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Is Cartagena Worth Visiting? The Good & The Bad, Colombia 2024

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Are you wondering if Cartagena is worth visiting? You’ve likely heard about this gem of a city on the northern shores of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, but with so many people visiting, is it somewhere you should be adding to your itinerary, too?

I’ve been to Cartagena twice. The first time was in 2015, and more recently, it was in 2022. The city was certainly busier than the first time I had visited. Back then, it was a backpacker’s paradise with affordable accommodation, cheap food, and a great place for a party. 

This time, it was crowded with, at times, what seemed like more tourists than locals. Even so, it still had its fairy tale atmosphere, the part of the city that I loved so much the first time around. But, with the hordes of tourists and the increased prices, is Cartagena de Indias still somewhere worth visiting?

Uncover The Good And The Bad Of Cartagena De Indias And Decide If It’s Worth Visiting

Cartagena is worth visiting to see the old walled city, Colombia

In this post, I’m sharing with you my thoughts about whether Cartagena is worth visiting or whether it’s a tourist trap that you should avoid. I’ll share the best reasons for visiting and the worst so you can make up your own mind.

Is Cartagena, Colombia, Worth Visiting?

Cartagena is one of my favourite cities in Colombia. Therefore, if you ask me, I’m going to tell you yes, Cartagena is absolutely 100% worth visiting. However, ask Jack, and you’ll get a different answer! 

For me, there is so much to love about Cartagena. The old walled city is seriously gorgeous, the culture and history are unique, and I found the people more than welcoming. In fact, the first time I visited Cartagena, I was travelling solo and ended up partying with a group of locals who treated me like one of their own.

It was a fantastic experience and a beautiful interaction with people who didn’t need to be so kind. Since then, I’ve always told people Cartagena is worth visiting. So, when we had the opportunity to visit, I was beyond excited to show Jack the city.

However, since my first visit, it has become busier. I’m fond of cities, dancing into the early hours and enjoying the lively atmosphere, but for Jack, it was all a little too much. He prefers National Parks and fewer crowds. Generally, I do, too, but in cities, I don’t mind the buzz. 

Cartagena is also missing the tropical beaches you would expect to find in a Caribbean location, and well, honestly, it was just way too hot for him. So, it wasn’t his favourite destination!

The famous clock tower in Cartagena, Colombia is worth visiting.

Who Will Love Cartagena De Indias?

If you’re a lover of energetic cities, nightlife, culture and art, Cartagena is worth visiting. If you’re looking for a laid-back beach spot, Cartagena is not going to be the place for you! That said, you can take a day trip to nearby islands, which have a laid-back vibe. Cartagena is best for a weekend getaway (four days at most) and ideally part of a larger itineary to explore Colombia.

Summary: The Pros & Cons

  • Pros: What Makes Cartagena Worth Visiting – There’s no denying that Cartagena has a beautiful old town with fairytale vibes; the city has a rich culture, delicious food, and exciting neighbourhoods. Nearby, there are gorgeous tropical islands perfect for day trips; the locals are friendly, and the nightlife is fantastic.
  • Cons: What Makes Cartagena Not Worth Visiting – The drawbacks include over-tourism, which has led to higher prices than other places in Colombia, the need to pre-book accommodation and crowds. There are no beaches close by worth visiting, and the climate is very tropical, with HOT weather and little respite.

🌟 Guess what ->> As travel experts, our experiences have led us to be great at planning travel itineraries, so much so that I offer a bespoke travel itinerary service to all my readers. Interested? See what it’s all about here on my custom itinerary page.

The Best Reasons To Visit Cartagena

Let’s start with the best reasons for visiting Cartagena. I’ve highlighted a few above, but there are tons of great things about the city that make it worth visiting.

1. Fairytale Vibes

The number one reason for visiting Cartagena is to visit the Old Town. It’s a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws in thousands of visitors a year. Built in the 16th century, the Walled City is surrounded by a vast stone wall: fortifications to protect it from attack during the colonial era. 

It’s become Cartagena’s signature attraction, and for me, it felt like walking into a fairytale – an atmosphere I love (likely due to all those Disney films). If this is your vibe, consider visiting Alsace in France, too!

Within the city, you can expect to see incredible colonial architecture painted in colourful hues and a robust Afro-Caribbean culture. The streets are narrow and weave through the buildings; flowers adorn balconies, and beautiful Palanqueras (ladies in bright dresses with baskets of fruit) stroll around; it’s a vibrant and stunning place to visit.  

A beautiful orange building in Cartagena's old town, Colombia is worth visiting.

2. Culture, History and Food

Cartagena has an interesting history dating back centuries. The city of Cartagena was founded on 1 June 1533, but the area had a pre-Columbian community before colonisation.

