3 Days in Cartagena in 2023: Absolute Best Things to Do and See
Are you planning to spend 3 days in Cartagena? I’ve got the best things to do + suggested itinerary for your stay!
My jaw dropped in Cartagena.
This old, historic, colonial city just felt like one georgeous, picture perfect spot followed by another. The buildings were splashed with color – red, gold, pink, and blue everywhere. Greenery wove it’s way up and around the buildings, with vines, bushes, flowers, and bougainvillea. And you have so much interesting colonial architecture – the massive, ornate churches, the unique door knockers, the rooftop terraces, the balconies and doors.
Suffice it to say, we loved Cartagena.
Despite being a smaller city, there are a ton of things to do in Cartagena, and in the area nearby. You could stay for a long time in this Caribbean paradise, but if you’re spending a few weeks in Colombia, I think 3 days in Cartagena is the perfect amount of time!
A Five Part Guide to 3 Days in Cartagena
I’m dividing this 3 days in Cartagena travel guide into five sections: Things to Do, A Suggested 3 Day Cartagena Itinerary, Recommended Places to Stay, Where to Eat, and Practial Information/FAQ. Let’s get right into the list of the most amazing, unique, and can’t-miss things to do in Cartagena!
PART A: Best and Unique Things to Do in Cartagena
1. Explore the Walled City
The historic part of Cartagena is known as the Old City or the Walled City, as it is literally walled in. The Walled City is truly adorable streets everywhere and wandering the streets and taking in the beauty is one of the first things you must do during your 3 days in Cartagena.
Of course, during the daytime hours, there are also a lot of people and a whole lot of vendors on the street. Be prepared for people to be offering their wares to you constantly. The people of Colombia are very nice, though, and they will generally move along without further pushing if you just shake your head, or say “no gracias.”
I actually would highly recommend waking up early at least one of your 3 days in Cartagena to wander the streets when they are mostly empty of other pedestrians and any vendors. The sun rises around 6 a.m. year round and the city doesn’t really come to life before 8:30 or 9 a.m. Those hours in-between are magical.
Of course, come back later in the day when the churches, museums, shops, and restaurants are open, and to participate in the hustle and bustle of the city. Both experiences are good!
2. Take a Walking Tour of the City
While I highly recommend you wander the streets of Cartagena on your own, doing a walking tour with a local guide of the city will give you unique insights and interesting insider information to the city and it’s history.
On this walking tour, the guide is engaging and entertaining, telling stories and history that really make the city come to life. This is both a fun and informative way to spend a couple hours at the beginning of your stay in Cartagena.
👉Book this Cartagena walking tour here👈
3. Palace of the Inquisition
This “palace” is actually a museum that focuses on the history of the Inquisition in Cartagena specifically, and the Americas, more generally. Each room had at least one explanatory placard in English, but be aware that many of the artifacts and other displays were only in Spanish. It was an interesting look at what happened and what prompted the Inquisition.
The upstairs section of the museum focuses on the history of Cartagena and how it came to be founded and developed.
While we did not spend a ton of time here, it was an interesting and quick museum. (Plus, the courtyard was really pretty!)
- Hours: 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sundays and holidays
- Price: 23,000 pesos (about $5) per adult
4. Clock Tower and the City Gate
The Clock tower (or Torre del Reloj) is part of the main city gate leading into the walled city. It’s a must-see during your 3 days in Cartagena!
There’s a large plaza in front of the gate (Plaza del Reloj) and inside the gate (Plaza de Los Coches). This is a beautiful monument and entrance to the city. Visiting here and enjoying the plazas and views is one of the best things to do in Cartagena, and I recommend doing it early on to start your trip right!
5. Participate in a Traditional Cooking Class
Cooking classes are quickly becoming one of my favorite activities to do in a new country, and this class was so fun! It was set in the kitchen of a local restaurant, but in a separate, smaller kitchen dedicated for the cooking class.
The class is done in English, with two instructors. You do two hours of cooking, where you prepare a full meal together. When we went, we made coconut rice (including making the coconut milk from scratch!), patacones, empanadas, sugar cane juice, and a whole red snapper.
The instructors were really fun and playful, the instruction and tips were really interesting, and it was fun to learn and see the process of how to make these very traditional Colombian foods. The time passed quickly!
This experience is also really nice because it starts mid-afternoon, after you’ve been in the heat for a long time and are ready for a break. It’s nice to come inside to the strong AC (hallelujah) and do some cooking in a fun, relaxed environment.
This cooking class is super fun, super interesting, and a great value for the yummy, full meal plus instruction time.
Once the meal is prepared, you sit down together in the restaurant to eat it, and I kid you not when I say it was one of THE most delicious meals of our entire 3 days in Cartegena.
The rice was flavorful, the fish was so tender and flaky and moist, the patacones were crispy, the empanadas were savory, and the sugar cane lemonade was some of the best we had here in Colombia. This was absolutely one of my absolute favorite things to do during our time in Cartagena.
