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The Republic of Colombia, located in South America, is a beautiful, tropical country with sparkling beaches along the coastline of both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. While the country has undergone armed conflict since the 1960’s, the country’s beauty and peace processes have aided tourism efforts to the beautiful land.
In fact, the tourism industry in Colombia increased by 300% in 2018 compared to 2006, when only 1 million foreigners visited the country. In 2017, there was a mass migration of individuals from Venezuela to Colombia, with visitors from the United States coming in as the second most common location of travelers to the country.
I traveled to Cartagena, Colombia with kids in May. The weather was in the 80s and 90s the entire time, and it was very humid. However, we had a Blast!
- Where Is Cartagena Located?
- How To Get To Cartagena With Kids
- Cartagena Entry Requirements As Of May 2021
- How To Get Around Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena
- Other Places To Stay in Cartagena
- Things To Do In Cartagena
- 1. Visit the Convento de la Popa Church
- 2. Dipping in the Totumo Mud Volcano
- 3. Rosario Islands Catamaran with Lunch and Snorkel
- 4. Gethsemane / Getsemani Street Tour
- 5. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Fort
- 6. Tour of San Basilio De Palenque
- 7. Shopping at the Bazurto Market
- 8. The Historical Center Walking Tour of Cartagena
- 9. Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver
- 10. Dinner Cruise on the Cartagena Bay
- 11. Hop On And Off Bus
- 12. Cartagena Beach Activities
- 13. Visit Cero De La Popa
- Learning from Local Experts through Airbnb Experiences
- 14. Local Colombian Cooking Class
- 15. Horseback Riding at the Beach
- 16. SkyKitchen, Cocktail Class
- 17. “Only a Surfer Knows the Feeling” Surf Lesson Program
- 18. Brunch and Paint
- 19. National Aviary at Baru
- 20. Best Street Food of Cartagena Tour
- 21. Have Professional Photos Taken
- 22. Arepas and Dancing
- 23. Swimming With Plankton on Isla Barú
- Other Things To Do In Cartagena
- Dental Tourism
- Overall Thoughts On Cartagena, Colombia
Where Is Cartagena Located?
Cartagena is located on the northern coast of Colombia and is known as a beautiful fishing village with historic colonial buildings, and dazzling beaches.
The currency in Colombia is Colombian Pesos. It is written with a $ sign so don’t get it confused with American Dollars. 1 USD is equivalent to 3,685.51 Colombian Peso.
How To Get To Cartagena With Kids
We flew on Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida into Rafael Núñez International Airport in Cartagena, Colombia.
Our flights cost about $208 per person round trip. If you need tips on finding affordable airfare like this one, then make sure to read my blog post on How To Find Error Fare and Cheap Flights.
Most people don’t like Spirit, but I personally do. I’m all about finding sales and flying for cheap, then putting that money into having fun when I get to where I’m going to.
We also recently traveled to St Thomas, USVI for $65 round trip on Spirit Airline too.
Traveling with kids and looking for tips, then make sure to click the links below and read more:
- Best Travel Gear For Kids
- How To Travel With Kids Internationally Alone
- Best Countries To Visit In The World With Kids
- Top Must Have Items When Traveling With Kids
- How To Keep Your Kids Entertained & Happy On Flights
- Everything You Need To Know About Traveling With A Car Seat
Cartagena Entry Requirements As Of May 2021
1. You need a valid passport with at least 6 months till passport expiration to travel to Cartagena, Colombia from the US.
2. International travelers entering Colombia must present a negative PCR test carried out within 96 hours before the flight. If you do not have the PCR test, you can verbally tell migration staff that you had difficulty taking this test at the place of origin.
Once entering the country, the traveler must take the test and keep preventive isolation until obtaining a negative result for COVID-19 or do mandatory isolation for at least 14 days or during the term indicated by the health authority.
3. Fill out a Check Mig form 24 hours before your flight.
You can find more details about flying to Colombia on the Colombia Travel website or on the flyer below.
How To Get Around Cartagena
Taxi – Taxis are the easiest way to get around Cartagena. They are everywhere and easy to find.
InDriver – Download the InDriver app. This is like their version of Uber/Lyft and is even cheaper than taxis. You put how much you’d like to pay in the app and a driver willing to accept that amount will accept the ride and show up to pick you up.
