Colombia is a huge and beautiful country, but there is a city that stands out among the rest, and that is Cartagena de Indias. This seaside paradise is a bustling city for tourism, historical research, and adventures, and today we’ll give the scoop on 5 hidden spots to visit in Cartagena during your holiday, even if you’re only staying for a few days.
Get to Know Cartagena
Not only does Cartagena teem with nightlife and touristic attractions; it is also an important historical center for the country, and carries tons of history as a port for ships from all over the world. Cartagena has some unbelievable historic sites relating to its time as a Spaniard colony. With plenty of fortresses, castles, and churches, this city has an ancient side that will certainly make you feel like you’re traveling in time.
As a cultural center, Cartagena is the incredibly rich and impressive result of a mix of African, European and native cultures, as well as of the many immigrants who have found their home here. Take a stroll down the Old Town to appreciate the colonial architecture, spend the entire night dancing salsa, or eat a mind-blowing ceviche by the coast. To properly enjoy all of these and more of what the city has to offer, we bring you 5 hidden spots to visit in Cartagena to stay away from the touring crowds.
Cartagena was best known in colonial times as a port with open access to the Caribbean, making it a valuable trading spot. Nowadays, its coastal setting is the perfect scenario for some of Colombia’s most beautiful beaches.
If you want to stay within the urban and bustling area, then Bocagrande beach – right next to a fabulous skyline of upscale buildings and neighborhoods – is for you. If you’re looking for something more laid back and exclusive, then beaches like Castillogrande and Punta Arena are what you’re looking for.
If you’re more into the local side of things and want to get to know how real seaside life is like, you must visit La Boquilla and Manzanillo del Mar. These beaches may not be as paradisiac as the ones mentioned above, but they are filled with welcoming locals willing to give foreigners a tour of their small towns, traditions, and history.
If you want a more local experience, you have to visit Cartagena’s Mercado de Bazurto. We’re telling you now: it is not for those looking to stay in the comfort of a resort. This market is loud and full to the brim with vendors selling just about anything you can imagine, but it is a perfect opportunity to get to know the local life.
We recommend visiting with few possessions and to stay alert at all times, but also enjoy the experience of day to day Colombians who come here to get the ingredients for their most traditional dishes. For tourists, this market is a chest full of treasures in the form of local meals for incredibly low prices, so we really recommend visiting it for a taste of something different.
Old Town Jewels
The Torre del Reloj in the Walled City, the Palace of the Inquisition, The Convento de la Popa… Cartagena’s heart beats with its historical heritage, preserved to this day as one of the city’s most valuable touristic assets.
Yes, the Old Town is buzzing with tourists most of the time, but a trip here is a must. To understand what makes Cartagena so charming, you have to visit its timeless Walled City, which you access through the Torre del Reloj – a clock tower that serves as the entrance to the historical center. Here, you can enjoy the colonial architecture of the city along with some of its quirkier details, like huge doorknobs of different shapes hung on big, colorful doors.
The Convento the la Popa is an old convent located at the top of Cerro de la Popa, the highest point in the city that not only houses some of Cartagena’s oldest and best-preserved spots, but also offers an unbelievable view of the city. Going up there and watching the sun set behind the water is truly a priceless experience.
You should always take the time to know some of the history of the place you’re visiting, and Cartagena offers just that with some pretty interesting museums. The Museo del Oro exposes a collection of pieces made in gold and ceramic by the Zenú culture, an important tribe of pre-colonial times.
Another museum to visit is the Palacio de la Inquisición, or the Inquisition Palace. Just as its name says, this historical museum is dedicated to the inquisitional history in Cartagena, displaying a collection of torture devices used by religious authorities at the time. If this is not your cup of tea, you can always admire the beautiful colonial architecture of the façade and have a relaxing time sitting in the Plaza and talking to the locals under green foliage and tropical birds.
After a long day at the Old Town, you’ll want to sit back and enjoy a good plate of local food, or even a cup of hot Colombian coffee away from the crowds. This is where you have to keep an eye out for the small, secret spots that hide in the side streets and malls of Cartagena.
Most of the cuisine in this port city is based on seafood, so we encourage you to try La Laguna Azul’s famed fried fish, or El Boliche’s amazing ceviche. Both of these are tiny restaurants with few tables and homely settings, so you’ll feel relaxed and secluded from the rest of the tourists.
Another hidden gem in the heart of Cartagena is Ábaco Libros y Café, a colorful library and coffee shop where you can sit down and have a cup of coffee while thumbing through Colombia’s rich literary culture. This place is a true reprieve in the middle of one of the countries busiest cities.
Cartagena celebrates itself every day and night amongst the music, colors, and food that best represent its multicultural spirit. These are only a few of Cartagena’s best spots to visit that offer you a slower, more relaxed view of the city – necessary to take in all of its beauty.
This bursting life is what attracts tourists from all over the world, and it is what encourages us to make you visit one of Latin-American’s most beautiful destinations.
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Overall, next-where was a great experience! We had a blast and loved all the extra experiences that we were treated to! From being at the top of the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, to seeing amazing improv, to doing a fun Scavenger hunt this 4 day get away was just the kinda treat we needed and loved!