👉Book this Colombian cooking class here👈
6. Walk Along the City Wall
As mentioned above, the old town of Cartagena is a walled city, and walking along the wall is one of the best things to do in Cartagena at any time of day, but it is for sure a top thing to do in Cartagena at sunset. The west section of the city and wall look out over the sea making for a great view as evening falls.
Cafe Del Mar is the super popular spot for drinks at sunset along the wall, but you absolutely do NOT need to go here for a great sunset experience. There are plenty of spaces along the wall where you get the same view with way less people, and if you want a drink, there are guys with coolers everywhere selling water, beers, and juice. (“Agua! Agua, cerveza, agua!”)
You can walk around the wall along almost the entire city. At different spots you can find cannons, little turrets, and peepholes out to sea.
Quick Tip: One of our favorite spots on the City Wall was up the ramp to the east (right) of the Bovedas market (See #20 on this list, below). The ramp will take you up to the wall and to a fun section with a tunnel and a jetty, an extra fortification that extends out from the wall. If you like castle fortifications, this is a small but fun spot to hit.
7. Explore the Plazas
There are over 13 plazas and squares in Cartagena, each one with a different vibe and tone. Often there will be stands selling drinks or snacks around the square, and sometimes there will be music or performances, especially in the afternoon and evening.
While you can just wander Cartagena and see what squares you stumble onto, these were a few of our favorites that you might want to add to your 3 day Cartagena itinerary:
➡️ Plaza de la Aduana: A calm, people-free square just around the corner from Torre del Reloj.
➡️Plaza San Pedro Claver: Right in front of the Sanctuary of San Pedro, this plaza has some quirky metal “sculptures” that we thought we kind of fun.
➡️ Plaza de Bolivar: One of the main plazas in town, which boasts a sculpture of Simon Bolivar. There are lots of benches to sit on and shade trees. This is where we saw dancers one time!
➡️Plaza de Los Estudiantes: Right next to a pretty college building and with some trees. I just thought this one was pretty.
➡️Plaza Cervantes: This plaza is just across the street from the Torre del Reloj city gate, has a few monuments, borders the Pegasus Dock, and a great vantage point of the gate. You can see a picture of this plaza in the #4 Clocktower section above.
8. Explore Getsmani Neighborhood
Getsmani is a charming neighborhood just outside the walled city. It’s filled with hip cafes, backpacker hostels, street art and murals, so many colorful buildings, and bougainvillea plants and flowers.
You’ll also see many streets with banners, flags, or umbrellas overhanging the street. In general, it is a bit more of a grungier neighborhood, but there is a lot of charm here too!
The area isn’t big, so with only a couple of hours you can explore the entire neighborhood and hit the highlights even faster.
These were some of our favorite streets in Getsmani:
- Carrera 10c
- Carrera 9
- Calle de la Magdalena
- Calle 29 east of the church
9. Parque del Centenario
This greenspace is in the Getsmani neighborhood and is a peaceful and pretty spot to spend some time. Along the street on the north edge you can find a row of booksellers (interspersed with some souvenir stands).
Paths and a monument are also found here, as well as benches to rest. A favorite spot is the pool/basin. You can’t swim or wade, but there are a few jets and some benches in the shade.
It’s a relaxing spot and a nice place to visit during your 3 days in Cartagena.
10. Do a Fun Vacation Photoshoot
Doing a professional photoshoot is one of my favorite things to do on any vacation, and definitely a great choice for Cartagena.
While we take pretty good pictures by ourselves, there’s nothing like having a real professional to capture romantic moments with your partner, or candid, fun moments with your family or friends.
Plus, with the colorful buildings, fun architecture, and blooming flowers, Cartagena is the perfect setting for a photoshoot.
You can find photographers in a lot of places – for example, there are several websites that are set up to connect local photographers with people on vacation. A few examples are locallens.com, shootmytravel.com, or flytographer.com.
I also have had great luck with searching hashtags on Instagram. Usually I search #cityname+photographer (e.g. #cartagenaphotographer). However, if you are visiting a non-English speaking country, do that search in the local language e.g. #cartagenafotographer.
We did a shoot with July and Gilbert and they were the nicest, sweetest, photographer couple. They took absolutely gorgeous photos of us (all of the pictures in this section are from that shoot!) and were so chill and easy to work with and gave us lots of help with posing and photo ideas.
I know a photoshoot isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in doing a photoshoot during your 3 days in Cartagena, I can’t recommend July and Gilbert enough.
11. Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria (One of the Best Things to do in Cartagena!)
This cathedral is the most famous church in the city and is absolutely a top place to see during your 3 days in Cartagena.
The view down Calle de la Iglesia (Carrera 4) leading up to the church is one of the most iconic photo spots in Cartagena. In a city full of cute and pretty streets, this street is particularly charming and picture perfect, with numerous plants and brightly colored houses leading up to the church with its distinctive yellow + peach tower rising proudly above the roofs of the city.
