Top Things to Do and See in Cartagena, Colombia

Colombia, Bolivar Department, Cartagena
GUIZIOU Franck / / Getty Images

Plan to spend several days in Cartagena, also known as Cartagena de Indias, Colombia's fascinating Caribbean resort, and most popular attraction. History and nightlife, beaches and churches, a walled city and colonial architecture make it a living museum, perfect for honeymoons, family vacations, and adult adventures.

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Centro Amurallado - Old Town

City with harbor, Cartagena, Colombia
Danita Delimont / Getty Images
El Centro, Cartagena, Cartagena Province, Bolivar, 130001, Colombia

This is the heart of Cartagena, the old walled city protected by the fortress intended to protect the city from pirates and storms. Within the walls, there are colonial buildings, plazas, churches, and convents.

Accommodations and restaurants within this area, called El Centro, highlight their colonial origins. Also within the walled area, the section of Getsemani is less expensive but worth a daytime stroll.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Cannons at San Felipe Castle (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas).
Jane Sweeney / Getty Images
Cra. 17, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
+57 5 6421293

This is the huge fortress dominating the town. Begun in 1533, the strategic location called for a fortress, and the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas was started in 1639, but not completed for 150 years. Visitors now can walk the battlements, stroll through underground passages and wonder at the labor that went into building a fort that was never used defensively.

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Rosario Islands

Rosario Islands, Bolivar, Colombia

One hour south of the Bay of Cartagena sits this small group of islands. You'll find clear waters and great diving spots. Rental cabins are available.

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Bocagrande and El Laguito

Bocagrande, Cartagena, Cartagena Province, Bolivar, Colombia

These two areas are located on an L-shaped peninsula facing the Caribbean. While the beaches are lackluster, this region has become the site of fashionable hotels, restaurants, and shopping. There are also fantastic clubs to dance all night.

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La Popa Convent

Convento de la Popa, Cartagena
Andrew Bain / Getty Images
Calle 37, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130003, Colombia
+57 5 6643700

Alternately called a convent and a monastery, this colonial complex is a great place to visit for a look at colonial religious life, superb views of the city, the Caribbean and nearby islands.

The Convento de la Popa is a beautiful spot for sunset with flowered patios and a gorgeous view of the city,  It was once an additional fortress and is home to a museum and the chapel of the Virgen de la Candelaria, which is Cartagena's patron saint.

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Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca, Santa Marta, Magdalena, 470005, Colombia

Playa Blanca can be reached by land or boat and offers up white sands and crystal clear water. Rent a hammock, grab a snack and drink, and relax.

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Las Bovedas Shop

Hammock in archway of Las Bovedas, old dungeons built in city walls.
Jane Sweeney / Getty Images
Cartagena Province, Bolivar, 130001, Colombia
+57 315 8312478

Shop and enjoy art in what once were jail cells or storerooms for the fortresses.

These 23 dungeons built in the late 1700s were built by the military during colonial times and then later used by Spanish for storage and eventually into a jail before becoming souvenir shops.

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El Centro, Cartagena, Cartagena Province, Bolivar, 130001, Colombia

There are plenty of choices in Bocagrande, the center of town, El Centro, and Getsemani for tabernas, discos, and bars. Use caution in Getsamani, but all the nightlife is lively, with Caribbean and Colombian music. Take a nap before you go nightclubbing.

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Santa Marta

Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia

The oldest Hispanic town in Colombia, this port is used as the base camp for the hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) and a stopping point moving onto Tayrona Beach.

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Tayrona Beach

Tayrona National Park, Colombia
traveler1116 / Getty Images
Santa Marta, Magdalena, 470006, Colombia
+57 318 3367076

Located in a national park, it's where many travelers relax after a thrilling hike to the Lost City. With white sandy beaches alongside the jungle, there's an opportunity to camp in beautiful surroundings.

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Museo de Oro y Arqueloguía

Cra. 4 #33-26, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
+57 5 6600778

This archeological and gold museum is located on Plaza Bolivar. While much of the pre-Columbia gold collection is in Bogota, there is a healthy collection of gold artifacts and pottery from the Sinú culture.

If you're keen for more history and culture head to the nearby Palacio de la Inquisicíon featuring colonial architecture. With a beautiful facade, the museum shows the darker side of history with displays of the instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition, pre-Columbian, colonial and independence-era art.

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Things to Do and See in Cartagena, Colombia