Holidays in Cartagena
Pearl of the Caribbean
A Colonial Gem in the Caribbean
Cartagena attracts more visitors to Colombia than probably anywhere else, and with a stunning mixture of Caribbean beaches and arguably the country's best colonial architecture, it's not hard to see why this enchanting city captures so many visitors' hearts.
Surrounded by huge stone walls lined with cannons, built to fight off the original Pirates of the Caribbean, the city's Old Town is a maze of cobbled streets, colonial mansions and shady squares.
As well as all the historical sights, there are some good city beaches, with even better available just a short car journey or boat-ride out of the city itself. Just off the coast are the beautiful Rosario Islands, and a few days here can be the perfect way to unwind at the end of a holiday in Colombia.
Holidays and Tours in Cartagena
Caribbean & Colonial
- Length: 14 days
- From: £1795pp
- Highlights: Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tayrona
Two weeks on Colombia's gorgeous Caribbean coast, from the colonial charm of Cartagena to the Tayrona National Park ...Book this trip now
- Length: 14 days
- From: £1850pp
- Highlights: Bogota, Cartagena, Coffee Region, Medellin
This two week tour includes some of the real highlights of Colombia: Tours of Bogota and Cartagena, a trip into the Coffee Region and a visit to the stylish and under-rated city of Medellin...Book this trip now
- Length: 18 days
- From: £2650pp
- Highlights: Cartagena, Rosario Islands, San Agustin, Villa de Leyva
Our most full-featured 2020/21 Colombia holidays allow you to explore everything from the prehistoric wonders of San Agustin and colonial Colombia to the Caribbean paradise of the Rosario Islands ...Book this trip now
Where to Stay in Cartagena
Although you'll find some modern 5-star hotels elsewhere, we really can't see any reason not to stay in the Old Town, where you can soak up the atmosphere all day. The colonial area is usually split into three zones, the Centro, San Diego (both inside the walled city) and Getsemani, which is just outside it. All three have an excellent range of hotels available, from simple and friendly to some incredible boutique design options so there's something to suit every taste and every budget so long as you don't insist on trying to redeem your Premier Inn points...
After spending a couple of days in Cartagena itself, you could also enjoy a couple of days staying out on the Rosario Islands just off the coast - there are regular boats to and from the islands, and it's a lovely way of getting away from it all.
Things to do in Cartagena
Walking through Cartagena’s narrow and winding streets it’s easy to understand why the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites: exploring its streets is an experience that awakens all five senses. The rhythms of cumbia and mapalé, the flavours of the Caribbean, the juxtaposed architecture and the warm sea breeze make Cartagena a unique place to visit.
The Old Town
Founded in 1533 by the Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Heredia, the city was named “Cartagena de Poniente” to distinguish it from Spain’s “Cartagena de Levante”. It became known as “Cartagena de Indias” to distinguish it from Cartagena in Spain and rapidly became the gem in the Spanish Crown’s territories. Around the Old Town, the largest fortifications in South America were built to protect it from continual attack from (largely British!) pirates and buccaneers, and a walk around the cannon-lined walls and to the Castillo San Felipe, is highly recommended.
The architecture and atmosphere of the Old Town today makes it a beautiful and historic place to visit, so we’d really suggest a minimum of two days to let it all soak in. Quite apart from organised tours of Cartagena's Walled city, from shopping and sightseeing, to carriage rides and cocktails, there are so many things to do in Cartagena's Old Town - why rush it?
The Rosario Islands
There are some decent enough city beaches in Cartagena, but to really enjoy the Caribbean coast you need to head out into the ocean. Any guide to Cartagena worth its salt will direct you to the beautiful Rosario Islands, whose outstanding beaches are located just 45 minutes away by boat.
You can visit the islands on a day tour from Cartagena, or opt to stay for a few days in one of the many small hotels on these tiny islands.
Totumo Mud Volcano
One of the quirkier tours in Cartagena is to take a trip out to visit the weird Totumo mud volcano. At Totumo, a cone of rock rises about 50 feet in the air like a miniature volcano, and a wooden staircase has been built up the side. When you get to the top you can see that instead of lava, the cone is filled with warm... mud! This is your cue to dive in and float in the supposedly healing liquid mud - so long as you're already in your swimming clothes, of course... The density of the mud means that you can float in it, which is a bizarre sensation, and there are even attendants on hand offering massages and help washing the mud off afterwards. Probably not what you expected on your visit to Cartagena, but why not give it a go?
Travel To and From Cartagena
As a popular destination for American visitors, Cartagena is actually very well-served with international flights to the US: Miami, New York and Fort Lauderdale are all served on an almost daily basis. However, because most of these flights are on US budget carriers, they are of limited use to passengers from Europe.
As a result, most UK visitors are likely to arrive in Cartagena from another city in Colombia: there are regular flights to Cartagena from most destinations in Colombia, including Bogota, Medellin, Pereira in the Coffee Triangle, and Cali. And brilliantly, there are now also four direct weekly flights a week to Lima in Peru.
Of course, as a popular destination on Caribbean cruises, you might even begin your holiday in Cartagena the old-fashioned way: by ship!
Transport Within Cartagena
Public transport within Cartagena consists entirely of buses and the network can be difficult to navigate if you're not familiar with it. Taxis are plentiful but beware that they don't have meters so you will need to agree the fare before setting off - and of course, there is no motor traffic allowed within the walls after 6pm.
Weather & Climate in Cartagena
Cartagena has a tropical climate, in which temperatures remain pretty constant throughout the year (the average high hovers around 31°C) but in which there is a pronounced difference between wet and dry seasons.
It's fairly wet from May through August, but then it gets a little drier in September before really throwing it down in October. In fact, in general a little rain is no bad thing because it reduces the humidity, but probably October isn't the best month for a holiday in Cartagena.
Tailor-made Cartagena Holidays
All our holidays to Colombia are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours of Cartagena you see here, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Cartagena!
Did you know?
From 6pm, Cartagena's Walled City closes completely to traffic and so the only way to get around is on foot or in a horse-drawn carriage - it really is a wonderful way to step back in time and if you've ever read any of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's historical novels then you'll feel like you've slipped between the pages...