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Cartagena in Colombia is only a two-hour flight from Miami, Florida. It is the ideal place to go for a quick getaway. Many people know of Colombia because of Juan Valdez, the coffee guy. But, there is more to do and see in Colombia besides the coffee farms.
Known as Cartagena De Indias, many assumed that the name was given to differentiate it from Cartagena in Spain. Located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena is a lively and cosmopolitan city with plenty to do in just three days.
The hot weather could be unbearable. If you do not like the heat and humidity, three days in Cartagena will be enough for you. The people are friendly, happy and willing to help those who do not speak the language. You will see that Cartagena has something for everyone.
A Brief History of Cartagena
Designated as a UNESCO Heritage City in 1984, Cartagena offers culture and history. The walls, which were built to protect the city from pirates, enclose the historical center. The city’s architecture is a blend of Colonial and Republican structures. Peak through the windows or the doors of those houses, you see they all have a large entrance for air ventilation.
The main attractions are the beach and historical center. Planning to go other areas, like Tayrona Park, Santa Martha or the Sierra Nevada, you will need more than three days.
Hotels in Cartagena
There are many hotels and hostels options at various prices. What I learned about Colombia is you get for what you pay. If you go cheap on the hotel/hostel stay, you may get horrible hotels.
Casa San Agustín is highly claimed for its rooms with hot tubs. This Colonial-style hotel is located in the middle of the historical center. Casa India Cartagena is an affordable option compared to Casa San Agustín. The prices are fairly reasonable. There are no hot tubs, but you get more than the essentials needed for a good night sleep.
For the budget conscious traveler, there are a couple of decent options. Casa de Abril offers the necessary amenities. It is in a quiet location and comfortable for a couple of nights.
Samudra Govinda’s is a small hostel that does not have private rooms with a private bathroom. For a one or two day stay, it is worth the price. Located on a quiet street, at the Volunteer Hostel you can sleep late and not be disturbed by the noise.
Note: I highly recommend getting a hotel within the walled city. Bocagrande is a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute taxi ride to the historical center. Bocagrande is full of shops, restaurants, and casinos.
Here is a full three day Cartagena Vacation itinerary.
On day 1 – Take a Walking City Tour.
Just a short hop from Miami, you will have plenty of time to do once you land. The taxi ride from the airport to the historic center is only 15 minutes.
There is a free walking tour of the historical center at 10 am and 4 pm. The tours last around 2 hours and are held in English and Spanish. It is an excellent method to learn the history of Cartagena. The 4 pm tour is perfect because the weather is bearable for walking (not too much sweating).
All tours start in front of the Santa Martha Plaza.
After the tour, you can go to Zaitunn for dinner. This restaurant serves a mix of Lebanese and Colombian food. It also has few vegetarian options and will modify some dishes to be vegan. This place has a fantastic atmosphere, delicious food, and excellent customer service. You will not be disappointed eating there.
A great place to get drinks after dinner and relax with the stunning view of the city is Cafe Del Mar. It is costly, but one or two beverages should not hurt your budget.
You still have some energy for some fun, hop-on the party bus – the Chiva Bus tour. On this 4-hour city bus tour, you are guaranteed to have fun. You will party like the locals and at the same time learn about the city. At the end the of the trip, you can continue partying at one of the famous clubs in town.
The Chiva bus will pick you and drop you off at your hotel. The departure time is at 8 pm. I suggest the night tour because it is too hot during the day.
Day 2: Island Beach Tour – Rosario
There are several tour operators offering tours to the beach. Make sure you select one that is recommended by your hotel or hostel. Do not book any excursions with someone who approached you on the street. Do ask your hotel about them before paying your money.
The beach tour is an all-day affair. Be ready to spend the entire day relaxing on the beach. Rosario Beach and Baru are the best ones. The beaches close to the historical center are not beautiful and clean. You also need to guard your things because they are crowded.
On the Rosario Beach tour, here some things you might expect to get on the trip. They will pick and drop you off at your hotel. Also, included is lunch and vegetarian/vegan options are available but let them know when you book your tour.
The bus will drop you at your hotel about 4 pm or 5 pm from the Beach. Now, it is time for dinner. Go to Sushi Masaki. It is one of the best places for Japanese food. The sushi is fresh and tasty. For vegetarian/vegan options, they serve a vegetarian roll full of different types of vegetables. It can be ordered raw or as tempura.
There are many great restaurants in Cartegana. For more traditional meals, go to restaurant Cande. Because it is popular, it gets full quickly. Make a table reservation early. Similarly to farm-to-table in the US, the food is prepared daily with fresh fruits, vegetables, and their daily catch. Dishes are full of local flavors and seasoning.
After dinner, grab a drink at hotel Torey el Reloy rooftop. The view is amazing. It is an excellent place for just hanging out with friends or with a significant other and listen to some music.
Day 3 – Self Guided Program
Get an early start of the day before it is burning hot. A favorite place for brunch is La Brioche on San Augustin. For a light breakfast, grab one or two of their delicious croissants or pastries. They also serve eggs, pancakes, and sandwiches.
For Vegan breakfast, go to Girasoles. It is a health food store that offers a limited option for breakfast and lunch. This place closes early on Saturday. Sadly, it does not open on Sunday and holidays.
After breakfast, you start feeling the heat and being in an air-conditioned place is a lifesaver. Visit one or two of the museums. If you want to know more about Cartagena after the walking tour, the Museo Historico de Cartagena de Indias is the place to start.
Then, walk to the house of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Before visiting his museums, read a piece of his work to appreciate this gallery. Some of his most famous books are One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love In Time of Cholera and The Autumn of the Patriarch.
For quick and affordable places for lunch. Pezetarian serves only seafood and vegetarian dishes. It has soups, salads, and rice bowls. For wraps, salads and healthy juices, go to Gokela.
After lunch, walk over to Gelateria Tramonti (Gelato Artisanal) for come gelato to cool offer. They have the best gelato and fantastic frappes in Cartagena.
In the late afternoon, take a city bus tour. It is a two-decker bus, and the first lower deck is air-conditioned. In this one, you see more than the historical part of the city. The bus tour goes to other areas, like Bocagrande and San Felipe De Barajas Castle. The ticket is for two days.
It is time for dinner. Taste the local food at restaurant La Mulata. Every dish is authentic, with regional flavor. It is fairly small. Book a table early to get seating.
After dinner, do some shopping at the local stores for souvenirs. The colorful bags (mochilas) are hand-made by the Wayuu tribe. They are known for the bright crafts and hats. When you buy their products, you also Support this fragile community.
Since this is your last night, you can go all out partying at one the nightclubs. Visit some of the parks and plazas for a more peaceful time. There are so many of them. Start with the Coach Square & Sweets Arcade to taste the local desserts. Walk over to San Diego Square, Clock Tower, and St. Peter Claver Square. Each has a different vibe.
For a late coffee stop by the Abaco. It is a coffee shop and a bookstore. Abaco has a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere. The perfect place to hang-out in the morning to take a rest from the heat. If you are on the afternoon flight, stop by La Esquinadel Pandebono for their fresh bakery. They have the best bread in town. Get there early because they go fast, especially the Yuca bread.
I hope you enjoyed your vacation in Cartagena. It is one of the best places to spend the New Year.
Let me know what you think about this itinerary. I will love to hear your feedback. Post your comments