One of the gateways to Colombia, Cartagena is a captivating introduction to this incredible country. The perfect walking city, Cartagena is easy to navigate on foot. Leave your hotel wearing comfortable shoes with a map in your bag and you can’t go far wrong. To make the most of your time here, read our guide on how to spend a day in Cartagena.
In the morning
Walk across the Avenida Calle Real to spend the morning exploring Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. It’s best to schedule this as your first activity as there are very few places of shade. You don’t want to rush your visit due to the hot midday sun or become victim to sunburn. Also at the top you’re treated to stunning views of the city you’ll spend the rest of the day exploring.
The entry fee is $8,000 COP ($2.50 USD) and it’s worthwhile investing the $15,000 ($5 USD) for the audio-guide. Your walk will be accompanied with the remarkable history of the castle, transporting you back to Cartagena of the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest fortress built by Spaniards in any of their colonies, it was never successfully seized by invaders. Despite repeated attempts. As you climb you’ll hear stories of pirates, sieges and leprosy.
Once you’ve made your way down, cross the bridge ready to start exploring the rest of Cartagena. But first, stop off in Lilla’s on Calle de la Medina for a tankard of delicious and reviving ice coffee. Here you’re in the perfect location to walk the colourful streets of Getsemani.
Exploring Getsemani will give you a great insight into local life in Cartagena. Wander the lanes lined with houses painted in vibrant pinks, blazing yellows and vivid blues, the front doors open and music filling the streets. After a short while you’ll arrive at the heart of Getsemani – the Plaza de la Trinidad. During the day, the square in front of the canary yellow church is full of vendors selling fresh fruit and merchants passing by pushing their wooden carts full of their tropical offerings.
Walking through Getsemani will definitely work up your appetite. As you make your back over to Calle de la Medina, stop for a lunch of tapas at Caffe Lunatico. Dine on dishes of buttery garlic mushrooms, croquettes loaded with cheese and crispy chips of aubergine drizzled in honey.
In the afternoon
After lunch, dedicate your afternoon to exploring the UNESCO listed Old Town. On this route you’ll come across beautiful colourful colonial buildings around every corner. The Old Town is an open-air museum, the historical sites accompanied with signs full of interesting historical information. So there is no need to take a heavy guidebook with you.
Walk along Calle de la Media Luna for about ten minutes, passing the Parque Centenario on your right, to arrive at Puerta de Reloj. The triple-arched gateway topped with a bright yellow clock-tower was the original entrance to the inner walled town. It leads you to the Plaza de los Coches, previously used as a market for enslaved people. The square is now home to a statue of the city’s founder, Pedro de Heredia, and vendors selling an array of sweets.
Head around the corner to Plaza de la Aduana, the oldest and largest square in the old town. It was here in colonial times the important government and administrative buildings were located. Carry on walking through the square and you’ll come across the San Pedro Claver Church. This impressive religious building is dedicated to Peter Claver the ‘Apostle of the Blacks’. The missionary, who fought for the liberation of the slaves, lived and died in the convent next to the church.
Ice-cream pit stop
Walk away from the church down Claver Ladrinal towards Plaza de Bolivar. A small courtyard shaded by dozens of trees, this is a great place to rest your feet and grab a bottle of cold water from one of the vendors. Here you’ll be right next to Catedral de Cartagena. The splendid 16th century building can be seen throughout the Old Town and is still pretty much in its original form despite all it has endured.
When Sir Francis Drake and his fleet captured the city in 1586, they spent 48 days pillaging and plundering. Agreeing to leave on the condition he was given as much gold as he could take with him, Sir Francis Drake set up several canyons in the Plaza de Bolivar pointing towards the cathedral to ensure his demands where met. Thankfully they were and the cathedral still stands there today.
From here you are in a great position to walk further into the Old Town to browse the shops and enjoy the cafes. One particular place worth a visit is Gelateria Paradiso. This ice-cream parlour sells delicious Italian gelato served in cups, cones and even inside toasted brioche buns. With flavours including salted caramel, passion fruit and coconut lemonade, this ice-cream cafe has become a firm favourite with the famous visitors of Cartagena.
At any point during your self-led walking tour, it’s easy to turn west and walk towards the coast to view the city from along the fortified walls. The murallas of Cartagena were used to protect the city from possible attack from pirates. Now, it shields it from the salty sea breeze.
In the evening
For your evening dining head back to Getsemani. At night the square comes alive with a vibrant party atmosphere, with music playing and food carts emitting delicious smells. Named by many travel experts a few years ago as Cartagena’s coolest area and an up-and-coming neighbourhood, it’s now thriving with restaurants and bars.
It’s home to a handful of Cartagena’s highest rated restaurants. One of these includes the Italian restaurant Di Silvio Trattoria with menus of both traditional Italian fare and delicious cocktails. Or for an authentic local experience, opt to eat from one of the food vendors in the square and try the tasty traditional arepas.
Enjoy the best of Cartagena before heading out to explore Colombia on one of our group tours.