Ready to plan a trip to Cartagena, Colombia? Read on for the perfect Cartagena One-week itinerary in this Caribbean gem.
Cartagena, Colombia’s gateway to the Caribbean Sea, is home to an international airport, beautiful islands, and extraordinary history. Oh, did we mention the food!
Best areas to stay in Cartagena to kick off your one-week itinerary
The Historic Walled City
Cartagena’s historic downtown, known as Centro, enclosed by its iconic city wall, is probably the image that enticed you to visit in the first place. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, after all. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Centro is the top choice for what area to stay in Cartagena. It has many of the best hotels in Cartagena as well as lots of things to do
- Tons of restaurants, nightlife, and the historic charm that embodies Cartagena.
- Close to many of the major attractions.
- Very safe, even late at night.
- It can get crowded during peak seasons.
- Though not far away, it is not on the beach.
- On the higher end price-wise.
- Lots of vendors.
During the colonial era, Getsemaní was a working-class neighbourhood with a large population of free black artisans. They were the carpenters, masons, and shipbuilders that quite literally built Cartagena. The community also played a leading role in the independence movement and is considered the birthplace of Cartagena’s unique Afro-Caribbean culture.
The last decade has seen the expansion of tourism in this area – with the Plaza de la Trinidad becoming a popular hangout place – and the proliferation of hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars, and clubs in the area.
- Prices that are generally considerably lower than in Centro.
- You’ll find some of the city’s best cultural activities and nightlife.
- You might want to look elsewhere if you’re looking for peace and quiet
- A few areas can still be a bit sketchy late, so stick to major, lit up streets late at night.
Days one to three in Cartagena: exploring the city
Where to stay
Below, you’ll find a brief description of each of the best hostels to stay in in Cartagena. One high range hostel/hotel pick, one mid-range choice, and one budget pick, so you can decide what’s best for you.
High range: Casa del Puerto hostels & suites
Casa del Puerto Hostel & Suites is a new, totally rebuilt Mansion. It will be your oasis of peace during your stay in Cartagena. This place includes a delicious breakfast with your reservation. It’s an ideal place to soak yourself in the pool under the Colombian sun, have a fresh cocktail, have a bite in their restaurant, or just chill. Private double bed ensuite around $64 USD.
Mid-range pick: Selina Cartagena
Shared dorms for around $22 USD. Selina is one of the perfect places to relax and soak up the sun in their two on-site rooftop swimming pools or meditate and stretch with their daily yoga classes. You’ll enjoy plenty of games and activities suitable for everyone, so you can while away your time at the hostel before wandering through the beautiful streets nearby.
Budget pick: Casa Mama Waldy
Shared dorms for around $11 USD. Casa Mama Waldy offers you free WiFi and coffee all day, a well-equipped shared kitchen, lounge, patio, and a cozy terrace with a bar and a jacuzzi. The location is fantastic, and the staff is very friendly and helpful! The hostel itself has a lot of charm and has a quaint-homey feeling. Quite the oasis to relax within when coming back from your adventures.
Below, you’ll find a brief description of each of the best restaurants to take lunch in Cartagena, including the average prices of each. One high-range, one mid-range, and one budget pick, so you can decide what’s best for you.
High range: Clero Restaurant
This restaurant is located in the heart of Getsemaní. Described by locals as “a magical and surreal place, where reality feels like fantasy and fantasy-like reality”. It has an exclusive atmosphere with Mediterranean fusion cuisine and Caribbean flavours. Average main dishes prices are between $13-$40 USD.
Mid-range pick: Sabor Mulato
located in Getsemaní, Sabor Mulato is a little restaurant but very welcoming, managed by a lovely local couple. You’ll find local and exquisite food like local fried fish, ceviche, seafood creams, and some other delightful dishes in this restaurant. Prices are reasonably between $10-$15 USD.
Budget pick: Local restaurant in front of Hostal Jet Set
This local restaurant is perfect if you’re looking for a good amount of food and cheaper prices in Cartagena. The flavour, the attention and the dishes feel like you’re at the home eating the food of a Cartagena grandma. You’ll find the famous “menu del día”, which is a dish with 3 protein options (beef, pork or chicken), 2-grain options (beans or lentils), rice, salad and fried bananas. It also includes chicken soup and 2 cups of panela lemonade for just $3 USD. Otherwise, you can also ask for other local dishes. Prices are between $5-$7 USD.
Stroll through the city
Below, you’ll find a brief description of the top 5 budget and cultural activities to do in Cartagena.
