I have deemed Cartagena “la cuidad mas bella de Colombia,” a bold statement considering it’s the only Colombian city I’ve been too. Needless to say, in six short weeks, I fell in love with this vibrant city and its’ food, music, culture and people. Every time I visited the historic center or Getsemani, I was completely enchanted. Rich in history and influenced by its Caribbean roots, Cartagena’s cobblestone streets and balconies draped with cascading vines give the city an old colonial feel. I had the fortune of meeting a lot of college students, true Cartageneros, who showed me an unforgettable city through the eyes of a local. Here are some of the things and places that I loved the most about Cartagena!
One of my favorite things that I did in Cartagena was a laid-back bicycle ride through the streets of the city with some of my students. We rented the bikes in Getsemani at a shop across the street from the Parque del Centenario. We only had to pay 3,000 pesos per person, a little under $2, to rent the bikes for an hour.
We spent our hour admiring the murals and street art in Getsemani and sightseeing in El Centro. This is a really cheap and fun way to go sightseeing! Cartagena is very bike-friendly but beware of the one-way streets in Getsemani and the narrow roads in the center.
Castillo San Felipe
One of Cartagena’s largest tourist attractions, Castillo San Felipe, is a must-see before you leave the city.
The fortress is fun to walk around and there are dark tunnels waiting to be explored. My favorite part of the castle is the view that it provides of the city below. The entrance fee is a little pricey but if you have a student ID, you can get a reduced rate.
Every time I was in the old town during sunset or at night, I made a detour and took a stroll along the city’s old walls. Built over 300 years ago to protect the city, the walls have a very romantic aura and there are couples everywhere. With the ocean on one side and the city on the other, it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the Cartagena.
At least once during your visit, you have to have one or two drinks at the renowned Café del Mar, a café on the walls with a phenomenal outlook on the city. Make sure to go at night when everything is lit up and, according to the locals, the city is most beautiful. The drinks are pretty expensive but definitely worth it for the spectacular view.
Plaza de Trinidad
Located in the heart of Getsemani, la Plaza de Trinidad is the ultimate place to chill. There are always people talking, laughing, dancing, singing, playing or just having a good time. The plaza is in front of a large church and conveniently surrounded by restaurants, liquor stores, bars and food stands. The beer is super cheap and they come in really big bottles! Wednesdays and Fridays are always lively and on Sundays there are awesome, free Zumba classes around 7 p.m.
Surprisingly, I didn’t come back obese from Cartagena. The food is delicious but it definitely isn’t the healthiest in the world (almost everything is fried). Nevertheless, a week or two of indulging in some really delicious fried food wont kill you!
Espiritu Santo, located in the center, was my favorite restaurant. It is nicely decorated with lovely paintings and is air conditioned, making it a nice escape from Cartagena’s brutal temperatures. The food is delicious and several of Cartagena’s and Colombia’s typical dishes are on the menu including fried fish, patacones and rice with coconut. Ranging between 15,000 and 25,000 pesos, $8-13, the prices are very affordable.
Another one of my favorite places to eat at was Crepes and Waffles, a very popular restaurant throughout Latin America. I usually ate here when I needed a break from the Colombian cuisine. All of the crepes that I tried were really tasty. However, the best part of this restaurant is that you can eat on the roof where there is an incredible view of the city’s rooftops. Definitely worth checking out around sunset!
I absolutely loved the fact that salsa filled the streets of Cartagena. Joe Arroyo’s song “La Rebellion” became my theme song for six weeks. After watching the Cartageneros passionately dance to the vivacious music, I was convinced everyone was a professional salsa dancer. I couldn’t get enough. Usually, before I went out, I would sit at Donde Fidel, the most popular salsa bar located in the Plaza de los Coches, and drink Redds, the only beer I actually liked. It has a laid-back atmosphere and is a perfect place to relax after a long day.
Bazurto Social Club, located in Getsemani, was one of my favorite clubs to go to. The drinks are good and every weekend they have a live band that plays the typical music of the region, Champeta, with a reggae twist. The musicians are incredibly talented and, if you like dancing and fun music, you will definitely have a good time.