Visitors flock to this walled city, drawn by its UNESCO World Heritage listed architecture in a variety of pastel hues, that dates back to the 16th century, and its impressive military structures which made it one of the most complete systems of military fortifications in South America.
Just a short boat ride off the coast on the island of Baru, you’ll come across Playa Blanca, an idyllic escape from city life where you can spread out in a hammock, order a bottle of rum, and even stay the night if you so desire.
A bus ride out of town will bring you to the diminutive volcano El Totumo where a short climb to the top will lead you to an encounter with the quirkiest mud pool you have ever come across. Ease yourself into the warm gloop and your very own attendant will ensure you are totally covered in the therapeutic, albeit rather stinky, substance.
It’s a slightly different way to preen yourself for a night out on the town, an area in which Cartagena absolutely excels. The old town is filled with bars in the squares and along the ramparts which are great for a few sundowners. As the darkness sets in, the rhythm gets a little more frantic signalling time for salsa. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for dancing here in the old town, or you can head further afield to areas like Bocagrande for even more choice.
Places to Visit in Cartagena
- Old town
- El Totumo
- San Diego
Unique Things to See and Do in Cartagena
- Roam the narrow colonial streets to get a feel for the city
- Dance salsa into the early hours at one of the many danceterias
- Take a boat out to Playa Blanca for some serious rest and relaxation
- Have a mud bath in the El Totumo volcano
A City Set on the Caribbean
Named after the Spanish city of Cartagena, which in turn took its name from the ancient city of Carthage, Cartagena de Indias was the focus of trade between South America and the rest of the world due to its position on the Caribbean and its deep-water harbour.
Built on several islands at the end of a bay on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, which faces out the Caribbean Sea, it was originally surrounded by marshes, but he islands were later linked to the coast as the areas around them were filled in.
Now the city spreads out onto a peninsula, with two islands at the mouth of the bay – Isla Tierra Bomba and Isla Baru. While the former is natural, the latter was created when the 114km Canal Del Dique was dug during the colonial era, cutting the Baru peninsula off from the mainland.
More islands lie off the western tip of Baru – an archipelago blessed with white sand beaches and pristine coral known as Islas Del Rosario.
But it is the city’s colonial architecture, among the finest in all of South America, that is the real drawcard for the hordes of visitors that arrive in the city each day. It is utterly romantic and yet wonderfully vibrant – with a rhythm and culture that draw on its varied origins and combine to create something quite unique.
Getting Around Cartagena
To explore the old town, all you’ll really need are your feet. But if you are feeling particularly lazy, or just feel like really playing tourist, then you can flag down one of the horse-drawn carriages that clatter along the cobbled narrow streets. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle.
If you’re heading further afield, you can grab a taxi or even one of the multi-coloured buses that zoom along the city’s streets.
To get to the islands off of the coastline, you will of course, need to take a speedboat which can be found at the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Cartagena
Although Cartagena has an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, it can feel much hotter at certain times of the year due to severe humidity which can rise as a high as 82%. As a result, you should take into account the various seasons when you plan your visit.
The coolest time of year is during the months from December to April when it rarely rains. By contrast, the wettest months are from April to November, although even then it doesn’t rain all the time. The heaviest rainfall is seen from August to October which is also when humidity is at its highest.
Did you know…?
Although much of the popular 80′s movie Romancing the Stone was set in Cartagena, it was actually filmed in the US and Mexico due to the volatile political situation in Colombia at the time.
Did you ALSO know…?
Although the Conquistadors founded the city in 1533, the area was originally inhabited by numerous pre-Columbian cultures from around 4000 BC as shown at the archaeological sites of Puerto Hormiga and Monsú.
Ready to plan your visit to Cartagena De Indias? Check out these popular guides and trips.