Cartagena, Colombia Travel Guide
3) Convento de la Popa
Located at Calle 37, the tall, white convent is a sight to behold, wherever you might be located in the city. Founded in 1607, La Popa is now a hit to tourists mainly because of its flower-filled courtyards and lovely stone arcades. While it is a bit tiring to reach the summit, it will be all worth it because getting to the top gives you an optical spectacle of Cartagena’s fortifications, walls and other infrastructures. Admission fees are as follows: USD 1.50 for children and USD 2.50 for adults.
4) Palacio de la Inquisicion
Seated at Calle 32, the Palacio de la Inquisicion is an interesting yet morbid place to visit. True to its name, it houses the torture devices that were used during the Spanish Inquisition from 1776 to 1821. While it highlights the fatal gadgets that were used on suspected witches and heretics, its mezzanine floor takes you away from the violent memories of downstairs with its beautiful paintings, dioramas, statues and other less-gory artifacts. Children can get in for USD 4.00 while adults need to pay USD 6.00.
5) Cathedral of San Pedro Claver
Colombia, a highly-Catholic country, is home to the noteworthy Cathedral of San Pedro Claver. Built in 1575, it was not until 1610 that its namesake, St. Pedro Claver, stayed in the cathedral. Canonized in 1888, St. Pedro’s remains are enshrined in a glass coffin by the altar. Apart from his carcass, the cathedral’s fine architecture and historic materials make the Cathedral a must-visit for tourists. Admission is USD 2.00 for children and USD 3.00 for adults.
6) Isla Elcanto
Most of Cartagena’s beach resorts are crowded and noisy. So if you want to get away from the hurly burly of the city and experience pristine tropical waters, then you must make it a point to visit the secluded Isla Elcanto. Located at Bocagrande Avenue, the private island only caters to a limited number of visitors, so you can enjoy the Colombian sun and sand with just a few people. Apart from swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and jet-skiing are other hit activities on the island.
Where to Eat
Cartagena is a rich fusion cuisine, featuring a good blend of ingredients and methods of both the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian, and other legacies of its inhabitants. So when you’re there, don’t miss out on these places.
1) Malagana Café
Despite its shady location (Cartagena’s notorious neighborhood of Getsemani), diners have nothing but praises for the Malagana Café. Run and owned by a tight-knit company, its specialties include delicious empanadas, sumptuous ceviche and refreshing margaritas. Apart from its excellent food, one reason to go to Malagana is its rooftop bar, which provides excellent views of Getsemani, a district also known for its massive dance halls, immense gallery areas and upbeat bands entertaining eaters of next-door chicken joints.
Address: Calle Tripita y Media
When it comes to fine dining, your best choice is the upscale Vera restaurant, located inside Tcherassi Hotel, which is touted as the ‘first fashion hotel in all of South America.” Vera adds flair to Tcherassi’s seven-suited landmark building, with its elegantly arranged 50-seater Italian restaurant. Vera is well-known for its gourmet delicacies that highlight locally-harvested seafood. With a kitchen led by Daniel Castano, a student of renowned chef Mario Batali, you can expect him to wow you the same way he impresses his guests at his Bogota-based restaurant Emilia Romagna.
Address: Calle del Sargento Mayor
3) La Perla
Cartagena is surrounded with quite a number of restaurants that offer Peruvian cuisine; however, if you want the best, then head out to La Perla, the brainchild of famed restaurateur-slash-mixologist Roberto Carrascal. The kitchen crew, which stars Carlos Accinelli (Lima’s finest chef,) offers varying menus. However, mainstays such as tuna tiraditos with yellow chiles and ginger, as well as suckling pig with crispy skin remain to be true crowd favorites. After satisfying your hunger, you can go ahead and quench your thirst with the bar’s homemade limoncello, or any of the menu’s extensive range of cocktails.
Address: Calle de Ayos
4) La Casa de Socorro
In Getsemani, you will see a Cocina de Socorro and a Casa de Socorro. Ignore the former, the larger restaurant adjacent to the convention center. Instead, set your sights on La Casa, which is seated quaintly across the corner of the street. La Casa is an open-air restaurant well-known for its hearty Colombian offerings. The affordably-priced menu, which is flanked by salsas, chicken stews, seared seafood and fresh lemonade, is reminiscent of the city’s Spanish influence.
Address: Calle Larga 8E-112
5) Café Havana
Café Havana is technically not a food joint, but it proves to be one of the best haunts in all of Cartagena. This popular U-shaped nightclub is already packed with customers in as early as 9 p.m. The bar menu offers delicious cocktails, to local beers such as that of Aguardiente. The bar’s Hemingway-inspired interiors and woodwork are simply impressive.
Address: Calle de la Media Luna con Guerrero
Where to Stay
All those mentioned above are just the icing on the cake, for Cartagena also offers reasonable choices for travelers searching for a decent place to stay while in the city. Despite Cartagena’s touristy status, its hotel prices remain modest compared to those in other large cities.
1) The Sofitel Santa Clara
The Sofitel Santa Clara is the total embodiment of the phrase ‘where history meets luxury.’ The building, which was completed in 1617 and served as a convent for Clarisian nuns, is know the top spot for Cartagena tourists. It offers a total of 119 rooms, two restaurants (San Francisco and El Refrectorio), a pool and a state-of-the art gym. A double room starts at USD 404.
Address: Calle Del Torno
2) Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique and Spa
Awarded as TripAdvisor’s Choice Winner for Small Hotels (Best Service), the Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique and Spa is the perfect choice for couples and honeymooners who are looking forward to a romantic getaway. The hotel has limited rooms though, so if you want to stay in this place, make reservations right away. Rates start at USD218 per night.
Address: Calle De Santo Domingo
3) Kohsamui Hotel del Mar
If you are looking to get away from it all, then your best choice is the Kohsamui Hotel del Mar, TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awardee for Best B&Bs and Inns. Located at the outskirts of Cartagena, Kohsamui can give you the reprieve and relaxation you are looking for. If you are a beach lover, you will truly enjoy its location, as it is only a few steps away from Cartagena’s clear beaches. It only has four rooms, so it is advisable that you make reservations right away. Expect to pay anywhere from USD123 to USD138 per night.
Address: Manzanillo del Mar
4) Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros
If you are tired of staying in too cramped up hotel rooms, then consider staying at the spacious Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros. It it has a direct exit to the beach so you can frolic under the sun whenever you want. When it comes to food, you will definitely enjoy its wide array of breakfast buffet choices. Room rates range from USD169 to USD215.
Address: La Boquilla
5) Casa La Fe
Cartagena is home to many small hotels, yet one of its best is Casa La Fe in Centro. As TripAdvisor’s winner for Best Service, excellent customer service is the number 1 factor of this charming boutique hotel. Location is also another plus factor of Casa La Fe, since it is just 5-10 minutes away by foot from Cartagena’s top sights. With its comfy beds and relaxing rooftop swimming pool, you can enjoy the beautiful aura of Cartagena in lovely Casa La Fe.
Address: Calle Segunda de Badillo
Big things, indeed, come in small packages. Over the years, Cartagena has proven to be a far cry from the typical old-fashioned seaside town it used to be. A budding tourist destination, this Colombian jewel will, sooner or later, climb up to the top of the list. If you’re still not convinced, go and see Cartagena for yourself!