The Best of Cartagena's Hidden Gems

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Advisor - Simon Morris
Curated By

Simon Morris

  • Cartagena

  • Food & Wine

  • Arts & Culture

  • Active Travel

  • City Travel

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • History

  • Sightseeing

  • Hidden Gems

colorful historic narrow street with cars at daytime
Curator’s statement

Cartagena is such an atmospheric city, with its ancient cobbled streets and bougainvillea hanging off wood-carved balconies. I love its mystery: the alleyways are lined with huge oak doors with smaller doors inside them, which give glimpses of hidden inner courtyards filled with lush foliage. And from the city wall at sunset, look out over the Caribbean sea and the islands offshore that you can take a boat adventure out to the next day!

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Where to stay in Cartagena

Things to do in Cartagena

colorful and historic city street with flowers, balconies, and lit lamp posts

Wander around the walled city: One of my favorite things to do in Cartagena was simply wander the cobbled alleyways and stare at all the beautiful, historic and colorful houses! And watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea from the city walls is truly magical.

San Pedro Claver Church, Cloisters & Museum: A wonderfully preserved church dating from 1580, housing the bones of Saint Peter Claver, who was a pioneer in providing help to enslaved peoples when they arrived in port. The church and its beautiful tropical garden cloisters and courtyard is a lovely retreat from the daytime heat of Cartagena. It also houses a small museum with an impressive collection of religious artwork.

Abaco Bookshop & Cafe: This is one of my favorite hidden gems of the city, with its floor to ceiling books (in Spanish and English) and delicious coffee and pastries. Find a nook to tuck yourself away in!

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: Explore the intriguing system of labyrinthine tunnels and fortifications of this 14th century fortress.

Plaza Bolivar: Sit on a bench in this shaded park within the walled city and soak up the atmosphere around you. A great spot to take a break from the heat of the day, and there's lovely views from here to the cathedral and church spires.

Centenario Park: Just outside the impressive Clock Tower entrance to the walled city lies a large park whose main attraction (apart from the stalls selling locally handcrafted souvenirs) are the monkeys, sloths and huge iguanas that live up in the trees! If you're having a hard time spotting a sloth, just stand looking up into the trees for a few minutes and a local guide will come and show you where they are. :)

Gabriel García Márquez Literature Tour: Let a local guide take you to hidden city spots connected to one of literature's all time heroes. See Marquez's home along with sites featured in his novel set in Cartagena, "Of Love & Other Demons." The Sofitel Legend hotel is actually right next door to Marquez's old home, and it's the site of the old convent that inspired Of Love and other Demons!

Zenu Indigenous Heritage City Tour: With your indigenous guide from Impulse Travel, stitch together the story of Zenu heritage and handicraft on this experience that includes a visit to Cartagena's Gold Museum and a Caña Flecha weaving workshop.

Getsemani: Explore this colorful, artistic neighborhood just outside of the walled city, with its brightly painted houses and murals, street art, hanging umbrellas, and bunting. Plaza Trinidad is the bohemian heart of the neighborhood, with great cafes and restaurants.

Mercado Bazurto: For a true slice of life in Cartagena, head to the Mercado Bazurto. Here, you'll find a huge array of local foods; it was one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite places to hang out. Small restaurants throughout the market serve local fare cooked fresh and fast right in front of you. The market is easily reachable by a short taxi ride from the old city.

Places to eat & drink in Cartagena

outdoor restaurant on the street at sundown

Alquimico Bar: This uber hip joint on 3 levels (with cool rooftop!) is all styled like a vintage alchemist's den, hence the name! Think moody lighting and high shelves full of jars of mysterious substances! It has a pool table and great vibes.

Cafe Del Mar: The quintessential spot on the ancient walls to catch the sunset: expect it to be busy, but. it's worth it for the view and the great atmosphere.

Mistura Cartagena: Love the lofty ceilings and decor in this restaurant on the pretty Plaza Fernandez Madrid, and the menu is super creative and delicious!

La Cevicheria: Possibly the city's most famous restaurant, and a Bourdain favorite, this spot serves up a delicious range of ceviche.

Vitrola: A staple in the Cartagena food scene for over 20 years, this elegant old school eatery (complete with pianist playing in the corner!) serves up great Caribbean-Colombian fare.

La Mulata: Some of the best local seafood can be found in this pretty little restaurant with cute covered courtyard.

Need to Know

Recommended reading to enrich your experience:

Gabriel García Márquez 'Love in the time of Cholera'

This classic, set in a city inspired by Cartagena, tells the story of a love triangle between Fermina Daza and her two suitors, which spans 50 years.

Gabriel García Márquez 'Of Love & Other Demons'

A fantastical novel set in Cartagena, where an excavation of tombs reveals the grave of a young girl with long red hair still attached to the skull, that supposedly kept growing after her death.

Tomás González 'In the Beginning was the Sea'

Based on a true story, this is a dramatic and searingly ironic account of the disastrous encounter of the imagined life with reality – a satire of hippyism, ecological fantasies, and of the very idea that man can control fate.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, 'Fruit of the Drunken Tree'

Set in 1990s Bogota, this novel converges two very different coming of age stories during the time of Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror.

For more travel tips, check out my guide to Dominica: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Dominica.