We celebrated Christmas and New Year’s in this Caribbean Colombian city! Whether you’re strolling the Old Walled City’s cobblestone streets, hanging with locals and hipsters in Getsemani, or lounging by a hotel pool, Cartagena has something for everyone.
Getting to Cartagena
We flew to Cartagena from Bogota and then took a cab to our hotel in Getsemani. It was easy to navigate and the airport cab was only $5 USD!
Neighborhoods in Cartagena
We stayed in Getsemani and frequented the Walled City. Admire Miami-esque Bocagrande from a distance (it’s not really worth a visit) and head offshore to the islands for more fun in the sun!
The Walled City
Cartagena’s Old Walled City is a divine mix of European design with Caribbean culture. The Walled City includes the Centro and the San Diego neighborhood. This is where most of the touristic shops and restaurants are. Is is especially beautiful and romantic in the evening and at night.
Where to Stay
There are several beautiful hotels inside the walled city. We stayed outside in Getsemani since it was more affordable but if you can swing staying in the walled city, treat yo’self!
Where to Eat & Drink
Ceviche is very popular in Cartagena. We had lunch at Boliche on Christmas Day. It is a little upscale (we split a ceviche for $15 USD!)but this is not your typical ceviche. Boliche prepares this famous seafood dish gourmet style with unique local flavors. Ours had coconut milk and crispy plantains in place of tortilla chips. It was delicious, but I still prefer cheap traditional Mexican style ceviche. Another highly recommended spot for ceviche is La Cevichería, we didn’t try it but heard great things!
Folklore Colombian Cafe
This coffee shop is so cute and delicious! With nice decor and a knowledgeable staff, it is a great spot to try a cup of Colombian coffee.
We loved Baron! This craft cocktail bar is so cute and trendy. With prices comparable to a big US city, it is not for the budget traveler, but you have to try one drink! It is the perfect spot for a nightcap or pre-dinner drink. The bar is tiny and intimate so reservations are recommended. Our bartender was awesome! He not only made delicious mezcal drinks but also gave us a ton of great travel recommendations.
Mistura is perfect for a fancy date night. The live music and ambiance are almost as great as the food! As with most things in Cartagena, reservations are recommended. Apparently they are booked for weeks in advance. We put our name in the night of, went to Baron for a drink and came back. They were able to seat 4 of us but it wasn’t until 10pm.
We bought tickets for the Alquimico New Year’s Eve party which was a complete fail! We left early because we were sick but it was so crowded and the bar was definitely unprepared for the demand. I’m mentioning it here because apparently on a normal night they have great craft cocktails. It is in a great location and has three stories with a rooftop!
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Cartagena is quite a scene. It is very common to dress in all white and the streets are filled with people. Don’t stress about reservations and a cover charge, stick to the streets and party with the locals.
Cafe del Mar
Cafe de Mar sits atop the wall and has a great view of the sea. We swung by to check it out but didn’t stay too long. The drinks and food are a little overpriced but you’re paying for the views and the DJs.
What to Do
The Torre Reloj, or clock tower, serves as the entrance from Getsemani to the Walled City. It is beautiful and huge, you can’t miss it! It was especially pretty at Christmas when decorated with holiday lights.
This pirate ship is worth a pit stop on your way to the walled city or marina.
Plaza San Pedro Claver and Plaza Santo Domingo are great spots to eat al fresco, relax, and people watch. If you’re lucky you may spot an impromptu salsa dancing session.
With traditional Spanish design, Cartagena’s cathedrals are beautiful! We stopped in two of them to check out the Christmas Eve service. They were full of people and the music reached to the streets!
Ride in a Horse and Carriage
Ride in style to dinner with a horse-drawn carriage. Cartagena’s cobblestone streets are especially romantic at night.
Where to Stay
We treated ourselves to a nicer hotel for our Christmas gift. Keep in mind we’re on a $30 a night budget so the term “nice hotel” is relative, but we especially loved staying at the Alllure BonBon. While it had basic amenities its sister hotel, Allure Chocolat, had an amazing infinity pool and breakfast buffet we got to enjoy!
We also stayed at VRBO for a few nights when our friends arrived for New Year’s Eve. It was nice and in a very local neighborhood which was super fun! There are several hostels in Getsemani as well. It’s important to keep in mind that you will want need a pool! Cartagena is scorching during the day, even when we visited in December and January. If you book a place without a pool plan on hitting the islands for a day trip.
Where to Eat
We loved Demente so much we ate here twice! Their pizza and tapas are incredible It has such a fun atmosphere and huge outdoor patio.
Cafe Stepping Stone
This was the first place we ate in Cartagena and it was some much needed vegan food after Bogota. The food was great and I especially love their mission. They employ and support at-risk local youth! The restaurant also has hostel like features which are nice such as “leave a book, take a book” and an activities board.
Right off of Plaza Trinidad is a guy selling homemade mojitos on the street! They are great and super cheap.
Grant and I ate here for dinner one night. It is very local and literally connected to this lady’s house! The food was Caribbean, delicious, and cheap. Are you catching on yet? Getsemani is great and affordable!
The bartender at Baron recommended this bar and it was great. Aresenal has delicious cocktails and a cozy vibe at a lower price since it is outside “the wall.”
What to Do
Plaza Trinidad is the center of Getsemani and is constantly thriving with tourists and locals alike. There are some delicious street food stands slinging arepas and a trampoline for local kids once a week.
Getsemani has unique and beautiful street art and graffiti. Admire it as you walk around the neighborhood!
Beer and Laundry
If you are like us and traveling long term, laundry is an inevitable task. Beer and Laundry is a great spot to drop it off. As its name implies, there is beer and even pizza too! Connect to the wifi and chill as you wait for your laundry to finish. The owners are super nice and it is affordable as well!
Safety in Cartagena
Unfortunately we had a bag stolen at the airport in Cartagena. It was well-orchestrated and clearly these thieves were professionals. We also ran into some other backpackers who had been mugged. We felt very safe in Cartagena, ironically more so than any other Colombian city, so we had our guard down. Even if you feel safe, stay alert.
Cartagena is Colombia’s Caribbean gem and a must-have on your itinerary!
Want more information to plan your trip to Cartagena? Check out the Colombia Lonely Planet here.
Chilling in Cartagena,