Cartagena’s rich cultural heritage by attending a traditional folklore show or theater performance. Experience the vibrant energy of Afro-Colombian music and dance or be captivated by local plays that showcase the city’s diverse artistic talent.

8. Nighttime City Tours: Join a guided night tour of Cartagena and see the city in a different light. Explore the beautifully illuminated streets, admire the architectural gems, and learn about the city’s history and legends as you stroll through the enchanting Old Town.

Cartagena’s nightlife and entertainment options ensure there’s never a dull moment in the city. Whether you’re into dancing, live music, or simply enjoying a laid-back evening with friends, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to have a memorable and fun-filled night in this vibrant Colombian destination.

 

Shopping

Shopping in Cartagena is a delightful experience, offering a blend of local craftsmanship, boutique finds, and international brands. From vibrant markets to upscale boutiques, the city has something to satisfy every shopaholic’s desires. Here are some of the top shopping destinations and items to look for in Cartagena:

1. Old Town Boutiques: The historic center of Cartagena is dotted with charming boutiques, offering unique clothing, accessories, and souvenirs. Explore the narrow streets and discover hidden gems, from local designers’ shops to curated concept stores that showcase Colombian craftsmanship and contemporary fashion.

2. Plaza de los Coches: Located near the entrance of the Walled City, Plaza de los Coches is a bustling square where you can find a variety of souvenir stands and vendors selling traditional Colombian crafts. Browse through colorful textiles, handcrafted bags, ceramics, and intricately woven hammocks to bring a piece of Cartagena’s culture and heritage back home.

3. Las Bóvedas: This unique shopping arcade, located in the Old Town, was originally built as a series of dungeons but now houses many small shops selling an array of goods. From artwork and handicrafts to jewelry and clothing, Las Bóvedas is an excellent place to find souvenirs and gifts to commemorate your visit to Cartagena.

4. San Pedro Market: For an authentic local shopping experience, head to San Pedro Market. This bustling market offers a vibrant array of fresh produce, spices, and local delicacies. Explore the stalls, interact with the friendly vendors, and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of this bustling Colombian market.

5. Emeralds: Cartagena is renowned for its beautiful emeralds. Take the opportunity to browse the numerous jewelry stores throughout the city and find the perfect piece to add to your collection. Be sure to purchase from reputable vendors who can provide you with a certificate of authenticity for your peace of mind.

6. Luxury Shopping: If you’re looking for upscale international brands, head to the Bocagrande district, home to modern shopping centers and luxury boutiques. Here, you’ll find renowned designer brands, high-end fashion, accessories, and exclusive beauty and skincare products.

7. Art Galleries: Cartagena is a haven for art enthusiasts, with numerous galleries showcasing the work of local and international artists. Explore the galleries in the Old Town and Getsemani neighborhoods to discover unique paintings, sculptures, and contemporary artworks.

When shopping in Cartagena, don’t forget to hone your bargaining skills. Many vendors at the markets and smaller shops are open to negotiation, so don’t be afraid to try and secure a good deal. Additionally, keep an eye out for special events and promotions, as Cartagena often hosts pop-up markets and artisan fairs that showcase the best of local craftsmanship.

Whether you’re looking for one-of-a-kind souvenirs, fashion-forward pieces, or exquisite artwork, Cartagena offers a vibrant and diverse shopping scene. Take your time, explore the city’s different neighborhoods, and indulge in some retail therapy while immersing yourself in the rich and colorful culture of Colombia.

 

Outdoor Activities

Cartagena’s beautiful coastal location and lush landscapes provide the perfect backdrop for a variety of exciting outdoor activities. From exploring pristine beaches to embarking on thrilling adventures, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in this vibrant Colombian city. Here are some top outdoor activities to experience in Cartagena:

1. Beach Hopping: With its stunning coastline, Cartagena is the ideal destination for beach lovers. Spend your days hopping from one beautiful beach to another, each with its own unique charm. Relax on the white sands of Playa Blanca, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of Rosario Islands, or soak up the sun on the secluded shores of Isla Barú.

2. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: Explore the underwater world of Cartagena’s coral reefs. Go scuba diving to discover colorful marine life, vibrant coral formations, and fascinating shipwrecks. If you prefer to stay closer to the surface, snorkeling allows you to witness the mesmerizing underwater scenes and encounter tropical fish in their natural habitat.

3. Boat Tours: Embark on a boat tour and explore the stunning archipelagos that surround Cartagena. Cruise through the picturesque Rosario Islands, stopping at secluded beaches and snorkeling spots along the way. Opt for a sunset cruise to witness the sky ablaze with beautiful colors as the sun sets over the Caribbean Sea.