Tour Bus – When you book a tour, most of them include transportation from your hotel or wherever you’re staying.
Personal Tour Guide – You can hire a driver to take you around Cartagena or wherever you need to go. I highly recommend Luis. You can reach him on WhatsApp through this number (+57 314 8511428).
We used him for one of the tours we went on. He was very knowledgeable and so nice. He also took us to get a Covid test done for our trip back to the U.S. Ps, tell him I sent you!
Where To Stay In Cartagena
We stayed at an absolutely amazing Airbnb in Cartagena. Our Airbnb guide is a Super Host, so his house and the amenities were top notch as expected. There were 9 of us in our group, 6 adults and 3 kids and we were a perfect fit for this Airbnb. Each couple had their own room, and the 3 kids shared a room.
A few things about this house that we loved:
- The house has 3 different levels and 4 rooms.
- Each room had its own bathroom and balcony.
- There is a pool and a jacuzzi.
- There is a roof top outdoor area perfect to hang out in the evenings.
- There is a housekeeper who does laundry, cleans, makes up the bed and changes sheets as needed.
- There is a cook/chef available for an extra fee of $35/day who can cook as many meals as you need.
We took advantage of the cook/chef service and had her make us breakfast and dinner every day. For the first time in the history of us traveling, we didn’t eat a single meal out. And we are foodies, so this is quite something, ha.
She cooked us local Colombian dishes and all of them tasted so good! We told her what we were in the mood for, fish or meat or chicken and then she put together a full meal based on that.
The day we arrived in Cartagena, we walked into the Airbnb to our dinner being made. She made fish, coconut rice, tostones, chicken and fresh lulo juice. So worth it after a long day traveling. Saved us having to go out and eat when everybody was so tired.
I highly recommend this Airbnb.
Other Places To Stay in Cartagena
- Hilton Cartagena
- Hyatt Regency Cartagena
- Hotel Caribe By Faranda Grand
- Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena
- Estelar Cartagena de Indias Hotel y Centro de Convenciones
Things To Do In Cartagena
1. Visit the Convento de la Popa Church
The Convento de la Popa church stands on the highest point of Cartagena, Colombia. If you’re looking for the most beautiful views of the city, you’ll need to come here! The church’s name translates to “Convent of the Stern,” after the hill’s resemblance to a ship’s stern.
Explore the church’s beautiful flower-filled outdoor area and imagery. It’s recommended to take a taxi to the top, as the roads are not the safest on-foot.
2. Dipping in the Totumo Mud Volcano
I know I know, most of us don’t think of a mud bath as our favorite thing ever. But the Totumo Volcano just might change your mind with its mineral-infused, warm mud bath.
Some locals believe that the mud has healing properties, and local tours allow you to soak before rinsing off in the ocean nearby. This tour by Viator starts at $45 and includes transportation from your hotel to the volcano.
3. Rosario Islands Catamaran with Lunch and Snorkel
Have you heard of the Rosario Islands? Board a catamaran from the Muelle de la Bodeguita pierre for a full-day tour of the San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
At the islands, you can explore white sands and beautiful waters, as well as sightsee colorful tropical fish and coral. On-board the catamaran, enjoy a delicious lunch and comfortable seats in the sun and shade. Pricing starts at $72 per person.
Another option is to rent a private boat like we did. I decided on this option because I wanted the freedom to move around the islands like I wanted to. With this we were able to stay for as little or as long as we wanted to on any of the islands.
We were also able to play our own music and part on the boat. We rented our boat through boats4u, and their rates start at $500 and up depending on which one you book. It is worth it for a big group because you’ll be splitting costs. Our boat rental came with 2 conductors and an English speaking tour guide. We rented the Bravo 360 and it was a beautiful boat.
We stopped mid ocean to snorkel and swim twice, as well as in Cholon for lunch. We had fresh oysters that were brought directly to our boat once we docked – so yummy! I ordered lobsters and a mojito and it was really good as well. We also visited Playa Blanca which is absolutely beautiful as well as went Jet Skiing. So many things to do on the water.
4. Gethsemane / Getsemani Street Tour
Gethsemane was considered the 4th most beautiful neighborhood in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2018. Luckily, you can experience a street art tour in Gethsemane on your vacation to Cartagena.