Come here earlier in the morning (before 8:30) if you want a picture down this street without tons of people, cars, and trucks in it.
The interior of Catedral de Santa Catalina is so gorgeous! There were black and white tiled floors, grand stone archways leading all the way down the church, an interesting arched wooden ceiling, and a beautiful gold altarpiece.
We did find that it was pretty hit or miss for when the churches were actually open for a visit, but had luck with a lot of the churches being open around 11am, or around 5pm.
12. Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The interior had a beautiful, goldenrod color on the walls, with stone arches extending across the top of the nave of the church. This felt unique because in most churches we visited in Colombia, the arches went along the sides of the nave, not across the top of the middle.
Again, we had luck with this church being open around lunchtime.
13. La Gorda Gertrudis Botero Sculpture
In front of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo is the Plaza de Santo Domingo, a peaceful square during the day that becomes more lively at night.
The focal piece of this square is Gertrudis, the Botero statue on display. Botero is Colombia’s most esteemed artist, and there are museums in Bogota and Medellin devoted solely to his work. In Cartagena, his main work is just this sculpture (though Botero also paints as well). His sculptures are always done in bronze and in a very recognizable style, with obese, often nude subjects.
It is said to be good luck to rub her breasts or bum. Do with that information what you will.
14. Door Knockers
Given that Cartagena is a historic and colonial town, as you walk around during your 3 days in Cartagena, you may notice that there is a large variety of interesting, unique, and sometimes funky door knockers around town. Keep your eyes open for lions, vases, flowers, and lizards on the doors as you stroll the city.
15. Take a Picture with Palenqueras Fruit Ladies
All over Old Town, you will see these women in bright colored dresses, balancing bowls of fruit on their heads and smiling for a photo-op.
These are the palenqueras ladies. Palenquere is a nearby city and was established by freed slaves. Though free, they were in poverty, so the women would walk into Cartagena, balancing baskets of fruit on their heads to sell. Today, they do more posing for photos than selling fruit, but they are an iconic part of the city and taking a picture with these brightly dressed ladies is for sure a fun thing to do in Cartagena.
If you want a picture, you will either need to buy some fruit or tip the ladies for the photos. Make sure you settle on a price per person before taking any pictures (and if they offer to bring someone else in while you’re taking pictures, be prepared to pay double). If they say they just take tips, 20,000 pesos is a good place to start.
16. Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa – A Top Thing to Do in Cartagena
The Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa is the highest point in Cartagena and situated on a hill just outside of the old city. A patio/balcony encircles almost the entire exterior of the crisply white building, where you get unmatched views over the sea, the old town, Bocagrande, and inland (including the airport! Am I still 5 and love watching the planes take off and land? Yes. Yes I am.).
After enjoying the views, wander inside to the courtyard of the convent. With its archways, brick paths, and abounding greenery, this courtyard is absolutely lovely. Fun fact: The courtyard is actually designed as a water collecting area, as rain will fall in and collect at the well in the center.
Around the perimeter of the building are several different rooms – one is a chapel, one is an artifact room, and one holds dresses for the Virgin of Candelaria holiday/celebration held on February 2 in Cartagena.
A few of the descriptive placards for these exhibits were in English, but most were in Spanish. Some were easy to figure out based on cognates and context. Others we used Google Translate’s photo translation feature to read the paragraph easily (more on that below).
While it is not far from old town, I would take a taxi here, because it would be a pretty far walk. Note that because you are at the top of a hill, you are more limited on transportation off the hill. When we left, there were some taxis at the top waiting, but the price they tried to charge us was exceptionally high (again, more on that below in the transportation section). While I think it is likely there will be taxis at the top, or one will arrive shortly to drop someone off, you will need to haggle hard to get a close to fair rate, or be willing to walk down the hill to the main road.
When we went, there were not a lot of people there (which I think is pretty typical), so it was nice and calm and peaceful. This was actually one of my favorite things to do during our 3 day Cartagena itinerary, so I would definitely prioritize coming here.
- Hours: 8:30am-5:30am
- Price: 13,000 COP
17. Castillo de San Felipe
While called a castle, a more accurate descriptor for this structure may be “fortress”!
The fortress is large and there are several levels and sections to walk around and explore. You can walk up to the top of the ramparts, and see the old cannons and turrets. Or, descend into the fortress and walk along some interior tunnels, which is a kind of fun and immersive experience.
You can also enjoy some nice vistas over the city, though nothing compared to at the Convent.
This might be a good place for a guide – there are almost no signs or placards here, though the two signs we did see did have English translations. If you want any history or context to the fortress, either go with a guided tour group, or hire one of the people offering to be guides at the entrance (remember to haggle for the price if you hire someone on location).