4. Kayaking and Paddleboarding: Rent a kayak or a paddleboard and explore the tranquil waters surrounding Cartagena at your own pace. Glide through mangroves, navigate through small channels, and enjoy a peaceful and scenic experience while connecting with nature.

5. Jet Skiing and Banana Boat Rides: For those seeking a more thrilling adventure, hop on a jet ski and zoom across the waves or take a wild ride on a banana boat with friends. Enjoy the exhilaration and adrenaline rush as you glide through the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea.

6. Bike Tours: Rent a bicycle and go on a cycling adventure to explore the city and its outskirts. Pedal along the coastal roads, passing through charming neighborhoods, and discovering hidden corners of Cartagena that are off the beaten path. Join a guided bike tour for a more immersive experience and gain insights into the city’s history, culture, and local life.

7. Hiking and Nature Walks: Venture beyond the city and discover the natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Hike up to the La Popa hill for panoramic views, wander through the mangroves of La Boquilla, or explore the Totumo Volcano, where you can immerse yourself in mineral-rich mud believed to have healing properties.

8. Birdwatching: Cartagena is a haven for birdwatchers, with its diverse ecosystems and a wide variety of bird species. Join a birdwatching tour to spot magnificent birds like herons, pelicans, and flamingos in their natural habitats, or visit the Rosario Islands, home to many coastal and sea birds.

Cartagena’s outdoor activities cater to all levels of adventure and provide opportunities to connect with nature, indulge in thrilling experiences, and soak up the breathtaking beauty of the region. So, put on your sunscreen, embrace your sense of adventure, and get ready to make unforgettable memories in this captivating Colombian city.

 

Safety Tips

While Cartagena is generally a safe destination, it’s always important to take precautions to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind while exploring the city:

1. Stay in well-populated areas: Stick to well-populated and well-lit areas, especially at night. The main tourist areas such as the Old Town and Bocagrande are generally safe, but it’s still important to remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings.

2. Keep your belongings secure: Petty theft can occur in crowded areas, so keep your belongings secure at all times. Use a money belt or a secure bag to hold your valuables, and avoid displaying expensive items or large amounts of cash in public.

3. Be cautious with your drinks: When enjoying the nightlife in Cartagena, be cautious with your drinks. Keep an eye on your drink at all times to prevent anyone from tampering with it. It’s also a good idea to stick to reputable bars and clubs.

4. Use registered taxis or ride-hailing services: Opt for registered taxis or ride-hailing services like Uber to ensure a safe and reliable transportation option. Always confirm the fare before getting into the taxi or use the meter to avoid any potential scams.

5. Respect local customs and traditions: To avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts, respect the local customs and traditions of Cartagena. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and be mindful of the local customs and behaviors when interacting with the locals.

6. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun: Cartagena’s tropical climate can be hot and humid. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and consider taking breaks in shaded areas during the hottest parts of the day to prevent heat exhaustion or sunburn.

7. Use reputable tour companies: If participating in adventure activities or tours, choose reputable companies that prioritize safety protocols. Follow the instructions provided by guides and instructors to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

8. Research areas before exploring: Before venturing to less popular or remote areas, it’s advisable to conduct some research and understand any potential safety concerns. Stay informed about current events and follow any travel advisories or guidance provided by local authorities or your embassy.

By following these safety tips, you can minimize risks and enjoy a worry-free trip to Cartagena. Remember, being aware of your surroundings, respecting local customs, and using common sense are key to ensuring a safe and delightful experience in this beautiful Colombian city.

 

Budgeting and Money Saving Tips

Traveling to Cartagena can be affordable, even on a budget. With some careful planning and a few money-saving strategies, you can experience this vibrant city without breaking the bank. Here are some budgeting and money-saving tips to help you make the most of your trip:

1. Choose budget accommodations: Consider staying in budget-friendly accommodations such as hostels or guesthouses. These options often provide comfortable and clean rooms at a fraction of the cost of luxury hotels. Additionally, look for accommodations located outside the main tourist areas for potentially lower prices.

2. Eat like a local: Explore the local food scene and opt for street food and local eateries to experience authentic Colombian flavors at more affordable prices. Look for “menu del día” or daily specials in restaurants, which often offer a complete meal at a fixed price.

3. Stay hydrated with tap water: Carry a reusable water bottle and fill it up with tap water instead of buying bottled water. Tap water in Cartagena is generally safe to drink, so taking this eco-friendly approach can save you money and reduce plastic waste.

