On Colombia’s steamy Caribbean Coast, Cartagena is a spectacular city packed with historical treasures. The port has a UNESCO World Heritage-designated walled city and fortress, while inside the 13km-long stone walls, you’ll find a maze of alleys, colonial churches and brightly coloured houses. Outside the enchanting old city, you'll meet the new Cartagena, with skyscrapers and restaurants serving local and international cuisine, framed by a sandy bay. As temperatures cool in the evening, the city’s dance clubs come to life.
Cartagena hostels give you the option of getting closer to its history in a 400-year-old colonial house. You can also stay at a hostel that works with local communities to promote responsible tourism. Many hostels in Cartagena will give you a free breakfast and some have on-site restaurants where you can try local specialities. For evening entertainment, there are hostels that offer free dance lessons, host DJ nights and give you free entrance to local clubs. Check out the best hostels in Cartagena here.
Downtown, or the centro, is within the old city walls and a popular place to soak up Cartagena's history. As well as being home to some of city’s top attractions, it's also full of places to eat, from fine dining to street food stalls. Just outside the walled city, Getsemaní is an up-and-coming bohemian area frequented by musicians and artists and renowned for its nightlife. Right on the beach, upmarket Bocagrande reflects the city’s modern face, with skyscraper hotels, international fashion boutiques and numerous restaurants.
Wandering the centuries-old cobblestone streets and marvelling at the colonial buildings within the walled city is an activity in itself. Overlooking the city, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is a majestic hilltop fortress built in the 1600s to defend Cartagena. To learn about a darker aspect of Spanish rule, check out the Palace of Inquisition museum. For something a bit more relaxing, the turquoise waters and white sand beaches of the Rosario Islands make for a perfect day trip.
You can explore the old city on foot, and buses will take you around the rest of Cartagena. There are regular long-distance buses to Barranquilla and Santa Marta from Berlinastur Terminal and to other destinations in Colombia from the Terminal de Transportes de Cartagena, 45 minutes from the centre. You can also reach Panama by boat. Local buses, colectivos and shuttles go from Cartagena's Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Núñez, which is 3km from the city.