Getting there: While you can take a taxi or go with a group, it is only a 15 minute walk from the north part of the city, so walking is also a very viable option – we even did it one way.
- Hours: 7am-6pm Mon-Sun
- Price: 27,000 COP foreigners, 23,000 COP nationals
18. Learn Salsa Dances with Locals
Cartagena has a lot of great salsa dancing bars, but if you’re a total newbie to Latin dancing (or just need to brush up your skills!) a small group, evening dancing class is a good way to ease into the salsa scene.
In this class experience, you’ll be learning several Latin America dances on the grass-covered, private rooftop terrace of a couple in Getsmani. Your instructors are friendly, fun, and laidback, and overall it’s a really fun way to learn the basics of these beloved Colombian dances.
👉Book this salsa dancing class here!👈
19. San Pedro Claver Sanctuary
Back in the 1600’s, Pedro Claver was a priest who worked tirelessly to minister to the African people enslaved in Cartagena. He baptized many people and worked to ensure they were treated humanely.
He called himself the “slave to the slaves” and was a very highly reverred man. He was canonized in the 1800’s as the patron saint of slaves. This cathedral is dedicated to his name, and his relics are entombed in the altar.
This church had tiled floors, trefoil arches, and a dome over the altar area. It was a pretty church to visit!
You can also visit the sanctuary museum next door, which has some exhibits about the history of San Pedro, as well as paintings and sculptures.
While the church was often closed, we had luck with this church opening around 5pm.
20. Las Bovedas Market
“Las bovedas” means “the vaults,” which are present in between the long archway stretching along the city wall. While it was constructed as a spot to store munitions and other military supplies, it eventually was used as a dungeon!
Today, Las Bovedas is a market, with over 20 individual stores in each of the “vaults.” There are also some vendors set up selling goods on the sidewalk as well.
You will find souvenir type goods here, and while there is definitely variety between the stores, there is a lot of overlap as well. Types of goods for sale include bags, purses, plates and bowls, art, jewelry, t-shirts, trinkets, dresses, hammocks. There are also a few more art-based, handmade stores.
Shop around and get prices from a few different vendors – you may be able to haggle a bit here! I will say there were generally somewhat better prices at Las Bovedas than you would find on the street in the rest of the city.
21. Parque de la Marina
A bit of an off-the-beaten path spot in Cartagena, Parque de la Marina is located between the seafront and the Museo Naval del Caribe. Some monuments and artifacts from the navy are in Marina Park.
You can find a shaded, tree-lined path around a rectangular basin, anti-aircraft guns, a sculpture of a Colombian naval soldier, and a playground.
Go across Avenida Santander and you’ll reach the sidewalk along the ocean. There’s not a beach to speak of in this part of Cartagena, rather, there’s about 20 yards of boulders before the water.
I actually don’t recommend climbing on the rocks or trying to swim or wade in the water here, as the waves are fairly strong, however, at this spot there is also a small, concrete pier that takes you out over the water.
22. Portal de Los Dulces
The covered passageway along the south edge of Plaza de Los Cloches has around 15 candy stands, carrying traditional Colombian candies. There is some variety between the stalls, but they generally sell the same type of treats.
We were able to sample 3 unique types of treats:
Coconut candies: This includes smaller chocolate coconut balls, or larger coconut clusters in a variety of flavors (e.g. guava coconut clusters, or arequipe coconut clusters)
Tamarind Balls: These tamarind balls are chewy and are rolled in sugar, and came in either small or large sizes. The tamarind has a strong and distinctive taste. It wasn’t bad, but it was very different!
Milk Wheels: These traditional cookies hold together like shortbread but are soft. We didn’t think they tasted great… kind of like a molasses or old-time chewy candy that is milk and sugar based, but obviously they were popular locally.
This is a really fun place to sample some treats during your 3 days in Cartagena itinerary you may have never tasted before, and are traditional to Colombia.
23. Museo del Oro Zenu (Gold Museum)
The gold museum is split into two main exhibits. The first exhibit focuses on the slave trade in Colombia and Cartagena specifically, and the role of the slaves in mining for gold.
The rest of the museum had display cases with many different types of gold figures, bowls, ornaments, decorations, breastplates, earrings, noterings, and necklaces used by indigenous tribes all around the country – with the largest area focusing on the prolific Zenu tribes. There are placards along each display case talking about what the different gold objects were used for and some of the history of the tribe and how they worked the metal.
We went to the Gold Museums in Bogota and in Cartagena. The Bogota museum was very impressive and had thousands and thousands of gold pieces on display.
However, we actually felt like the Cartagena museum, though much, much smaller, was actually more interesting and accessible, solely because there were English translations for every single paragraph or note on the placards or displays.
It’s free and a very interesting thing to do in Cartagena, so I would for sure recommend a stop.
*Masks and proof of vaccination were required to enter.
