Travel Guide: Cartagena
Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The center of the city is their Centro Historico (Historic Centre), a walled Old Town founded in the 16th century. With squares, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings, this area is charming and vibrant. With a tropical climate, the city is a popular beach destination. But the best beaches are on nearby islands or a drive down the coast. If you have time, take a boat to Isla de Barú (white-sand beaches) and Islas del Rosario (known for beaches and coral reefs). Cartagena has two top bars in town, Alquimico (#10 bar) and El Baron (an up-and-coming prospect) and a top restaurant, Restaurante Celele.
Food & Drink
1 Restaurante Celele • A genuinely amazing experience. Many restaurants fall into the trap of following the same formula and being sort of similar. Restaurante Celele was unique. A mural wall on one side depicted a lively scene of the rainforest. A chandelier was made from a fairy large curved tree branch. The food included crab served in a hollowed out crab shell. The drinks were amazing—the martini had an Iguaraya (cactus fruit) syrup in it that coloured it purple.
2 Restaurante Espiritu Santo • An incredible restaurant serving the best Caribbean food. We went for lunch and both dished were phenomenal. One dish came with everything on a plate ranging from rice and beans to sweet plantain to ground beef. The other has this brown coconut rice and seasoned chicken that was unbelievable. The total was less than $10USD.
3 La Mulata • Serving Colombian classics with a focus on seafood. Some claim this is the best restaurant in town with incredible ceviche and Caribbean food. Locals recommend the lemonade de coke and the ceviche made with a local fish called Robolo.
1 Alquimico • The number 10 bar in the world, Alqumico, is an experience! Three floors of bars in a traditional and regal-looking colonial building. As the hostess told us, “For the full experience, start on floor one and work your way up”.
2 El Baron • This small spot is in the heart of Cartagena’s historic centre. It had five seats at the bar and four small marble tables. This place is small, but it is mighty. The World’s 50 Best describes this place as “an unpretentious drinking spot” and that’s a good way of looking at it—it was nice to take a break from the splendour of Alquimico and sit back for a chill one at El Baron. While I preferred inside, they have a great terrace for an al fresco cocktails. Their best drink was the Rosarito, which paired mezcal with cilantro, pineapple extract and bitters.
3 Epoca Coffee & Epoca Espresso Bar • This trendy venue has two floors and two bars to grab specialty coffees and cocktails. The ambiance is amazing—it feels like a luxury hotel bar and lounge area.
Other Food & Drink
Coffee Shops • Libertario Coffee Roasters, Epoca Coffee & Epoca Espresso Bar
Activities & Attractions
1 Boat to Nearby Island Beaches • (1) Playa Blanca: 40 minute boat ride from Cartagena on Isla Baru. White sands and crystal blue water. Known as one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Cartagena but it can get crowded. (2) Isla Grande and Rosario islands: an hour boat ride takes you to a Caribbean paradise in Colombia. Bora Bora beach club in Isla Grande is considered one of the most lively beach clubs in Cartagena. (3) Cholon and Isla del Encanto: both of these are located on the Baru peninsula. Cholon is known as the ultimate boat party spot while Encanto is a beautiful beach with a casual beach resort nearby.
2 Tayrona National Park • This park is a four hour drive from Cartagena, but definitely worth it! Tayrona National Park, in northern Colombia, is a large protected area covering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as they meet the Caribbean coast. It’s known for its palm-shaded coves, coastal lagoons, rainforest and rich biodiversity. At its heart, the Pueblito ruins are an archaeological site accessed via forest trails, with terraces and structures built by the Tayrona civilization.
3 Volcan de Lodo El Totumo (Mud Volcano) • Totumo Mud Volcano is a one-of-a-kind attraction home to mineral-infused mud that’s reputed to have healing properties. Spend ample time soaking in the mineral-infused mud and visit close-by Manzanillo Beach.
Other Attractions (Sites, Parks, etc.)
Beaches • Playa Blanca, Isla Grande (and Bora Bora Beach Club) and Rosario Islands, Cholon, Isla del Encanto and beaches on the Baru peninsula.
Centro Historico, Bocagrande, Castillo Grande, El Laguito
Hotels & Airbnbs
A Apartment Loft 2, Centro Histórico • An amazing airbnb right in the heart of Centro Historico. Just down the street from Alquimico, which makes it easy to go for drinks at the #10 bar in the world.
H Sofitel Legend Santa Clara • Originally built as a convent in 1621, the Sofitel Santa Clara is a legendary landmark in the heart of Cartagena's walled city. This hotel offers the ideal combination of colonial architecture and French luxury.
H Casablanca Belle & Boutique • The 4-star Casablanca Belle & Boutique Hotel Cartagena is set 500 metres from Playa de las Tenazas and offers guests an onsite outdoor pool. We walked by the open lobby which was tastefully designed and had plants all over—it was a beautiful-looking hotel right in the heart of the Historic Centre.