Y’all have NO idea how hard it was to narrow down the photos for this post! Every square inch of Cartagena is vibrant, colorful, diverse, and worth photographing. I couldn’t go three steps without stopping to pull out my camera again. But, somehow I did it, and I finally pulled together this long-awaited travel guide for you! I’ve already sent my planning doc out to quite a few people who messaged me privately, but, for the rest of you, here are all the details on planning your own Cartagena trip.
OUR HONEYMOON IN CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
A few posts ago, I gave you the rundown on how we selected Cartagena, Colombia as our honeymoon destination. The short story is that we wanted to find a warm weather locale just a quick flight away – and, also, a place that we felt we could adequately explore on a mini-moon (5ish days) timeline.
Cartagena was the winner and we planned our trip with the help of many, many online travel guides. It’s not exactly a typical honeymoon destination, so there wasn’t much information out there on planning a honeymoon in Cartagena, but we were able to pull together an itinerary that felt relaxing and splurge-worthy (in a budget-friendly country).
THE WALLED CITY IN CARTAGENA
We spent most of our trip within the Walled City of Cartagena des Indias, the port founded in 1533. While there are so many places worth visiting in Colombia, and I wish we’d had more time to venture out, the Walled City is what you’ll likely recognize from photos. It’s a super safe part of town with restaurants, shopping, and a lively Caribbean atmosphere.
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHEN TO GO
Colombia sounds so much further away than it is! I was shocked to find that it would only take us about 4.5 hours of flight time to get there. We took JetBlue and connected in Fort Lauderdale. 2 quick and easy 2ish hour flights and we were in South America.
If you’re traveling from the East Coast, an added bonus to traveling to Colombia is that you’re in the same time zone! An unexpected perk given that my geography skills are apparently weak and I didn’t realize that the west coast of South America lines up with the east coast of the US.
As far as the weather goes, it’s always going to be hot and humid, so go anytime of year and expect a tropical climate.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Let’s start with getting from the airport. Just call an uber. They’re SUPER cheap in Cartagena because of the exchange rate – I honestly don’t think we ever paid over $5 for an uber anywhere in town.
Once you’re in town, assuming you’re staying in the Walled City, you’ll walk everywhere. We took an uber just a handful of times –– to and from the airport, when we went to the fort (more on that later), and on the last night when we stayed in Bocagrande and had to get back to the Walled City.
DO I NEED TO SPEAK SPANISH?
It would definitely help. I found that most people spoke a bit of English within the Walled City, and almost everyone at the hotels had a decent command of the language, but, if Adam hadn’t been able to at least speak a little Spanish, I think we would have been lost.
WHERE TO STAY IN CARTAGENA
As y’all may have gathered from all the hotel reviews I write and the fact my day job is in copywriting for a hotel brand, I’m into the hospitality industry. So, when I realized that all the hotels I was looking at were within blocks of each other, I decided we were going to bounce around a bit to take in all the vibes.
The first 2 nights of our time in Cartagena, we stayed at a lovely boutique hotel, Hotel Quadrifolio. Like many of the hotels in Cartagena, Hotel Quadrifolio is built in a renovated building dating back the 17th century. With a large courtyard that is home to a lush swimming pool and an open air veranda where breakfast is served, I couldn’t have imagined a better welcome to Colombia.
We stayed in Room #1, primarily because it was one of the less expensive rooms, but also because it had the most amazing walk-in shower that opened up to a garden looking up to outside –– all the way from the ground floor!
We spent one night at the ultra-chic Tcherassi Hotel, designed by Silvia Tcherassi, a fashion designer who has translated her designs from clothing into luxury hotels. The hotel is minimalist, bright, white, and accented with perfectly placed greenery, which makes for a relaxing stay, however, the real highlight of this hotel is the rooftop pool, bar, and restaurant. We actually pushed back our checkout to spend some more time lounging in the infinity pool and just taking in the clean-lined glamour.
CASA SAN AGUSTIN
Our splurge for our time in Cartagena was 2 nights at Casa San Agustin, a stunning 17th-century building that’s been decorated in a classic Colombian style with exposed wood beams and white upholstery. The space is stunning from top to bottom and the service is incredible. Adam keeps wondering why there isn’t a menu of pillows to choose from at every hotel we stay in now.
