Bask in the Technicolor atmosphere of this historic port city and its modern life.
Try out these itineraries for the most inspiring introduction to Cartagena.
Castillo San Felipe
Built by the Spanish Empire to protect ships loaded with gold, cacao, tobacco and other treasures from the New World, Castillo San Felipe is an imposing but beautiful fortress overlooking Cartagena. Take an audio tour or make like the locals: walk the walls for romantic vistas and jaw-dropping sunsets.
Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria
Let this stunning church tower lead you through the walled city of Cartagena to The St. Catherine cathedral. Nearly destroyed by Sir Francis Drake, the church displays the profound Spanish influence fitting of the area’s history.
We also recommend the fascinating 20-minute audio tour at Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Cartagena’s oldest church. You’ll learn about the tombstones used to pave the floor in front of the altar, the the curiously crooked angle of the bell tower (a trick of the devil, according to local legend), and much more.
One of Cartagena’s most exciting neighborhoods is just outside the city walls. Getsemaní is full of color and life, from the massive street murals to iconic handcrafts, world-famous designers, and of course its nightlife, food, and cocktails.
Getsemaní is just east of the Old City, and roughly a 30-minute car ride from Conrad Cartagena (without traffic). Ask your driver to drop you at the Convention Center in Getsemaní; from there, you can easily walk to other points of interest.
Shop like a local
Colombian style blends sophistication and forward-thinking design with tradition. You’ll be looking the part with Cartagena’s unique boutiques and fashion retailers within walking distance of Plaza Santa Teresa in Centro, roughly 30 minutes’ drive from the Conrad Cartagena.
Don’t miss Silvia Tcherassi’s ethereal evening and ready-to-wear collections. Gabi Arenas sells handmade Colombian leather wallets and handbags. Ketty Tinoco spins luxurious linens and silks into high fashion for men and women. St. Dom, is a high-fashion, high-design concept store focused on local designers – set in a 300-year-old colonial residence.
Walk the Footsteps of Márquez
Pay tribute to the local career and legacy of legendary writer Gabriel García Márquez. Walk through the very streetscapes that inspired Marquez’s beloved books with the Route of García Márquez walking tour, led by historian and scholar Marelvy Peña-Hall. The Conrad concierge can help you book a tour.
Not up on Márquez? The charming Ábaco Bookstore and Café has you covered. Yhe stock is mostly Spanish-language, but there are plenty of English titles as well. Fortunately, the shop’s coffee bar speaks the universal language of caffeine.
Discover Artists & Artisans
Kick off your morning with the city’s finest espresso and get an intimate, up-close look at Colombia’s dynamic modern art scene: Have a taxi drop you at Catedral de Santa Catalina in the Centro, and you’ll be in the center of it all.
With local coffees roasted on-site and brewed by passionate baristas, Época Espresso Bar is a very welcome find on any kind of morning.
A few blocks away, Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena hosts a small-but-essential collection of Colombian art. NH Galeria, an outpost of New York City’s Nohra Haime gallery, features both Colombian and international artists.
The Gold Museum
Colombia has a deep and often controversial history with gold. Explore it all at the Museo del Oro Zenú (or Zenú Gold Museum) in the Centro. You’ll learn about intricate pre-Columbian gold artifacts, Zenú pottery, and the fraught legacy of the gold trade.
Colombia is also the world’s largest producer of emeralds. The Joyería Caribe Museo de la Esmeralda (Emerald Museum) shines a light on the complex mining and history of emerald. The museum has a substantial selection of jewelry for sale, but they also create custom pieces.
You’ll find more treasures nearby at Lucy Jewelry, an elegant store housed in a 17th-century mansion.
Ride like the wind
Get a serious adrenaline rush with a private kitesurfing lesson from Pure Kitesurf, one of Cartagena’s top kitesurfing outfits, just south of the Conrad at secluded Manzanillo del Mar beach. The steady winds and minimal waves make for an ideal classroom. For the uninitiated, they say the only prerequisite is knowing how to swim.
Both private and group classes are available for the two-to-three-hour introductory lesson. If you get hooked, sign up for their full nine-hour, multi-day program. Already up to speed? Pure Kitesurf also rents equipment.
Book a Hot Table
Cartagena is known as one of the best gastronomic venues in the Caribbean, with plenty of fresh-caught seafood and cuisines from around the world to choose from.
For traditional Caribbean fare, locals are evenly split between La Mulata’s fresh fish-of-the-day platters, and La Cocina de Pepina’s spicy-sweet mashed plantain (or yuca) balls known as cabezas de gato.
For a more modern experience, we like:
- Carmen’s greenhouse-like bar and Caribbean dishes with a twist
- Moshi’s Japanese-inspired, omakase-style adventure
- Chef Alejandro Ramirez’s Maria and beautifully plated dishes
- Interno’s lively open-air patio and surprising location inside a women’s prison
Our concierge will make reservations for any of these restaurants. Fair warning: they all tend to book up in advance.
Bartenders hold the key to any city’s best-kept secrets. And Oscar Velasco, the mixologist behind the top-tier drinks program at El Baron, holds many of Cartagena’s.
Needing a cure for what ails you? Visit Alquímico, where nattily dressed barkeeps mix “remedies” from apothecary-style jars lined up on glowing glass shelves. Their infused rum drinks are a standout.
These cocktail stops and more are within easy walking distance of the Plaza San Pedro Claver in Centro, roughly a 30-minute trip from the Conrad without traffic.
Salsa & Mojitos Flow
La Vitrola has been the haunt of Cartagena’s beau monde for over a decade. You’ll definitely need a reservation (ask the concierge), and you’ll want to dress up. But step through that doorway and you’ll know why: the local A-listers, all dancing to the six-piece Cuban band.
Once you’re warmed up, head to Café Havana (aka La Havana) in Getsemaní, a celebrated institution that gets going after 11 p.m., then pick up some sultry champeta dance moves at Bazurto Social Club. Cool down there with a house-specialty “machacao” cocktail.
Set Sail for the Islands
Just off Cartagena’s coast lie the Islas del Rosario, a coral-reef archipelago of 26 islands. Save at least half a day to explore them – the Conrad concierge will arrange an excursion by private boat.
Set a course for the remote and sparsely populated Isla Majagua. Snorkel, swim, kayak, and paddleboard in tranquil turquoise waters, or just snag a spot on the island’s small, sandy beach to while away the hours.