You can explore dozens of graffiti art painted in the framework of the 1st Urban Art Festival in 2013 and learn more about the history of Gethsemane. Tickets for this tour start at $64 per adult.
One thing that is also fun to do, is walk around downtown or Getsemani area also called the walled city and take photos. It is soooo beautiful and reminded me a lot of our time in Guatemala.
5. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Fort
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fort is a castle built by the Spanish in colonial times. This castle is named in honor of King Philip IV of Spain, and is currently classified as a World Heritage Site. You can visit this castle and even explore some of its tunnels from the inside.
6. Tour of San Basilio De Palenque
The town of San Basilio de Palenque was founded by escaped slaves during the 17th century. It is currently listed as a world heritage site and is considered the first free town in the Americas. Visiting this town will allow you to learn about the history of slavery in Colombia and Latin America.
Afro-roots and traditions in San Basilio de Palenque have been preserved and maintained including a distinct creole language (Palenquero), folkloric dance, cuisine, dress, hairstyles, political organization and social structure. A full day tour to visit costs about $83 per person.
7. Shopping at the Bazurto Market
What vacation is complete without a treasured souvenir? The Bazurto Market is a gigantic market located in the depths of Cartagena, away from the city center. You can find knock-off brand items alongside fresh Colombian cuisine ingredients.
This market does house a few local thieves, and the Las Bóvedas market may be an alternative option for a market underneath the wall of the Old Town.
8. The Historical Center Walking Tour of Cartagena
Cartagena is a beautiful city full of rich history, and there’s nothing quite like a walking tour through its center as a perfect starting place to learn more. Walking tours are often offered by bilingual guides, and can help you understand the historical fights between Spanish colonialists and pirates.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the most read authors in the world, and audio tours across Cartagena can teach you more about the city’s influence on his work.
9. Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver
Years ago, a school and a church were founded in downtown Cartagena. Pedro Claver became a saint 300 years after his prime, dedicating his life to protecting African slaves.
Jesuits turned the church and school into a museum, featuring art and the saint’s chambers. Explore a historical and impressively complete collection of religious art at the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver.
10. Dinner Cruise on the Cartagena Bay
After a tiring day of beautiful sightseeing, you’ll be in the mood for a delicious feast dinner and perhaps an ocean cruise. The Sibarita Master dinner cruise is a popular option and rated #1 for dining experiences in Cartagena according to Tripadvistor.
Enjoy a 4-course meal of international cuisine alongside cocktails from the bar for a beautiful evening on the water.
11. Hop On And Off Bus
If you want to tour the city, and would rather do so by being able to hop on and off at sights that you want to see, then the Hop On And Off Bus is perfect for you. We’ve used this option to explore other cities on multiple occasions.
12. Cartagena Beach Activities
There are so many things that you can do at the beach in Cartagena. Here are some of the fun activities that you can do:
- Paddle board
- Jet Ski
- Surf Lesson
- Sunset water cruise
13. Visit Cero De La Popa
Want to see Cartagena from high up, then head to Cero De La Popa which is the highest point in Cartagena. You’ll get beautiful views of the city and be able to capture the skyline with ease.
Learning from Local Experts through Airbnb Experiences
Airbnb is known as one of the best marketplaces and options for vacation and travel lodgings. While hotels are safe and predictable options for places to stay, they can also be extremely expensive and repetitive.
By comparison, Airbnb puts you in contact with homeowners with space for additional visitors for unique stays in treehouses, tiny homes, and even traditional palace stays. Airbnb Experiences are an additional branch to the Airbnb offerings that offer unique activities hosted by local experts.
In 2018, bookings for Airbnb Experiences increased by 7x as travelers found joy in unique offerings that are easily booked inside the app. From Colombian cooking classes to surf lessons, here are a few of our favorite Airbnb Experience options in Cartagena, Colombia.
14. Local Colombian Cooking Class
This cooking class hosted by Daniela, Jose and Orlando will expose you to professional cooking techniques in the historic center of Cartagena. This experience can be booked via Airbnb Experiences, and has the capacity for a private session of up to 7 people.
Do you have dietary restrictions? No worries, the hosts can alter or replace menu items to prepare. The standard menu includes coconut rice from scratch, crunchy patacones and the drink agua panela.
