Cartagena is a beautiful Spanish colonial city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. At its core is the walled city, filled with 16th-century plazas, cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings. Cartagena is a destination that should be on any Colombia itinerary!
This backpackers guide to Cartagena covers things to do in Cartagena, places to stay and other travel tips.
Things to do in Cartagena
Explore the Walled City
You could spend a full day or even two walking around the Walled City and still have something new and amazing to look at. The Walled City is the most beautiful part of Cartagena, filled with beautiful architecture, vibrant colours and street art. The Gate and the Clock Tower (La Puerta y Torre de Reloj) at the entrance to the Walled City / old town are very impressive.
Walk along the walls of Cartagena
The walls surrounding the old town of Cartagena are one of the best places to explore. The Colonial wall was actually built to keep the Pirates (of the Caribbean!) out in the 16th century. You can walk up to the top at various points and see some lovely views of the city streets and ocean.
Bike around Cartagena
A popular thing to do in Cartagena for backpackers is a bike tour. Bike tours take you to all the best places in Cartagena while informing you of the cities history.
Totum Volcano (Mud Volcano)
This is an absolute must do in Cartagena. Tours are offered for around 50.000 Colombian Pesos ($25). The tours offer hotel pick up, transport to the mud volcano, lunch and transport home.
When you arrive at the volcano, you will climb stairs to the top where you climb a ladder down into the mud. Locals will offer to massage you in the mud for a small fee. Once you have finished your mud bath, you will climb back up the ladder and walk over to a lake where local women will undress you (yep, to nothing) and remove all the mud. This is definitely one of the weirdest things I had ever experienced, but not one I regret.
Take a Horse and Carriage ride through the Walled City
We paid 20.000 Colombian Pesos ($10) for 3 people for a horse and carriage ride through the Walled City by night. Very romantic if I do say so myself. Locals will always try and charge you more, so counteract with a lower offer to get the best price.
Playa Blanca Beach
Paradise awaits at Playa Blanca Beach, an hour from Cartagena. Backpackers head to Playa Blanca to sleep in hammocks on the beach and drink rum in coconuts. Playa Blanca is one of the most amazing places I have ever been, so I recommend adding it to your Colombia bucket list now.
Your hostel can arrange return transport for 60.000 ($30) or you can take a public bus for 1.700 ($0.85) then catch a taxi for 10.000 ($5). Your hostel will be able to direct you to the bus stop and give you instructions.
At Playa Blanca, you will pay $5-10 per night for a hammock on the beach or you can pay more for a tent or bungalow. We stayed at Hugos Place.
Cathedrals, Churches and Museum
There are so many pretty churches and cathedrals in Cartagena! A backpackers favourite is the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver. To get more information about cathedrals, churches and museums in Cartagena, I recommend googling it as I didn’t get to explore enough to make recommendations.
Visit the fortress – San Felipe de Barajas Castle
The fortress sits just outside of the walled city, and was built by the Spaniards during the 16th century to protect the city from possible invasions. It costs 25,000 pesos for visitors to enter.
Cartagena is a photographers dream. There are so many wonderful things to admire and photograph!
Climate in Cartagena
Cartagena experiences warm tropical weather year round. October experiences the highest rainfall, so you may want to avoid travelling to Cartagena in October.
Recommended length of stay in Cartagena
A minimum of 4 nights is recommended in Cartagena to experience all the city has to offer.
Getting to and around Cartagena
If coming Internationally, you will fly into Cartagena Airport. From Cartagena Airport, you can get to the Walled City/Old City for 10.000 Colombian Pesos ($5).
A popular way to get to Cartagena from Central America/Panama is sailing through the San Blas Islands. This costs between $375 and $550 and goes for 4 nights and 5 days, all-inclusive. This is the same cost as flying from Panama to Colombia so if you are coming from Central America, I recommend this option. The San Blas Islands are amazing.
Once in Cartagena, most things are within walking distance. Walking is the best way to admire the sights, building and attractions, not to mention the fact that walking is free.
If you do need a taxi, they are cheap but make sure you agree on a price before you get in.
Backpackers in Cartagena
There are plenty of backpackers in Cartagena that offer cheap accommodation options. The best location to stay at is within the Walled City.
If you are looking for a party hostel, stay at Media Luna. Media Luna has a swimming pool and hammocks in the garden area, making it the perfect place to hang out with other backpackers. Located in the centre of the old city, Luna Media is a backpacker’s favourite.
Mama Waldys: Would you prefer a quieter hostel? Try Mama Waldy’s, just around the corner from Media Luna in the old city. Mama Waldys is one of the only hostels with free breakfast. They also do free lemonade between 1 and 2, so refreshing on a hot day. I really enjoyed this hostel.
Search for cheap accommodation options here.
Travel Insurance for Cartagena
Safety in Colombia
A common concern for travelling in Colombia is safety. After travelling to Colombia, I can confirm that I felt it was a safe country. Regardless, you should always exercise basic safety precautions:
- Avoid flashing your valuables
- Keep an eye on your belongings at all times
- Lock your belongings in the hotel safe
- Remain aware of your surrounding
- Avoid unknown streets at night
- Don’t drink too much
Language in Colombia
The official language in Colombia is Spanish. Limited locals will speak English.
Vaccinations for Colombia
Check the Travel Doctor website to find out what vaccinations you need when backpacking to Colombia. If you have any further questions regarding vaccinations required for Colombia, I recommend consulting a doctor.
Packing for a trip to Colombia
Some essentials I recommend packing for Colombia are:
- Swimmers, a hat and a sarong or beach towel.
- Sunscreen and insect repellant.
- A good book.
Extra Cartagena Travel Tips
- The best location to stay is in the Walled City.
- Expect it to be HOT! Drink lots of water and wear a hat and sunscreen
- See more Cartagena Travel Tips here.
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