Cartagena is a beautiful city located on the coast of Colombia. Nick name “Magic City”, Cartagena is the perfect vacation destination for all purposes. The city’s night life is perfect for the young crowd, for bachelor and bachelorette parties. The city’s diverse architecture as seen in the old town is perfect for tourists who enjoy the colonial feel. The large parks and nearby beaches are perfect for families with young children.
Did you know?
Did you know that Cartagena is the most visited city in Colombia? The beautiful fortress wall is a hard sight to miss. The wall represents a significant history of Cartagena that it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
The city is divided into old town (or known as downtown) and Bocagrande (the modern skyscrapers). The old town keeps the traditional colonial look, with influences from Spain and Italy.
You can choose to stay and visit Bocagrande. But why would you do that? All urban cities are similar. You want to stay in the old town and submerge yourself with the colonial feel.
When we went to Cartagena in early October, it was supposed to rain all the time until November. However, we were very lucky that we didn’t experience rain at all!
What to see?
1. The beautiful architecture
The beautiful architecture and cute little streets in the old town is a must see in Cartagena. You will recognize the colourful walls that you probably see in postcards. These captivating colonial architecture are everywhere in the old town. The style and architecture are well kept from the colonial days, with cobble stone roads and nice narrow shops that sell local artifacts. Many of these shops are independent businesses and you don’t get the big brand feel like the streets in Paris. Oh, did I mention why there are so many emeralds stores?
2. The fortress wall
The fortress wall was built in Cartagena to defend pirates in the 17th and 18th century. Although pirates are long gone in the Caribbean, the city kept the walls as part of its heritage. The cannons were left there as tourist displays. One of the corners of the walls is a nice popular restaurant that allows you to see the sunset in the sea while enjoying your drink – Café del Mar. Definitely a must go!
3. Iglesia de San Pedro Claver
How can you miss the iconic church in Cartagena? This landmark is a visual masterpiece in the old town.
4. Plaza de los Coches
Trust me, you won’t miss this plaza. If you want to go in and out from the old town and travel to the modern city, you have to pass by this plaza. It’s not big but it’s where all the actions are. You can listen to the violinist playing on the street, buskers performing, and experience annoying salesmen trying to sell you a tour package to Baru etc. It is also the entrance of the Clock Gate (Puerta del Reloj).
Where to stay?
There are many hotel and AirBNB choices in Cartagena. They range from modern to historic boutique hotels. Though, I must suggest that you pick your hotel location inside the old town of Cartagena. The old town is only 15-20 min away from the Rafael Nunez International Airport. Inside these hotels, you can see the main cathedral from your window. We stayed at Soy Loco Centro Historico.
Café del Mar!!
This little café deserves its own section. I highly recommend visiting this place if you want to see the beautiful sunset from the views of the city walls. Café del Mar is so popular that you really need to visit early (but not too early) to be able to have a spot. I don’t think they accept reservations.
They don’t serve real meal but you can order lots of finger foods. Choices of alcoholic drinks are endless. At night, the DJ starts playing EDM music, which is really cool. You wouldn’t expect sitting by the city wall, watching the sunset and listening to EDM music.
Oh Baru. How can I start with you?
Baru is known to be a world-class beach, located about 1 to 1.5 hours away from Cartagena. I beg to differ. Too many things were wrong about this place. I don’t want to rant about my experience in Baru but I do want to list some of my observations here, so readers can be aware of what they should expect in Baru.
Beach is overcrowded
Beach is rocky (at least my spot), you cannot really swim there
Beach vendors are aggressive
Tour operators are extremely unprofessional, late, delay, kicked me out of the bed
What tranquila? Okay, that’s me ranting
Be careful with tour operators that sells you packages to and from Baru that includes breakfast and lunch. We paid 30 USD per person to a street solicitor. The street solicitor that we have gave us many false promises. I strongly suggest booking tours through reputable hotels. It may be more expensive but I believe the operators would actually deliver what they sell.
That’s all! Happy Colombia!