Many U.S. citizens have been skeptical of travel to Colombia for many years, but with the city of Cartagena hitting the #1 spot for Top Places to Travel in 2015 according to Conde Nast Traveler, tourists and planners are heading south to investigate.
Prime Time For Travel
The Caribbean coastline of Colombia is mainly a tropical wet and dry climate, with humidity averages hovering around 90% at any given time. The rainy months are between April and June as well as October to November, but the heat can give way to an occasional afternoon shower year-round. There is no truly bad time to travel to Cartagena when it comes to weather, though December and January tend to be the busiest with tourism.
History and Geography
The city was originally named after Cartagena, Spain and founded in 1533 and the colonial walled city was identified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, furthering its attraction from both a historical and cultural perspective.
Zona Norte: The Rafael Núñez International Airport is located in the northern part of the city, just 10 minutes from the old city and 15 minutes from Bocagrande.
Downtown/Old City: For first time visitors, it is highly recommended to stay in the old city. The most striking photos you see of Cartagena are taken within this area, and this is also where the most unique hotel properties are located.
Bocagrande: This peninsula contains the majority of the city’s tourism activities including hotels, shopping, beaches, and restaurants. It is known for it’s high-rise apartment living and far more modern architecture.
Las Bóvedas (The Vaults)
Originally designed for military purposes for the Spaniards by acting as storage rooms, the vaults turned into jail cells for patriots during the city’s independence. They are located at the northern part of the walled city, and the 23 domes now house shops for trinkets, popular to tourists.
Isla Barú, Playa Blanca & Islas Rosario
Charter a boat for the day and sail to the beautiful white sands at Playa Blanca and explore the Rosario Islands for snorkeling and diving. The Rosario Islands are made up of 27 small islands near the southern tip of the country and offer the crystal-clear waters and picturesque beaches that Bocagrande quite frankly lacks.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Spend an hour or so exploring this 16th century fortress located on the Hill of San Lázaro, and make your way through the maze of tunnels within.
Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandría (The Cathedral of Cartagena)
The Cathedral of Cartagena is at the historical center of the city. Explore the area surrounding the church by foot and discover local artists and street vendors.
Where to Stay
Thought of to many as an open-air museum, Cartagena’s several hotel properties do not disappoint when analyzing what their original structure once was.
Hotel Sofitel Legend Santa Clara
This property was once home to the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Clare. Within its walls, you will find breathtaking views of the ocean from the terrace, a tranquil, flora-filled courtyard, and stunning event space.
Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa
The Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa is a former cloister, with original builds dating back to the 17th century. Enjoy dinner under the stars in La Terrazza (the hotel’s outdoor restaurant) to people watch in a notoriously energetic area.
General Safety and Local Recommendations
- Be prepared to speak basic Spanish to help converse with the locals. Cartagena is a largely undiscovered/untraveled city to Americans, and few natives are equipped to answer complex questions in English
- When taking a taxi, establish a rate when you get into the vehicle. It is quite rare that anywhere you go in the city will cost you more than 7,000 COP (roughly $2.50 U.S. dollars)
- It is quite baffling how safe you will feel during your travels to Cartagena. However, practice common precautions when traveling to any foreign country