With outstanding nightlife, clamored-for restaurants and a vibrant, riveting history, Cartagena is up there among South America’s most irresistible cities – and that opening list is only a teaser. Use our guide to find the best places to sleep, eat and drink – that way, you’ll get a real feel for the city. No need to tick off all the sights – it’s a perfect place to slowly soak up the unique culture of coastal Caribbean Colombia at its big-city best.
What’s the vibe for solo travelers?
Buzzing with energy, Cartagena owes a lot of its singular charm to its maze of bright houses, cobblestone streets and historic old-world stone walls. Discover everything this vibrant city has to offer at one of its many contemporary bars and restaurants.
Where to sleep in Cartagena as a solo traveler
Amarla Boutique Hotel Cartagena
If you feel like going all out, stay at the tropical Amarla Boutique Hotel Cartagena. With seven lavish bedrooms, the Amarla is the essence of attentive and personalized service. On-site Colombian experiences include classes in cigar-rolling, rum-tasting and cooking. Relax on the rooftop with a poolside spa treatment or have a hot stone or Thai massage in your room.
Hotel Getsemani Cartagena Lux
In the heart of the fashionable Getsemani neighborhood, the Hotel Getsemani Lux Hotel is a charming spot with exposed-wood-beam ceilings throughout. Breakfast is complimentary, so start your day in the sunny outdoor courtyard. Then hit the rooftop pool with gorgeous views of 17th-century Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. The location can’t be beat, within walking distance of Cartagena’s most-visited attractions.
Casa Kerilé Hostel
Watching your budget? Don’t want to skimp on style? The Casa Kerilé Hostel is your go-to, in the north near the traditional fishing village of La Boquilla – this chic hostel has everything you need, at a digestible price. All that and it’s brightly decorated, with a rooftop terrace with hammocks and great views of the sea.
Eat and drink in Cartagena
It’d be a travesty to go to Cartagena and not sample the Caribbean flavors at this celebrated fine-dining restaurant, serving innovative, complex dishes. Try the smoked pastrami served on a purple yam purée with moringa oil and purslane leaves. Vibrant interiors feature murals of the rainforests, and in the evenings you’ll usually hear live Afro-Colombian music, enhancing the mood.
If you don’t stop for drinks and a bite at Alquímico, you’ve made a grave miscalculation. This bar and restaurant covers three floors of a former shoe store – each has a different theme and ambiance. Get there early for a seat on the rooftop. Order from the extensive mezcal menu – the drink pairs nicely with snacks such as carimañolas de queso: fried yuca stuffed with cheese.
In the heart of Cartagena, this no-nonsense, no-frills restaurant with plastic chairs serves tasty traditional meals at reasonable prices. It’s adorned with assorted sports memorabilia, and Cartageneros flock here for the hefty portions and filling dishes. The pescado frito, or fried fish served with fries, rice and salad, is a meal not to miss.
What to do in Cartagena as a solo traveler
Discover the Castillo de San Felipe
One of the most impressive sites in Cartagena is the Castillo de San Felipe, a massive Spanish fort and castle built in the 1500s. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, it’s a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, wings and chambers. To fully understand its history and significance, hiring a guide is recommended since there isn’t very much information available at the site itself.
Explore the Old City
The best way to get to know the Old City is to take a morning stroll from plaza to plaza. A guided stroll through the historic walled city is included in Culture Trip’s Taste of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. On this eight-day trip, a local expert will take you through the atmospheric streets, and it also features a food tour to sample local delicacies like arepas, ceviche and rum at the local’s favorite spots.
Visit La Boquilla, a traditional fishing village
To see the other side of Cartagena, especially if you want a break from the beaches, visit the fishing village of La Boquilla, in the north of the city. You’ll learn about the Afro-Colombian roots of the city. Immerse yourself in the traditional dances and drumming of the community. Try your hand at crab-fishing in the mangroves, and cook it with local fishermen, who host dinners in their homes.
Stay safe, stay happy in Cartagena
As in any major city, it’s recommended that you remain extra vigilant when using ATMs, withdrawing only the cash you need for the day and using a money belt. Keep valuables locked at your accommodation. On the beach, beware of vendors, who are adept at scams.
Getting around in Cartagena as a solo traveler
Most of the city, including the Old Town, can be done on foot. If heading further afield, taxis are available. Alternatively, take a Chiva tour. Colorful and noisy, these rustic bus excursions will take you to the major historical sites in town, which will help orient you to the city for the rest of your stay.
Don’t accept any food or drinks without figuring out the price first to avoid being overcharged with an exaggerated bill. The same goes for negotiating a price for taxi rides – confirm a price before you set off to your final destination since most taxis don’t use meters.
Fancy exploring Cartagena – and beyond – with a small group of like-minded travelers? Culture Trip’s eight-day adventure Paradise Found: A Taste of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast is for you. Highlights include wildlife-spotting in Tayrona National Park, river tubing on the Río Don Diego in Palomino and discovering the architecture and street food of Cartagena.
This is an updated version of an article originally written by Nikki Vargas.
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