The historical dish Mojarra roja al papillon features a fish of Cartagena, and empanada dough and fillings are made on-site. Learn more about the culture of Cartagena from your hosts and finish by eating the delicious food you’ve prepared, together. Yum!
Packages start at only $27 per person, with the location’s equipment use and food ingredients included. Classes are two hours long, and the hosts even offer a 20% discount to your future visits to their restaurant.
15. Horseback Riding at the Beach
This adventure is hosted in Spanish only, allowing you to tour the beaches of Manzanillo del Mar on horseback on sandy beaches and through ocean waters. Beers and sodas will be provided, and your host, Alfonso, will walk you through every necessary step to ride a horse safely. Prices start at $54 per person.
16. SkyKitchen, Cocktail Class
The SkyKitchen Cocktail Class is a great option for those with a love of drinks and the heart to learn how to make them. Hosted by two chefs in Cartagena, one from Colombia and one from Peru, you’ll learn how to make cocktails with traditional fruits and spirits.
Colombian fruits you’ll encounter include the lulo, tree tomato, and green mango. As far as spirits go, Colombian Rum, Aguardiente and Quinado are favorites. You’ll spend two hours preparing cocktails and enjoying accompanying snacks.
This class also accepts reservations up until 3 hours before the start time, so if you’re searching for a place to grab a delicious drink a bit early, consider learning how to make them, too! This class starts at $48 per person and is available on Airbnb Experiences.
17. “Only a Surfer Knows the Feeling” Surf Lesson Program
Surfing can sound like a vacation dream activity. But learning to surf on vacation can be intimidating. After all, falling off a surfboard over and over while others excel isn’t exactly your proudest moment.
With the “Only a Surfer Knows the Feeling” surf lesson activity in Cartagena, you can put your worries aside as you learn to surf from a founding member of La Muralla Surf Club. The club is endorsed by the Colombian Surf Federation, and your host, Hugo, has competed at the international level.
This program will have you start with a board harboring high buoyancy and stability, so virtually anyone will be able to stand on the board and learn to surf. You’ll be able to test up to 7 types of boards and learn about the functionalities of bodyboards, longboards, funboards and more.
This experience also includes light refreshments and access to bathrooms, showers, and storage areas for your items. Pricing starts at $39 per person and you can book as a group of up to 4 people. Perfect for individuals and smaller families alike!
18. Brunch and Paint
It’s hard to find a deal as good as this one! This brunch and paint session starts at only $19 for two hours of food and a painting session on a private rooftop.
Aprons, brushes, paint and canvases are provided as your hosts guide you through conveying the historical center of Cartagena through art. Enjoy empanadas, patacones de plátano, cheese fingers, and mimosas.
19. National Aviary at Baru
The National Aviary of Colombia is a must-see for bird lovers. As the largest bird reserve in Latin America, you’ll be able to view over 17,000 birds of 170 species on this tour. Your host will pick you up at your hotel for a 1 hour ride to the aviary, 2 hours on-site and the return trip home.
Tickets to the aviary are included in the starting price of $88 per person.
20. Best Street Food of Cartagena Tour
Hosted by Maria in both English and Spanish, this street food of Cartagena tour will bring you along iconic routes of Cartagena, past the clock tower toward the Plaza de la Paz to taste test 9 street food paradises.
Maria aims to introduce foods that are popular to “Cartageneros” to foreigners, and even offers meet and greets for the cooks along the way. Foods range from salty and sweet to fried, and prices start at $49 per person with food included.
21. Have Professional Photos Taken
The second-best thing to a vacation is pictures and memories from vacation. This experience is hosted by Ana in English, and is oriented toward those looking for beautiful photos full of memories while exploring Cartagena’s history.
Ana has a large photography portfolio on her Instagram, and offers pose and angling tips while taking snapshots of you or your family. Prices start at $60 per person, and Ana is open to group bookings for families with kids.
22. Arepas and Dancing
Arepas and Dancing is an experience that has been highlighted in The New York Times, CNN, Food & Travel magazine and more. Your host, Maria, was born in Cartagena and aims to introduce you to some of the most popular dishes and cultural symbols as you cook two recipes of Colombian arepas.
You’ll also learn to dance champeta, the genre that Shakira popularized at the Super Bowl in 2020. Prices start at $22 per person and include food ingredients and local beer.
