A complete guide to visiting Cartagena Colombia, 2024 edition

Cartagena, Colombia, is a vibrant city that beautifully merges the charm of its colonial past with the vibrancy of modern life. Nestled on the Caribbean coast, Cartagena is a gem of cultural heritage and scenic beauty, making it a top destination for family travel. This guide will provide you with all you need to know for a great visit in 2024.

Where is Cartagena, Colombia?

Cartagena is situated on the northern coast of Colombia, facing the Caribbean Sea. It serves as the capital of the Bolívar Department and is well-known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and beautiful beaches.

The streets of Cartagena
The streets of Cartagena, Colombia

How to get to Cartagena?

By air

We arrived at Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG), conveniently located just about 3 km from the historic city center. There are direct flights from major cities in the United States (New York, Miami) and several connections from Europe. Airlines like American Airlines, Avianca, JetBlue, and Copa Airlines offer convenient options.

By sea

Cartagena is also a popular cruise destination. The cruise port is near the city center, making it easy to get into the heart of Cartagena upon disembarking.

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What to pack for your Caribbean vacation?

To help you prepare for your journey to the Caribbean, we’ve put together a comprehensive family packing list that covers everything you’ll need to make the most of time on the islands.

Customs and Immigration

Upon your arrival in Colombia, it is important to have a valid passport that is valid for at least six months. Most tourists, including visitors from the United States, do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

The streets of Cartagena, Colombia
The streets of Cartagena, Colombia

However, all travelers must complete Migración Colombia’s Online Check-Mig Form within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Colombia (there is no fee to complete this form).

💡Good to know

What kind of SIM card do we use on our international trips?

During our recent trips to Costa Rica and Colombia, we used an eSIM from Airalo and paid only $15 for 2GB. It was so easy to activate, and having data without relying solely on hotel Wi-Fi was definitely a game changer.

Getting around in Cartagena


Widely available and affordable. Ensure the taxi is metered or agree on the fare before starting your journey.


Uber is another convenient option for getting around Cartagena, and we used it most of the time. Uber operates widely throughout the city, including airport pickups and drop-offs, which can be particularly helpful for those looking to avoid haggling with local taxis right after their flight. The prices ranged from 5 to 10 USD.

Public transportation

Buses are available, though routes can be confusing for newcomers. For tourists, the hop-on-hop-off buses might be a more convenient option.



Without a doubt, the best way to explore the historic district, known as the Walled City, is on foot. That’s why we chose to stay in the Old Town and walk the streets of Cartagena.

What is the local currency in Colombia?

The Colombian Peso (COP) is the currency in Colombia, and $1 is around 4,000 COP. Credit cards are widely accepted, but having some cash for small vendors and transportation is advisable. Note that ATMs are pretty accessible.

💡 Good to know

How to withdraw cash when traveling internationally with no fees:

  1. Open a Schwab checking account before your international trip.
  2. While on your trip, withdraw cash from any local ATM (from your Schwab checking account).
  3. DECLINE conversion into USD when prompted to get a better exchange rate!
  4. You won’t be charged any foreign transaction fees and will be reimbursed for any ATM fees!

Some other things to consider when visititing Cartagena, Colombia:

  1. Always use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
  2. All the establishments we visited in Cartagena accepted Apple Pay, so you did not even have to carry a credit card with you.
  3. Surprisingly, American Express cards are also accepted at most of the places.

Where to stay in Cartagena?

When visiting Cartagena, deciding where to stay can greatly influence your experience of this vibrant city. The Old Town, with its colonial charm and cobblestone streets, is ideal for those looking to step back in time. Staying at the Movich Hotel, for instance, offers a perfect blend of luxury and historical ambiance, providing an ideal retreat after exploring the bustling city.

