San Basilio de Palenque (declared a site of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO) is a village located 35 miles (56 kilometers), or approximately one hour, southeast of the city and can be reached by car or bus from the city. The village was one of the first freed slave cities in the Americas and still holds its indigenous traditions, culture, and language (Palenquero). The village has played an important part in Colombia’s history, being the birthplace of various musicians and genres including palenque and champeta.
The generally tourist-free Mercado de Bazurto (Bazurto Market) is a sensational, bustling, and lively market 15 minutes outside the walled city with stalls selling huge varieties of freshly caught seafood, fruit, and produce. The market’s chaotic scene is perfect for buying unique, fresh products as well as experiencing markets as locals do.
Tierra Bomba Island is a large island with an area of over 4905 acres (1,985 hectares) located opposite Bocagrande. The island can be seen from the shores of Cartagena but is rarely visited, and it’s home to over 9,000 people. The island can be reached by boat and has relaxing white sandy beaches, locally cooked traditional dishes, and a relaxing environment for a day trip away from the busy city.
La Boquilla is a small fishing village between the sea and the swamp. Cartagena’s fishermen have historically constructed vast canal networks to allow fishermen to get from their village to the ocean. These canals stretch far and wide throughout the previous unexplored grassland, but today, these canals can be experienced by paddling down with canoes and discovering the ecosystem, extensive wildlife, and crab plants.
Usiacurí is a small, picturesque colonial village approximately 52 miles (83 kilometers), or 1 hour 40 minutes, from Cartagena. The town is one of the oldest on Colombia’s Atlantic coast, discovered in 1533 by Spaniard Francisco César. Today, the village remains relatively unchanged with Spanish-style colonial buildings, artisanal products, and a population of 9,000. The village thrives off artisan crafts produced with iraca (a type of plant) to create a variety of handmade items, including weavings.
The Volcan del Totumo—35 miles (55 kilometers), 1 hour, north of Cartagena—is a 49-foot-tall (15-meter) active mud volcano mound; 10–15 people can climb the steps up the side the top of the volcano and climb in. The dense, warm mud is relaxing and is believed to have healing qualities. Visitors can receive personal massages and then bathe in a nearby lagoon to wash off the excess mud.
The Rosario Islands are a collection of 27 small islands located within the National Park Reserve area 62 miles (100 kilometers) off the coast of Cartagena. Most of the islands are uninhabited, but a small number contain eco hotels, where visitors can stay or visit for a day trip. Day trips to the islands involve a short boat ride to the chosen island, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to relax on the island with a home-cooked traditional Caribbean-style dish. These day trips are great for undertaking water sports activities, relaxing, or just taking in the island life.