This could be the best introduction to Cartagena: the Walled City, a Unesco World Heritage site and a fairy tale city of romance, legend and beauty within the old colonial stone wall.
Fantastic experience by walking the historic Cartagena and cultural traditions such as Graffiti, Salsa, African champeta, and distinctive architecture resulted from the mixture of natives, Africans and Spaniards, and Lebanese migrants.
Explore the typical street food of Cartagena. Experience the history, colours, flavours and smells that speak to the culinary synchronism between the African, Lebanese, indigenous and Spanish cultures.
Cartagena bike tour
The tours begin with a guide, in either Getsemaní or Plaza de San Diego, to get a closer look at the city. Stops occur at the most pivotal places in Cartagena de Indias (parks, streets, monuments and churches). The exciting points to discover its history and take some photos would allow time to cool down!
Get lost in the walled city by yourself
The architectural structure of the walled city is based initially on a maze to mislead and delay the pirates, so basically, you’ll be walking in a labyrinth. This is the perfect opportunity to get lost in the magical streets and find some hidden jewels of this gorgeous city.
For the sunset lovers
If you’re a sunset lover, Cartagena is one such destination in which you’ll be able to witness a jaw-dropping sunset. Below are two of the best options for the breathtaking experience.
Cafe del mar is one of the trendy resto-bars in the city located over the wall. Its perfect location makes the place a fantastic spot to watch the sunset. Also, if you want to start your night, you’ll be able to drink some beers, cocktails or even have some snacks. Average prices of cocktails are between $4-$7 USD, for beers $2-$4 USD, for snacks for two $5-$10 USD.
Cultural sunset with the fishermen over the bay
If you love having conversations with locals, talking with the fishermen over the bay will be the best choice. These guys love to go with their fishing rods and try to catch some fish just for fun. But watch them while the sun goes down. It’s simply a surreal experience.
Sunset at the wall
Don’t want to spend a lot of money or just don’t like to drink? You can also chillax on the wall to witness one of the best sunsets in the country. You can decide whether you want to walk along the wall or sit right next to Cafe del Mar.
Days four to five: Caribbean beach time
Where to stay
As with days three to four, below, you’ll find a brief description of each of the best hostels to stay in Cartagena. One high range hostel/hotel pick, one mid-range choice, and one budget pick, so you can decide what’s best for you.
High range pick: Casa en el Agua
Located in Isla de San Bernardo, Casa en el Agua is a Party Eco-Hostel ideal for having fun, meeting travel buddies, and having incredible experiences while relaxing on the Caribbean waters. Hammocks are roughly $40 USD, shared dorms are about $55 USD, and Standard double beds are approximately $90 USD. You’ll also have to pay $40 USD for a Cartagena-Isla de San Bernardo-Cartagena round boat trip.
Mid-range pick: Hotel Isla del Pirata
Bungalows for three people cost around $80 USD. You’ll also have to pay approximately $40 USD for a round Boat trip Cartagena-Islas Del Rosario-Cartagena. Located in Islas Del Rosario, with 12 bungalows built near the sea, Isla del Pirata offers its guests a chill and straightforward process. Although it is rustic with some things to improve, it’s an ideal place to share time with friends and enjoy a cocktail – looking out over the turquoise water of the Caribbean.
Budget pick: Paraiso Azul
Double bed in a cozy room for around $15 USD. Located in Isla Baru, Paraiso Azul, is a simplistic hostel. It also offers a complimentary breakfast, and the owners are kind. You’re going to feel this place is just like home, but in paradise.
What to do?
Roughly $12 USD from the Islands. The plankton tour could be easily one of the most magical experiences you could ever have – supposing you’re not afraid to swim in the dark. People often describe it as swimming in fairy dust.
We recommend that you bring your own equipment. If you’re just an amateur snorkeler, you can find cheap snorkel equipment in the walled city or Getsemaní for $3 USD. However, if you prefer to have a Guided 3 hours experience, you could find tours from $7 USD
On this tour, you’ll typically visit the most essential Islands near Cartagena (i.e. Cholon, San Bernardo, Mucura and Tintipan). You’ll find prices averaging from $15 USD when leaving from one of the islands.
Scuba-diving into the magical and warm Caribbean waters is a must-do if you’re an experienced scuba diver! You’ll find prices from $70 USD per two immersions.
Meal prices and advice
Although prices on islands and beaches used to be more expensive than in the city, you need to know that sometimes locals and vendors will take advantage of you – being a tourist.
