Cartagena and the Caribbean Islands
Cartagena is the brightest jewel in Colombia’s crown and a fabulous must-visit colonial city
Visitors to Cartagena will first be struck by the gleaming modern towers of Boca Grande downtown district, which from a distance seems to rise out of the Caribbean Sea. But it is the stunning old walled city which was founded in 1533 and which is a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors are likely to spend most of their time.
Boca Grande is not only the central business district but is also a centre of buzzing nightlife and where the best city beaches are located. For a great view of it all, start at the Convento de la Popa perched atop a hill a couple of kilometres from the walled city. Then move on to explore the massive Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas which was constructed by the Spanish to protect their most important port and which was never sacked despite numerous attempts. For families with young children we can arrange an interactive tour exploring the network of secret tunnels below the fort.
In January, Cartagena transforms into an international cultural city, with the week-long Cartagena Classical Music festival exploring specific themes (British Composers in January 2019) and the local outpost of the Hay Literary Festival. Book early to attend these events!
But it is the remarkably well-preserved walled city with its brightly coloured buildings with timber balconies and cobbled streets where visitors can wander at leisure. A number of the old historic buildings have been converted into top quality boutique hotels, interspersed with international restaurants serving classic ceviche and mero (a type of fish) dishes.
Just outside the walled city is the district of Getsemani, a bit grittier but currently being restored and where some of the coolest clubs and galleries are located. It remains however a traditional residential district where locals sit outside their houses playing chess on a Sunday and gather in the small squares, giving a real insight into the lives of Cartagena’s resisents.
We strongly recommend that visitors should visit Baru and the Rosario Islands, which are only 45 minutes away by a private speedboat. The crystal clear waters and sandy coves make this a wonderful place to swim and snorkel and there are a number of simple hotels and restaurants offering good and simple lunches, such as Blue Apple. For inspiration, take a look at our own day out in this short clip. And for the more adventurous sailors we can arrange a yacht charter either to the Rosario Islands or further afield, perhaps to the famous San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, opening up a whole new country!
Visitors looking for a few days on the beach at the end of their holiday, we recommend staying at Punta Faro Resort on Mucura Island, around an hour and a half by speedboat from Cartagena. Not quite in the league of hotels in the Caribbean further north, it is nevertheless a charming and very relaxing place to stay.
For those staying longer we suggest a trip outside of town to spot the many birds that reside in the mangrove swamps, as mentioned in Emma Duncan’s 1843 article on birdwatching in Colombia.
To discover more about Cartagena and the beautiful Rosario Islands, give us a call or send us a message.
Places we love to stay
Monasterio del Viento
A Caribbean gem on the island of Providencia, lying 500 miles north of the Colombian coast.View details about Monasterio del Viento
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara
The Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is a magnificent historic hotel set in the walled city of Cartagena.View details about Sofitel Legend Santa Clara
Casa San Agustin
Located in the heart of the old city of Cartagena three historic houses have been redesigned to create a charming contemporary hotel.View details about Casa San Agustin
Deep Blue Hotel
Located on the Colombian island of Providencia, this is the perfect place to ‘get away from it all’ in comfort and style.View details about Deep Blue Hotel
Bastion Luxury Hotel
Built on the site of a 16th century colonial house in the heart of Cartagena’s old town this hotel merges original features with a panache for designView details about Bastion Luxury Hotel
Punta Faro Resort
A charming beach hotel located on a private island within easy reach of Cartagena.View details about Punta Faro Resort
Anandá Hotel Boutique
The Anandá is one of the best run – and best value – boutique hotel options in Cartagena.View details about Anandá Hotel Boutique