Snuggled along the northwest coast of Colombia, the colorful city of Cartagena is a bona fide hotspot for travelers. With its laid-back energy and vivacious nightlife, this historic city offers the perfect weekend escape. Lined with brightly colored buildings boasting picturesque balconies and colonial doors, the old city’s cobbled streets are some of the most beautiful you’ll ever see. The El Centro district offers charming restaurants with outdoor seating, magnificent churches and historic villas sprinkled throughout, while in the Getsemaní neighborhood, with its narrower streets, backpackers and street artists, you’ll find more bohemian vibes. But during the day you’ll want to escape to the city to savor the sunshine and relax at a tapas bar in the evening for a true Colombian experience. Below, we’ve outlined a few of our favorite places to stay, where to eat and what to do in this magical city.
Where to Stay:
Enjoy the perfect blend of old and new at the spectacular Sofitel Legend Santa Clara. The newly opened hotel is set in a restored 17th century convent and features several fascinating relics. Guests can enjoy exquisite cuisine and creative cocktails at the three on-site restaurants—or for an extra refreshing nosh, indulge in the poolside snack bar.
What to Eat:
The coastal location makes for some of the freshest seafood in Colombia. You will find the most delicious fish, octopus and shrimp ceviche at La Cevicheria, an intimate and airy outpost along Calle Stuart. Be sure to get there early because tables fill up quick, and ingredients will run out later in the day (which is how you know it’s fresh). If you’re looking for something besides seafood, head to the Getsemaní neighborhood for Demente, a tapas bar with an outdoor beer garden in the center (don’t miss the crab dumplings and pizza). Finally, we recommend Quero Arepa for a traditional arepas con queso plate (thick corn cakes made with white cheese, served hot and topped with butter.). To stay cool in the South American heat, order a refreshing glass of the Limonada de Coco.
What to Do:
While strolling the windy streets of Cartagena, you’ll see street vendors selling everything from coffee and cigars and cigarettes (both huge aspects of local culture) to prints of the city and replicas of artworks by the famous figurative artist Fernando Botera. Do you souvenir shopping here, but prepare to negotiate.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the city before exploring on foot is to partake in a horse-drawn carriage tour, which allows for a comprehensive but relaxed introduction to the bustle of the city.
As the sun sets, make your way to Café Del Mar, an open-air bar overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The restaurant opens around 5:00 p.m., but the line of people waiting to secure their position to watch the sunset starts forming much earlier. With a refreshing ocean breeze and an Instagrammable view, it’s well worth the wait.