- Hours: 8:30am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat
- Price: Free
24. Santa Toribio Church
The Iglesia de Santa Toribio was the smallest of the 4 churches we visited in Cartagena, but it was still a beauty! The Santa Toribio church had an intricate tiled floor, and white walls contrasted with a dark stained ceiling.
25. Abaco Libros Y Cafe
Book lovers, this one’s for you! The Abacos Bookstore and Cafe is just that, an adorable and incredibly aesthetically pleasing bookstore that melds around a coffee shop. Order a drink and a slice of cake and then peruse the selection of books in Spanish.
There was a selection of books written by Colombian and South American authors, but then also a large collection of popular books from the US that had been translated into Spanish as well. Super cute, super charming, super Instagrammable and definitely one of my favorite places to see during our 3 days in Cartagena.
26. Go on a Sunset Cruise
This was one of my favorite things to do in Cartagena because you get to experience the city from the water! This 2 hour catamaran cruise leaves about an hour before sunset from the docks just steps from the Torre del Reloj gate.
The boat takes you out of the harbor, past the high rises of Bocagrande and the shipping port (where you may see shipping containers being loaded or unloaded from cargo ships), and into open water where you have a clear view of the western setting sun.
The breeze feels lovely, and even though sunset was somewhat obscured behind clouds for us, we still had a great time and enjoyed watching the sun sink lower and closer to the horizon on the sea.
The catamaran itself is set up great for this type of cruise – there are a lot of benches to sit and spread out, plus nets set up over the water to relax on. Salsa music is playing, you get a free drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) from the bar, and a snack is provided.
👉Book this sunset cruise here!👈
Best Things to Do Just Outside of Cartagena
27. Hit the Beach
One of the absolute best things to do in Cartagena is to actually leave the city and head to the nearby islands for gorgeous tropical beaches. The beaches right near the Old Town, or even in Bocagrande are… not great. We walked along them for a bit, and while they’re not awful, they are certainly not the tropical paradise you would imagine when you hear the term “Caribbean beach.”
Thankfully, the beach of Playa Blanca on Isla Baru is one of the most beautiful and easily accessible beaches in the area, with soft sand and glittering turquoise water. Most people use one of their 3 days in Cartagena to visit the beaches on Playa Blanca.
However, it is important to note that Playa Blanca can be busy, and it is full of vendors trying to sell their wares to you. They will generally move on without fuss with a simple shake of the head or “no, gracias” from you, but do be prepared – there will be A LOT of vendors.
Still, most people agree that visiting Playa Blanca is definitely worth the daytrip and is one of the best things to do in Cartagena!
To get to Playa Blanca, you will either need to take a taxi (about 60,000-100,000 pesos, or 15-25 USD, one way) or join some kind of guided tour transport. There are vendors all over the city selling tour packages to the islands (haggle hard if you decide to book in the city), but if you’re the type that likes to have their ducks in a row before heading out, you have several book ahead options.
These are a few excellent book-ahead options to get in some island time:
✔️If you’re looking for a basic transport, this tour will take you to/from Playa Blanca, bringing you to a section of the beach that may be less crowded. It’s just the basics, but it gets you there and back in a secure vehicle without hassle.
👉Book this transport to/from Playa Blanca here👈
✔️If you want a more custom experience, I would book this private boat excursion, where you get to choose exactly what you want to do with your day, be it cruising the islands, snorkeling and swimming, or heading to the beach.
👉Book this private boat excursion around the islands here👈
28. Soak in the El Totumo Mud Volcano
This is a really quirky and unique attraction outside of Cartagena. El Totumo is an active mud volcano. The “volcano” itself is quite small, and you can walk up to the top and get covered in the mud, which is said to have healing properties. Also, the mud is buoyant so you don’t sink to the bottom.
There are people there who will give you a massage, take pictures of you with your phone, and help rinse you off afterwards (bring some small change to tip anyone who helps you). Definitely wear a swimsuit and clothes that you don’t mind getting really dirty (or even discolored) from the mud.
Since the mud volcano is an about 1.5 hours from Cartagena, you have 3 options for how to get there. First, take a cab. Second, rent a car and drive yourself. Third, go with a tour.
If you decide to go with a tour, I would absolutely do this tour with an early morning departure time, specifically to avoid the vast majority of other visitors and tour groups. Additionally, on this tour you will make a stop at the Galerazamba salt flats, which is a pink lake! (Depending on weather and season conditions)
👉Book this private mud volcano tour here👈
Map of Best Things to Do in Cartagena
Here’s a handy dandy map!
Part B: A Suggested 3 Day in Cartagena Itinerary
For your 3 days in Cartagena, I would suggest the following 3 day itinerary:
Cartagena Day 1:
Morning: Start out at the Torre del Reloj gate. Enjoy this striking, formal entrance to the city, then head to Portal de los Dulces, Plaza de la Aduana, the Sanctuario San Pedro, and the Museo del Oro. Walk down Calle 34 to Catedral de Santa Catalina, and then swing by Plaza de Bolivar and then Palace of the Inquisition. If you want, this is also a great time to do a guided tour of the city!
