Cartagena is one of the most popular stops on the Colombian backpacker trail – the beautiful colonial Walled City has become an obligatory Colombian travel destination for thousands of backpackers every year, as have the nearby paradise islands of the Caribbean. However, this rise in tourism means that hostel numbers have exploded and it can be tricky to decide where is best to stay. With that in mind, here are the very best hostels in Cartagena (and around).
A hostel collective on the island of Isla Grande – just over an hour from Cartagena by boat – Paraiso Secreto is a collaboration between some of the best hostels in Colombia, including Casa Nativa, Fulano Backpackers, and Golden Frog. The hostels have taken over a series of mansions which used to belong to some of Colombia’s most prominent emerald barons, so you can only imagine the luxury of the setting and accommodation! With activities including snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming in the azure waters surrounding the island, Paraiso Secreto isn’t that secret anymore but it remains a complete paradise.
A beautiful hostel in the centre of the Old Walled City of Cartagena, located in a 400-year old house, Be Lounge‘s downstairs area features a lovely restaurant and garden bar, while the upstairs is home to two dorm rooms sleeping 18 people. It’s a nice and intimate hostel, with a pleasant terrace for sunbathing by day and stargazing by night. And the hostel’s location – just two blocks from the city walls, and a stone’s throw from Santo Domingo Square – means guests are getting a premium setting at hostel prices.
El Arsenal is a lovely boutique hostel which gets all the little details right – including a private light and socket in each dorm bed – and is perfectly located equidistant between the popular backpacker hangout of Getsemani and the Walled City. It also features an excellent little swimming pool – an amazing feature in such a hot city – in the central courtyard, as well as a couple of private rooms with their own balcony and a sea view, a rarity in Cartagena hostels.
El Viajero might be a chain hostel – with other locations in Cali, San Andres, and Salento – but that doesn’t stop it from being up there with the best hostels on offer in Cartagena. With nice touches such as free classes in salsa, bachata, and champeta dancing, as well as a pair of lovely colonial patios, the hostel occupies a privileged location in the heart of the Old Town, just a few blocks from the relaxed Fernandez de Madrid square. It was also ranked the best hostel in South America by Hostelworld in 2013, so it has the credentials to back up its popularity.
The ultimate Cartagena party hostel, Media Luna is located in the artistic Cartagena neighbourhood of Getsemani, and is a favourite for those backpackers looking for a sociable atmosphere and a quality night out! With a lovely sunny patio that is perfect for relaxing by day and dancing by night, Media Luna might not be for you if your idea of a good hostel is peace and quiet, but it’s perfect for those who want to socialize. Staying at Media Luna also puts you in the best spot to enjoy their legendary Media Luna Mega Party every Wednesday, with no lines or cover charge.
Casa en el Agua is probably the hottest hostel in Colombia – if not South America – at the moment: a floating hostel in the middle of the sparkling blue waters of the Colombian Caribbean! It’s basically the fantasy hostel of any traveller who loves the sea and the beach. It’s not in Cartagena, but boats for the hostel leave from the city, which acts as the entry point for most guests at Casa en el Agua. With not much to do other than sip a cocktail on the deck, lounge around in the water, or chill out in a hammock, it’s the perfect place to indulge those Caribbean castaway fantasies on a backpacker budget.
Another excellent hostel in the Old Town of Cartagena, also just alongside Fernandez de Madrid square, Republica Hostel has a lovely pool and bar area where guests can happily spend the day relaxing in the sunshine with a few cold beers. There’s also a main bar on the second floor with a slightly stronger party atmosphere and a great nightlife. Each dorm bed is set in a separate cubicle-like space, so there are no worries about drunken dorm mates making a big racket when they get in from a raucous night out either.
One of Cartagena’s newest boutique hostels, Bourbon St. has fast become one of the most well-reviewed hostels in the city. With 42 beds located just down the street from Plaza Santo Domingo in the middle of the Old City, the hostel has a small, but beautiful, pool area, a gorgeous patio, and wonderful dorm beds, each featuring a blackout curtain, personal reading light, and power outlets. However, it’s really all about Bourbon St’s amazing communal area, which puts you in mind of a hip bar with its wood paneling and exposed brickwork: the key difference though is that excellent pool!
The hostel of choice for the socially conscious traveller, Volunteer Hostel is also located in downtown Getsemani, just a few blocks from Plaza Trinidad. The hostel focuses on promoting responsible tourism, and 25 percent of its income goes to support the FEM Foundation (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional). With additional opportunities for guests to participate in volunteer projects, as well as some unique experience tours in Cartagena, Volunteer Hostel is definitely the place to stay if you like your travels to mean something for other people as well as yourself.