Cartagena, the queen of Colombia (not Columbia) has been in my bucket list for so long! I’m so sure this gem has been in your radar as well and I gotta say, what a beautiful city!
Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becoming one of South America’s most vibrant cities. In this colourful guide, I’ll walk you through all you need to know so you can experience as much as possible in 4 days!
Colombia tourism has grown significantly and Cartagena became THE spot to be. With an epic colourful old town, paradisiac beaches just miles away, a hip and trendy neighbourhood and a vibrant cultural scene, Cartagena is without a doubt the trendiest destination in South America.
You’ll be blown away by the historic colonial architecture and the uniquely Colombian culture, the food, the joyful locals and the vibe of this city. It made me feel just like home.
How to get there
From Montreal, Cartagena is only two flights away. I got the opportunity to try Copa Airline’s first class and it was such a treat! The fun of this trip really started at the airport.
Connecting Canadians with key destinations in Colombia including Cartagena, Bogota & Medellin, and more than 60 destinations in over 30 countries through the Hub of the Americas®, located at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Copa Airlines is proud to offer five times weekly flights from Toronto and four times weekly flights from Montréal.
What to bring in your suitcase
I visited 4 days and the only thing I can recommend you is: bring all your summer outfits! airy dresses, skirts, shorts, bathing suits and comfy shoes (you’ll walk a lot). The humidity in Cartagena is out of this world, so be sure you carry a water bottle, baby wipes, extra makeup in your purse and anything that will keep you refreshed.
Neighbourhoods to visit
Getsamaní, the trendy, artsy – Old town (to cry for), Bocagrande, where you’ll feel you’re in Miami.
how to move around when you get there?
Taxis are extremely affordable and they’re at every corner in the old walled city, don’t panic, they’re very safe and friendly. They don’t take cash, so make sure to change some pesos before you arrive.
Uber is relatively new in Cartagena and I couldn’t use it. As soon as I was settled in the old town, I walked eeeeverywhere and didn’t even used a cab(yay for all the steps achieved!)
Do I need to speak spanish to visit?
In my particular case, I spoke spanish with the locals the minute I landed and I felt just like home (Maracaibo, my hometown is just a few hours away). I bumped into a lot of tourists and they were serviced in english perfectly. Cartagena is by far the most developed for tourism and much easier to get around as a tourist!
Can I drink the tap water?
please don’t. make sure you’re drinking bottled water.
So, where can I stay?
THIS is where the fun begins! Boutique hotels are blooming in the old city, and I had the chance to stay at two very dreamy options.
If you’re in the mood for an exclusive, romantic getaway
Casa Cochera del Gobernador: Is hands down your best bet! located in the walled-city, each room, space is so perfectly designed you’ll be wowed as soon as you step in. The hotel is a luxury Bed & Breakfast, in a colonial house from the 16th century which has been recently reformed with exquisite taste. This boutique hotel has only 12 rooms, with the prettiest colonial design you’ll experience in the city.
They offer a wide selection of breakfast options (I loved them so much!), local coffee (of course!), room service, spa amenities, bike rentals, a bar and a cozy ambiance I adored!
Find all the booking information here
If you’re in the mood for a modern getaway
Hotel Santa Catalina: My second home when I visited Cartagena after Casa Cochera, and WOW! This new luxury boutique hotel in Cartagena filled us with all the warmth, comfort and colours I had in mind. Its special location in the heart of the historic city center make it the perfect spot, everything just by walking distance!
Modern rooms with spacious and ultra comfy beds in a world of very refreshing colors, a top quality restaurant (BEST ceviche I had in the city), an amazing rooftop with premium view to the old city, a mobile spa, 24-hour room servic (hello arepas at midnight!), concierge, massage service and more. Santa Catalina was amazing.
Want to read all about and book now? Run here
Let’s talk Food and yumminess now!
YES! YES! Food! The foodie in me was jumping knowing I was going to the homeland of best arepas, empanadas, cheese and all the yumminess after my hometown. Common street food includes arepas de huevo (fried corn disc stuffed with an egg), Carimañola (yuca fritters filled with cheese or beef) and tons of fresh ceviche.
The colours of this city are as good as their food you guys. SO good. Here are all the spots you need to visit:
– Ursula, at Tcherassi Hotel: THE best burger I had in my life so far. We met the lovely chef of Ursula, and I loved the story behind it: every single ingredient is homemade, the buns, patties, sauces. bonus points: the decor is insanely pretty.
– GRAN INKA at Santa Catalina: If you love a buffet breakfast filled with local plates and if you want a fancy supper at night, Inka was our favourite of the trip. THE CILANTRO CEVICHE – Yes, I needed to cap this.
– Sophia hotel: We visited the rooftop (incredibly cute) for drinks and little bites and their restaurant, la aduana. Try the grilled octupus, soup of the day and their frozen lemonade.
– Colette: A french dinner located in a beautiful square that reminded me of Montreal SO much.
– Buena Vida: the hip place of Cartagena and colourful/pattern heaven to this mama, Buena Vida was SO cute! We tried their local plates (arepas de huevo and carimañolas). Don’t leave without a papelon con limon. You’re welcome.
– Cuba 1940: for drinks with friends at the prettiest colonial house.
– La Cevicheria: the number one recommendation I received from everyone, be prepared for a line up. cutest floors and staff, with an impressive menu.
– Epoca Cafe: YES! This coffee is a must, okay?
– A Fruit bowl from a Palenquera: you’ll soon spot the palenqueras: women in colourful dresses, balancing bowls of tropical fruit on their heads. Help them out, and get a bowl a hug and a photo together.
walking these little streets was simply a dream. If you want a romantic and fun way to see the Old Town, take a tour in the back of a horse-drawn carriage.
Local shopping? I gotcha!
Colombian treasures are every single corner in Cartagena, and knowing you, I had to prepare all the essentials for you, right? Here are my faves:
- Casa Chiqui
- Centro Artesano
- St. Dom
- Abaco, Libros y Cafe
- local artisans in the street
- Plaza de las bovedas
- La Serrezuela
- Silvia Tcherassi
- Bocagrande Mall
Exhibit A – Maca having a major heart attack with these treasures.
Exhibit B – Maca crying at this point with this place.
Endless thanks to Copa Airlines and Colombia travel for extending this invite to discover Cartagena. We cannot wait to be back!