Where to go

Cartagena

A stunning mix of Caribbean and Latin America

The interesting and lively town of Cartegena mesmerises and astounds in equal proportion and is simply one of “those” places that you will want to come back to time and time again. Part of the charm here is its combination of the Caribbean and South America along with some of the best preserved cultural and historical sights in the entire continent.

Located right on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is both blessed and cursed with a steady temperature of 30+ degrees during the day with a humidity level that ranges from 90 to 120%! One of the true highlights of a visit here is definitely to simply wander the narrow and balcony lined streets and hear the rhythmical sway of the local salsa and Champeta music floating up from the heart of one of the crumbling houses.

From a historical perspective, the city was founded in the middle of the 16th century and was seen as central to the Spanish defence of the Caribbean against the scourge of the English, French and Dutch pirates that plundered these waters! Aaargh! The main mechanism was to construct “Las Murallas”, thick walls over a story high and designed to fend off any army. Such was the height and thickness of these walls that the undertaking was to take over 200 years. These walls are still to be seen surrounding the main historic quarter and are well worth

Below we have run through some of the many sights of the old quarter but, in reality, your best bet is simply to wander the cobbled streets and take in what must be one of the most picturesque and attractive towns in the world!

The Rosario Islands

A set of islands declared a Natural National Park, the area boasts protected coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves. They are a popular day or overnight trip for visitors passing through Cartagena. The main islands that are visited easily are Isla Grande and Isla Baru which both offer a bit of snorkeling as well as some of the best white sand beaches along the coast.

On the whole we only tend to recommend the islands as an option for those that would like a few nights on a beach rather than having to head to Tayrona or San Andres and its islands.

Puerta del Reloj

A famous entrance to the walled city, the clock gate is a much photographed building in Cartagena and so is worth a mention for this reason alone. The clock part of the tower was, in fact, added towards the end of the 1800s.

Plaza de la Aduana

The oldest of the old city’s squares, the Plaza is now the main focus for the town and includes the old Custom’s House which was restored and now serves as the main city hall. Visiting the square is highly recommended if only to see the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands proudly at its centre.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Situated just outside of the old quarter is one of Colombia’s largest and best preserved fortresses. Offering both a glimpse into the warring past of the region and a fantastic view over the surrounds, a visit to the winding and darkened corridors of the building are well worth it.

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    At a glance...Cartagena

  • Population: 900 000
  • Size: 572 square kilometres
  • Time: GMT -5
  • Recommended time: 3 - 5 days
  • Time to visit: From December to March and July to August
  • Go here for: Culture, beaches
  • Further reading...

  • › When to go to Colombia
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    Our recommended top hotels and lodges for Cartagena:

    1. Hotel Las Islas - Treetop Bungalow

      Hotel Las Islas

      Hotel Las Islas is an enchanting, beachfront property in the forest of Isla Baru, which can only be accessed via boat or helicopter. This oasis of Caribbean serenity can leave you somewhat speechless – an incredible design where you can chose to live and dine in the treetops or down at beach... More...

      Our rating:
      5
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      4
    2. Ananda Boutique Hotel - Entrance

      Ananda Boutique Hotel

      The Ananda Boutique Hotel is a beautifully restored 16th-century townhouse in the heart of Cartagena’s picturesque walled city. Featuring just 23 spacious rooms and suites, the property is a peaceful sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of Cartagena’s mesmerising cobbled streets. With a spa and... More...

      Our rating:
      5
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      4
    3. Sofitel Legend Santa Clara - Swimming Pool

      Sofitel Legend Santa Clara

      Transformed from a 1621-built convent to a hotel in 1995, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is a landmark hotel in Cartagena’s Old Town. There are few better examples of successfully adding contemporary decadence to a beautiful, colonial treasure. This is one of only 5 Sofitel’s worldwide to be... More...

      Our rating:
      4
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    4. Charleston Santa Teresa - Front

      Charleston Santa Teresa

      The Charleston Santa Teresa is an imposing property within the warm interiors of Cartagena de Indias’ walled old city. Originally a 17th-Century monastery, it’s former lives include a factory and a police station; before being very tastefully converted into a hotel in 1996. Whilst it is... More...

      Our rating:
      4
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    5. Allure Chocolat Hotel by Karisma - Rooftop Pool

      Allure Chocolat Hotel by Karisma

      Located at the south end of the walled Old Town, The Allure Chocolat Hotel has great views across the harbour to Bocagrande. This contemporary property is certainly our pick of Allure’s gastronomic trilogy - they also have the ‘BonBon’ and ‘Cinela’ (cinnamon) hotels – within Cartagena. Whilst it... More...

      Our rating:
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