Cartagena In Two Days
You know you’ve arrived in Cartagena, either by land or air, when you open the door and smell the sea and sun. You automatically inhale, exhale, and smile, having arrived in the land of joy and cumbia and porro music —and without stress. You are in the land of “ajá,” friendly and helpful people, tasty food, colorful beaches, and magical sunsets.
By Laura Navas
Photos: Margarita Navas y William Bello
8:00 a.m. – The Portal
A stroll past the Torre del Reloj clock tower is like traveling back in time. Here is where you leave the modern city behind and enter a colonial world made of brick and stone. La Torre, one of the city’s most emblematic sites, was built in 1631. It stands 98 feet high and houses the most important clock in Colombia. Have breakfast nearby at the Palito de Caucho kiosk, part of Cartagena’s culinary heritage. And, of course, let yourself be welcomed by the beautiful and famous palenqueras: women who carry a basin of tropical fruits and local sweets on their turbaned heads. These women are one of the city’s trademarks and also part of its UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
09:00 a.m. – Through Churches and Sanctuaries
Now go ahead and enjoy the Walled City. Turn left and head clockwise from the Clock Tower to locate the San Pedro Claver church and square, built in the eighteenth century. Named after Saint Peter, the patron saint of enslaved people, the museum that bears his name celebrates human rights. Continue to the Santo Domingo church and square, which got off to a rough start due to a lack of resources for its construction. The dream began in 1535 but the church wasn’t completed until 150 years later.
11:00 p.m. – Museums
Art lovers will enjoy visiting two museums from very different eras: the Museum of Modern Art and the Zenú Gold Museum, where you’ll learn the history of the mythical Zenú culture.
01:00 p.m. – Sitting Down at the Table
There are many dining options: La Cevichería, for example, which was visited by Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef from No Reservations, is truly exquisite. Highly recommended: Harry Sasson, Fusion, La Vitrola, Juan del Mar, Andrés Cartagena, Crepes and Waffles, and Casa Cruxada, among others.
02:00 p.m. – Continue Through Cobbled Streets
Perhaps you’d enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old city. See La Serrezuela square, a cultural and commercial icon; admire the Heredia Theater and the home of Gabriel García Márquez; visit Hotel Santa Clara and Hotel Santa Teresa, immersing yourself in the rich history of the city. Stop at Café San Alberto, known for its exquisite coffee, which is grown in the Colombian mountains and prepared by expert baristas.
04:00 p.m. – The Sea
Close out your afternoon with a cruise around the bay of Cartagena. As you sail, you’ll appreciate the city as the sun sets on the horizon, tinting the sky dramatic shades of red and orange. In the distance is San Fernando Fort. Cruises often include options for drinks and dinner.
09:00 p.m. – Time to “Rumba”
Party lovers can return to the city center to close out the evening. Clock Pub is one of the city’s most popular bars, with a lively and festive atmosphere. Monkey Bar is the ideal spot to enjoy a different kind of night, with its fine atmosphere and excellent music.
08:00 a.m – On the High Seas
Take a tour of the beautiful Rosario Islands. The archipelago, located two hours away from the city, was declared a National Nature Reserve due to its natural beauty, marine biodiversity, and coral ecosystems. You can snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, or go boating. Tours include delicious food, hydrating drinks, round-trip transportation, and admission to the park.
04:30 p.m – History
Finish up your afternoon with a visit to the San Felipe de Barajas Castle to admire its impressive stone architecture. Built in 1657, the castle suffered constant attacks by the English and French. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
06:00 p.m. – Experience Art
While there’s daylight, walk to Getsemaní, one of the most popular and vibrant neighborhoods in Cartagena. The murals and graffiti on the walls of houses and buildings have become an art gallery. The neighborhood’s narrow streets, colonial houses, and historic buildings recreate the past in a colorful and festive atmosphere, with lively bars and restaurants serving delicious local food and a variety of cocktails and drinks.
07:00 p.m. – Delicious Delights
Before returning to your hotel, visit one of the city’s 20th-century icons, Plaza La Serrezuela, which was designed with the restoration of the old Circo Teatro in mind. This plaza is now a focal point for culture, cuisine, and luxury shopping. For dinner, head to Celele, which is listed as one of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants.