If you’re looking for the best things to do with one day in Cartagena, this guide is for you.
Cartagena is one of the most vibrant and exciting destinaitons in South America right now and its on just about everybody’s bucket list.
If you’ve been on the fence thinking about booking a visit, now’s the time.
With great weather, beautiful beaches, and a historic city center, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy during your visit.
I put this post together to give you just a glimpse of all the fun things to do in one day in Cartagena. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The Ultimate Guide to One Day in Cartagena
Explore Cartagena on foot
Cartagena is a vibrant walkable city, perfect for exploring on foot.
Grab your best camera and some comfortable shoes and start exploring. You can see the majority of the walled city in a few hours with stops at places you find interesting.
The Colonial architecture within the walled city is beautiful and well-preserved, featuring lots of churches, plazas and mansions.
There are walking tours of the old town available (book online or with your hotel) and are a good idea if you’d like to learn about the history of the buildings and Cartagena itself.
While walking around you’re going to find lots of places to photograph, so make sure your phone or camera is fully charged before you head out.
There are so many cute doorways and beautiful streets that you’ll want plenty of pictures of yourself as well. Plan ahead and wear something you think will look nice against the colorful walls of the city.
Cartagena Clock Tower
The Cartagena clock tower was built in 1601 to connect the Getsemani neighborhood to the city center via a drawbridge.
The opening below the clock tower now serves as the primary entrance to the historic city.
The structure previously held a chapel and weapons room. In the early 1800s it was rebuilt to include the clock tower and pendulum.
It now stands as one of the most iconic structures in the city. If you walk across the street from the tower you can get nice pictures of the entire structure.
Explore the Rosario islands by boat
The Rosario Islands are a beautiful chain of 36 islands located off the coast of Cartagena.
You can reach the islands by boat in about one hour.
Once there you’ll find long white sandy beaches surrounded by bright blue waters.
Some of the islands are rocky and not for swimming, but the boat ride out to the islands is just stunning.
The image above was taken on the way to the islands and is not edited. The water really looks like that.
There are several islands where boats can drop you off to enjoy the beaches. You can find beer, cocktails and snacks at all of them.
On some of the islands they even serve fresh oysters right from the water on kayaks, complete with lime and hot sauce.
The ride to and from the Rosario Islands from Cartagena will take about one hour each way.
If you have a small group you can arrange for a private boat for the whole day. This will run about $80 (US) per person. I recommend asking the concierge at your hotel to help you make these arrangements when you arrive in Cartagena.
You should also know that the boat ride out to the Rosario Islands in the morning is smooth. However, the ride back in the afternoon will be something entirely different.
The water gets rough and the waves get big, so be prepared to hold on tight, it’s quite the adventure. Just make sure you purchase that travel insurance policy you were looking at. I’m joking, I’m joking. You’ll be fine.
If you’d like to spend a bit more time out in the water and don’t mind a longer boat ride, consider a visit out to Casa En El Agua, or House on Water.
Casa En El Agua is a hostel set right in the middle of the beautiful Caribbean. It’s a unique experience and a great way to add some adventure to your trip to Colombia.
If you’re looking for even more adventure, consider making the trip out to San Andres Island.
The flight from Cartagena is about an hour and 25 minutes, but it’s a cheap flight and you’ll find lots of fun things to do on San Andres Island.
Getsemani Street Art
A one day in Cartagena itinerary would not be complete without suggesting a visit to Getsemani.
The Getsemani neighborhood is covered in elaborate street art with gigantic murals around every corner. It’s the perfect place to take yourself on a photo walk and get to know the city from a different perspective.
Getsemani was formerly a rough neighborhood riddled with crime, drugs, and prostitution. It has since recovered and transitioned into a working-class neighborhood home to local families and young artists.
You can walk through the neighborhood in about an hour or so and view all the various murals, but I recommend slowing down and taking your time to get to know the area.
Getsemani is home to some great coffee shops, restaurants, and cocktail bars.
Walk around the area and take a chance just stepping into a place that looks interesting. Order a drink or some food and have a good time.
One of the top things to do with one day in Cartagena is to enjoy the food. Colombian cuisine is fresh, flavorful, and inspired by the diversity of the country.
In Cartagena especially, seafood is a popular choice. You’ll find some of the freshest fish at the restaurants here, so take advantage of the city’s location on the Caribbean and try some of the local dishes.
If you’re not a seafood fan, not to worry. Cartagena has plenty of delicious dishes prepared with high-quality meats, fresh vegetables, and plenty of savory spices.