💡 Good to know

  1. During our 7-night stay in Cartagena, we divided our time between the Old Town, Bocagrande, and the Rosario Islands.
  2. For our 5 nights in Cartagena, we stayed 4 nights at Hotel Movich Cartagena De Indias (Small Luxury Hotels of the World) in the Old Town itself and 1 night at Hyatt Regency Cartagena.
  3. We booked both stays in the city about 10 months in advance and redeemed our Hyatt Points.
  4. Remember that you do not pay resort fees when booking with points (Award stays).
  5. You can read more about booking Hyatt hotels on points here.

Prices here generally range from $150 to $300 per night, ensuring a stay enveloped in safety and comfort amidst the historic district.

For a more bohemian vibe, consider Getsemaní, known for its colorful street art, hip cafes, and vibrant nightlife, which attract a younger crowd. Accommodations in Getsemaní are typically more budget-friendly, with options ranging from $100 to $150 per night. While the area is lively and generally safe, it’s wise to stay alert and stick to well-trodden paths, especially at night.

Meanwhile, Bocagrande is the go-to district for modern comforts and beach access. This area features a range of accommodations, from high-end hotels to cozy beachfront condos, catering to families and tourists seeking a mix of city life and seaside relaxation. Prices in Bocagrande can vary widely, from about $100 to over $250 per night, depending on the proximity to the beach and luxury level. The neighborhood is well-regarded for its safety, making it a secure choice for both day and nighttime activities.

Best time to visit Cartagena

Cartagena has a tropical climate with temperatures consistently around 30°C (86°F). The dry season, from December to April, is the best time to visit Cartagena. The rest of the year is wetter, with sporadic heavy showers.

As for us, we spent a week in Cartagena in early April. It was hot, humid, and it only rained once while we stayed on the Rosario Islands.

Things to do in Cartagena

Here is a short list of things that our family did during our stay and would absolutely recommend. You can read the full post about top family-friendly things to do in Cartagena, Colombia here.

  1. Explore the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – an iconic fortress built in the 1600s that offers a glimpse into Cartagena’s colonial past.
  2. Wander around the Walled City. This district was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site In 1984!
  3. Encounter a family of wild sloths in Parque Del Centenario.
  4. Visit the museums – Historic Museum of Cartagena, Museo del Oro Zenú. 
  5. Take a day trip or spend the night at one of the 27 Islas del Rosario, just a one-hour boat ride from Cartagena, to swim in the turquoise waters of the coral reefs. We spent two nights at Hotel Isla del Sol on Isla Grande, and we absolutely recommend this hotel.
  6. Visit Santuario de San Pedro Claver – 16th Century Church.
  7. Explore Getsemani, a historic neighborhood with colorful colonial architecture and lively street art.
  8. Try local food at one of the restaurants (try empanadas, ceviche, patacones, coconut rice, and more).
  9. Visit Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría – one of the oldest episcopal sees in the Americas.
  10. Stop by at Plaza de la Trinidad – enjoy street food and watch live performances!

Here are some of the restaurants that we recommend visiting while in Cartagena:

  1. El Gobernador (Bastión Luxury Hotel)
  2. Restaurante Candé
  3. ALMA Restaurante – Bar
  4. Carmen Cartagena
  5. Mistura Cartagena
  6. Restaurante Celele

Coffee shops and popsicle shops:

  1. La Palettería (cash only)
  2. Café San Alberto Cartagena on Plaza Santo Domingo
  3. Ábaco Libros y Café

Is Cartagena, Colombia safe?

We spent a week in Cartagena and split our stay between the Old Town, Bocagrande, and Rosario Islands. We personally felt safe, and fortunately, nothing happened to us. Cartagena is generally considered safe for tourists, especially in popular areas like the Old Town, Getsemaní, and Bocagrande. 

As always, be cautious of pickpocketing and use recommended taxi services. Avoid walking alone at night and follow standard travel safety precautions!

Bottom line

Cartagena is a beautiful city with a unique blend of history, culture, and Caribbean charm. From the historical Walled City to the beautiful beaches, there are many attractions that make it a great destination for families. However, it’s important to plan your visit carefully and respect the local customs and advice to ensure that your trip is both enjoyable and enriching.