Top 5 Must-See Sights in Cartagena: A Guide

Hit up Cartagena's coolest spots with our guide, mixing history, culture, and awesome views for a totally unforgettable trip through this Colombian gem.

2/12/20247 min read

a woman in sunglasses exploring Cartagena
a woman in sunglasses exploring Cartagena

Welcome to Cartagena, a vibrant and enchanting city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia! With its rich history, stunning architecture, and picturesque views, Cartagena is a must-visit destination for any traveler. In this guide, we will take you through the top five must-see sights that should be on your Cartagena itinerary. Get ready for a journey through the past and present as we explore the wonders of this captivating city.

Introduction

Before we dive into the details, let's set the scene. Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, colorful streets, and lively atmosphere. Located on the northern coast of Colombia, this city offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that will leave you in awe. So without further ado, let's explore the top five must-see sights in Cartagena!

As you wander through the streets of Cartagena, you'll be transported back in time to the days of Spanish colonial rule. The city's historic center, known as the "Walled City," is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with vibrant buildings adorned with bougainvillea-filled balconies. Each corner you turn reveals a new architectural gem, from the grandeur of the Cathedral of Cartagena to the charm of the Plaza Santo Domingo.

But Cartagena is not just about its colonial past. The city is also a vibrant hub of contemporary art and culture. Take a stroll through the vibrant Getsemaní neighborhood, where street art adorns the walls and local artists showcase their work in small galleries. You'll find yourself immersed in a world of creativity and expression, where the old and the new seamlessly blend together.

The Walled City of Cartagena (Ciudad Amurallada)

The heart and soul of Cartagena, the Walled City is a true architectural gem. Enclosed by centuries-old stone walls, this historic neighborhood takes you back in time with its cobblestone streets, vibrant plazas, and beautifully preserved buildings. Lose yourself in the charm of the colonial era as you wander through the narrow alleys, browse the local shops, and sip a refreshing drink at one of the many open-air cafes. Don't forget to visit the famous Clock Tower, a symbol of Cartagena, and soak in the breathtaking views of the cityscape from the top.

As you explore the Walled City, you'll be captivated by the stories that echo through its ancient walls. Imagine the bustling trade that once took place in these streets, as merchants from all corners of the world converged here to exchange goods and ideas. The cobblestone pathways beneath your feet have witnessed the footsteps of pirates, conquistadors, and revolutionaries, each leaving their mark on the city's rich tapestry of history.

Step into one of the beautifully preserved buildings, and you'll find yourself transported to a bygone era. Admire the intricate details of the colonial architecture, from the balconies adorned with vibrant bougainvillea to the grand courtyards filled with lush tropical plants. These buildings have stood the test of time, weathering storms and earthquakes, and now stand as a testament to the resilience and craftsmanship of the people who built them.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Rising majestically above the city is the impressive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, one of the most formidable fortresses in the Americas. Built by the Spanish in the 16th century, this fortress stands as a testament to the city's rich history and military prowess. Explore the intricate network of tunnels, stroll along the ramparts, and marvel at the strategic design of this architectural marvel. Whether you're a history buff or simply fascinated by extraordinary structures, a visit to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a must.

As you step inside the fortress, you can't help but be transported back in time to an era of conquest and defense. The air is thick with the scent of history, and the walls seem to whisper tales of battles fought and won. The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was strategically positioned to defend the city from enemy attacks, with its commanding views of the surrounding landscape.

Wandering through the labyrinthine tunnels, you'll feel a sense of awe and wonder at the engineering ingenuity of the Spanish architects. These tunnels, which served as secret passages and escape routes, were designed to confuse and disorient potential invaders. Imagine the adrenaline coursing through the veins of soldiers as they navigated these dark and winding passages, ready to defend their fortress at any cost.

Where to Stay >>

Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a day trip to the Rosario Islands. Located just off the coast of Cartagena, this pristine archipelago boasts sparkling turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant coral reefs. Immerse yourself in the beauty of nature as you snorkel or dive in the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea, relax on the sun-kissed shores, or indulge in fresh seafood at one of the island's beachfront restaurants. The Rosario Islands are a true tropical paradise that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and in awe of nature's wonders.

