Things to do in Cartagena

Things to do in  Cartagena

Spanish architecture by the sea

Occupying a prime position on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, Cartagena is where Latin American and Caribbean cultures collide. The seaside city is a bold and beautiful banquet for the senses—brightly-colored buildings, bougainvillea-clad balconies, fragrant street food stalls, bustling markets, and party-fuelled chiva buses all jostle for your attention in the UNESCO-listed Old Town of this one-of-a-kind place—and that’s just in the center. Travel further afield for some of the best things to do in Cartagena, including volcanic mud baths, paradise islands, and spectacular national parks.

Top 15 attractions in Cartagena

Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

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The Rosario Islands(Islas del Rosario) are a highlight of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, famous for their vibrant marine life, pristine white beaches, and sun-soaked beach resorts. A cluster of 28 idyllic islands dotted offshore of the port city of Cartagena, this archipelago sits atop the world’s third-largest barrier reef and makes up Islas del Rosario National Park.More

Totumo Mud Volcano (El Totumo)

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Totumo Volcano (El Totumo) ranks among Cartagena’s most popular day trips. A small volcanic caldera has become a top attraction—a naturally heated bath of grayish brown silt. After bobbing around in the soupy mix, head to the lagoon next door to wash off the mineral-rich mud, thought to have therapeutic properties.More

Old Town Cartagena

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With brightly-colored buildings, colonial landmarks, and bougainvillea-covered balconies, Old Town Cartagena is known for its beauty and its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Highlights include the leafy Plaza de Bolivar, the striking Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj), and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro).More

San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas)

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Some historians say that if it weren’t for San Felipe de Barajas Castle (Castillo San Felipe de Barajas), South America would now speak English. The 14th-century fortress protected the coastal city of Cartagena from English invasion, allowing the Spanish to maintain their rule. Besides the role it plays in Colombia’s history, the castle attracts visitors with its panoramic harbor views.More

Cartagena Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena)

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Discover paintings and sculptures from Colombia and beyond during a visit to the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art, or the Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena. Located within the 17th-century Royal Customs House, this museum is home to both a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions featuring young artists from around the world.More

National Aviary of Colombia (Aviario Nacional de Colombia)

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Home to around 190 different species of bird, the National Aviary of Colombia harbors diverse flora and more than 2,000 birds. The 17-acre (7-hectare) park categorises birds according to three Colombian ecosystems—tropical rainforest, coastal zone, and desert—and promises an enriching experience for wildlife lovers.More

Convento de la Popa de la Galera

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Sitting atop the highest point in Cartagena, Convento de la Popa is a 17th-century convent characterized by graceful stone arcades and an interior courtyard filled with flowers. History and architecture aside, the biggest draw of the convent is the scenery: from the 500-foot (152-meter) perch, travelers are rewarded with sweeping views of the Caribbean coast and colonial city.More

Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia de Santo Domingo)

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Founded in 1534, Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia Santo Domingo) is the oldest church in Cartagena. As well as being notable for its marble altar and imposing central nave, the church boasts a prime location on Plaza Santo Domingo, where street vendors and al fresco cafes create a vibrant atmosphere.More

Bolivar Square (Plaza Bolivar)

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As well as offering respite from Cartagena’s Caribbean heat with its leafy trees, Bolivar Square (Plaza Bolivar) is home to both the Palace of the Inquisition museum and the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu). In between museums, sample Colombian coffee and snacks from street vendors and admire the eponymous statue of Simon Bolivar at the square’s center.More

Las Bovedas

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Shoppers, barhoppers, and photography enthusiasts flock to picturesque Las Bovedas, located at the northeastern corner of Cartagena’s old walled city. Dozens of archways—stretching from Santa Clara to Santa Catalina Fortress—are home to souvenir shops, jewelry stores, small bars, and galleries.More

Cathedral of San Pedro Claver (Iglesia de San Pedro Claver)

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Cartagena’s Cathedral of San Pedro Claver (Iglesia de San Pedro Claver) immortalizes the life of Saint Pedro Claver, one of the first human rights pioneers in the Americas. The austere stone facade of the cathedral alludes to a peaceful interior, where visitors can pay their respects to the remains of the saint, which are visible through a gilded glass case.More
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Cartagena Cruise Port

Cartagena Cruise Port

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Situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena Cruise Port welcomes 30 different cruise ship lines and features several attractions that reference the country’s natural resources—before exiting, pass through a replica emerald mine and an aviary with birds such as flamingoes, peacocks, and parrots.More

Old Shoes Monument (Los Zapatos Viejos)

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Located at the base of San Felipe Castle, the Old Shoes Monument (Los Zapatos Viejos) is a giant sculpture of a pair of old boots. A popular spot for a selfie, the monument was created by Hector Lombana Piñeres in response to the poem “Mi Ciudad Nativa” by local poet (and one of South America’s most respected writers) Luis Carlos López.More

