9 Reasons We Love To
Travel to CartagenaOur Magazine
Cartagena is the crowning jewel of the Caribbean, so it’s no surprise that it’s Colombia’s most-visited destination. This stunning 16th-century Spanish fort city is superbly preserved with cobblestone streets filled with colorful colonial homes and terraces overflowing with bougainvillea. The climate is warm and tropical year-round, and there are many amazing reasons to visit Cartagena. Below are just a few of our favorites.
#1 – Spectacular colonial architecture
The Centro and San Diego sections of the Old City feature a dazzling array of well-preserved structures from the colonial and post-independence periods, each offering a different and stunning color combination. Cartagena’s architecture is a veritable feast for the eyes, and there’s no better way to explore than with a local architect who knows the city like the back of his hand.
#2 – Sun and surf
The best beaches are on the Rosario Islands, a coral reef comprising 27 islands located about one hour by boat from Cartagena. Its natural landscapes, crystal clear water and coral reefs, home to diverse flora and fauna, are the main attraction and make for an unforgettable day! There are some day-long excursions to a few nice beach resorts, but the ultimate option is to charter a private boat for a day of snorkeling swimming and sunning – complete with a chef onboard to prepare cocktails and snacks before lunch, and beach time on one of the less-visited islands.
#3 – Streets made for wandering
The cobblestone street and narrow alleys of Centro, San Diego, and bohemian Getsemani are all different – some heavy on businesses catering to local residents, others with chic hotels and bars, and still others with boutiques for terrific shopping. The best plan for exploring on foot is to just forget any plan and see where the streets lead you – just remember to look up and admire those massive bougainvillea draping down from balconies everywhere.
#4 – Fresh, Fantastic Food
The Cartagena dining scene is heating up, especially the up-and-coming Getsemani neighborhood, and it’s no surprise given the coastal location that seafood is often the star of local cuisine. Of course, the classic arepa (grilled corn pancake) is also a must, and comes in so many varieties that you could try a different kind with each meal! Beyond just eating, a visit to the authentic Bazurto market in the morning followed by a cooking class is an unforgettable way to sample this region’s mouth-watering cuisine.
#5 – Cool cocktails bars
Craft cocktail lovers can easily hit a different spot each night, between hotspots like El Baron (great small bites, too!) and Alquimico in the Old City and tapas bars like Demente in bohemian Getsemani. Rum is the most widely consumed spirit in the region, and the mixologists at these and other top watering holes are guaranteed to serve up concoctions you’ve never tasted anywhere else.
#6 – Music everywhere
From musicians on the street to salsa at Getsemani’s famous Café Havana and dancing at Bazurto Social Club, this a city where it’s easy to get your feet moving after dinner! Not sure you have the right moves? Take a dancing lesson with some locals, and have your feet moving in no time.
#7 – Gorgeous hotels
Cartagena is blessed with some great luxury hotels, and all our favorites are found in the Old City. For full-service luxury with an intimate feel, Casa San Agustin is our top choice. Another great luxury boutique option is the cozy yet refined Bastion Hotel, with the city’s best rooftop. For sleek, modern design, the new Tcherassi Hotel + Spa is for you. And if you’re bringing the kids or want access to the largest spa in town, consider the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara.
#8 – Great art
From the street art and sculptures in public squares to the Museum of Modern Art, the nearby NH Gallery to private visits to contemporary artist studios, spend an afternoon checking out some of Cartagena’s best modern and contemporary art.
#9 – Easy tropical getaway
You can get to Cartagena in just a few hours via nonstop flights from New York, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, and Atlanta, making it a great winter weekend escape. If you have more time, the rest of Colombia is fabulous and worthy of exploration – the booming capital Bogotá, the reborn second city Medellin, and the lush and mountainous Coffee Region are all worthy contenders based on your interests.