Cartagena is a historical city full of heritage and colonial treasures. It is located on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia and it is a very friendly city. It has a very active nightlife and offers visitors a variety of activities. You will never be bored here. There are things to do every single day.
Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia. If you are a reader, you might know Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winner. He grew up in Cartagena.
Just walking by the streets is a pleasure. The weather is warm and humid, but nothing that a cold beer cannot refresh. There is enough breeze to help you cool off as you walk by the city.
The UNESCO named Cartagena a World Heritage site and it is a great place to travel with family or just as a romantic gateway.
1. Take a tour by the "Ciudad Amurallada"
The Walled City, is the historical area in Cartagena. Cartagena was a target city for pirates. Cartagena is a former port for goods and slaves. It was a transit point for gold and other value products from and to Spain. Due to its location, it was attacked several times and a huge wall around the city was built to protect the city from those attacks. Now behind those walls, you will encounter a beautiful city full of collonial architecture buildings and great places to eat. The city has been declared national heritage.
From your hotel you can take a taxi. Once in La Ciudad Amurallada, you can walk by the narrow streets and admire all the beautiful houses with balconies full of flowers. As you walk by the city you can find restaurants, street food vendors, crafts and even stores with emeralds. At night is recommended to take a horse-drawn carriage trip around the city. It is a very family friendly activity.
You can also explore the Castle of San Felipe, a fortress built in the 1700s and for a small fee you can tour the castle and walk thru the tunnels and see the canons that were used to defend the city.
2. Go Snorkeling
There are plenty of places to go snorkeling in Cartagena. Some of the beautiful beaches near by such as Islas del Rosario, San Bernardo and Baru.
We went to Baru, where you can also do diving if you are certified and even take a course. Since I was a little sick, we decided just to go snorkeling.
You take a boat ride to the first snorkeling site. They provide the mask, snorkel and fin set.
Once you get in the water you can enjoy the coral reefs and see some colorful fish. The guides will point what are the best places to be at and they will even guide you to new snorkeling areas so you can really enjoy the most of your experience.
The waves here are not strong, which makes this a great experience for beginners.
3. Visit the Mud Volcano (Volcan del Totumo)
El Totumo Mud Volcano is a mud volcano located near sea level in northern Colombia, just an hour dirve from Cartagena.
Once you arrive to the Volcano, the locals will great you. You climb the rustic wooden staircase and then wait for your turn to get in the mud. If you would like to help the locals, you can choose to have one of the male locals give you a massage while you are in the mud. The mud is very dense, so do not worry you will not sink, you actually tend to float.
The mud contains elements such as Silica, Aluminum, Magnesium, Sodium Chloride, Calcium, Sulfuro and Iron which gives it healing charecteristics and leaves your skin soft.
Once you get out of the Volcano, you can go to the water and wash up the mud. The local women also offer the service for a very low fee. (Just remember that all the ecotourism is based on helping the local communities). There is also a service where you can give them your cell phone and camera and they will take pictures for you.
This was on my bucket list, so I feel acomplished to cross it off. It is for sure an activity you should experience at least once in your life.
4. Take a Canoe Ride at the Mangroves
Just 20 minutes away from Cartagena, you can get a Canoe Tour by the Mangroves. When you board the canoe, a native guide will take you through the tunnels of a dense ancient growth of mangroves.
You will be able to enjoy the amazing ecosystem with a great diversity of birds, fish and other animals. Your tour guide with tell you all about the shallow waters and local communities around the mangroves.
For around 1 hour and a half you can enjoy the sound of the birds and breathe the much oxygenated air. It is not only beautiful but relaxing. You kind of forget about the rest of the world during the ride.
5. Water Sports
You can choose from motorized sports such as jetkies or just simple kitesurfing, windsurfing, paddleboarding, surfing or just a sailboat.
Since my husband knows how to sail, we got a small sailboat (velero) and enjoyed seeing the wildlife while cruising while being pushed by the breeze.
6. Go Shopping
There is plenty to things you can buy at Cartagena. Local crafts, clothes and typical Colombian things. You can find shops both at the old city (Ciudad Amurallada) or and the newer place, Bocagrande near all the hotels.
One thing to learn while shopping in Cartagena is that you can bargain prices (at most places). Make sure you ask what is the lower price and look for the same product in different shops. It is pretty common to raise some prices for the tourist, because they know they will pay higher prices.
You can find pretty much things made in Colombia, and from different places around the world. I would recommend buying local products and crafts. Prices are good and they make awesome souvenirs.
7. Eat Fried Fish by the Beach
There is nothing like indulge in the local Colombian cuisine. There are so many delicious foods you can find while walking on the streets and even while relaxing at the beach. You can enjoy the local fruits sold by the 'Palenqueras" or you can even order fried fish at the beach. Local seafood and variety fo fruits will have your palate joyful.
The fried fish plate comes with a small salad, coconut rice and patacones (also known as Tostones and they are twice fried plantain slices). It cost around $20,000 Colombian pesos.
If you ever visit Cartagena, feel free to contact me. I can give you tips on how to get the best deals there!
12/22/2016 01:37:38 pm
I will be visiting Colombia soon. I will be looking into this specially the mud volcano, it looks like a cool experience
My Life is a Journey
12/23/2016 01:37:48 pm
John when you are ready to visit let me know, I can give you some phone numbers and webpages that might help you
12/22/2016 06:25:56 pm
My mom is from Cartagena de Indias, originally. I LOVE it there. I'd also recommend La Chiva and a meal at La Enoteca...Museo del Oro Zenú, the theatre, La Popa to see all of the dresses of La Virgen de la Candelaria and of course, seeing San Pedro Claver's body at Iglesia San Pedro Claver...soooo much to do there. The volcano is a bit touristy to me, but still fun. Glad you enjoyed your time there. I think it is one of the most amazing places ever.
My life is a journey
12/23/2016 03:06:24 am
Heather, totally agree, so many other things to do in Cartagena. It is a great place to visit with family. We also visited the places you mention above, and I might write another post about what else to do in Cartagena. I am glad you had the opportunity to visit Cartagena in the past, and I hope you can visit again soon.
1/7/2017 09:33:38 am
This looks like a great place to take a vacation with the family. Love the castle and all the history on the city
7/22/2017 03:15:10 pm
Hi, I'll be visiting Cartagena this November (Thanksgiving Weekend) from Wednesday night thru Sunday afternoon. Would like some tips as what to do, I'm more into what locals experience. Thanks!
3/6/2018 07:09:54 pm
We were there twomjunes ago. We are going back again with friends I haven’t done the mud baths or seen the dresses or body. These are what I’ll do next time. Any other suggestions?
My Life is a Journey
4/16/2018 03:21:13 pm
The Volcano Mud is a must
1/14/2019 10:55:57 pm
How did you get to the volcano and the river ? Did you travel by taxi and if so around how much was it to get to both destinations?
12/18/2020 09:51:05 am
Hey! Taking a trip to Cartagena soon, I'm really excited to see the mangroves! Did you book a tour for it or could you find cheaper canoe options there?
10/1/2021 03:01:58 am
Its like you read my mind!
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