23. Swimming With Plankton on Isla Barú
Another good recommendation for things to do in Cartagena with or without kids is a unique night excursion alongside plankton. Over 1,500 travelers experienced this magical tour involving a full day of delicious lunch, relaxing sunset and finally, swimming with plankton in the warm waters of the Colombian Caribbean.
This experience starts at only $59 per person and includes food, round-trip transportation from your hotel and via boat, as well as equipment for your seawater adventure.
Other Things To Do In Cartagena
24. Go To The Mall
If you like shopping, then you;ll love this mall. It is quite big and very nice too.
25. Horse Drawn Carriage Ride
We paid about $40,000 COP which is about $10.78 to ride around downtown for 25 minutes. The kids LOVED this!!
Colombia is well known for Dental Tourism. So many Americans travel to Colombia for dental work, including celebrities like Rick Ross and more. Even though we went to Colombia to explore, dental work was also one of the reasons for our trip.
After doing lots of research I finally decided that we would get our dental work done with Cartagena English Speaking Dentist. My husband needed an implant and 2 crowns and she quoted him about $1,600 USD which is a fraction of the cost of what he would have paid in the U.S. For reference, a single implant alone in the U.S. can cost around $4,000 USD.
He also wanted to get veneers, but the dentist highly recommended he start with braces first to adjust the gaps. He was able to see an orthodontist recommended by the dentist who put in top and bottom braces for about $70 USD. He’ll get adjustments here in the US, and we plan to return to Colombia in a few months for follow up.
I got my teeth whitened for $165 and Aiden got teeth cleaning and a check up. This was only his 2 visit to the dentist. His first visit to the dentist was when he was 4 years old and that was on a trip to Mexico City. And his second time was now at 8 years old. He had no cavities and the dentist was impressed at how well taken off his teeth are.
A trip to Colombia as well as dental work is much cheaper than seeing a dentist in the U.S. So we’ll gladly take that option anytime. My husband has also seen a dentist in Turkey and loved the dental care there.
Overall Thoughts On Cartagena, Colombia
This is an absolutely must visit city with so much to do for families, couples and more. There are masks required to be worn everywhere, and people are good about social distancing as needed. Overall, we loved our time there. We just left and I can’t wait to visit again.
Booking Your Trip – Tips & Tricks
How To Book Cheap Flights When You Travel
If you are looking to book the cheapest flights you can possibly find on the internet, then make sure to use Skyscanner when searching for flights.
Don’t forget to download the Free Skyscanner App also which is very handy. This is how I was able to get $12.40 airfare from Los Angeles to London, as well as $9.40 airfare from London to Italy.
How To Book Affordable Accommodation When You Travel
When booking accommodation, TripAdvisor is the way to go because you can read reviews and see photos from other travelers to get a feel of where you will be staying. Other great sites to book hotels are HotelsCombined, Booking.com and Hotels.com.
Don’t forget to check HomeAway and VRBO for house and villa rentals too. Perfect for when you travel with a large family, and also to save money when hotels are expensive. Another favorite of mine is BookVIP – they offer huge resort savings.
How To Book Activities When You Travel
This makes trip planning so much easier because you don’t have to search several sites as both websites have several options to choose from. Same also goes with TripAdvisor Attractions – you can search and book activities as well as read reviews.
How To Book Rental Cars When You Travel
Instead of checking every single website, I use RentalCars.com, Car Rental 8 and Skyscanner Car Rentals to find car rentals all over the world with just one click. If you plan to park at the airport, visit Airport Parking and make a reservation.
Why Travel Insurance Is a Must When You Travel
People book trips and forget the most important part, purchasing travel insurance. Because we travel often, I purchase our travel insurance through Allianz for a year at a time which means that we are covered for all trips within that year.
Travel insurance will protect you and your family against theft, injury illness, flight cancellations and so much more. It is a MUST!
Looking to save even more money when you travel?
Visit my Travel Resources page to see all the reliable and trustworthy brands that I use to book my travel with. I only recommend brands that I’ve used and can vouch for, so you’re in good hands! ? Also, check out these posts below:
- How To Save Money On Flights
- Best Websites To Find Cheap Flights & Error Fares
- Tips On How To Make Travel Affordable For Families