Afternoon: Check out the Santa Domingo Church and La Gordis Gertrudis Botero sculpture. Swing by the Abacos Libros Y Cafe to peruse the Spanish books and grab a coffee. Stop into the Santa Toribo church, then do some shopping at Las Bovedas.
Mid-Afternoon to Evening: At this point, I would do a local experience in Cartagena. I would recommend the cooking class or the salsa dancing lessons. There isn’t time to do both, so I would pick whatever fits your interests most!
Cartagena Day 2:
Morning & Afternoon: Wake up early to experience the city quiet and calm. Then visit Getsmani, Parque de la Marina, the City Wall, the Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa, and the Castillo San Felipe.
Evening: Head out on a sunset cruise around Cartagena on a beautiful catamaran
Cartagena Day 3:
Daytime: Head out to the beach! Either take a taxi or private transport, and enjoy your time in the sun. If you don’t like the beach, then I would absolutely do the day trip to the mud volcano and pink lake!
And if you have 4 days for Cartagena, you could do both of those day trips!
Evening: If you end up getting back to Cartegena in time for sunset, I would head out to the City Wall.
Part C: Where to Stay in Cartagena
Hotels in Cartagena are across the board more expensive than what you’ll find in the rest of Colombia. Still, compared to American prices, it’s not all that bad. Here are a few of my top hotel picks for your 3 days in Cartagena, plus a few rental home options if you prefer a VRBO.
✔️Maloka Boutique Hostal (Budget)
Despite the use of “hostal” in the name, these accommodations are really very nice. You can find a variety of types of bedrooms (king, queen, double, twin, or bunk beds), plus 24 hour reception, English speaking staff, strong wifi, complimentary breakfast, coffee lounge, courtyard area, and a rooftop terrace.
Rooms are very clean, the property has a trendy yet classic feel to it, and the location in the north section of the Walled City (an area known as San Diego) is close to everything. The value here can’t be beat!
👉Book the Maloka Boutique Hostal here!👈
✔️La Passion by Masaya (Mid-Range)
This boutique hotel is located in a historic building, which combines the old style architecture and furniture with modern amenities. Rooms are individually decorated and very comfortable, a calming retreat from the hustle and bustle of the streets.
The main areas are absolutely lovely, with marble floors, grand stone stairways, tall ceilings, and greenery everywhere. The rooftop terrace has seating, shaded areas, and a pool. This hotel is situated right in the heart of the Old City and is an amazing value for a mid-range hotel.
👉Book the La Passion by Masaya here!👈
✔️Casa Del Arzobispado Boutique Hotel (Luxury)
This hotel is a luxurious colonial-era hotel with marble floors, cast-iron decor, and attention to detail. The courtyard pool is a little slice of paradise, with the tiled pool area, greenery, columns, and lights. Rooms are big, the breakfast is particularly good, and the staff are incredibly helpful and attentive.
You can also enjoy massages and utilize free bike rentals at the property. As the hotel is right in the heart of the Walled City, you can escape back to this stunning oasis whenever you need.
👉Book the Casa Del Arzobispado here!👈
✔️Vacation Rental Option 1: Charming Townhouse with Oceanview
This spacious, 3 story townhouse is located just a couple blocks from the sea, so you can watch the sunset from your very large, private rooftop terrace. The interior has several bedrooms, light and airy decor, and is very safe, with 24 hour security. It’s right in the heart of Old Town, you so will be close to everything!
👉Book this ocean view townhouse here!👈
✔️Vacation Rental Option 2: Lovely Apartment with Pools and Terrace
This apartment complex offers a large variety of amenities, including several pools and hot tubs, a fitness center, a garden area, and 24/7 security and reception. Inside the very clean apartment you’ll find comfortable and updated furnishing, a private terrace with views of the sea, and plenty of space to spread out and relax. The apartment is located on a quiet street, but close to everything to see in the city.
👉Book this apartment with pools and a terrace here👈
Part D: Where to Eat in Cartagena
Cartagena has some really delicious restaurants, shops, street food, and rooftop bars, and enjoying the local cuisine is one the best things to do in the city.
While you can find a lot of traditional Colombian food here, you will also see a heavy emphasis on dishes like coconut rice, fresh fish, and ceviche.
Additionally, many restaurants, especially more “traditional” places will offer a menu del dia (dish of the day) at lunch. This dish is generally a really great value – we’ve been happy with all the menu del dias we’ve had in Colombia.
Here are our favorite places to eat in Cartagena:
On the outskirts of the old city is this no frills yet obviously local favorite restaurant. Prices were an exceptionally good value and they served a variety of traditionally cooked meats. The food was great and I highly recommend this place for lunch.
