Best Things To Do In Cartagena

On your trip to Colombia, Cartagena is a wonderful place to spend a few days. Situated on the country’s northern coast, it was once among the most important trading ports in the Americas. Today, the 16th-century Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – home to cobbled streets, vibrant colonial buildings and charming squares, within 13km of historic stone walls. Unlike many cities, this isn’t somewhere to race from site to site, ticking off your checklist. Here, you stroll through the maze-like alleyways, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping off at top-notch bars and restaurants. Below, we disclose some of our favourite experiences in Cartagena:

Go to Mercado Bazurto

A visit to the labyrinthine Bazurto Market is enthralling but not for the faint-hearted. We can arrange for chef Alejandro Ramirez – owner of Restaurante Donjuán (listed below) – to show you around the seemingly infinite stalls, before taking you to a private villa to learn how to make ceviche, coconut rice and other local delicacies. Alejandro has worked with renowned chefs, such as Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Do some rum tasting

On a rum-tasting afternoon with a chemist and mixologist, you will try a range of Colombia’s best rums and learn about their origins, aromas and flavours, as well as the sugar-cane fermentation and distillation process used to create this iconic Caribbean liquor. What could be a better way of kickstarting an evening in Cartagena?

Explore Getsemaní

An interesting contrast to the Old Town, this hip district just outside the walled city is popular with artists and musicians. We can organise for an insider guide, who has grown up here, to introduce you to several secret spots and give you an insight into some of the area’s breathtaking street art.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Follow in the footsteps of Gabriel García Márquez

Cartagena was the inspiration behind some of the late Nobel-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous books. The author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera actually only lived in the city for a year as a student, but returned often from his home in Mexico City to visit his family who resided there. In 2014, he passed away in Mexico, at the age of 87, but his ashes were buried in Cartagena. We can arrange for a brilliant guide to lead you to the places that influenced this esteemed writer.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Enjoy a private dinner with celebrated chefs

Food fanatics will adore this amazing dinner, developed by our experts using their little black book of Cartagena contacts. You will dine with the innovative chefs of Proyecto Caribe Lab – Jaime Rodríguez and Sebastián Pinzón – who are rescuing Colombia’s ancient recipes and rare ingredients, inspired by their travels in some of the most remote parts of the country’s Caribbean region.

Cruise to the Rosario Islands

A journey on a private speedboat or yacht around this archipelago makes for a fabulous day trip from the city. You will spend your time snorkelling, scuba-diving, paddle-boarding or just relaxing on-board. Lunch will be cooked by an eminent local chef and served at a quaint, fuchsia-hued house on an isle encircled by the Caribbean Sea.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Experience the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains from the air

Flying by helicopter from Cartagena to this majestic range is undoubtedly a highlight of any Colombian adventure. You will soar over remote peaks, forgotten waterfalls and hover over the ruins of the Lost City, built 800 years before Machu Picchu, then land at a coffee hacienda in the cloud forest for brunch overlooking the mountains and the Caribbean Sea. For more active clients, we suggest exploring the rainforest on foot and learning about the coffee-harvesting process before your flight back to Cartagena.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Enjoy a private dance lesson

We can secure you exclusive access to Cartagena establishment, Bazurto Social Club, where you can enjoy a champeta, salsa or cumbia lesson with a professional dancer and a live band just for you. This fun and invigorating experience is a firm favourite of our Destination Experts.

Cycle through Cartagena’s Old City

Film enthusiasts will enjoy an enlightening day exploring the Old Town on two wheels with the charismatic retired filmmaker, Gerardo Nieto. He will take you to some of the sets of well-known movies, such as Quemada, Love in the Time of Cholera, Green Fire, and recount stories about Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro and other stars.

How to explore Cartagena the cazenove+loyd way

Five of our favourite restaurants in Cartagena

Our Product Manager, Rachel Nicoll, reveals some of the city’s culinary hotspots, where we secure the very best tables for our clients

1. Carmen

Situated in a lovely house in the Old Town, this enchanting space offers creative and contemporary dishes made with local ingredients and flavours. A serious craft-cocktail menu and varied wine list help to ensure a unique dining experience. This stylish restaurant, ideal for foodie couples, would be a perfect first dinner in Cartagena.

2. Celele Restaurante

This new Getsemaní establishment is arguably now the best restaurant in Cartagena. Owned by Jaime Rodríguez and Sebastián Pinzón from Proyecto Caribe Lab, it is a celebration of ultra-creative Caribbean cuisine. This would be a great place to go after your private dance lesson at the Bazurto Social Club. After dinner, head to Havana or return to Bazurto to carry on dancing. Dress Caribbean chic.

3. Restaurante Donjuán 

Passionately led by food celebrity Juan Felipe Camacho, this sophisticated bistro dishes up delicious fare with Mediterranean hints using local ingredients. Said to serve the best grilled octopus in town, Don Juán has earnt itself one of the top places on Cartagena’s trendy restaurant scene. You will be rubbing shoulders with Colombia’s elite, so don your most glamorous attire. This would be an excellent choice after an afternoon rum tasting and could be followed by a nightcap on Alquímico’s rooftop or at El Baron.

4. El Boliche Cebichería

Talented chef Oscar Colmenares has fine-tuned his ceviche skills and is only using fish caught by artisanal fishermen. This small, laid-back diner offers a well-crafted blend of Colombian tropical fruits, delicious wines, traditional coastal flavours and ultra-fresh seafood. It’s a good spot for a casual lunch, perhaps after your bike ride around the Old Town.

5. La Cocina de Pepina 

This small neighbourhood gem is a great place for lunch in the Getsemaní district. It offers visitors the opportunity to eat their way through decades of Caribbean culinary traditions. Originally led by the late Maria Josefina ‘Pepina’ Yances, a local legend and chef who lived her life as if it were one long festival, La Cocina’s carnival spirit is still kept alive by the current owner. The vibe here is very relaxed; if you wear shorts and flip-flops, you’ll fit right in.

Chat to an expert to start planning your trip

Get in touch and one of our luxury travel experts will answer any questions you may have and help create your dream tailor-made holiday.

Auriole Potter
Terry Moohan
Caroline Maber

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