Discover Cartagena, Colombia

| by Aracely | 16 Comments » | Colombia, South America

Best Cities in South America

First View of Cartagena, Colombia

After two long days of sailing the open seas Cartagena’s skyline slowly revealed itself to us as we approached its harbor.  It appeared majestic, especially for those of us (me) who spent 48 hours in bed fighting sea sickness.  Land!  And a beautiful land it was.

Cartagena is a city on the northern coast of Colombia and it’s the fifth largest urban area in the country.  Today the city is a center of economic activity in the Caribbean region and a popular tourist destination.  There are different sectors that make up the city each having its own charm.

Streets of Colombia

The Streets of Old City Cartagena, Colombia

Old City Cartagena

The downtown area is surrounded by a wall built in the 16th century to protect the city from pirates.  This is where you will find the colonial influence of beautiful plazas, buildings with balconies and shady terrace cafes lining the streets.  The Getsemani neighborhood provides a more local cultural experience with simple yet delicious restaurants and no frills budget lodging.  Bocagrande is the most popular area with many hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.  It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west.  Its particular appeal is the beaches and nightlife around Saint Martin Avenue.  On the bay side of the peninsula of Boca Grande is an impressive sea walk.

Playa Blanca

While visiting Cartagena we took a boat to the Islands of Rosario, specifically Playa Blanca.  It is a beautiful white sand beach where many Colombian tourists come to visit.  When visiting Playa Blanca, make sure you do not take the large tourist boat.  Most hostels and hotels, will book you on these tour boats, but they are incredibly slow!  You will spend most of your day on the boat, which will leave you with only two hours to enjoy the beach.  Instead, take the smaller speed boats with dual engines off the back early in the morning.  This will allow you to enjoy the beach longer and during its less crowded hours. You will be eliminating the aquarium from your itinerary, but it’s a decision a beach lover won’t regret.

Best Beaches of Colombia

Playa Blanca, Baru Island, Colombia

If you’re in the mood for a posh outdoor lounge, head over to Café del Mar in the old city.  Even if you only buy one drink, it’s worth taking a peak.  It’s a modern venue that is set up on the inner city’s giant protective wall with an amazing evening view of the city.

Cartagena is a wonderful travel location for both backpackers and vacationers.  Cheap hostels and luxury beachfront hotels await all types of clients.  Make sure you venture out and see the different neighborhoods of this large port city.  There are beaches to visit in Cartagena, but the water isn’t clean, considering it’s a port city.  As you ride the boats out to the Islands of Rosario (Playa Blanca) you will see the water clarity change before you eyes.

Mud Bath in Volcano Totumo, Colombia

Mud Bath in Volcano Totumo, Colombia


If you want to party and see the city at the same time, book a chiva bus where you will drink, dance and sing while the bus drives around the city with a DJ.  If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, enjoying a mud bath at Volcano Totumo is a must.

For Budget Travel

For those on a shoestring budget, consider staying at Casa Viena, a $10USD backpacker hostel with a shared kitchen.  They offer a double room with a private bathroom, a TV and sometimes a large window.  The hostel also provides computers in the lobby.  Casa Viena lies just outside the Old City walls, so finding cheap, local, non-tourist places to eat is easy.  Walk around the block and don’t be afraid to step in crowded local restaurants where you will be amazed at the cheap fixed lunch prices and the amount of food that comes with it.  Our readers have also recommended cheap hostels Casa Valda and Media Luna Art Factory.

Click here to see more PHOTOS from Cartagena.

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Tags: beaches, blogsherpa, Colombia, islands, South America, volcanoes

Written by Aracely

Co-founder of Aracely has been traveling, writing and taking photos since 2024, when she departed on his first year long travel backpacking journey. When she isn't seeking new adventures, Aracely is usually building Excel models as a financial analyst professional. Visit my website

16 Responses to “Discover Cartagena, Colombia”

  1. Mankinimalph says:

    Good tips re the boat, I got caught on the slow one which also has a deafening MC. You can stay in a hammock on Playa Blanca for about $5 a night too (further to the left of the beach as you look at it is cheaper and quieter).

    Wouldn’t recommend Casa Viena though. It’s cramped and v hot, also usually full. I’d go to Hotel San Roque (on Calle Media Luna and offers privates for cheaper than Casa Viena with private bathroom, TV and great fans) or Media Luna Art Factory (new hostel – bit more expensive but nice).
    .-= Mankinimalph´s last blog ..Borat’s Mankini Swimsuit a Hit in Japan =-.

    • Jason says:

      Mankinimalph, thanks for the information! We had a good experience and fan at Casa Viena, but more alternatives are great for our readers. Thanks for adding them. If you do take the hammock at Playa Blanca, just be sure to bring lots of mosquito repellent. And yes, I forgot to mention the DJ and ridiculously loud music played on the big slow boats.

      • Mankinimalph says:

        I’d say a head torch on Playa Blanca is also vital as only a couple of places have generators and they go off at 9pm!

        Glad you had a good time at Casa Viena. They were nice enough and had a decent book exchange (for hostels in Colombia), but we met a few other people with similar experiences back in June last year.

        Horses for courses as they say!
        .-= Mankinimalph´s last blog ..Borat’s Mankini Swimsuit a Hit in Japan =-.

  2. Aly says:

    We loved Cartagena, ended up spending three months living there. We found a hostel on the other side of Calle Media Luna called Casa Valda. It’s a very homey place with private baths and a large communal kitchen. The girls who run it are generally pretty sweet and you can negotiate pretty heavily as it’s not as well known as Casa Vienna. During the off-season if you plan to stay longer than a few weeks then renting a furnished apartment might be the way to go. On off-season most of the buildings you see in town are vacant, and prices drop 60-80%. Cheers!
    .-= Aly´s last blog ..Traveling Couples: Are We Insane? The Survival Guide =-.

  3. Jess says:

    I love that first photo of the skyline — beautiful! It must have been so good to see that and know that the seasickness was almost over.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Snapshot: Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang =-.

  4. Andi says:

    I loved Colombia, I just wish that I would have been able to visit Cartagena–especially now after reading your post. Too bad about the seasickness. Maybe try ginger next time?
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Brasil: Day 6 =-.

  5. Audia says:

    How is the water in Cartagena? Drinkable?

  6. I’ve always wanted to go to Cartagena but lately I just keep seeing photographs and images alllll over the place. And now I want to go so bad I can’t sleep at night. This just stoked the fire anew. Lovely!

  7. simply a great, great city to visit and a spectacular one to take photographs in … as I have enjoyed more than a few times in the last couple months.

  8. Nancie says:

    The more I read about South America the more I think I need to go there. Great post.

  9. Sophie says:

    Cool. Going to Cartagena in mid-January. Useful post, this.

  10. ayngelinai says:

    I really wanted to do the mud bath but there was torrential rain and I had to give up and move on – so disappointing.

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