If you’re looking for a luxury getaway in South America, Cartagena, Colombia could be the perfect place for you!
Located on the Caribbean coast of South America, Cartagena is a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. The historic center of the town is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site with the city’s colonial architecture remaining today. In fact, some of the city’s most impressive buildings date as far back as the 1500s. The town was the first Spanish settlement on the eastern coast of Colombia.
As a bespoke luxury travel destination, Cartagena has plenty to offer. From beautiful architecture to world-class restaurants. Once a walled city, Cartagena now sits at sea level, and majestic fortresses wall in the old town. When you walk through the city walls from the Caribbean side, you will enter Cartagena’s old city. Known for its cobblestone streets and narrow passageways with colorful homes, the old town area of Cartagena will capture your heart. Make sure to buy some famous Colombian coffee during your stay in this amazing coffee region of the world.
Finally, Cartagena is home to some incredible beaches and natural surroundings. Colombia’s most famous beach in Cartagena is Playa Blanca or White Beach, a paradise for beach bums. Playa Blanca has soft white sand and turquoise water framed by palm trees and coconut trees and exudes a calm, Caribbean feel. Cartagena is also home to the second-largest coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef can be seen from Isla del Rosario nearby.
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Let’s dive into this Cartagena travel guide!
Built-in 1537, this Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is one of the most beautiful Spanish forts. The fortress is only a short walk over the bridge from Getsemaní. Notably, the walls were 20 feet thick and several stories high to protect the fort. The Spaniards renovated the fort several times after they took Cartagena in 1739, 1770, and 1859. Henceforth, the fort is now a museum and visited by tourists. While the castle is open to visitors, only some of the tunnels are open to viewing. It’s important to note that the fort is closed on Mondays, and the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
The Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver is dedicated to a South American human rights pioneer whose remains still rest there today. Built between 1580 and 1654, the Sanctuary exudes a sense of tranquility with a stone facade and stained glass windows. After taking in the stunning architecture, visit its museum to get some historical perspective on the Sanctuary. You can also visit the church’s cloister, where San Pedro baptized thousands.
The convent sits on a 150m-high hill, the highest point in Cartagena, and offers outstanding city views. The convent’s name means the ‘Convent of the Stern,’ after the hill’s similarity to a ship’s back end. Founded in 1607, it was initially just a small wooden chapel, but when they fortified the hill two centuries later, they replaced it with a stouter construction. A zigzagging access road leads to the convent (no public transportation), located about 2 miles outside the old city walls. While it is only a 30-minute walk to the top, we recommend taking a cab for safety reasons.
Check out the beach on Tierra Bomba Island, just ten minutes by boat from Bocagrande. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing day of sun. Furthermore, this great location includes a beach bar, restaurant, freshwater pool, hammocks, sunbeds, swing-beds, and more. Also, there is a spot where you can rent water sports equipment like jet skis!
The historic district is along the Caribbean coastline, where you will find lots of old town squares and churches. The most famous square in this area is Plaza de Los Coches (Carriages Square) because citizens parked carriages here during colonial times. Plaza de la Aduana (Customs Square) is another favorite, as it used to be the entry point for all merchandise brought to town by the sea. This area has plenty of hotels, bars, restaurants, and cafes to enjoy during your visit.
Bastión Luxury Hotel is Cartagena de Indias’ premier hotel built for leisure. This hotel is ideal for the discerning traveler seeking comfort and unique experiences. The hotel boasts an array of amenities, including an exclusive cocktail bar, stunning views, and exceptional service. The Bastión Luxury Hotel welcomes you to a world of tranquility among the busy Colombian streets. We recommend having a drink at the gorgeous rooftop terrace and taking a dip in the rooftop pool to cool off from the Cartagena heat.
Located in the heart of Cartagena, Getsemaní is a trendy neighborhood with a bohemian and alternative vibe. It’s one of the most lively areas in the city and is home to many great restaurants, bars, and cafes. The streets are full of colorful murals and graffiti, with many people hanging out in the cafés and restaurants. As you explore the streets of Getsemaní, you’ll uncover dozens of beautiful colonial buildings. Most have been restored and turned into hotels and hostels. Far from the historic center and its attractions, this area is not as safe, so avoid walking around at night.
Casa Lola in Getsemaní is an excellent accommodation choice that perfectly weaves together unparalleled luxury and artistry. Its ambiance reflects the influence of an array of cultures that forged Cartagena through the centuries. The main charm of Casa Lola is the original architecture. Dressed with antiques, modern pieces, ethnic and artisan crafts this hotel offers a cozy and elegant atmosphere. Located in the beating heart of the Getsemaní neighborhood, the best the city has to offer is mere steps away. The hotel is composed of two buildings, a 17th-century colonial house, and a 19th-century construction. Fully restored, this hotel provides maximum comfort as well as excellent service.
The historic center of Cartagena may be world-renowned for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture and rich cultural life, but it isn’t the only place to experience the city’s renowned hospitality. The nearby neighborhood of Castillogrande offers an escape from the crowds and tourists that flock to the walled town day after day, yet it is still within easy reach of Cartagena’s main attractions.
In Castillogrande, luxury is not a destination but a state of being. From the cobblestone streets lined with bougainvillea to the chic boutiques lining its avenues, this idyllic neighborhood in Colombia’s colonial-era capital soothes the senses at every turn. The best way to experience Castillogrande is on foot, so set out along its winding streets and pathways. Whether you’re seeking old-world charm or contemporary refinement, this historic district has it all.
Castillogrande is an ideal place to stop for a drink after visiting Cartagena’s tourist attractions or before indulging in some retail therapy at one of its many boutique shops. This trendy part of town has something for everyone, whether you want to relax with family or friends or find romance along its cobblestone streets.
Located just outside the Castillogrande area, Oz Luxury Hotel is just 150 meters from the beach of Bocagrande. Surrounded by restaurants, pubs, and shopping, this boutique hotel is the perfect combination of relaxation and excitement in Cartagena. With modern rooms and amenities, this hotel is the ideal choice for families or couples.
Located on Colombia’s Isla Barú, Hotel Las Islas resides among turquoise waters and jungle-fringed beaches, perfect for a luxury vacation. Just 45 minutes from Cartagena, this luxury resort offers top of the line accommodations and exceptional amenities. Immaculately appointed bungalows in both sea level and treetop options provide stunning views of the sea as well as the Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo. Experience locally sourced, expertly prepared cuisine in one of their restaurants, relax by the freshwater pool or take in the natural beauty from the solarium. This retreat is a great option for those who want to experience a secluded vacation just a drive away from the big city.
Cartagena is charming, historical, and just plain fun — not to mention it offers some of the most stunning beach views on the planet. And, with a hotel scene that is on the upswing, it’s a destination that is both affordable and attainable for luxury travelers. For an ultimate travel adventure, take a trip to the South American paradise of Cartagena.
Ready to book your Cartagena getaway? The destination specialists at Esprit Errant would love to help you experience this great city for yourself.
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This post was updated on February 19th, 2022