We spent a week exploring Cartagena with our then almost one-year-old baby and we loved it. The city was really interesting and super walkable, the food was outstanding, the sunsets were gorgeous, and everyone was very welcoming towards our son.
Where Is It
Cartagena is in the upper northwest corner of South America on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Founded in the 1500s by the Spanish, it is now a charming walled city along the water with beautiful colonial buildings, cafes, restaurants, and neighborhoods to explore. We visited in October and stayed for a week. The weather is in the mid-80s year-round, but the amount of rain varies a lot. We had beautiful weather while we were in town, but the least chance of rain is from December-April.
How To Get There
Cartagena is about a three hours direct flight from Miami and five hours direct flight from New York City, with several good options out of Miami (American, JetBlue, Spirit) and a direct flight on JetBlue from New York City. The airport is about 20 minutes from the town. The Old Town, where the walled city and most of the hotels are, is very walkable. Uber is also very accessible, so you really do not need a car. For little kids, the streets are cobblestone in many places, so it does make the stroller a bit more complicated than non-cobblestone streets. We used our stroller with only minor headaches but a lightweight baby carrier would also make a lot of sense in this city.
Cartagena is a vibrant city in a beautiful place with interesting history, great food, and terrific sunsets. For us, it was a perfect new place to explore. We also drink a lot of coffee, so we particularly appreciated the focus on good coffee in the city.
Our son was a peanut at the time so the activities themselves were more geared towards “activities where we can take a little one with us” as opposed to being actively kid-friendly. However, every place had a super warm and welcoming attitude towards children and everyone integrated our kiddo seamlessly. A lot of the activities were also outdoors with plenty of space for our little one to either run around or view happily from the stroller – we spent a lot of time wandering around the charming streets with colorful colonial homes, exploring neighborhood parks with beautiful gardens and fountains, visiting the fortifications of Cartagena, and checking out some vibrant street art. We also booked a sunset boat trip around the city, which our baby seemed to enjoy and he was certainly a crowd-pleaser for the other boat passengers.
There were a lot of really cool things to do in this city. For starters, we all really enjoyed wandering around the Old Town and soaking up the vibe – there are beautiful colonial homes painted in bright colors with cobblestone streets, which make for a charming walk and some terrific pictures. There are also small parks, cafes with great coffee, and several lively plazas to explore. We love photography tours and we realized that this is easily among the most photogenic cities we have visited, so we booked a terrific walking and photography tour with Marina Maldonado ( $150) after wandering around for the first day and realizing just how lovely it is. We also got some great shots of each other.
Second, we checked out the castle, called the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas ($7 per adult, $3 for kids). We used a guide for the walk through the castle, which we really enjoyed and would recommend. The guides are free, although expect a tip at the conclusion of the tour. There are several very cool tunnels (which our son loved) and some neat castle construction details that we would not have appreciated without a guide. The castle actually has a fake rampant for tricking invaders, which was particularly interesting to see and learn more about the history. There are also excellent views of the city from the castle.
Third, we wandered around Getsemani. This neighborhood is also very photogenic with a unique vibe – there is a lot of street art, graffiti, and a street lined with umbrellas. This neighborhood also has great live music and good restaurants, although we did not take advantage of this while in town. Finally, there is a park in the same neighborhood called Centenario Park. While I would not particularly recommend it for adults, it has a lot of wildlife that our little one enjoyed so it was a nice quick stop. There are a lot of squirrels, several monkeys, iguanas, and sloths. There are people in the park who will point out the wildlife for a small tip.
The last thing we would strongly recommend is focusing on the sunsets. They are really stunning from all around the city and Cartagena has a beautiful skyline. We enjoyed them a couple of different ways – first, we booked a sunset cruise for 90 minutes with Sibarita ($30). The boat is a little bit cheesy with a little bit of loud music, but it is also really fun with a beautiful sunset, an open bar, and a very friendly vibe. Second, there are several rooftop bars around the city that are perfect for drinks while the sun goes down. Our favorite was at the Movich Hotel. The view was outstanding.
For the adults, we also did a coffee tasting class at Cafe San Alberto ($42), which we thought was super interesting. Our son joined us for free and was distracted enough by the smells and snacks to endure, although this activity would not rank as particularly kid-friendly. The tasting class was really engaging, with some interesting history about coffee, Colombia, and flavor profiles. The instructor had us tasting and identifying several different flavor and regional profiles by the end of the class.
We did not do any day trips while we were in town because there was plenty to see and do around Cartagena. However, there are some super beautiful beaches not so far away by boat. The Rosario Islands are about an hour away and were recommended highly for a nice day trip to enjoy the true Caribbean-blue type of beaches while in town. Cartagena is on the water and there are beaches in and around the city but they are not particularly beautiful relative to the clear blue water people generally think of when they think “Caribbean,” so this seems like a really nice day trip if you’re looking for the beach on this vacation.
Where To Eat
The food is outstanding in Cartagena. We explored a lot of options while we were in town, from a street food tour to the nicest restaurants in town. Our favorite was Carmen, an innovative Colombian seafood restaurant with appetizers around $10 and entrees around $20. In addition to great food, the restaurant has a beautiful interior design and is a pleasure to visit. We also liked Le Cevichera, the low-key ceviche restaurant made famous by Anthony Bourdain. Dinner here is around $25. For brunch, we liked Alma in the Casa San Agustin – the food and the restaurant are impressive. Finally, everyone loved La Paletteria, which makes delicious paletas from fresh fruit.
We did not make it to Cafe del Mar but everyone recommended this restaurant, primarily for the view and the sunset experience. It’s located on the walls with terrific views, live music, and a lively crowd and it seems like an excellent option.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Hotel Quadrifolio and we loved it. It was about $200/night for a large room including a fantastic breakfast. The hotel also had a high chair for breakfast with our little one, which we really appreciated. The location is easy walking distance from everything and it has a pool, which our son used daily. They also have excellent wifi and a great conference room, which we took advantage of while working from home at the hotel.
We also visited two other hotels that seemed lovely, the Movich hotel and the Casa San Agustin. We visited for the sunset views and drinks, but the vibe of both hotels was really nice and they are both highly rated. The Movich hotel was around $150/night and the Casa San Agustin hotel was around $400/night while we were in town.
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Cartagena sounds like an incredible destination!