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If you’re looking for vibrant culture, impressive history, flavorsome food, and idyllic beaches all in one place, then it looks like you need to plan a trip to Cartagena! The colonial downtown area is home to colorful buildings and cobblestone streets that lead to some of the continent’s best beaches. Anyone who knows anything about traveling in South America knows that Cartagena is a truly unmissable experience, so read on for some of our top recommendations when visiting this beautiful destination!
Cartagena’s history as an important colonial port that was under constant attack by wild pirates is reflected in the city’s huge 8-mile-long defensive wall that made it the biggest fortress on the continent at one point. Nowadays, tourists can stroll along the top of the wall without worrying about a pirate ambush, but what might take you by surprise is the quaint charm of the historic center. This area of the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its well-preserved colonial architecture and winding alleys that have gone untouched for years! The iconic Torre del Reloj monument is perfect for people watching with an ice-cream in hand as you take in the sights and sounds of the town square. From there, head to the San Felipe de Barajas Castle to get some great panoramic views of the streets below. Beat the heat with an ice-cold beer at Santo Domingo square, a popular spot for eating, drinking, and even live Colombian music!
Cartagena hosts important local and national events all year round, so if you might just find yourself stumbling upon one of the following: The International Music Festival, usually held at the beginning of the year; The International Film and TV Festival in March; the Boat Show in spring; and the Bandas Festival in June, which is one of Colombia’s most lively music events! If you’re not visiting during any of these festivals, worry not! Arenal street is filled with trendy bars, salsa clubs, and dimly lit rooftop terraces selling multicolored cocktails and blasting loud music until sunrise, so there’s no chance that you’ll be missing out on the chance to party.
Cartagena’s food scene is one of the best in the country, so foodies will rejoice at the variety of dishes on offer all over town. Our top pick is Carimañolas, a local favorite that you won’t find anywhere else! Carimañolas are fritters made of yuca and stuffed with seasoned beef (or sometimes crab), cheese, criollo sauce, and fried to heavenly perfection. They really are one of Colombia’s most mouthwatering comfort foods, so don’t leave without trying them!
Nowhere embodies Caribbean paradise as well as the small Isla Barú peninsula, with its paper-white sands and crystalline waters - it’s an unmissable attraction for those visiting Cartagena. Playa Blanca beach is popular among locals and tourists alike, offering a relaxed and friendly atmosphere even on busy days. Another recommended beach is Ciénaga de Cholón, which might be slightly livelier if there are tour boats on the scene.
After sunset, there’s still plenty to keep you entertained! Night tours take you to nearby lagoons where bioluminescent plankton color the waters electric-blue with every passing wave. There are hotels and hostels on Isla Barú, so you can even sleep in complete paradise! Accommodation here is focused on sustainability and local economy, so it’s ideal for those looking to try some ecotourism during their vacation.