Cartagena (Colombia) is one of the most beautiful places of the South American country and is visited by millions of tourists every year. Cartagena is probably also the most famous city in all of Colombia, both among backpackers and tourists. And of course, there is a reason for that: the old town of Cartagena is one of the most beautiful in all of Colombia.
But the city on the Caribbean Sea has even more to offer, for example the student district Getsemani. All this leads to the fact that you can never stroll alone through the narrow streets. Whether this is so bad and why the city is still worth a visit, you can read now in our Cartagena travel report.
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We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
The Old Town of Cartagena Colombia
The old town of Cartagena is the jewel of the coastal metropolis. When people talk about Cartagena, they commonly mean the old town (Centro Historico) and not the entire city…. and especially not the new center with its modern skyscrapers. The old town is completely surrounded by a 13 kilometer long city wall (Las Murallas), built in the 16th century to protect it from the famous pirate Sir Francis Drake.
However, 200 years passed before the city wall was completed. The old town of Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of many small streets with brightly painted facades and cobblestone streets.
There are restored, colorful mansions, colonial-style palaces and imposing churches. Everything is colorful, decorated and somewhat cluttered. Many buildings have been repainted and you can really see that the old town has been made pretty for the numerous tourists. The colorful facades reminded us a little of the colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala.
The difference is that in Cartagena everything is much more touristy. Everywhere you see colorfully dressed women with fruit on their heads, who willingly let themselves be photographed with you for a small fee. There are numerous souvenir stores, supermarkets and real (and above all air-conditioned) clothing stores, which could be in any western city.
A very fun way to explore Cartagena is a Hop-On-Hop-Off-Tour with a bus* which takes you to all the beautiful sights in Cartagena Colombia.
We did like the old town of Cartagena a lot and you can really take some beautiful photos here. But after one day, it was all a bit too much for us. Too many tourists, too many souvenirs, just too much.
Of course you should visit the old town. And in our opinion you don’t need a plan how to walk through the numerous alleys. Just let yourself drift. Zigzag through the quarter, turn left and then right again. And see what you discover. That’s how we did it. By the way, it is often worthwhile to take a look behind the houses. Often there is a cute little courtyard with a cafe or a restaurant.
And since it can be very hot in Cartagena, we took advantage of the numerous air-conditioned stores to cool off every now and then. There the whole tourist stores in the city have nevertheless still a good purpose 😀 But we liked much better another quarter of Cartagena that is also much less touristy and artificial.
The Student and Artist Quarter Getsemani
We found Getsemani to be a lot cooler than the old city. Here are just as colorful, restored facades with huge, colorful plants covering half the walls of the houses. On every other corner, walls are painted or window frames are repainted. The neighborhood is dressing up for the tourists. You can see that everywhere.
But still, the atmosphere here is not like in the old city. There are other tourists in Gethsemane. Less the cruise tourists who make the old town unsafe. And rather young backpackers who still want to experience a kind of originality in a city that is almost overrun by tourists. In Getsemani, you don’t need a specific plan to walk around the neighborhood. The best thing to do here is the same as in the old city: stroll around. Just let yourself drift.
Everywhere you can find nice photo opportunities, small nice cafes and souvenir stores. In the center of Getsemani it is of course a bit hotter than in the outer areas. Here are a lot of restaurants and especially in the evening there are very many people on the road. Everywhere you can find mobile cocktail stations, where you can get a mojito for little money for the road and let the colorful hustle and bustle pass by.
Plaza de la Santísima Trinidad
This small square in front of the church of the same name is an ordinary square on the outskirts of Getsemani during the day. In the evening, however, it bubbles with life. Food stalls and cocktail stands are set up, and at every corner you can buy snacks or strike up a conversation with locals.
At the especially popular stalls, where hot dogs (Perro Caliente) and burgers are freshly prepared, people have to wait for their delicious food. In the middle of the square, a group of young people is performing a break-dance routine.
You can just grab a beer from a flying merchant (they also walk around everywhere with their coolers), sit at the edge of the square and watch the hustle and bustle. This place is really a hive of activity.
Where should you stay in Cartagena?
We think you should definitely stay in Getsemani and not in the old town. Not only is it much cheaper there, but also much quieter. And the neighborhood is in our opinion much cooler than the old town. And even if you want to go to the old town every day, you don’t have far to go. It is only a short walk through the Centenario Park until you are in the old town. So it has only advantages as you can see.
The Centaurio Park
This park, which is the connection between Getsemani and the old city, has some funny inhabitants besides a small souvenir market. There are large iguanas (lizards) and many small monkeys in the trees. The monkeys can even be fed from the hand and also willingly photographed. So in conclusion, it doesn’t matter where you stay in Getsemani because the neighborhood is cool and interesting everywhere. We can’t recommend our hotel in Getsemani, but here you can find other hotels in Getsemani at Booking.com.The best hotels in Getsemani*
Is Cartagena Dangerous?
In general, in Colombia (as in all South American countries) you should take care of your valuables and not show your cell phone and expensive jewelry around unnecessarily. In Cartagena, however, it did not happen to us, for example, that locals pointed out to us that we should not carry our cell phone around openly as it was the case in Medellin. In general, we felt very safe here, probably because of the many other tourists, and had no problems. Nevertheless, you should of course always be alert.
Arrival and Onward Travel
Since Cartagena is a big city and very well visited, you will have no problems getting here. Nevertheless, we would like to give you a few tips.
Cartagena Colombia Airport
The airport of Cartagena is only 20 minutes away from the city center and the best means of transportation here is the cab. Uber is also available in Colombia, but it is not allowed at the airport of Cartagena. Flights to Cartagena are also relatively cheap if you book something in advance. We flew from Providencia to Cartagena. Before that, we were in Medellin and would have preferred the plane to an hour-long bus ride from Medellin as well.
Continuing by Bus
The Best Time to Visit Cartagena Colombia
Cartagena can be visited all year round. The temperatures are hot and humid all year round. However, the best time to travel to Cartagena is between December and April. In December and January, the city is beautifully decorated for Christmas and there is even a large Christmas tree in the old town. We were in Cartagena in August and had no problems with the weather. We had much sunshine and almost too humid temperatures.
How did you like our article about Cartagena Colombia? What are your best tips for Cartagena Colombia? Leave us a comment below.