Address: Calle 32 #8A-29
La Santa Guadalupe
Restaurant right on the edge of the city, overlooking the wall, the water, and the sunset. For sure go up to the rooftop bar and seating area for the best views.
This is definitely a more expensive restaurant in Colombia, but the food, atmosphere, and views were all great. I loved my skirt-steak tacos and Matthew’s ribs were very tender. Even with the higher prices, our total bill came to 150,000 (35 USD), which isn’t bad at all by American standards.
Address: Playa de la Artilleria #36-38 2
This is THE most popular rooftop bar in Cartagena, with a great view over the old town and looking out to Bocagrande.
In the past, you could buy a day pass to spend swimming on the roof, but they no longer offer that option. If you want use of the pool and views during the day, you’ll need to actually stay at the hotel – you can check out hotel details here!
However, starting at 4pm you can walk in for dinner and drinks on the rooftop. Drinks were delicious and our dinner was so tender and flavorful (we got the Caribbean beef with risotto). The staff was incredibly helpful and polite, spoke excellent English, and the views, even after sundown, were gorgeous.
Address: Calle de Vélez Danies #4–39
Crepes and Waffles
This restaurant is a Colombian restaurant chain, and it really surprised us – we ordered several items that were all to die for. Pictured above is a savory crepe, but our sweet arequipe waffle and crepe with peaches was plate-licking delicious too.
This restaurant also has a beautiful rooftop area, with views over domes and spires of the churches of Cartagena. The rooftop is only open during the dinner hour, but if you come for lunch you can sneak up for quick pic.
Despite being located in a really nice building, prices were very reasonable.
Address: Place de San Pedro Claver #4 #31-24
Dinner at a Cooking Class
Okay, so this was mentioned above in my best things to do in Cartagena list, but it’s worth mentioning here as well, since this was a fantastically delicious dinner.
👉Book your Cartagena cooking class here👈
This small pizza shack is delicious and clearly popular with the local crowd.
While you can buy whole pizzas, most people just grab a slicle of whatever type is out. Usually there are 1-3 pizzas available to choose from. It’s an exceptional deal, with a slice of pizza plus a small soda costing 6500 pesos (about 1.50 USD at time of writing).
The pizza was very good, with a thin crust that was both crispy and chewy, and toppings that tasted fresh. There are some stools and counters for sitting inside, or you can take away. We loved the taste and value of this spot and came back several times during our 3 days in Cartagena.
Address: Calle 36 #7-151
This little bakery had a wide variety of sweet and savory bread products. While we really like the churros con arequipe (donuts filled with dulce de leche), our favorite thing there were the panquesitos.
These little mini rolls were literally 3 cents (in USD) per roll, were perfectly soft and chewy, with a hint of sweetness and a hint of cheese. We loved these so much we went back several times during our stay in Cartagena.
Address: Calle 34 #5-58
La Esquina Del Pandebono
At this pastry shop, you can buy pastels, empanadas, and bunuelos, with a variety of sweet and savory fillings. The pastries are flaky, with good prices and a wide selection of fillings.
Address: Calle San Agustin #35 – 78
Cartagena is so insanely hot, it’s practially required to have ice cream on your Cartagena itinerary. There are many gelaterias around Cartagena, which is a welcome reprieve from the hot sun. We particularly liked this one for the cute interior and the yummy flavors.
Address: Calle 36 #4-57 local 5
This shop high qualtiy popsicles, or “palettes,” in a wide variety of flavors, including many tropical fruits. (I enjoyed the Guanabana flavor). Extra bonus: the AC is very strong inside!
Address: Calle 35 #03-86 local 2
Street Food Snacks and Drinks
All over the old city there are carts and stands selling fresh squeezed juices, a variety of fresh, tropical fruit, and hot snacks like empanadas and pastels. These snacks and drinks tend to be very inexpensive and are a great pick-me-up mid-afternoon!
Read More: 34 Delicious Traditional Colombian Foods to Try in Colombia
E: Practical Information and Frequently Asked Questions
Is Cartagena expensive?
Cartagena is definitely more expensive than the rest of Colombia, and we noticed higher prices on taxis, hotels, and food here. I would say that entrance fees are similar to other places in Colombia, with a range of prices for different attractions.
However, compared to places in the United States or Western Europe, Cartagena was much, much cheaper. I would also say that Cartagena was more comparable (though overall still less expensive) to what I spent in Costa Rica.
Read More: Our Colombia Travel Budget: What Does a Trip to Colombia Cost?
Getting Around During Your 3 Days in Cartagena
Cartagena is an extremely walkable city! Almost every single attraction is within walking distance and the old town is set up for pedestrians – we really liked this about Cartagena.
You’ll only need transportation to go to/from the airport (which is only ~15 minutes from the walled city), if you visit the beach, or to go to the Convent. Otherwise, your own two feet are going to be the only thing you need to get around.
