Cartagena is a gorgeous, well preserved colonial city right on the Caribbean Sea. While it has beautiful architecture, interesting history, and really delicious food, despite being on the sea, it lacks a proper Caribbean beach! Surprising to many, the idyllic Caribbean beaches are an hour away by car or boat. Plan accordingly if you are looking for a Caribbean beach vacation!
There are three main Caribbean beaches around Cartagena. Playa Blanca, Islas del Rosario and Isla del Encanto. Playa Blanca has the Caribbean white sand beaches and can be reached by car (or public bus). Since it can be reached by car, Playa Blanca is often the easiest and cheapest option, as you do not need to go with a tour. It is also the most crowded and local option.
Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez airport is a small airport about 15 minutes out of El Centro (Old Town Cartagena). Since its so close to town and so small, a lot of people probably arrive far too early for their flight. We did, but luckily found the Sala VIP in the International Terminal to waste away the time.
Street food is incredibly popular in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Cartagena (and probably others that I haven’t visited…) but it can be rather intimidating to try as a visitor, especially if you don’t speak Spanish (like me!). A good way to try the street food without feeling intimidated is to sign up for a food tour. Side note – I love food tours and take them anywhere and everywhere. I find food tours particular useful in places where you do not speak the language and/or you are uncertain about the cleanliness of some of the food – Cartagena in my case!
I visited Bogota, Villa de Levya, Cartagena and Islas del Encanto last month and loved every minute of it! Colombia is a fabulous country and an easy vacation destination from the U.S. Located on the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is one of the MOST popular destinations in Colombia. Here are 10 things that first-time visitors should know before visiting Cartagena, even if its just for a day as part of a cruise ship itinerary!
1. Cartagena is VERY touristy!
I knew that Cartagena is becoming very popular and has been on the Caribbean cruise circuit for years, but I did not expect it to be nearly as crowded and touristy as it was, and it was especially crowded when the cruise ships were in port! Lots and lots and lots of visitors and the entire old town (called “El Centro”) catering to tourists. A good time but not exactly authentic. Keep this in mind if you are looking for an authentic Colombian experience. I recommend pairing Cartagena with a less touristy destination, such as Bogota, to get a more well-rounded Colombian experience.