If you are planning a trip to Colombia, Cartagena should definitely be on your list! These are the 17 best Cartagena things to do for your stay in this beachy, colonial town on the Caribbean coast.
After being in Colombia for nearly two months, we finally made our way to Cartagena, the beachside gem of Colombia. From its cute colonial downtown to the gorgeous blue water islands just off the coast, there is plenty to do in Cartagena!
We’ll go over all the best Cartagena things to do, the best beaches in Cartagena, the best restaurants in Cartagena, Playa Blanca Cartagena, things to do in Bocagrande, Cartagena, and more!
This post is all about the best Cartagena things to do!
Cartagena Things To Do:
Walk the Wall
Since the center of Cartagena is within the wall, it is a must to get up and walk on top of the wall. There is a wide enough walking path and plenty of stairs or ramps to get to the top. The best part of the wall to visit is along the northern side of the city since that is the wall facing the ocean. The wall is a great spot to sit for sunset. Just be aware that it can get crowded so be sure to get there early!
See Cartagena’s Best Views at Hotel Movich
We visited quite a few spots for sunset but this was by far the best. The rooftop on Hotel Movich is host to a romantic restaurant overlooking the whole city. You can see the iconic Cathedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, the ocean, and the city skyline from Bocagrande. They have some delicious food and the sunset truly is stunning from there. Be sure to try some of their signature cocktails as well. You can also stay at the Hotel Movich and enjoy these awesome views every day from the pool!
Watch Sunset at Cafe Del Mar
This is the most popular stop for sunset and for good reason. It is the only restaurant physically on the wall surrounding the city and it has a front-row view over the ocean. We didn’t find the food or drinks to be spectacular but you really are there for the views. It gets very crowded though so it is best to make a reservation ahead of time. We made ours for 4:30 pm with the sun setting around 6:15 pm and it was perfect. We got to enjoy the ocean breeze and a few drinks before the sun blew up in insane pinks and purples.
PRO TIP: the best part of sunset happens after the sun actually sets so be sure to stick around!
Wander Calle de la Iglesia
Wandering around anywhere in Cartagena is absolutely magical with colorful buildings and spectacular doors. But be sure to wander down Calle de La Iglesia. You will get some stunning views of the Cathedral. If you are here for the famous photo, be sure to get here as early as possible because it gets busy with cars and people!
> Take a look at what travel camera gear we recommend!
Visit Getsemani’s Artsy Neighborhood
Getsemani’s neighborhood is very up and coming and there is some form of artistry in every direction you look! We wandered about here and got ice cream while we enjoyed the street art and covered streets. These are some of the best spots to visit in the Getsemani Area:
- Umbrella Streets on Calle de la Magdalena and Callejón Angosto
- Maria Bonita Taqueria Cantina
- Iglesia de La Trinidad
- Flag Street on Calle Tripita Y Media
Enter the City Through the Clock Tower
The main clock tower is an iconic symbol of Cartagena. This is the entrance to the walled city and many of the best restaurants are located just within the wall. Be sure to enjoy the liveliness of the square just inside (and be ready to say “No, gracias” a million times to all the vendors). Don’t forget to snap a photo!
> You should check out our full Colombia Itinerary for 2 weeks!
Find the Fanciest Crepes & Waffles
Crepes & Waffles is a chain restaurant with restaurants all over Colombia. We actually hadn’t tried it yet because we try to stay away from chains and visit more locally run places. But this one has a beautiful rooftop view over the city. We went because the night we planned to go to Hotel Movich there was a private party and this was just down the street. It was a much more casual stop than Hotel Movich but with some pretty awesome sunset views nonetheless and the FOOD. Their savory crepes were phenomenal and the waffles for dessert. YUM!
Enjoy a Sunset Cruise
Probably my favorite sunset spot in our two weeks was from the water on our sunset cruise. We had plans to go on the Sibarita cruise which is a small boat with fairy lights and a romantic atmosphere. Due to some protests in the area during our time, it got canceled unexpectedly and we ended up on a much different cruise. It was a party boat with unlimited booze but really not our scene. BUT, when the sun finally started to set, everyone went inside to dance and we got the whole front of the boat to ourselves. Minus the bumping music, it was actually quite perfect and the views were phenomenal!
If you are planning on doing a sunset cruise in Cartagena try the Romantic Sibarita Sunset Cruise or the gorgeous Bona Vida Catamaran Sunset Cruise we saw from afar and were instantly jealous of their more peaceful ride.
Best Beaches Cartagena:
Blue Apple Beach Club
If you are planning on visiting any beach clubs or just have room for one beach day, we highly recommend visiting Blue Apple Beach Club. It was far and away the best beach experience we had. They make it easy to book and have their own boat transport round trip. The food is absolutely fantastic, all locally sourced and organic. They played great music and we had phenomenal service the whole day. We got a spot by the pool so we could leave our bags without worrying and it was a great choice, close to the bar and in the shade.
