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An Adventurer’s Guide to Cartagena: What to Do

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Part 1 of 3 

Cartagena can only be described as fairy tale meets tropical paradise.

The stunning Colombian seaside city is full of beautiful colonial architecture, colourful winding streets, unforgettable restaurants and romantic ocean views. Whether you’re a foodie, a beach bum, a history buff or an adventurous outdoorsman, you will be spoilt for options in Cartagena.

The best part? Cartagena is incredibly affordable for students (think brilliant cheap hostels and delicious meals for less than a fiver) and you can easily make the most of the city in 4-5 days. Before you rush to book your flights, read this adventurer’s guide to discover all Cartagena has to offer:  

Historic Center

Cartagena is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited and I found that the best way to explore Cartagena is simply by wandering on foot. The historic centre of Cartagena isn’t very big and you can walk most of it in a day or two, so it’s perfect for taking your time wandering the winding streets and marvelling at the colonial architecture and overhanging balconies. The more southern part of the historic centre is beautiful but bustling with tourists and markets, while the northern area is more quiet and relaxed, with idyllic streets filled with colourful houses and flowers everywhere.

Check out the plazas scattered all around the historic centre to see the many beautiful churches, restaurants and live performers. My favourite plazas in the city are Plaza Santo Domingo, Plaza San Pedro Claver, Plaza San Diego and Plaza Trinidad (especially fun with lots of live music and performers at night).  Catch an unforgettable ocean sunset on the old city wall and wander along the ballisters for beautiful skyline views. Cartagena is just as mesmerizing at night and is very safe in most of the historic centre, with well-lit streets that are thrumming with activity and tourists early into the morning.

There are a number of great museums you can visit in the historic centre, most of them free or with a very low fee. The best museums to visit are the Palazzo de la Inquisicion, Cocoa Museum (two words: chocolate tastings!), the sanctuary of San Pedro Claver and the Museo de Arte y Cultura. However, there is just as much history and culture on the city streets which you can learn all about on a walking tour. If you are a bookworm like me you can wander to find Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ house. I was sad to find that you cannot go inside as it is privately owned, but a mural of the writer on the outside of the house provides the perfect photo op. Abacos Libros y Café is an adorable bookshop and cafe with a small English section perfect for if you want to pick up a copy of ‘Love in a Time of Cholera’ and really immerse yourself in Marquez’ world over a cup of coffee.

Getsemani

Getsemani is like the historic centre’s trendy, laid back cousin. Just a 3-minute walk and you are wandering cobbled streets dotted with cafes, hostels and locally run boutique shops. The walls of the neighbourhood's streets are covered with impressive graffiti that exudes the city’s vibrant culture and make for ideal Insta pictures. And like I said before, a trip to Cartagena isn’t complete without a visit to Getsemani’s San Spirito Plaza, which is a vibrant hub of food, music and dancing at night.

Not many Cartagenians live in the historic centre anymore whereas Getsemani is still largely occupied, so you get a better glimpse into local life. The hostels are a lot cheaper in here, but it isn’t as safe if you are travelling alone, especially at night. If you want to get souvenirs or one of Cartagena’s iconic woven purses, avoid buying them in the historic centre where everyone sells the same over-priced items and head to Getsemani where you can buy beautiful affordable pieces from small locally-owned shops.

Outside of the historic centre and Getsemani

A must-visit, while you're in Cartagena, is the Popa Monastery. The monastery sits on top of the highest point in Cartagena with views overlooking the whole city, you can take a taxi there for a small price or a guided tour which you can usually arrange through your hostel or hotel. The historic fort of Castillo de San Felipe is an icon of the city where you can explore underground tunnels and learn about Cartagena’s colourful and violent past. Last but not least, the Park de La Aduana which sits between the historic centre and Getsemani is known for having an adorable family of sloths which you can find if you search hard enough.

This is just the first in a 3-part series so keep a look out for ‘What to eat’ and ‘Where to explore’ in Cartagena!




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