In a very short summary, you have to explore 3 main areas in Cartagena - Centro, Getsemani and Bocagrande!
Let me show you the best things to see and do in each area of Cartagena!
Centro - Cartagena Old Town
Best Place to Stay in Cartagena
Cost of Living and Safety
Just before we jump into this article, I want to warn you that Cartagena is extremely hot 🔥🔥🔥 The average temperature all year is round is 30 °C (feels like 50 °C). So everything mentioned below I highly recommend exploring early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During the day take a siesta, haha!
Centro-Cartagena Old Town
The most iconic area in Cartagena is definitely the Centro area which is basically the old town of Cartagena, also referred to as ‘the walled city’. The name comes from the fact that the whole city is surrounded, like a fortress, historically to protect the city from the pirates as all Spanish gold was kept in Cartagena. Although the wall in some places has been destroyed, you can still see it in several places as it was many years ago. Interesting that it was built by coral reefs, that is why there are no coral reefs these days around Cartagena city.
Cartagena Centro is the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the walls, you will find one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It feels like each balcony is prettier than the next. You will find many colonial time buildings, parks, squares, cathedrals and churches. Wander around and let the place take you back to the 18th century.
Here are the main sights you need to visit in Centro:
The Clock Tower of Cartagena (Monumento Torre del Reloj) - the main entrance to the walled city
Can Pedro Claver Church (Santuario de San Pedro Claver)
Inquisition Place and Window (Palace of the Inquisition)
Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría)
Aduana Square (Plaza de la Aduana)
Church of Santo Domingo (Iglesia de Santo Domingo)
Proclamation Square (Plaza de la Proclamación)
The Sweet Portal (Portal de Dulces) - a place where you can get all the best local sweets. My personal favourite: Panderetas de yuca!
And probably the most important one - Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. The castle seems to be located kind of like outside the Centro as you need to cross the river, but really it is the part of the Centro so this makes it the UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. The entrance fee is 25.000 COP per person (~ 6 EUR / 5 GBP / 6.60 USD).
In Centro, you will find many cute cafes for breakfast and lunch and some amazing restaurants and rooftop bars for dinner. Prices tho will be a bit higher as you are in a very touristic area.
A restaurant for dinner I can recommend is ‘Pezetarian’. The food was excellent and the atmosphere lovely. I ordered Sushi Pizza! I first time saw a combo like this so I had to try it and it was amazing! They also have veggie options.
Getsemani neighbourhood was nothing like it is today just 7 years ago. It was a dangerous area with a very bubbly nightlife if you know what I mean. Now this neighbourhood has been turned into a vibrant and eccentric area full of boutique hotels and restaurants. Also, some amazing street artist art pieces can be bought here. The whole area is just a vibe.
You definitely have to explore this area, its meaningful graffiti and colourful streets. The main sight you have to visit in Getsmani is Trinidad Square (Plaza de la Trinidad).
Definitely add Centenario Park to your list! It is a very central and small park but you will find sloths, monkeys, squares and even iguanas roaming around freely in the wild.
Also, restaurants and bars will be cheaper here. A great Caribbean restaurant in Getsemani I can recommend is ‘Sambal’. Veggie friendly.
I highly recommend choosing your accommodation in the Getsemani area, but more about that in the section of ‘Best Place to Stay in Cartagena’.
For a perfect beach day, you have to head to Bocagrande and the biggest beach ‘Playa the Bocagrande’. The beach is the busiest and most popular one in Cartagena. There you will find sunbeds and bars on the beach.
The whole area is full of skyscrapers, brand hotels and fancy restaurants. There isn’t much to see or explore but it is a perfect area for a proper vacation. Note, that Bocagrande is probably the most expensive of all 3.
The highest rooftop bar in Colombia is in Bocagrande - ‘Sky 51’.
If you want a bit more peaceful beach time then you will need to head down to ‘Marbella’ beach which is on the other side of the old town, not in Bocagrande.
The best places to stay in Cartagena
This really depends on what you are after. If you want to be close to the beach and stay in one of the well-known hotels then it is definitely the Bocagrande area. Some of the most famous hotels can be found here, like:
Hyatt Regency Cartagena
If you want to be in the middle of everything then Centro is your choice, but it will be a bit more expensive as you are staying in the UNESCO world heritage site.
If money is not a problem I urge you to stay at Sofitel Legend Santa Clara! This building is history itself and now thanks to the Sofitel hotel brand it is turned into one of the most amazing boutique hotels in Cartagena.
The best option I think is Getsemani, as you will get similar options like in Centro but just cheaper and still you will be close to everything as Getsmani is literally next to Centro and depending on where you stay, it is a maximum of a 10-minute walk between them.
Everything is within walking distance. The only time you might want to take a taxi is to get to Bocagrande beach. I highly recommend using Uber or Cabify as then you know exactly how much you will pay. Taxis seeing you are a tourist can rip you off. Also, DO NOT take moto-taxis, they can be very dangerous, several lethal accidents have been reported!
Cost of Living and Safety
Cartagena is definitely the safest and at the same time most expensive city in Colombia.
Price-wise, you will find some restaurants that can reach European prices. Mostly in Centro and Bocagrande. Getsemani area is definitely the cheapest from all 3 accommodation and food-wise.
In general most of the sights are free and there is street food everywhere so you can have a very friendly budget trip. At the same time, you can find world-class restaurants and renting boats could easily eat up your spending money very quickly.
Make sure to haggle on the street with sellers selling juices, fruits, drinks and snacks. For tourists, they will always give you a higher price, but almost always you are able to get it cheaper. A rule of thumb would be to negotiate the price, starting off with a 40% discount.
Regarding safety, all 3 districts are fairly safe as they are for tourists. As everywhere in Colombia you need to be more careful in the late evenings and nights as that is when most nefarious characters are out on the job. Personally, I would recommend avoiding areas around the bridges that take you out from Getsemani as we walked there late after dinner and my bag almost got stolen.
I hope these tips will help you plan a perfect trip to Cartagena!
I have put together a video about all 3 areas in Cartagena:
My other articles and videos about Colombia:
Read: BOGOTA TRAVEL GUIDE
Read: GUATAPE TRAVEL GUIDE
Read: MINCA TRAVEL GUIDE
Read: SALENTO TRAVEL GUIDE
Read: TAYRONA PARK