A little bit South American with a whole lotta Caribbean flavor thrown in for good measure, Cartagena feels like a totally different world than Bogota or Medellin.
Behind the stone walls of the seaside city are brightly colored buildings at every cobblestones turn and the most beautiful flowers draping from every single porch.
But again: the best part of Colombia is its people and this proved true once more in Cartagena. Sure, you have people begging to sell you horse-drawn carriage rides, but everyone we’ve come into contact with continues to surprise us with the extent of their kindness.
We played more ball with little kids. We (kind of, sort of) ran races. We had lots of ice cream. We swam in the pool. We watched every single beautiful sunset over the water. We met an awesome American family who was escaping Brooklyn for a few weeks with their kids. And we took amazing family pics thanks to @cruellsphoto (an Airbnb Experience we highly recommend!).
- Grab sunset cocktails at Terraza Municipal, a little enclave of food trucks right by the water in the colorful neighborhood of Getsemani: when we arrived, it wasn’t crowded at all, so it was a fun place to watch boats go by on the water and enjoy the sunset from the Getsemani side. We didn’t try the food but all the options looked tasty!
- Or, if you’re in the old town on the other side of the bridge, another great place for sunset cocktails is Cafe del Mar, on top of the city’s wall (it’s very windy!).
- Tasting dinner at Carmen: we splurged on a delicious 7-course tasting menu (with wine pairings) on a date night. The atmosphere at Carmen was fantastic with an outdoor courtyard + lots of romantic tables, the service was wonderful and the food was delicious. The 7-course tasting menu was devine (one course was an empanada and the ‘wine pairing’ was a local beer!) and left us very full but not overly stuffed. A tasting menu + wine pairing would be outrageously expensive in the US but we paid roughly $100/per person (including tip), so found it to be “affordably-splurgeworthy,” in our opinion.
- Dinner outside at La Cevicheria: this place is well-known among visitors to Cartagena. It’s a delightful restaurant near the wall of the walled city and the seafood is fresh and delicious. We sat outside and enjoyed lots of street music while the kids loved to watch the horses go by. It’s pricey since it’s so well-known by tourists, but very good!
- Sunset dinner on the beach at El Muelle: we took a taxi to the very end of Bocagrande and had a beach-front dinner at a delicious seafood restaurant. The kids loved running in the wind + sand and watching the windsurfers catching one last wave before nighttime.
- Grab lunch on the beach at El Bony, owned by a famous Colombian wrestler – it was quite the happening place when we walked there for lunch on a weekend.
- Coffee + brunch at Epoca: this place is very popular and here’s why… it’s trendy + fancy brunch with delicious coffee. Don’t miss popping by here for brunch!
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena in Bocagrande, which is the strip of high rise hotels along the beach – about a 5 minute taxi ride (or 15-20 minute walk) from the old, walled city. We used points + a suite upgrade to stay at the Hyatt and really enjoyed its amenities of the pools, included breakfast and an Executive Lounge (with free beer + wine + hors d’oeuves in the evening). For a family, it was the perfect place to stay because we could explore the old town in the mornings and evenings, then enjoy the hotel pool during the heat of the day.
However, if you’re looking for a place inside the city close to everything (and more in a neighborhood and not a high-rise hotel), the American family we met invited us to their place in the Getsemani neighborhood and it was amazing– just steps away from delicious restaurants, a lively square and everything the historic neighborhood offers.
- Grab rooftop drinks on El Mirador’s terrace: they offer a fantastic view of Cartagena’s famous clocktower and the atmosphere and service are great to kick off a fun evening in town.
- Book a free tour of the walled city with Free Tour Cartagena (guides have the yellow umbrella): our tour was private because no one else had signed up, which is something we were noticing was a pretty typical during our travels.
- Explore the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: one of the most formidable fortresses built by the Spanish beginning in the 1500s, Eliza and Davis loved exploring the cannons and the views of the city were spectacular.
- Boat ride to nearby islands: while we didn’t take a boat trip to nearby islands because we had the kids with us, we saw amazing photos of people who were able to take the trip. There are plenty of options (private vs. group; big boats vs. little boats; all day vs. overnight; etc.) to choose from, but the waters are clear blue and the trips come highly recommended from fellow travelers we spoke with. But, because we couldn’t find any boats that provided child-sized life jackets, we decided to skip it this time around.
- Hop on a horse + carriage ride through the old town: Ok, ok… it’s very touristy, but toddlers LOVE this and it’s a fun way to see the streets of town at dusk.
- And last but certainly not least (maybe even first!)… spend an afternoon (and evening!) wandering the colorful streets of Getsemani: located about 10 minutes walking from the walled city, the neighborhood is vibrant, full of life and very much more “local” feeling than the walled city. After getting sunset drinks at Terraza Municipal, walk up to Plaza Trinidad, the “main square” of the neighborhood. We tried several of the food trucks in the square and spent most of our time letting Eliza run around + play ball in the square with the neighborhood kids. Don’t miss the gelato, too!