Plaza de San Diego

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Nestled among the bougainvillea-clad balconies of Cartagena’s UNESCO-listed Old Town, the neighborhood of San Diego developed as a wealthy area during the peak days of the gold and sugar trade. Home to brightly colored buildings and street vendors, the small square is a popular place to sit, order a drink or something to eat, and watch the world go by.More

Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu)

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Opened in 1982, Cartagena's Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Zenu is dedicated to Colombia's indigenous Zenu people. The collection, displayed in a colonial mansion in Plaza de Bolivar, includes more than 530 gold pieces (including a pre-Hispanic golden jaguar, as well as bone carvings and textiles from Colombia’s indigenous peoples.More

Top activities in Cartagena

Bora Bora Cartagena Beach Club Full Day Experience
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Palenque History Tour

Palenque History Tour

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$110.00
Freedom Tour of Palenque

Freedom Tour of Palenque

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$110.00
Cartagena Gourmet: Cooking Class with a View, Elegance & Flavor
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Cartagena Gourmet: Cooking Class with a View, Elegance & Flavor

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$58.50
$65.00  $6.50 savings
Sunset Cruise in Cartagena

Sunset Cruise in Cartagena

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$26.00
Private City Tour of Cartagena

Private City Tour of Cartagena

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$135.00
Lodotherapy in the Totumo Volcano with Visit to Galerazamba
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Lodotherapy in the Totumo Volcano with Visit to Galerazamba

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$30.40
$32.00  $1.60 savings
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All about Cartagena

When to visit

Caratgena’s prime position on Colombia’s Caribbean coast means that for most of the year, the UNESCO-listed city is bright, beautiful, and brimming with bougainvillea—however this tropical climate does mean that the length and intensity of downpours varies dramatically between the wet (May–November) and dry season (December–April). To see the city in celebration mode, visit for Cartagena Independence Day in mid-November or for the Cartagena International Film Festival in March.

Getting around

There’s no metro train in Cartagena, and attractions outside of the UNESCO-listed old town are far-flung. The colonial center is easy to navigate on foot, but when you’re exploring outside of it, you'll do best by taxi. Popular ride-hailing apps such as Uber are available in Cartagena, and they are a good way of locking in a price—some taxis don’t have meters and are prone to change the price midway through your ride.

Traveler tips

Brightly colored colonial architecture and Caribbean flair aren’t all there is to Cartagena. Less than an hour from the center is a lakeside volcano shrouded in legend. According to myth, the Totumo Volcano used to erupt molten lava before a priest poured holy water into it—today, you can climb into the volcano to bathe in mineral-infused mud before rinsing off in the warm waters of the lake beside it.

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People Also Ask

What is Cartagena known for?

Cartagena is best known for the colorful colonial architecture of its UNESCO-listed Old Town—top sights include San Felipe de Barajas Castle and Bolivar Square—and its proximity to Rosario Islands and Totumo Mud Volcano. It also boasts vibrant culture and cuisine that combines the best of Latin America and the Caribbean.

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How many days do you need in Cartagena?

To fully explore Cartagena’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town and venture to the neighboring Caribbean islands, you need a minimum of three to five days. As well as exploring the Walled City, spend a day at the Totumo Mud Volcano and another on the idyllic shores of Playa Blanca and Isla Baru.

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What is there to do in Cartagena?

Things to do inside the UNESCO-listed Walled City of Cartagena include admiring the colonial architecture of Las Bovedas, and visiting San Felipe de Barajas Castle and Bolivar Square. Day trips head to Playa Blanca and Baru Island, the African town of San Basilio de Palenque and Totumo Mud Volcano.

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How do I spend a day in Cartagena?

With one day in Cartagena, you can fully explore the UNESCO-listed Walled City. Admire the bright buildings and bougainvillea-covered balconies of Old Town and Las Bovedas; delve into the colonial history of San Felipe de Barajas Castle and the 17th-century Convento de la Popa; and sample coffee and Caribbean-style street food.

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Is it safe to walk around Cartagena?

Yes and no. During the day, Cartagena is a safe and welcoming place to explore—exercise the usual caution when it comes to valuables, and your chance of encountering petty crime will be low. After dark, the city can be riskier, so avoid walking alone in dimly-lit areas at night.

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Is Cartagena worth visiting?

Yes. Cartagena should be on your Colombia itinerary. The jewel in the crown of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, the city offers a vibrant mix of colonial architecture and a brightly colored, UNESCO-listed Old Town, plus easy access to natural delights such as Playa Blanca, Isla Baru, Totumo Mud Volcano, and Rosario Archipelago.

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Frequently Asked Questions
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