Magical Realism – Things to do in Cartagena de Indias

The magical realism of Cartagena de Indias makes it an unmissable destination to include in any Colombia tour.

The Old City’s colonial architecture dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, winding tight streets, brightly painted houses, warm climate and Colombian Cumbia and Mapalé music that float along on the sea breeze all add together to transport you back hundreds of years in time to when Cartagena was one of the main ports in the Americas.

Cartagena de Indias – UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stunning 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial architecture and the impressive battlements that surround it, painstakingly refurbished and restored, saw UNESCO name this a World Heritage Site in 1984.

Have a look through our list of things to do in Cartagena de Indias to get an idea of what you would like to include in your own Cartagena holiday.

Things to do in Cartagena’s walled city

The Old City

Walk along the streets of the Old City

To walk along the streets of Cartagena is to walk back in time where you can easily imagine what life must have been centuries ago.

Observe the various Spanish casonas – immense and ornate mansions, many of them declared national monuments.

The Plazas

Plazas of Cartagena

Relaxing in one of Cartagena’s many beautiful plazas is a great way to soak up the atmosphere, surrounded by important monuments and buildings.

The Plaza de los Coches was the site of the largest slave market in the whole of South America and is surrounded by large colonial buildings, brightly painted with tall arches and wide balconies.

Underneath these arches, ammunition and military equipment were stored and the plaza provided a place for troops to stay during the colonial period. Here the coaches of the wealthy would arrive and leave the walled city. A statue of Don Pedro de Heredia, who founded Cartagena, dominates the centre of the plaza.

Other plazas in the walled city include the Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza San Diego.

Cartagena Cathedral

16th Century Cartagena

Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría was started in around 1575 and was partly destroyed in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake’s attack on the city. It is considered one of the most representative buildings of this period within the Old City.

Church of San Pedro Claver

Visit the Church of San Pedro Claver – Patron Saint of Slaves

The church San Pedro Claver, which was erected in 1575 and subsequently named in the Jesuit priest’s honour, is the site where San Pedro worked tirelessly from 1610 until his death for the protection and ease of suffering of the countless slaves that came through the port.

He was later named the patron Saint of slaves and his body is kept in the church.

Clock Tower

Visit the Church of San Pedro Claver – Patron Saint of Slaves

The clock tower was added in the 19th century, its three vaulted arches make this the main entrance to the city, leading directly into the Plaza de Coches.


The Vaults

Explore The Vaults

Las Bóvedas (The Vaults) are located between the fortifications of Santa Catalina and Santa Clara and were originally built as dungeons. They are now used by the craftsmen and women of the city to sell their handiwork.

From their roof (and that of the Santa Catalina bastion) the Caribbean can be seen crashing up against the coastal road which runs on the outside of the north-western wall.

The Spanish Inquisition

Enter at your own peril…

Explore the Palacio de la Inquisición and its stunning baroque details, where the Spanish Inquisition punished those who were accused of practising witchcraft and the black arts from around 1610.

Night life

Caribbean Nightlife

Cartagena has a great nightlife, befitting its Caribbean charm. Bars and restaurants are an excellent way to soak up the atmosphere of this amazing city.

Things to do outside of the walled city

St Philip Castle

A masterpiece of Spanish military engineering

The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the greatest military fortress that the Spanish ever built.

Its various defence and attack mechanisms include inclined walls and cannon positions that could cover the entire bay, ready to take out any unwanted or suspicious ships and boats.

Tunnels, built so that footsteps could be heard from far away, extend from the castle around the city to strategic points of escape.

La Popa Hill

Panoramic views of Cartagena

This site of a Augustinian convent allows you to enjoy the view of the entire city, both new and old.

Baru and Rosario Islands

Enjoy the crystal blue Caribbean waters on a tropical island.

Take a short boat ride across the Caribbean sea to this beautiful archipelago of tropical islands – Las Islas del Rosario. Enjoy the fresh lobster, shrimps, and sea food whilst looking out over the gorgeous Caribbean, ideal for snorkelling.

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