If you’re looking for some lunch or dinner ideas, give any of these places in the old city a try:
- Carmen: Serving contemporary food with Colombian flavor. This was easily my favorite dining experience in Cartagena. The bar is fun and the food is incredible. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a special evening, this is the place to do it.
- La Cevicheria: La Cevicheria is another popular dinner option when in Cartagena. I’m sure you can guess they are known for their ceviche, but their paella is pretty fantastic too. The wait here can get long, so put your name on the list and then head over to the bar next door for drinks while you wait.
- Demente: Demente is a fantastic tapas bar located in the artsy Getsemani neighborhood. They serve Spanish tapas with a Caribbean twist, making Demente the perfect stop before a fun night on the town.
- Di Silvio Trattoria: If you’re looking for some Italian while you’re traveling (I know I always am) then head over to Di Silvio Trattoria in the Getsemani neighborhood. They serve delicious homemade pasta and pizza.
- La Perla: A popular spot for Peruvian food inside the walled city. Their oysters and ceviche get rave reviews and apparently the coconut mojito is the drink to get.
If you’re not in the mood for a sit-down restaurant, hit up one of the many street vendors selling everything from fresh fish to traditional Colombian arepas.
Even if you’re short on time during your one day in Cartagena, don’t skip the food. It’s worth the time out of your day to try some local dishes.
There are plenty of nightlife options to end your one day in Cartagena.
If you’re like me and prefer a nice sit-down bar with fantastic drinks, check out some of the places I’ve listed here.
You won’t be disappointed with any of these. In fact, I suggest you visit them all.
- Alquimico Bar: Swanky hipster bar on the inside, laid back tiki-style bar on the outside. Grab a drink on the ground floor to check out the menu. Then close out your tab and head upstairs to the rooftop. Laidback vibe with delicious Caribbean inspired drinks.
- Cafe del Mar: All first-time visitors to Cartagena must make a stop at Cafe del Mar to grab a cocktail at sunset. The setting is beautiful, lively and fun. Watch the sunset over the ocean from their massive outdoor patio with a fruity cocktail in hand.
- Townhouse: This is a super cute boutique hotel with a really fun rooftop bar. They serve beer, fruity cocktails, and wine. They also have some incredible food. If it’s hot, you can jump into the rooftop pool to cool off.
Cartagena Coffee Shops
You must start your one day in Cartagena off with a hot cup of coffee.
Colombia is known for producing some of the best coffee on the planet. So with that, be sure to spend some time during your visit trying coffee at the various cafes around the city.
Many of the city’s coffee shops experiment with different roasting techniques and recipes for special drinks.
You’ll be able to have a completely different coffee experience at each cafe you visit. Here’s a list of some of the most popular cafes in Cartagena to get you started:
- Abacus Books and Coffee: The last independent book store in Cartagena, packet to the gills with books of all kinds. To add to your enjoyment, they serve a fantastic cup of coffee to enjoy while you read.
- Cafe del Mural: This is the must-visit coffee shop located in the city’s artsy Getsemani neighborhood. They serve a wide variety of coffee drinks and even offer special tasting sessions where you can sample different varieties and learn about the coffee. Contact them ahead of time if interested in the tasting.
- Epoca Espresso Bar: They serve fantastic coffee in a beautiful space. Order a cup of coffee and a light healthy breakfast and enjoy the experience.
Even with just one day in Cartagena, you’re going to need a place to sleep.
There are several neighborhoods in Cartagena where you can choose to stay.
For first time visitors, I suggest staying inside the walled city. This area is touristy, but it’s also beautiful and will keep you in close proximity to fantastic restaurants and good spots for cocktails.
Here are some great hotels inside Cartagena’s walled city:
- Movich Hotel: The Movich Hotel is a trendy luxury hotel with a beautifully decorated lobby. The hotel has a rooftop pool and bar with stunning views of the surrounding city.
- Hotel Sofitel: This is the go-to hotel for in the know visitors. The hotel features colonial architecture paired with French luxury. The grounds and pool area are especially fabulous.
- Bantu Hotel: Bantu Hotel is a bit more affordable than Movich and Sofitel, but also has plenty of amenities and spacious rooms. This is a well-appointed boutique hotel featuring a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, and spa.
I hope you’ve found this Ultimate Guide to One Day in Cartagena useful in planning a trip of your own.
If you’re looking for another fun beach town to visit outside of Colombia, consider a visit to Costa Rica’s Puerto Viejo for beautiful relaxing beaches and fantastic food.
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Eden FitePart-time Traveler | Dog Lover | Avoider of Crowds
I help people use their vacation days to see the world.