Over the years, it’s seen battles, slavery, freedom and, more recently, massive economic growth. There are many interesting attractions to visit, including the San Felipe Fort, which is one of Colombia’s top landmarks.

Due to its history, it’s evolved a unique culture. It’s a mix of African, Spanish and indigenous heritage and is now at the heart of Afro-Colombian culture. The best way to learn more about the people and this beautiful city is to join a guided walking tour. 

Another superb way to really get a feel for the city’s culture is through the food. Food is such an essential part of our daily life, and Cartagena’s cuisine is a delicious mix of flavours. We went on a food tour (since we’re big foodies, food tours are our go-to activities) and highly recommend it to you guys. 

Really, it’s like a walking tour combined with tastings, so you’ll kill two birds with one stone, so to speak! Join this Street Food Tour while visiting Cartagena for historical insights from a local and delicious traditional tasting.

3. Getsemani

Outside of the Old Town, another neighbourhood deserves your time: Getsemani. I love the walled city as a place for relaxing, people-watching and a romantic atmosphere, but Getsemani wins as the most upbeat and spirited part of the city. 

It’s where I stayed both times. Previously, it was a backpacker’s haven filled with cheap accommodation, but today, it’s filling up with fancier hotels. It’s still the best place to stay if you’re visiting Cartagena on a budget, though!

Jack enjoys a stroll around the streets of Getsemani, Cartagena.
The colourful neighbourhoods in Cartagena make the city worth visiting!

Getsemani has got character, a vibrant nightlife and incredible street art. It’s the most colourful part of Cartagena, loaded with hip bars, trendy cafes and lively entertainment. In fact, head to Trinity Square in the evening to witness street performers dancing Salsa, magic tricks, breakdancing, miming, and more. 

There’s a brilliant energy here, with food and drink stalls selling some fantastic burgers and hotdogs – be ready to be amazed when watching them making twenty burgers at once; plus, the pina coladas are fresh, strong and delicious!

Pro tip >> To really understand the history of Getsemani, visit the main sites and learn the importance behind the street art; consider this tour: Highlights and Graffiti Tour of Getsemani.

4. Tropical Islands

I mentioned earlier that Cartagena doesn’t have the best beaches (see more on that below – reasons not to visit Cartagena). Still, there are some tropical islands which are accessible from the city. 

A tropical island in the Caribbean.

The number one location to visit if you’re looking for tropical bliss is the Rosario Islands, a National Park made up of 27 islands. These islands are surrounded by a coral reef and are one of the only protected Marine National Parks in Colombia. 

If you’re in search of snorkelling, sun and beach, then this is the place you need to visit. You can organise an independent trip, but the easiest way is to jump on a day trip departing from Cartagena. 

If you fancy adding a visit to your itinerary, check out this full-day Rosario Islands day trip, lunch and snorkel included and all park entrance fees.

5. Vibrant Nightlife

I’ve touched on it already, but the entertainment in Cartagena is second to none. Honestly, it’s a superb place to visit for a night out. There are different vibes depending on which neighbourhood you visit, but overall, Getsemani is the most fun.

Cartagena is known for its salsa clubs, rooftop parties and stunning sunsets. One of the best ways to experience the sunset over Cartagena Bay is to join a sunset cruise.

Consider this Sunset Cruise; it comes highly rated and includes a complimentary cocktail.

Sunset over the water in the Caribbean.

Getsemani is filled with quirky bars, clubs and street entertainment. It’s got a gritty feel, sometimes a little seedy (if I’m honest), but it feels more like Colombia than the walled city. However, if you’re looking for rooftop parties and sundowners, head to the Old Town instead. 

Then there’s Bocagrande; I haven’t really discussed this neighbourhood much, and it’s not somewhere I would say is essential to visit. That said, it’s the third neighbourhood that you’ll come across in Cartagena, home to the large resort hotels. It’s the most modern part of the city, with skyrises, pool parties and high-end dining. 

Pro tip >> If you want a more refined evening, then consider visiting one of the hotel restaurants in Bocagrande – the Hyatt Regency is a good option with an outdoor bar.

6. Friendly Locals

Overall, Colombia is one of the most friendliest countries I have ever travelled. Now, you might think me biased; I am half Colombian after all, but ask Jack, and he will tell you the same.

While we were there, we met some incredible people. From making friends in cafes to talking to people on buses, to our hiking guides and even taxi drivers, the people from Colombia were more than happy to engage, tell us stories, recommend places and share insights. 

Cartagena was no different. Everyone met us with a smile or a friendly wave. We felt welcomed, or at least 99% of the time, but…the vendors can get aggressive. Oddly enough, this happened to us a couple of times, and we’ve only experienced it in Cartagena. 

Pro tip >> It’s also important to know that you can’t just take a photo of the Palanquera women. They expect payment for pictures and can get arsey with people who try to snap them without paying. For a few pesos, pay, get a nice smile and don’t ruin your trip!

