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What about Cartagena makes it Colombia’s premier destination for so many travelers from all over the world? Yes, this incredible coastal city has a fantastic and welcoming vibe. Still, it is also a place that offers visitors every type of seaside experience imaginable: beautiful beaches of Cartagena, nearby islands, historical monuments, vibrant nightlife, delicious food, and of course, that certain Caribbean alegría de vivir (joy of living)!
It’s time to look at the places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia, and don’t lose any experience you can enjoy when you visit this magical city.
There are countless reasons to know about the best places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia, and certain experiences you won’t miss! From exciting day tours to the Rosario Islands to a charming night out with fine dining and dancing, from tours of the famous wall that wraps around the old town to majestic sunsets overlooking the sea, Cartagena has something exciting in store for everyone! Let’s check out some highlights of Cartagena tourism.
Walking through Cartagena’s historic quarter feels like touring an open-air museum showcasing some of Colombia’s most consequential historical elements. There’s a fascinating reason why this seaside gem is referred to as “La Heróica.” Indeed, it is a reference to the formidability and resilience of the city, which under Spanish colonial rule (until 1810), was the target of many pirate and military attacks for well over two hundred years!
Precisely because of these frequent aggressions, the famous wall’s construction began in 1586, shortly after enduring a months-long attack and occupation by British forces under the command of Sir Francis Drake. The wall would eventually extend approximately 6.8 miles (11 kilometers), providing a much-needed advantage in defending this most important Caribbean port for the Spanish Empire.
However, it also perpetuated classism—an inherited feature of colonial rule—separating the wealthy from the poor. Its completion wouldn’t come until 1796.
In addition to the wall, places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia, is home to a rather impressive fortress known as the San Felipe de Barajas Castle, which was constructed as an imposing reminder that the city would always be well defended. The castle, positioned on San Lorenzo Hill, protected from would-be aggressors that might attempt to access the city by land. Today, this remarkable fortress is an exciting attraction for visitors, with amazing views of the surrounding city and bay. Adjacent to the castle and atop a 492-foot (150-meter) mount is the Convento de Santa Cruz de la Popa, another worthwhile tourist attraction.
Within Cartagena’s Bay sits the remarkable Tierra Bomba Island, where underwater breakwaters were installed in the 1600s to help defend against intruders. The Island, with an area of about 7.6 square miles (19.8 square kilometers), is home to around 9,000 residents.
It is the site of Ángel San Rafael Battery and San Fernando Fort, which played key roles in protecting the city. Tierra Bomba offers tourists a beautiful day-trip experience, with plenty of beaches and trails to explore via activities like hiking, mountain biking, and snorkeling.
Though the historic quarter has plenty of things to see, it also has plenty of things to do. At night, the streets come alive with well-dressed locals and tourists searching for fine dining and dancing; it is a city known for its spectacular nightlife and incredible music.
Cartagena has a rich musical history, too. It is the birthplace of a style known as champeta, which is mainly endemic to the area. Visitors can enjoy and participate in live drum and dance workshop presentations featuring champeta. Some are even included as part of certain tour packages.
One of the best places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia, is La Heróica’s vibrancy is matched only by an overwhelming invitation to relax and enjoy. It is this spirit that we call la alegría de vivir (the joy of living). In this respect, Cartagena is truly Caribbean and uniquely Colombian. The nation’s hospitality, a big part of the country’s reputation, is on full display everywhere you go in Cartagena. Even just relaxing on one of the city’s busy beaches along the stretch known as Bocagrande, you’ll find all sorts of vendors just waiting to offer you food, beverage, souvenirs, massages, and tours. This can, however, feel a little overwhelming.
So, if you want to enjoy the crystal-clear waters, you must know about one of the places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia, without feeling perpetually interrupted by beach vendors, we recommend taking a trip to one of several islands that rest about 22 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Cartagena’s shores. This group of islands is called the Rosario Islands. They are part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
Day trips to remote and quiet beaches like Isla del Tesoro and Bendita Beach are perfect for folks seeking pure relaxation. Meanwhile, other trendy spots like Cholón and Playa Blanca cater to the young 20- and 30-something crowd, offering them a livelier experience with plenty of food, drink, music, and mingling. For nature lovers, there is no lack of excellent snorkeling spots! And, for thrill seekers, you’ll also find plenty of jet skis, parasailing, and paragliding opportunities!
The nice thing about planning some activities off the coast of Cartagena is that tours leave the mainland early in the morning and return in the late afternoon. So, you’ll likely enjoy a memorable boat tour that may turn into an unforgettable sunset cruise!
Just a short drive north of the city, travelers can visit a beautiful old fishing community called La Boquilla. This former slave colony is home to many Afro-Colombian residents. La Boquilla is located between a large mangrove swamp and the Caribbean Sea. Tours of the surrounding habitats take place aboard traditional canoes. Day tours of La Boquilla offer a fascinating opportunity to learn about and observe some of the native flora and fauna of these coastal ecosystems. You can visit La Boquilla mangroves in our Colombia Social Transformation Tour.
Places to visit in Cartagena, Colombia is easily one of, if not the most popular tourist destination in Colombia, and possibly the region. It has a vibe like no other—the perfect place to chill out, relax, explore, and enjoy. The culture, history, and liveliness of “La Heróica” is what makes Cartagena Colombia’s premier destination. We recommend contacting a destination expert to learn more about this remarkable place. We know you’ll love it!