Reasons Why You Should Visit Cartagena at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Cartagena's Palenqueras have become a symbol of the city's distinct cultural blend
Cartagena's Palenqueras have become a symbol of the city's distinct cultural blend | Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
Photo of Chris Bell
13 September 2021

Cartagena is one of the most visited cities in the Americas: tourists flock here to enjoy the Caribbean climate, historic Walled City and gorgeous nearby beaches.

Incredible food

Cartagena is home to some of the best restaurants in Colombia. Whether it’s high-end eateries serving the finest seafood, or local market stalls serving delicious rustic stews, everyone can enjoy amazing food in Cartagena. And that’s not even taking into account the incredible range of fresh fruit juices seemingly available on every street corner! Cartagena is truly a gastronome traveler’s paradise. With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a guided street food tour of Cartagena as part of our immersive eight-day Colombian Caribbean adventure, led by our local insider.

Bazurto Market is one of the top spots for fresh fish in Cartagena | © Stuart Pearce / Alamy / Alamy

Unique culture

The iconic Palenqueras Afro-Colombian women in bright dresses selling fruit in Cartagena’s plazas – are internationally recognized as a symbol of the city. However, few people realise that they come from the Unesco-recognised village of San Basilio de Palenque (located just an hour from the city), the first freed slave settlement in the Americas and the home of a completely unique language.

Colombia’s coolest neighborhood

Getsemani was once a haven for vice. Though the area sits alongside the Old City and shares much of its famous architecture, for years it was considered a no-go zone for tourists. That has all changed now and Getsemani has turned into just about the coolest neighborhood in Colombia. With a burgeoning street-art scene, plenty of hip bars and hostels and the lovely Plaza Trinidad – which, every night, is full of locals, travellers, street performers and artists, all basking in the laid-back vibe – a visit to Getsemani is a must for any traveler in Cartagena looking for an alternative to the Walled City.

Iglesia y Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani, Cartagena | © Fotomaton / Alamy

A photographer’s dream

Whether you are a professional photographer with thousands of dollars worth of lenses or simply an Instagram devotee with a nice line in filters and artistic angles, Cartagena is the city for you. It seems as if every street is just waiting to adorn a postcard, with beautiful pastel-coloured buildings, bougainvillaea plants cascading from old wooden balconies and metal door knockers after sea monsters and lions. Cartagena must surely be one of the most photogenic cities in the world, making it the perfect place to visit for some memorable snaps.

Beautiful beaches

Cartagena is located on the Colombian Caribbean coast and, as such, is surrounded by a series of stunning beaches and islands. There are nice city beaches in the Bocagrande and La Boquilla neighborhoods, but true sun-worshippers will want to jump on a boat and pay a visit to Playa Blanca, Isla Grande, Tierra Bomba or the Rosario Islands (also a national park) to bask in the warm sun of an idyllic Caribbean beach.

Playa Blanca is just a short boat ride away from Cartagena city | © Sunshine Pics / Alamy

Romance

As the setting of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez romantic novel Love in the Time of Cholera, Cartagena is the ideal city for weddings, honeymoons and romantic escapes. Think myriad romantic boutique hotels, elegant bars and intimate restaurants, not to mention numerous high-end jewelry shops. Sitting on the city walls at sunset, sipping cocktails at Cafe del Mar, it’s hard to think of a more romantic city.

History

Cartagena has a fascinating and often unbelievable history: once the largest slave port in the Americas, the city was regularly invaded and besieged by pirates and is home to some of the finest historical architecture in the country. San Felipe Castle is the best example of a Spanish fort in the Americas and the old city walls are still home to the cannons that once kept Francis Drake at bay. In short, Cartagena oozes history from every street corner and a walk through the Walled City feels like a trip back in time.

The Spanish fort of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena | © Alex Segre / Alamy

Art everywhere

From excellent street art and murals in Getsemani to works by Cartagena’s finest artists at the Museum of Modern Art, Cartagena is a truly artistic and creative city. Art connoisseurs will love the wide range of gallery options available, particularly in the Old City, while those less artistically inclined will surely be impressed by the wonderful statues and sculptures – including Fernando Botero’s famous Gertrudis statue. With artists also selling paintings and drawings of Cartagena is most plazas, the city radiates an unusually artistic sensibility.

Old and new

Cartagena offers a fascinating juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. From the walls of the Old City, the tower blocks and hotel chains of Bocagrande are an ever-present reminder that the city, while famous for its history and former glories, is also a modern place. There aren’t many spots where it is possible to enjoy high-end casinos and upscale wine bars on the same day as visiting 500-year-old Spanish castles and monasteries. The contrast between old and new in Cartagena can seem incongruous at first, but it is part of the city’s unique charm.

The opulent Bocagrande Hotel by GH Suites in Cartagena | Courtesy of Bocagrande Hotel by GH Suites / Expedia

Music and dancing

Cartagena’s fascinating mixture of cultures makes it a key center for music in Colombia. The aforementioned Palenque village is the home of champeta and bambuco, whilst Cartagena’s salsa clubs are the stuff of legend. Tour companies take visitors to explore the culture of champeta, before teaching them the dance; or the more confident can don their dancing shoes and head to Bazurto Social Club, Donde Fidel Salsa Bar or Cafe Havana. With street dancers in the many squares of the Old City and myriad live music venues, Cartagena is one of the best cities in the Americas to enjoy music and dancing.

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