The Worst Reasons To Visit Cartagena

Now that I’ve covered the best reasons for visiting Cartagena, I want to share the worst parts of the city. I’m not gonna sugar coat it; there are reasons not to visit that you need to know about to make sure Cartagena is the right place for you!

7. It’s Hot, Very Hot.

Cartagena is a HOT city with high humidity. There’s really no escaping it, so if you’re someone who struggles in a hot climate (like Jack), there’s little respite, and it can become too much. Jack really struggled during our time in Cartagena; he found it very uncomfortable and even unbearable at times.

Jack in Getsemani district in Cartagena, Colombia.

Cartagena sits at sea level within the tropics, so it’s characterised by a tropical climate; temps rarely fluctuate more than a few degrees throughout the year, averaging between 26°C to 29°C, but it can reach the low 30s. When we visited in May, it was about 30°C. 

May is also the start of the rainy season, which can make it feel even more sticky, but really, the city has a yearly humidity of around 80%. Although the weather might be off-putting for some, if you’re looking for a cheaper time to travel, the wet season is always more affordable as tourism dies down.

8. The Beaches Are Not Great

Even though Cartagena is on the coast, it doesn’t have beautiful tropical beaches. Ultimately, Cartagena is a port city and any palm-lined beaches it may have once had have been taken over by industry, marinas and shipping docks. 

It’s disappointing that the city doesn’t have a beautiful beach, considering its location, but you can visit the nearby islands if you’re in search of stunning tropical scenery. That said, there is a city beach in Bocagrande.

Don’t expect too much from this beach. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but as with all city beaches, it’s not great. The road runs right beside it, there’s a lack of trees, and there’s nothing “tropical” about it. Keep this in mind if you visit; take it for what it is, and you won’t be disappointed.

9. You’ll Need To Book In Advance

One thing we noticed when looking into accommodation was how full everything was. Generally, we don’t book accommodation too far ahead of time; typically, we book only a few days in advance.

However, for Cartagena, we read that it was necessary to book in advance. About a week before we arrived, we started looking. It definitely wasn’t long enough. I actually didn’t listen to the advice all too well and thought it would be fine. The first time I visited, I just rocked up and found something straight away.

This time, we didn’t have much choice and found a hostel in Getsemani, which really wasn’t great, but it was okay. I was shocked to find out how expensive accommodation was, considering we were travelling at the start of the wet season; rates weren’t as low as we had hoped. 

If you’re travelling during the high season, I suggest booking accommodation as soon as possible. For my backpacker readers, a few weeks in advance is best. If this isn’t achievable, go with realistic expectations. You might be left with either pricey hotels or not-so-great hostels.  

Pro tip >> I did notice that there were tons of mid-level accommodations available, such as homestays and bed and breakfasts, which looked lovely. The best ones were booked up, but the city is sprouting accommodation on a regular basis, so you’re bound to find something! 

10. It’s A Busy Tourist City

Another reason you might want to avoid Cartagena is the crowds. It’s been growing in popularity for years. I noticed a difference between then and now. In the seven years between my two trips, Getsemani has evolved significantly; I don’t remember it being so popular or filled with as many bars or people. 

The Old Town wasn’t too bad, but then again, it wasn’t peak season. It was busier than we were expecting, and I can only imagine it getting worse, especially since we were travelling at the end of the Pandemic, so tourism hadn’t fully recovered.

The old town in Cartagena is worth visiting, Colombia

The city seems to have catapulted onto every traveller’s South American bucket list, with good reason, but it just means it’s a busy tourist city instead of a hidden gem these days. You’ll find low-cost airlines flying directly from the USA, cruise ships docking at the port, and backpackers visiting in their thousands.

In Getsameni, I did feel there were more tourists than locals, especially while exploring the narrow streets. If you prefer an authentic experience, I doubt you’ll overly enjoy Cartagena. It does, at times, feel like a tourist trap, a beautiful tourist trap.  

11. More Expensive Than Other Colombian Cities

The result of increased tourism is higher prices; they go hand-in-hand, and it’s to be expected. However, I was a little shocked at the prices in Cartagena, especially the accommodation rates. 

A beautiful white and violet building in Cartagena, Colombia adorned with a tree.

We knew it was going to be more expensive. Still, having flown over the Pacific from Southeast Asia, which is, FYI, much more affordable and a better choice if you’re on a tight budget, we thought our money would go further than it actually did. 

The prices in Cartagena are higher than typical for Colombia; however, in comparison to Western Nations, it’s still an affordable destination. That said, if you’re on a budget, you might want to consider limiting your time in Cartagena to a couple of days.

Pro tip >> You’ll be using the local currency in Cartagena, the Colombian Peso (COP), which can be safely withdrawn from ATMs within the walled city. Find BCP bank for free withdrawals, or if you have a WISE account, you’ll get three free withdrawals a month.