4. Take advantage of free attractions: Cartagena offers several free attractions and activities. Take a leisurely stroll through the Old Town, admire the colonial architecture, and soak in the vibrant ambiance of the plazas. Enjoy the beautiful beaches and take advantage of the natural beauty that doesn’t require an admission fee.

5. Utilize public transportation: Cartagena has an affordable and reliable public transportation system, including buses. Opt for public buses, known as Transcaribe, to get around the city at a fraction of the cost of taxis or ride-hailing services. Familiarize yourself with the routes and schedules to make the most of this cost-effective option.

6. Compare prices and negotiate: Before making any purchases, compare prices at different shops and bargaining is also common in Cartagena’s markets. Practice your negotiation skills, especially when buying souvenirs or taking part in organized tours. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount or explore local markets for better deals.

7. Plan ahead for tourist attractions: Many tourist attractions in Cartagena charge entrance fees. Plan your itinerary in advance and consider purchasing a combination ticket or city pass if you plan to visit multiple attractions. Booking online or in advance can sometimes offer discounted prices.

8. Enjoy free entertainment and activities: Take advantage of the free entertainment and activities available in Cartagena. Attend cultural events, street performances, or live music shows held in public spaces. Enjoy the beautiful sunsets on the beach or take a leisurely walk along the city walls without spending a dime.

By implementing these budgeting and money-saving tips, you can enjoy an incredible experience in Cartagena while keeping your expenses under control. With smart planning and a little creativity, you can make the most of your budget and create lasting memories in this captivating Colombian city.

 

Useful Phrases

While many people in Cartagena speak English, knowing a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience. The locals will appreciate your efforts to communicate in their language. Here are some useful phrases to help you navigate your way around Cartagena:

1. Hello – Hola

2. Goodbye – Adiós

3. Thank you – Gracias

4. Please – Por favor

5. Yes – Sí

6. No – No

7. Excuse me – Disculpe

8. I’m sorry – Lo siento

9. Do you speak English? – ¿Hablas inglés?

10. Where is…? – ¿Dónde está…?

11. How much does it cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta?

12. Can you help me? – ¿Puedes ayudarme?

13. I don’t understand – No entiendo

14. I’m lost – Estoy perdido/a

15. Can I have the bill, please? – ¿Me trae la cuenta, por favor?

16. Cheers! – ¡Salud!

17. What’s your name? – ¿Cómo te llamas?

18. My name is… – Me llamo…

19. Where is the bathroom? – ¿Dónde está el baño?

20. I love Cartagena! – ¡Amo Cartagena!

Remember to speak slowly and clearly, and don’t be afraid to use hand gestures or point to help with communication. The locals are usually very friendly and understanding. Learning and using a few basic Spanish phrases will not only make your interactions smoother but will also make your time in Cartagena more enjoyable and rewarding.

Keep in mind that pronunciation is key when speaking Spanish. Take your time to practice and don’t be shy about trying out your new language skills. The more you engage with the locals, the more enriching your experience in Cartagena will be.

 

Conclusion

Cartagena is a city that will capture your heart with its enchanting blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. From its well-preserved colonial architecture in the Old Town to the stunning beaches and nearby islands, this Colombian gem offers a truly unforgettable experience for backpackers.

In this comprehensive guide, we have covered various aspects to help you make the most of your backpacking trip to Cartagena. From the best time to visit and getting there to recommendations on accommodations, top attractions, and exciting outdoor activities, you now have all the tools to plan an incredible adventure.

Immerse yourself in Cartagena’s fascinating history by exploring its historical sites and architectural wonders. Relax on the pristine beaches, dive into the crystal-clear waters, and savor the flavors of Colombian cuisine. Indulge in the vibrant nightlife, discover hidden treasures while shopping, and connect with the locals by using a few basic Spanish phrases.

While you explore Cartagena, it’s important to keep safety in mind by staying vigilant, securing your belongings, and respecting local customs. By following the budgeting and money-saving tips, you can make the most of your trip while keeping your expenses under control.

Whether you’re a history buff, beach lover, adventure seeker, or just looking for a unique cultural experience, Cartagena has something to offer everyone. With its charm, warmth, and captivating energy, this city promises to make your backpacking journey an extraordinary one.

So, pack your bags, lace up your walking shoes, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure to Cartagena. Let its beauty, history, and vibrant spirit leave an indelible mark on your travel memories. Discover the magic of Cartagena, create lasting connections, and embrace the spirit of exploration in this remarkable Colombian city.