Known as “the jewel of the Indies,” Cartagena is undoubtedly Colombia’s most popular destination. And with colorful city squares, colonial-era architecture, quirky shops, delicious restaurants, and the historic walled old city with fortresses dating to 16th century, it doesn't take long to see why. Situated on the Caribbean, on Colombia’s northern coast, Cartagena makes it easy to get lost in its charming pastel-hued streets, swim for hours in its azure waters, and eat one's way through the best ceviche you'll ever have. With dancing and live music on the plazas at all hours and bustling street vendors crowding every calle, the sights that inspired the magical realism of Colombian literary hero Gabriel García Márquez—whose writing was inspired by Cartagena, where he lived briefly—are still present on every corner.
To get the most of this of this enchanting city, read our guide to where to stay, eat, drink, shop and what to do when visiting Colombia's crown jewel.
Where to Stay
Typically, the history-loving tourists either stay in the old city, the skyscraper-filled Bocagrande, or the up-and-coming Getsemani, while the beach-seeking ones stay in nearby, shoreline-adjacent neighborhoods like Manzanillo del Mar and Punta Canoa. No matter your preference, there are plenty of options in boutique, budget, and luxury categories for every traveler.
Conrad Cartagena: If you're leaning more toward a beach vacation, look no further than Colombia's first Conrad hotel that just opened its walled city-inspired front doors this past December. In addition to having prime beachfront location on the Caribbean Sea (all 268 rooms and suites overlook it), the stunning property holds four swimming pools (including one located in the beach club and overlooking the sea!), seven restaurants and lounges, a 24-hour fitness center with yoga and spin classes, and an indoor and outdoor spa that offers indulgent ancestral treatments including volcanic mud wraps and Caribbean scrubs. Part of Hilton's mission to reduce its environmental impact by 50 percent by 2030, Conrad is the only property to run on rooftop solar panels in Cartagena; it also works on various social initiatives that range from recycling leftover soap to working with local artists, fisherman, and farmers to ensure that it's supporting local communities. For those wanting to explore the historic side of Cartagena after a few days of pure bliss, there are four shuttles available daily to take guests to the walled city. The hotel also offers 1, 3, or 5-hour program itineraries, that include everything from an informative historic tour to local-led food, shopping, and art tours.
Casa San Agustin: If you want to stay in the historic center, check into this boutique hotel housed in restored colonial-era buildings that feature contemporary amenities, including an L-shaped courtyard pool (built beneath the walled city's original aqueduct), spacious rooms with marble bathrooms and tech capabilities, and a spa with a hammam. Bonus: Alma, the property's very good restaurant, is a draw in its own right.