Colombia The historic center of Cartagena, Colombia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut

The historic center of Cartagena, Colombia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Colombia Travel Tips: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Cartagena

It’s the biggest tourism destination in Colombia. So it’s no surprise that Cartagena offers a lot of things to do and see. I’ve visited twice in the past five years — most recently to check out the new Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros beachfront hotel — and have come up with the top 5 reasons to visit Cartagena.

1. The History: Cartagena’s easily walkable historic city center, which dates to 1533 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is dotted with beautifully maintained, colonial-era architecture, making it something of an open-air museum. Stroll the streets day or night and you’ll be able to stop at lovely town squares and pick up souvenirs from small shops that carry everything from standard tourist fare to chic clothing and decor from local designers. Consider a horse-drawn carriage ride for a unique introduction to the old city, and don’t forget to journey beyond the walls to visit forts like San Felipe Castle and La Popa, a convent perched scenically on the city’s highest hill. City Trolley Tour, a service that debuted just over a year ago, offers a convenient way to cover more territory. (To get more visuals of this beautiful city, check out the Cartagena travel video I made during my first visit.)

2. The Culture: Cartagena is infused with music and dance, and it’s easy to weave that into your visit. Live music and dance performances seem to occur almost spontaneously on the squares of the historic city center, so wander a bit — especially in the early evening and after dark — and you’ll likely find some wonderful live entertainment.

3. The Food: Prepare yourself for feasting. Coconut rice, arepas and lots of fresh seafood are among the treats that appear on many local menus in Cartagena.  As the sun sets, start the evening at Café del Mar, an open-air bar and restaurant that sits atop a wall that once protected the city from invasion, or head to trendy upscale eateries like El Santísimo, where the food is named after religious imagery of heaven and hell, and La Vitrola, which specializes in Cuban food.

4. The Hotels: Cartagena’s hotel portfolio is booming. Among the newest properties is the Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros (where I was a guest most recently — read my review here), a modern, resort-style getaway with lots of amenities and a beachfront location about 15 minutes outside the historic city center. Still in the works are properties including the InterContinental Cartagena, which will open in 2014 in the upscale beachfront Bocagrande district. In the historic city center, choose from interesting accommodations like the Charleston Santa Teresa, set in a former convent, and the Sofitel Santa Clara, set in a former monastery.

5. The Day Trips: The group of islands known as Islas Rosario makes for an ideal day-trip destination, with lots of sun and sand, and water-based activities including swimming, snorkeling and Scuba diving. The Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros arranged a day trip for us to Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, where we relaxed by the crystal-clear water and enjoyed delicious seafood for lunch. An additional excursion from that hotel is available to a tiny, open-air island aquarium, where among the most bizarre attractions is the shark feeding. (Check out my shark-feeding video here.)

HOTEL REVIEW: Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros
“My Bogotá” — Colombia Travel Tips from María Cristina Osorio
Top 5 Reasons to Visit (& Love) Bogota

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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