To get to/from the airport, you can try Uber or grab a taxi. Taxis generally do not have meters in Cartagena, so always, always negotiate the price of the ride beforehand. For reference, a cab ride to/from the airport and the walled city will run between 15-20,000 pesos (4-5 USD)
Scooter Taxis: At the intersection of Avenida Venezuela and Carrera 11 (near the India Catalina Monument) there are guys on scooters acting as taxis – it seems like a pretty informal arrangement.
We decided to go for it and paid 5,000 COP (about $1) each for a scooter ride from outside the walled city to the Convent. Make sure you agree on a price beforehand and are okay with suboptimal safety measures (no helmet).
What is the Best Month to Visit Cartagena?
Generally, the best weather months to spend 3 days in Cartagena are during December to April, which is the dry season. Fall is the rainy season, so if you travel then, expect more precipitation. We visited in July, and had rain several of the days we were there, but it only rained for about an hour each day.
Temperatures stay pretty constant year-round, with average highs in the mid to upper 80’s (fahrenheit). The relative humidity always stays right around 80%. Which means you will be SWEATING ALL THE TIME!
If you travel during the rainy season in the fall, you’ll see lower prices and less tourists!
Is Cartagena Safe to Travel?
While you may encounter petty theft in Cartagena, the tourist areas of Cartena (The Walled City, Getsmani, Playa Blanca, etc) are generally very safe. I still would be cautious walking alone late at night but in general Cartagena is a very safe place to travel.
You can check any current travel advisories for Colombia here (though it is currently considered a safe place to visit!)
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
👉Check rates at Insure My Trip here!👈
A Few More General Tips for Visiting Cartagena
➡️ELECTRICITY: Colombia uses 110 voltage and type A or B plugs. This is the same voltage and plugs as the USA, so if you are coming from the states, you won’t need any type of travel adaptors.
➡️MONEY: The currency is the Colombian peso, which uses the sign “$” and is abbreviated as COP. At the time of writing, about 4500 pesos equal 1 USD.
Cash is king in Colombia – while occasionally you will find a restaurant or hotel that takes credit card, the vast, vast majority of the time we had to pay in cash. ATMs are plentiful around the city.
➡️LANGUAGE: Spanish is the main language in Colombia, and most people in the country do not speak English. Do not plan on speaking to locals in English in Colombia. We do not speak Spanish hardly at all (just a few words) and we got along okay by relying heavily on Google Translate.
I would highly recommend downloading the Google Translate app – it works a little bit faster than the web browser, and there are options where people talk to text translation feature, as well as a camera translation feature.
The camera translation is a nifty little feature in the Google translate app. In the app, point the camera at a paragraph of text and the translation will appear over the words on the screen. This feature is very helpful for reading restaurant menus and placards in museums).
➡️PLUMBING: Do not flush your toilet paper in Colombia – the plumbing pipes are old and not set up to handle the TP in the system. Just toss your toilet paper in the bin next to the toilet.
What to Wear in Cartagena
As the weather in Cartagena is hot and extremely humid, you’ll for sure want to wear loose, breathable, wickable fabrics. These are a few of my favorite things I wore in Cartagena:
Sandals: These are my absolute favorite sandals that I always wear in warm weather destinations. I love that they have good arch support, are nice and cushy, I’ve never gotten a blister while wearing these, and they felt amazing even straight out of the box. Really, I can’t recommend them enough!
Floral Midi Dress: I have this dress in a couple different patterns and it is probably my favorite warm weather vacation outfit – it’s soft, easy to wear, and breaths well. Bonus is that it looks really great in travel photos! I actually think I might need to purchase another print of this dress soon! I highly, highly recommend.
Blue Floral Dress: Another light and breezy dress option that is perfect any warm weather destination. I really like that this dress has a drawstring so you can tighten it enough to create a waistline, but still leave some space for a breeze (and it has pockets!)
Straw Hat: This straw hat is waterproof, totally compressible (you don’t have to baby it in your luggage, just smoosh it flat), and it looks great in photos. I really love this hat and have worn it all over the place – the beach, Charleston, Rio de Janeiro, Costa Rica, you name it!
Read More: 35+ Favorite Travel Essentials for Women: Outfits, Accessories, and Gear
Final Thoughts on 3 Days in Cartagena
Cartagena is a truly amazing city and one that absolutely needs to be on your Colombia bucket list. With so many interesting places to see and things to do in Cartagena, you can easily stay busy and entertained for 3 days (or more!) in Cartagena.
Check Out My Other Colombia Articles Here:
- 34 Delicious Traditional Colombian Foods to Eat in Colombia
- Our Colombia Travel Budget: What Does a Trip to Colombia Cost?
- 14 Best Things to Do in Salento (A Travel Guide)
- How to Get from Pereira to Salento
- Where to Stay in Salento (3 Best Areas + Hotels)
- 3 Days in Bogota: Absolute Best Things to Do