Top Rated Tours From Cartagena

Cartagena is a small city with the Walled City and Getsemani neighbourhoods being easily explored on foot. Within two days, you can see the main attractions, but there are a number of day trips to consider while visiting the city. 

🌟 My top pick >> Visit the Rosario Islands on a day trip from Cartagena by joining this tour and enjoy an unforgettable day aboard a catamaran. You’ll be able to snorkel through a breathtaking coral reef and enjoy lunch with drinks.

Besides a day trip to the Rosario Islands, you might want to consider these:

Is Cartagena, Colombia Safe?

Nighttime in Cartagena.

If you’re wondering whether Cartagena is a safe place to visit, the answer is yes, more or less. In recent years, the government has invested heavily in improving security measures, and the police presence in tourist areas has been increased.

During the day, you shouldn’t experience any problems, although petty theft and pickpocketing can occur, especially in crowded areas. Use your common sense and be careful, like keeping your valuables safe.

While we were there, we didn’t experience any problems, but every city has its risks, and Cartagena isn’t an exception. 

We did meet a lad who had been mugged the previous night. He told us how he had wandered after a night out down a dark street late at night. In doing so, he made himself a prime target. I recommend staying in well-lit areas and avoid walking alone at night.

Mid-Level Accommodation Ideas

The three districts to consider staying in are the Walled City, Getsemani and Bocagrande. Although I’ve not stayed in the below, I’ve included three mid-level accommodation suggestions in each district to give you some ideas. 

If your budget allows, it’s a plus to have a swimming pool:

The beautiful side streets in Cartagena's old town.

What To Pack

Due to Cartagena’s tropical climate, it’s important to pack appropriately. Even if you’re visiting during the wet season, it will still be hot and even more humid, but it won’t rain all day. Instead, expect short bursts.

Choose loose clothing and breathable fabrics: cotton and bamboo are winners. You’ll be doing lots of walking so comfortable shoes and clothing like shorts, T-shirts, light dresses and comfy sandals.

Below are some essential items to pack when visiting Cartagena:

  • Sunscreen | Make sure you protect your skin.
  • Sun Hat / Cap & Sunglasses | Make sure you protect your head and eyes from the sun.
  • Water Bottle | We always leave the hotel with our water bottle; it is our favourite.
  • Sarong / Cover-up | Keep this item in your day bag for entering religious buildings.
  • Wicker Bag | Leather bags are too hot; stick to wicker.
  • Beach Towel | This towel is so soft, quick drying and super absorbent. 
  • Sandals | These are the most comfy sandals for all-day walking.
  • Rain Jacket | If you’re visiting during the wet season, pack a lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Bug Repellant | Cartagena is quite bad for these pesky bugs. Be sure to pack something.

Resources For Colombia

Is it your first time visiting Colombia? We’ve written lots of useful posts to help you plan your trip. You can check them all out on our Colombia Page herebut below are some of our most popular articles:

⭐ Pro tip >> If you’re going to be using your phone, don’t forget about overseas data roaming. You’ll get charged for using your data. Try Airalo’s eSIMs and download a digital data pack. It’s quick and easy; great if you’re in a hurry.

FAQs: Is Cartagena Worth Visiting?

Is Cartagena a tourist trap?

At times, Cartagena can feel like a tourist trap. This is because the city is small and heavily reliant on the tourism industry, attracting many tourists to a small area. That said, it’s still a captivating city worth exploring, and if you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting during the low season.

How many days should you spend in Cartagena?

Four days in Cartagena is perfect. This allows enough time to explore the city and go on a popular day trip to the nearby Rosario Islands.

Is 7 days in Cartagena too much?

Personally, I feel that seven days is too long in Cartagena. This is because the city is small, it doesn’t have a lovely beach to chill on, and it’s not close enough to other attractions to make a good base. Ideally, four days in Cartagena is sufficient if you’re hoping to explore the city and visit the Rosario Islands National Park.

Is Cartagena safe to walk at night?

Yes, you can walk around Cartagena at night, but stick to tourist areas. I would advise against walking around alone and not straying from the busy areas.

In Summary: Is Cartagena Worth Visiting?

To answer your question, Cartagena is definitely worth visiting, but it may not be for everyone.

The city has a lot to offer, from its beautiful old town with fairytale vibes to its rich culture, delicious food, and interesting neighbourhoods. It’s a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site that you’re going to love if you’re looking for an upbeat, vibrant Caribbean city.

However, there are some drawbacks to consider. Over-tourism is the biggest issue overall, and if you want a budget-friendly location, it’s not the best option. However, I still think Cartagena is a unique and beautiful city that offers a lot. 

In my opinion, it’s definitely worth visiting, but it’s important to think about what you want from the trip and your personal preferences before booking.

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Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, shoot me a message.