As you step onto the powdery white sand of the Rosario Islands, you'll be greeted by a symphony of colors and sounds. The vibrant hues of the coral reefs beneath the water's surface create a mesmerizing underwater world, teeming with exotic marine life. Snorkeling or diving here is like entering a living aquarium, where you can swim alongside schools of tropical fish, graceful sea turtles, and even the occasional stingray.

For those seeking relaxation, the Rosario Islands offer an abundance of tranquil spots to unwind. Find your own secluded stretch of beach, lay down a towel, and let the warm Caribbean sun kiss your skin. The gentle lapping of the waves and the soft rustle of palm trees in the breeze create a soothing soundtrack, lulling you into a state of pure bliss.

San Pedro Claver Church and Convent

Step into Cartagena's religious past at the San Pedro Claver Church and Convent, a stunning example of colonial architecture. Named after the Spanish priest who dedicated his life to helping slaves, this church holds great cultural and historical significance. Admire the ornate interiors, including the beautiful altar and the museum showcasing religious artifacts. Take a moment of reflection in the peaceful courtyard, an oasis of calm within the bustling city. The San Pedro Claver Church and Convent is a must-visit for those seeking spiritual enlightenment and a deeper understanding of Cartagena's past.

As you enter the church, the first thing that catches your eye is the magnificent ceiling adorned with intricate frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible. Each brushstroke tells a story, inviting visitors to contemplate the rich history of the Catholic faith. The soft glow of candlelight illuminates the pews, creating a serene atmosphere that encourages quiet contemplation and introspection.

Make sure to explore the museum located within the church, where you can discover a fascinating collection of religious artifacts. From delicate gold chalices to ancient manuscripts, each item offers a glimpse into the religious practices of the past. Take your time to read the detailed descriptions accompanying each exhibit, allowing yourself to be transported back in time and gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural heritage of Cartagena.

La Popa Monastery (Convento de la Popa)

Perched atop a hill with panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea, the La Popa Monastery is a sight to behold. This 17th-century convent offers a glimpse into the religious heritage of Cartagena. Explore the lush gardens, admire the Baroque-style architecture, and visit the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of La Candelaria, the city's patron saint. Don't forget to enjoy a cup of aromatic Colombian coffee at the monastery's cafe while taking in the breathtaking vistas. A visit to the La Popa Monastery is an experience that will leave you feeling inspired and connected to Cartagena's spiritual side.

a man standing on a hotel balcony in Cartagena
a man standing on a hotel balcony in Cartagena

Where to Stay in Cartagena

Choosing where to stay in Cartagena can truly make or break your visit, offering you a front-row seat to the city's colorful culture, historical landmarks, and breathtaking landscapes. Below, discover the top districts for finding accommodations that will turn your stay into a memorable adventure, complete with their must-visit attractions and amenities.

  • San Diego

    • Nestled within the heart of the Walled City, San Diego is famous for its colonial charm, cobblestone streets, and quiet squares. This area is ideal for travelers eager to immerse themselves in history while enjoying cozy cafes like Café Stepping Stone and upscale dining at Restaurante Alma. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful Hotel Santa Clara, a historical convent turned luxury hotel, and the nearby vibrant art galleries.

  • Manga

    • A residential area known for its marina and beautiful early 20th-century mansions, Manga offers a quieter stay away from the tourist crowds. It’s perfect for those who appreciate architecture and serene walks along tree-lined streets. Facilities include quaint local eateries, supermarkets for self-catering visitors, and easy access to the city center by foot or a short taxi ride. The Club de Pesca restaurant offers delightful dining with harbor views.

  • Isla Grande

    • Part of the Rosario Islands, Isla Grande is the ultimate escape for nature lovers and those seeking peace away from the mainland. The island features eco-hotels like Hotel Islabela and activities such as snorkeling in clear blue waters, exploring the mangroves, and visiting the Oceanarium. The absence of cars makes it a serene paradise, ideal for a digital detox and connecting with nature.

Plan Your Trip With Cartagena Caribbean Tours

Cartagena is a city that truly captivates the soul. From its historic Walled City to its stunning natural beauty, this destination offers a unique blend of experiences that will leave a lasting impression. As you prepare to embark on your adventure to Cartagena, we recommend booking your tours and activities with Cartagena Caribbean Tours. With their expertise and local knowledge, they will ensure that you make the most of your time in this enchanting city.

So pack your bags, immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, and plan a getaway to Cartagena!