The courtyard pool was so peaceful to sit beside and read (these courtyard pools were winning me over with their lack of direct sunlight) and we spent time there both during the day and at night, when it seems to glow under the moonlight. One of the things I loved most about the hotel? The smell. Seriously, the entire place smelled deliciously masculine.
INTERCONTINENTAL CARTAGENA DES INDIAS
Our last night in Cartagena, we booked a night at the Intercontinental because we’d basically blown through our budget and ended up with an extra night we hadn’t initially planned on due to flights. It was in Bocagrande, which is a more commercial district, but it was a short cab right back into the Walled City and we actually loved the infinity pool that overlooked the ocean. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, this totally works.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN CARTAGENA
One of the other reasons Cartagena rose to the top of our list was the food. We’d heard incredible things about the food from the arepas that you can find on any street corner to the lavish tasting menus at high-end restaurants. You’ll find amazing ceviches, empanadas, pan de bono, and tropical fruits.
Here are just a few of the places we dined and drank (I couldn’t include the little divey spots where we just ran in and picked up a pastry or bread because there were no names!).
WHERE TO EAT
- Epoca Espresso Bar: You’ve probably heard about Colombian coffee, but, the reality is, most of the coffee we had in Colombia was meh (they export the good stuff!). Epoca Espresso Bar was the exception. The pour-over coffee (both iced and hot!) is poured right in front of you and the food is on point.
- El Boliche Cebicheria: We’d heard La Cevicheria was the place to get ceviche, but, like many places in Cartagena, the hours were odd and we never made it work. Instead, we went to this tiny and gorgeous spot around the corner. There was a loud and rowdy group next to us speaking Spanish and drinking copious amounts of wine at lunch on a weekday, and I felt like I was totally falling into Latin American culture.
- La Esquina del Pandebono: A bakery just steps away from Casa San Agustin, I had no idea what I was ordering every time we went, but all of it was delicious.
- Rincón de Antioquia: If you’re looking for fried street food and find yourself in Bocagrande, this lunch spot is the place to find empanadas, arepas, and more.
- La Paletteria Calle: A place that sells only popsicles? Sign me up. Ask for it dipped in chocolate to really indulge.
- Restaurante Maria: The interior is a blend between Lisa Frank and Kehinde Wiley, and the shrimp and sausage risotto is the warm comfort food dish of my dreams. I likened the taste to elevated spaghettios –– in an amazing way.
- La Vitrola: You’ll step back in time to classic Colombia with a Cuban band, dark wood and white tablecloths, and reliable dishes. There’s an air of timeless elegance here.
- El Baron: We ended up here on our one night without a reservation and it was the perfect spot to grab a cocktail, some snacks, and watch the festivities on Plaza San Pedro Clever.
- Alma: This is Casa San Agustin’s restaurant and it’s, not surprisingly, just as gorgeous as the hotel. Snag a spot by the water if you can and take in the live music.
- Carmen: Oh, Carmen. We wish we’d tried you out earlier in the week so that we could have come back every night. We did the tasting menu, which was a steal, and every dish was an impeccably plated home run. The courtyard is a lush, romantic place to grab a seat (well, grab a seat…with a reservation).
WHERE TO DRINK
- Abacos Libros: I included this under drink only because we just had coffee. We stopped in for a quick pick-me-up and sat at the bar amongst the stacks of books at this bookstore/coffee shop.
- Alquimico: Hands down, my favorite spot we had cocktails throughout our trip. As you walk past the window, you’ll see all the jars of alcohol with local fruits fermenting. Those are what they use in their inventive and impressive cocktails. The downstairs is a dark, moody vibe, while upstairs is a bit more of a party atmosphere. Take your pick and pick your poison.
- The Sofitel: We spent some time watching soccer at the El Coro bar at the Sofitel. It’s a dark, cool spot to escape the heat, and I was more than pleasantly surprised with the ham and cheese fritters I ordered to go with my Colombian beer.
- Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa: Our first evening in Cartagena, we sat outside at the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa, right by the water. This is when I discovered it’s surprisingly pleasant at night in Cartagena and the exchange rate is very in our favor. You’ll find excellent cocktails and a glittery atmosphere here.
