If You're Traveling to Cartagena, Do It Right
Travel & Living

If You're Traveling to Cartagena, Do It Right

Old-meets-new in the Colombian city by the sea. Ahead, all the best in hotels, dining, shopping, and more.
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There’s something majestic about Cartagena; an alluring draw of old and new that’s captivated even the most fashionable crowd, and kept them coming back for more. The charm lives in the colonial old city with its colorful streets and the energetic cast of characters that lines them. The fruteras elegantly balancing bowls of tropical fruits on their heads.

The mochila and art vendors selling their country’s beloved souvenirs. Street musicians serenading tourists with sounds of their guacharacas and güiras. And then there are the proud viejitos perched on wooden chairs outside their homes quietly observing the city they’ve never left. Why would they? Cartagena has heart and a depth that you can only understand when you’ve experienced it for yourself.

 

Below, a city guide for where to stay, eat, drink, shop and island-hop in Cartagena.

 

Where to Stay

To stay in the center of the action, book a room at the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa. This luxury property consists of an open-air lobby with renowned bar and restaurants, a rooftop infinity pool overlooking a 360-degree view of the city (we suggest ordering a poolside limonada de coco), and a spa with a variety of detoxifying treatments to prepare you for your nights out dancing.

Among the amenities the hotel offers is our favorite: a fruit tasting with Director of Food and Beverage, Felipe de la Espriella. Fruit is a major source of pride for Cartagena (and Colombia, in general) and this introduction to the country’s many tropical fruits will help educate you for when you’re approached by the colorful fruteras that flood the old city. The rooms at the Santa Teresa are elegant and modern, but possess a subtle warmth with their tropical splash of blue and orange walls. What is especially unique about the Santa Teresa is the service. The staff is available, attentive, competent and friendly, yet unlike most luxury hotels, overbearing they are not.

This type of hospitality is particular to Colombia; a type that fuses a high level of professionalism with both warmth and ease, making the staff feel less like strangers, and more like family.

Where to Eat

Harry Sasson

If you’re taking our advice and staying at the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa then you won’t have to walk very far for your first taste of mouth-watering Colombian cuisine. Harry Sasson, a well-known chef from the country’s capital, Bogota, opened his first Colombian Caribbean venture inside the hotel. With an assortment of favorites from his established restaurants fused with coastal delicacies like fresh ceviches and seafood, you’ll have a high-quality introduction to all the flavors Colombia has to offer.

La Vitrola

You cannot visit Cartagena without a dinner at La Vitrola. Popular among tourists and locals alike, La Vitorola is known for its authentic Colombian menu served to the rhythm of a live Cuban band. Book a later reservation to dine with the locals. Order a shot of aguardiente before you leave to prepare you for a night of dancing.

Don Juán

If you’re looking for a scene in a lively neighborhood, head to Don Juán. While the atmosphere and decor is chic and sophisticated, chef and owner Juan Felipe Camacho’s menu is anything but pretentious. Serving simple and clean dishes, the focus is on the flavor of the food which is a fusion of Caribbean and Colombian flavors. The standout dishes are the seafood. Opt for the grilled sea bass or pick from the large selection of appetizers to get a well-rounded selection of the local favorites.

María

You might recognize the highly-Instagrammed mural of a tiger that spans the entire wall in Alejandro Ramirez’s posh Cartagena landmark. Or perhaps it’s the pineapple-adorned chandelier that hangs from the ceiling. The food, equally as cool as the interiors, meets the vibe. Inventive seafood dishes and hand-crafted cocktails made with local fruits go hand-in-hand.

La Cevichería

For the best ceviche in Cartagena, a favorite among locals and tourists alike, you won’t want to miss La Cevichería. Since you’ll find swarms of people waiting for their spot in this tiny tropical joint, get there early to reserve your name on the list.

Carmen

For an elegant dinner and a slightly more upscale experience, head to Carmen, where traditional dishes are celebrated in innovative ways. Carmen takes the local flavors of Colombia and turns them into modern preparations to offer a unique twist on the classics.

Where to Drink and Dance

Café del Mar

Start your night out with a walk along the historic old city walls and stumble upon Café del Mar for a cold bottle of Agila.

 

La Movida

This tiny, crowded nightclub across from Café del Mar, is the ideal spot to end your night among Cartagena’s most beautiful crowd.

 

Café Havana

If you’ve come to Cartagena to dance, the city’s nostalgic salsa bar, Café Havana never disappoints. Let your hair down and accept a dance from a local, you’ll return home a pro.

 

El Barón

The best cocktails you’ll have in Cartagena will be at El Barón. This tiny speakeasy is known for its expertly-crafted cocktails that fuse local flavors with a refined selection of spirits. Begin the night getting to know your neighbors of tourists and locals at this cozy bar in Plaza San Pedro Claver.

 

Alquímico

Alquímico is a three-story bar that was once an old shoe store. Neighboring Don Juán and María, it’s the perfect place to grab a bespoke cocktail. For some fresh air, head up to the roof and take a seat at the communal picnic tables.  

Where to Shop

Silvia Tcherassi

You would be remiss to visit Colombia without shopping at a Silvia Tcherassi boutique. Colombia’s most recognized fashion designer of over 25 years is known for her flattering, feminine silhouettes and ruffle blouses. Pick up an outfit for your night out in Cartagena and we guarantee that all eyes will be on you.

Casa Chiqui

Walk into Chiqui de Echavarría’s beloved Cartagena boutique, Casa Chiqui and you’ll immediately get transported to far-away lands. The store is a treasure trove of beautiful finds from her travels around the world. At Casa Chiqui, you’ll find anything from jet-set fashion to colorful accessories, to home decor, all anchored in culture and history.

St DOM

St DOM is a curated art-and-design concept store showcasing fashion, decor, and art by emerging Colombian talent and timeless favorites.  

Island Hopping 

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Your visit to Cartagena would be incomplete without a visit to the islands. Skip the crowded tour boats and rent a private boat (complete with a captain and co-captain) for a day out on the islands. Have your crew take you to visit Cartagena’s neighboring islands, Baru, Islas del Rosario, and Cholon.

You can anchor up at the many beach clubs for swimming and lunch (the freshest you’ll have, to be sure). For bigger groups or for an overnight stay on the islands, rent a private house, like Isla Rosa. The house comes with a full staff and chef to ensure you don’t have to do any of the thinking. You’re on vacation, relax.

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