- Average prices for a lunch (e.g. fried fish, coconut rice, salad, smash fried bananas and lemonade) are between $7-$10 USD. Don’t pay more than this.
- If you want Premium food like lobster, it should be around $20-$30 USD maximum.
- Cocktails would be about $5-$7 USD.
- Beers and beverages are about $3-$5 USD, depending on the brand you choose.
- Ceviches ought to be about $5-$7 USD.
You’ll come across the famous ¨massage ladies¨, they’re going to offer a free trial massage. Don’t accept it unless you really want a massage. Also, always determine the price before the massage! The average price for 30 minutes full-body massage is between $10-$15 USD.
Day six: Cultural immersion in San Basilio de Palenque
How to get there?
Palenque is located in the department of Bolívar, a little more than an hour south of Cartagena. San Basilio de Palenque was founded by Benkos Biohó, who was brought to current-day Colombia by the Spaniards during the 16th century. After escaping, he and other enslaved people fled and began setting up the community that we know today as San Basilio de Palenque. These enslaved people tried to help free others that were arriving in Cartagena. They had great success, helping many enslaved people reach their community – a safe haven.
Do not expect to find the architectural gems found in Cartagena; this town’s essence is in its roots and that immaterial legacy they strive to preserve.
To get to Palenque, you’re going to have three options
- The most expensive way: rent a tour. The prices are between $85-$90 USD, including lunch, guided tour and transportation.
- The mid-range way: take an Uber or a moto-taxi. The cost of going from Cartagena to the bus terminal (by uber or taxi) will be around $5-$7 USD. After that, you’ll have to take a bus from the bus terminal to Palenque. The price of the bus is around $3 USD
- The budget way: Take the Trans-Caribe to the bus terminal and then take the bus to Palenque. The Trans-Caribe ticket price is $1 USD. You’ll need to take the X104 bus to Centro station which is close to Getsemaní and the walled city.
* Reminder: If you want to make the trip yourself, keep in mind that you’ll need to take the bus early in the morning because the last bus back from Palenque to Cartagena leaves at 3 PM. Also, you can stay over there, but it’s going to be expensive because there are no hostels, you’ll have to stay at some local house. The average nightly price is $30 USD for a single bed
What to do?
Walking into Palenque by yourself would be a missed opportunity because, as we said before, the essence of this town is in its roots and the immaterial legacy. So, we recommend finding a local guide who can give you the information (We will leave a trusted guide’s number on the “Trip and cultural advice” section)
- A guided tour into the town to learn all of Palenque´s history (Benkos Bioho statue, Drums and Dance Show)
- Graffiti tour
- Famous Musicians house tour (Sexteto Tabala and Combiles Ami)
- Have a friendly conversation with locals
- Witness the Lumbalu ritual (honours those that have passed away). Although it is an occasional opportunity. it’s pretty interesting to see
- If you’re lucky, you’ll find parties around town, so you’ll be able to join them and dance with locals
- Palenque does the Drums festival or “festival de tamboras”, which is usually celebrated in October. This year the celebration will be from October 14th till October 16th. If you’re able to travel on these dates it will be a surreal and unique opportunity to participate in
Palenque´s cuisine, flavour and tradition are legit because of its mixture of African, Spanish and Caribbean cultures. You’ll find Tropical fruits and ‘Arroz con bleo’ (a dish made of bean and rice, a unique fish from the region called ‘stove bleo’, and a tropical salad).
Also, a part of the varied gastronomic-loaded exotic flavours of this town is ‘Pescado en cabrito’ (a particular stove fish), ‘Gallina Criolla (hen stewed in coconut milk), or ‘Mazamorra de coco’.
- Average price for a typical lunch is between $10-$15 USD.
- Average price for typical candies is between $1-$3 USD.
Trip and cultural advice
To have the most comfortable experience on your tour to San Basilio de Palenque, make sure to:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
- Bring lots of sunscreen and a fan or umbrella (there isn’t a lot of shade, and the sun is intense)
- Make sure to bring your camera to take many photos of this historical and exciting town.
- Don’t forget to try the unique and special candies prepared by gorgeous Palenqueras: Cocada (coconut candy), Bola de maní (peanut and caramel ball), alegrías de milo (milo chocolate biscuits)
- Ñeque is the typical alcoholic beverage from Palenque. Locals say, “if you didn’t try ñeque, did you really visit Palenque?” so don’t leave this historical place without a sip of it.