- Movich Hotel: Try to look past the Instagram models (I know, I know, can I really make fun of them as a lifestyle and travel blogger? I mean at least I try to get the photo on the first shot and I actually eat the food I order, right?!) You’ll find an amazing sunset view of the entire Walled City looking over the modern skyline of Cartagena here. It’s worth the overpriced cocktails.
WHAT TO DO IN CARTAGENA
The first thing to know about spending time in Cartagena is that while it is a city on the Caribbean sea, it is not a beach town. You’re not going to find your Caribbean vacation here, you’re going to explore a diverse South American city full of history, food, nightlife, and shopping.
- Go on a walking food tour. One of the best ways to get an insiders’ view of a city, a bit of history, and to orient yourself to a place is a food tour. We did this early in our trip so we’d know where to go for the rest of the week. I also got to taste fruits I never would have picked up –– or known how to eat –– on my own!
- Bike around Getsemani. Sometimes called the Brooklyn of Cartagena, this hip neighborhood is full of art, hostels, restaurants, and bars. We biked over from our hotel to explore.
- Day trip to the Rosario Islands. The beaches in Cartagena leave something to be desired, but a quick 45-minute boat ride will get you to the blue Caribbean waters. Be warned, in the winter, the boat ride back can be…let’s just say, choppy, on the way back.
- Shopping at Las Bovedas. Touristy? Yes. But, this is where you can find colorful handmade Colombian goods, particularly purses and jewelry. The merchants’ stalls are housed in the old prison.
- Stroll around the colorful streets. The streets of Colombia are so vibrant, from the most modest houses to the mansions, it’s all a visual wonderland.
- Lounge by the pool. We spent each afternoon cooling off in the pool after a hot and humid morning of walking around and before showering and heading out for the night. It’s a necessity in this climate.
MUST-SEE CARTAGENA LANDMARKS
Every corner of the Walled City in Cartagena is historic and worth exploring, but there are a few landmarks that are must-sees. And, you won’t have any trouble finding them because the Walled City occupies a fairly small, walkable area of the city.
- Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Visiting a fort isn’t high on my list of must-do’s, but spending a couple hours doing the self-guided audio tour of this massive edifice did give me an understanding that I didn’t previously have about the colonial history of Cartagena.
- Plaza Santo Domingo: One of the main squares in Cartagena, this Plaza is often packed with vendors, tourists, and locals alike. Stroll through the Portal de Los Dulces to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- The Clock Tower: At the entrance to the Walled City and Plaza Santo Domingo is the beautiful Clock Tower looking out over the port.
- The Wall: Catch the sunset from atop the wall that makes Cartagena the Walled City.
- Plaza San Pedro Clever: I’m including this Plaza because while we ate dinner here, we saw not one, but two weddings at the Catholic Church located on the square. I totally snuck in the back for the 2nd one.
- Street art in Getsemani: Everywhere you turn in Getsemani, there are massive murals to take in. There’s color, color, and more color.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CARTAGENA
Given that it was our honeymoon, it goes without say that I packed A LOT of white. White swimsuits, white dresses, white rompers, white coverups. But, regardless of whether it’s your honeymoon, white and light is a good idea because it is so.freaking.hot. during the day. So hot. So humid. It cools down dramatically at night (okay, not cool, but not like you’ll be dripping seat), but during the day, you seriously need to think as lightweight as possible.
Also, pack SPF and a hat. You’re going to need it because the sun is hotter near the equator!
A FEW FINAL NOTES ON OUR HONEYMOON IN CARTAGENA
We had a wonderful time in Cartagena, and, if I were to go back, the only thing I would do differently is carving out a little more time to visit a few of the museums and take in a bit more of the history. And, also, perhaps we’d spend a bit more time in Getsemani exploring the restaurants and bars (we went in the morning both times we ventured over and most places don’t open until the afternoon there!).
That brings me to one of my big notes about Cartagena –– always check the hours! So many places had bizarre hours and we’d go to find a closed sign, despite thinking it was a 100% normal hour to be open. Also, you may think Colombians are on a late dinner Latin American schedule, but we found they operate much like Americans, if not a bit earlier.
Lastly, it’s so important to remember that most areas in Colombia are totally safe now. The days of Pablo Escobar are behind the country and they want to move on, so visit without reservation and have a fabulous time!