The beach was clean and well kept. On busier days, they even have some lounge chairs out there as well so you can enjoy the pool and the beach. There is a volleyball court, massage tables, really nice restrooms, and a hotel! Staying there with a room and a private pool sounds awesome but the day pass was perfect, too. My favorite things were there were no vendors inside the club (there are at others), the food was delicious and not included so we could choose whatever we wanted, there were places to sit on the beach (even if just the sand), and towels were included! Overall a fantastic experience and I honestly would have gone again, if we could!
PRO TIP: take the later boat back to town if you can, so you can get a beautiful sunset cruise included in the trip!
Rosario Islands are a set of islands making up an archipelago 60 miles off the coast of Cartagena. With pristine blue waters and white sand, they make for a perfect day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are a few ways you can visit the islands.
- The most popular is by a day tour with a company that will take you out to three islands and snorkeling among the reefs. It is usually an all-day excursion with 20 or 30 other people, lunch is included, and can be somewhat rushed as you fit everything in. These seem to run around $100 per person.
- Our favorite option is the Catamaran Cruise with Snorkel & Lunch. Even though it doesn’t dock at any of the islands, the reviews are amazing and the snorkeling looks divine!
- You can also charter private boats. This is a great option if you are traveling with a larger group or if money isn’t a concern for you. Compared to chartering boats elsewhere, these are relatively inexpensive and cost anywhere as low as $600 for a boat of up to 10 people. This option will allow you to go at your own pace and select all your own destinations.
- We honestly thought about this and loved the service and options provided by this Private Boat Tour.
- This was the option we went with as there were still quite a few tours not operating in early 2021. We were happy with our decision because we were able to relax for the day instead of hopping island to island. The water was clear and blue and we had a great day bed overlooking the beach. We booked our day with Bora Bora Beach Club and although it didn’t live up to the standards of Blue Apple Beach Club it was still a great day and a perfect way for us to see the Rosario Islands.
Stay the Night:
- If we had been able to plan this into our schedule, I would have loved to have stayed a night or two at one of the beautiful Rosario Islands. They have some luxury stays for couples like Eco Hotel Isabella and some nice budget locations like El Hamaquero Hostal EcoNativo as well!
Considered to be the most beautiful beach in Cartagena, this white sand beach is only a short boat ride from town. It is technically one of the islands in the Rosario Islands archipelago so it is often included in one of those tours. You can however book a tour directly to and from the island beach to spend the day there, like this Day Trip to Playa Blanca. You can also book a shuttle boat through one of the vendors in the squares around Cartagena. Just be sure to negotiate for a fair price.
There are plastic lounge chairs available for rent and plenty of vendors offering souvenirs and food. If you are trying to avoid the vendors, you can spend most of your time in the water or head over to one of the beach clubs for a more private experience. We loved the look of Nena Beach Club and would have loved to have visited there if we could!
The most easily accessible beach to Cartagena as it is just outside the walled city. It is not going to be those picturesque Caribbean waters you imagine but it is still a great beach to escape the heat and layout, enjoy an adventurous jet ski rental, or even just walk along the water to get ice cream as we did.
Best Restaurants in Cartagena:
We already listed a few of the best places to grab a bite or drink (Hotel Movich, Cafe Del Mar, and Crepes & Waffles). Unfortunately, when we went in 2021, many of the restaurants had closed temporarily and there was a nightly curfew of 8 pm and a weekend curfew of 12 pm, so our options were pretty limited. However, this list includes only the best of the places we ate in Cartagena and my oh my, was the food so GOOD!
This is where Nate surprised me for my birthday and it was unbelievable. Rated the #1 restaurant on TripAdvisor, it definitely lives up to the hype. They went above and beyond and decorated our booth with balloons and a “Feliz Cumpleaños” sign. The manager even came over to welcome and thank us for visiting. We got recommendations from our waiter and had the Arroz con Mariscos and Pulpo Oriental, both absolutely wonderful. And the best part? The Pisco Sours! They have a whole menu of signature cocktails and they were so good. They even let us take our last one to go (with the curfews)! Just be sure to make reservations.
This spot was located just down the street from where we stayed in San Diego and was absolutely the best ceviche we have had. La Cevichería was made popular when Anthony Bourdain visited on his show “No Reservations.” And said it was his favorite restaurant in Cartagena (that’ll do it). But we honestly see why! We sat outside on the street and had the sweetest waitress ordered us the best on the menu. The Colombian Ceviche was absolutely to die for!
The cutest little (and I mean little) taco shop in the Getsemani area. It was a perfect spot to stop for lunch to have some delicious cocktails and tacos. This spot is so popular because of its adorable flower wall in the courtyard. They also have tons of fans and misters to keep you cool in the warm Cartagena sun. Very much much appreciated!
This spot was the perfect spot for a late brunch on the weekend. We were lucky enough to pop in and grab a table but it normally fills up quite quickly. They had a great deal on mimosas (3 for 2) and our brunch options were delicious! We loved the friendly service and the cozy atmosphere of this spot!
This is a great spot in the San Diego area for lunch or dinner. We went for lunch while walking around and had mojitos in the courtyard by the pool and some delicious Cuban food. But at night the pool is converted to a stage and they have live music. It was such a fun throwback to a different time period and location!