- Remember, most people’s livelihood in Palenque is based on tourism. So, if you can support them by purchasing souvenirs, leaving tips or getting lunch there – they’d appreciate it!
You can contact “Don” Wilman Torres if you need a guide. A kind human being, who is passionate about music. Furthermore, he is the perfect person to explain all the culture of Palenque (history, music, rituals, traditions). He’s going to take you to all the iconic places within the town. You can call him if you need his guidance at +57 3004334906
Day seven: Adventure beyond the walls
Where to go
Although Cartagena is not one of the most adventurous cities in Colombia, below, you’ll find a brief description of two of the best adventure activities to do beyond the walls of Cartagena.
Colombia National Aviary: The cost of Admission is about $12 USD. Aviario Nacional in Cartagena, Colombia, is a conservation organization that promotes knowledge about Colombian biodiversity, its sustainable use and responsible management.
The Aviary resides on seven hectares of wilderness that allow visitors to observe a unique and wonderful collection of birds from Colombia and Latin America. The birds are exhibited in their natural habitat or in environments very similar to those from which they originate.
How to get there?
High range option: go on a tour, which will cost around $45 USD, (entrance fee included).
Mid Range option: take a taxi from Cartagena to the Aviary. This option is best with a group of friends (4 persons) because it will cost around $45 USD round trip, which means $10 USD per person. Otherwise, you can also take the Aviary bus, which will cost approximately $16 USD round trip.
Budget option: A bus and taxi combo is a bit more complicated but a good adventure for those looking to do the Aviary inexpensively. Start by taking a bus from Cartagena to Pascaballos from the intersection of Calle 30 and Carrera 17, which is at the base of the San Felipe Castle. The ride is about 30mins and should cost less than $1USD. From Pascaballos you can take a mototaxi aprox $3-$4 USD. Make sure you negotiate the price before taking the moto-taxi and always be careful with your belongings. I suggest you have some basic Spanish language skills for this option.
Totumo mud volcano: Entrance to “El Totumo” is about $5-$7 USD depending on the season
The Totumo Volcano (El Totumo) is one of Cartagena’s most popular day trips. It is a small volcanic caldera that has become the main attraction. Take a bath in naturally heated grey-brown silt. After soaking in the thick mixture, head to the lagoon next door to wash off the mineral-rich mud, which is believed to have therapeutic properties.
How to get there?
High range option: rent a tour, which will cost around $30-$40 USD, (includes entrance fee and an English guide). This tour does not include lunch. However, you can find typical dishes for about $6 USD.
Budget option: From Cartagena, you have to take a bus via Barranquilla (Via al Mar). This bus will cost around $3-$4 USD. Get off after the Galerazamba sign. From there, you can take a motorcycle taxi to El Totumo, which will cost about $3-$4 USD. So, a round trip will be about $12-$16 USD.
Day eight: Historical Cartagena immersion
Finish your Cartagena One-week Itinerary with Historical Cartagena immersion
San Felipe de Barajas Castle: one of Cartagena’s most iconic landmarks; a must-visit for all tourists who travel to the city. It has a remarkable history spanning 480 years; the castle has been invaded by pirates, admirals, and barons in its long history, yet it continues to stand proudly. Tickets cost about $7 USD.
Gold Museum: The Gold Museum in Cartagena displays examples of Colombia’s indigenous peoples’ lovely and intricate goldsmith work. Visiting the Gold Museum in Cartagena will give you a glimpse of these ancient gold artifacts and a chance to learn a bit about the indigenous cultures that crafted them. Best of all, the museum is free.
Inquisition palace: The Spanish Inquisition conjures visions of witches, torture, and religious persecution. As an essential seat of Spanish colonial power, Cartagena housed an office of the Inquisition. Today the Palacio de la Inquisición in Cartagena doubles as a museum of the Inquisition as well as the Cartagena Historical Museum. You can see some examples of torture devices and learn about the city’s history during a visit to Cartagena’s Inquisition Museum. Cost of Admission is about $6 USD
Naval Museum: The walls and fortifications of Cartagena speak to its importance as a coastal trading port during the Spanish colonial era. A visit to the Naval Museum of the Caribbean in Cartagena will give you great insight into those fortifications and their role in defending the city from numerous pirate attacks. The museum is the most complete in the town. It has a wealth of information about Cartagena’s history, the pirate attacks on the city, and the history of Colombia’s navy. The cost of admission to the museum is about $4 USD.