Cartagena, Colombia is a lively colonial city on the Caribbean coast of South America. With a rainbow of building everywhere you look, exceptional food, and a mix of Latin and Caribbean cultures, the country of Colombia offers visitors a unique experience. In fact, visiting Cartagena, Colombia with kids is a great way to expose your children to a different culture, language, and way of life to which they may not be accustomed. Roaming the streets of Cartagena is a sensory experience in itself. The smell of street food fills the humid air, while the clamor of persistent vendors selling their crafts on the corner is an ever-present sound. Women in traditional Colombian dresses carrying bowls of assorted fruits on their heads walk through the colorful streets, occasionally stopping to pose for a picture in exchange for a small tip. If there is one word to describe Cartagena, it is vibrant.
Staying in Cartagena, Colombia with kids
Cartagena, Colombia is divided into three primary areas where tourists or visitors stay: Old Town, Getsemani, and Bocagrande.
Old Town, often referred to as the walled city, is perhaps the most popular albeit most expensive place to stay in Cartagena with kids. Just outside the walled city, many budget travelers prefer to stay in the neighborhood of Getsemani. Finally, if you are looking for more traditional westernized hotels, you’ll find all the big, international hotel chains in the district of Bocagrande, about a 10-15 minute drive away from the walled city.
Things to do in Cartagena with kids
There are various things to do in Cartagena with kids. From castles to beaches, museums to street performances, Cartagena can be a lot of fun for families. Here are ten awesome things to do in Cartagena, Colombia with children – or without.
Photo shoot in the walled city
Perhaps the number one thing to do in Cartagena with kids – or without – is to explore the beautiful walled city on foot. You’ll want to have your camera out the entire time because the colorful colonial city is picture perfect!
Impressively preserved buildings with grandiose doors and elaborate door knockers line the cobblestone streets of the walled city. Lush vines and flowers cascade from balconies and the tops of the buildings creating a romantic, storybook setting. It is the ideal backdrop for a photo shoot. I’d recommend going early in the morning before the streets are too crowded and before it gets too hot. In the early evening hours, for a different perspective of the city, splurge and take a carriage ride through the streets of Old Town.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is more of a fort than a castle, but this centuries-old fortress is worth visiting. The Spanish fort is perched on a hill overlooking Cartagena and the waterways surrounding it. Once built to protect the city from an attack or invasion, the castle is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stone walls, and maze-like tunnels have been well-preserved. Kids will especially love exploring the dark tunnels underneath the castle. Although there is a small gift shop which sells water inside the fort, make sure you bring a few bottles with you, especially if you do not have cash, as the store does not accept credit cards. It can get incredibly hot walking around the fortress with the hot sun beating down on the stone. After touring the fort, stop in and watch the short movie about the history of the castle. It’s not only an interesting film, but the building is air conditioned! Trust me, you’ll want to relax for a few minutes inside the cool movie room after walking around the fort.
Street art tour of Getsemani
Getsemani is an up-and-coming neighborhood just outside the walled city of Cartagena. Just a few short years ago, walking through Getsemani would have been extremely dangerous. Once characterized by drug dealing and crime, this beautiful neighborhood has completely turned around and is now a hotspot for tourism. Often considered a backpackers neighborhood, you’ll find plenty of inexpensive restaurants, food carts, bars, and budget-friendly lodging and hostels. But families visiting Cartagena with kids shouldn’t write off this vibrant neighborhood. While it is popular with millennial backpackers, it’s also a great place to explore with children. The hip, eclectic neighborhood of Getsemani is known for having awesome murals and street art. Finding incredible street murals is one of my favorite things to do when we travel. If you’re like me and love street art, spend a couple of hours walking around Getsemani and viewing some of the beautiful murals throughout the neighborhood.
Walk on the wall
Old Town Cartagena is surrounded by a thick stone wall. The wall is approximately seven feet tall with steps or ramps that you can take to reach the top. From the top, you get a great view of the ocean and feel a wonderful sea breeze that you don’t feel when walking through town. It’s a great place for a morning stroll or a quiet reflection.
Day trip to Rosario Islands
A trip to Cartagena isn’t complete without visiting the beautiful Rosario Islands. This archipelago is located about 45 minutes to an hour off the coast of Colombia. The stretch of islands is considered a national park, and is a great place for swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing on the beach. Playa Blanca is perhaps the most popular and most crowded beach in the Rosario Islands. This is mainly because it is a public beach and is accessible by a bridge from the mainland. Although the water at Playa Blanca is beautiful, clear, and warm, pushy vendors on the beach and run down areas surrounding it can ruin your relaxing experience. But there are plenty of other beaches within the Rosario Islands to visit instead of Playa Blanca.
Museo Del Cacao Chocolate Museum
Museo Del Cacao is conveniently located in the popular Fernandez de Madrid Plaza. The chocolate museum itself is small, free to enter, and takes only 10 minutes to tour. It is mostly a museum of pictures and information detailing the chocolate making process and history. But at the end you have the chance to sample different forms of chocolate and different chocolate concoctions. Two things you should definitely try are chocolate tea (which was great!) and pure dark chocolate (which is powerful and bitter and not sweet at all.)
You can also take a 2 hour chocolate-making class where you make (and eat) your own chocolate from scratch. The class is a great activity for kids 5 and older. But the museum is great for children of all ages. It is also air conditioned so it is a refreshing place to pop in and cool off while exploring the walled city.
Lounge in a rooftop pool
Cartagena is hot… like surface-of-the-sun hot! You will get so sweaty that by 11 am, you will want to do nothing but get back inside an air conditioned building, strip off your clothes, and lay on a cold tile floor. This is when a rooftop pool is particularly beneficial. Nearly every afternoon, when the temperatures and humidity got too high to enjoy sightseeing, we would head back to our hotel and relax in the rooftop pool. If you stay within the walled city, which I definitely recommend, many of the boutique hotels have small pools either on the roof or in a courtyard.
Eat ceviche at La Cevicheria
Ceviche is one of the most popular local dishes in Colombia and also one of my favorite foods! The seafood dish, typically served raw and cured in lime or citrus juice, is a refreshing lunch or dinner on a hot Cartagena day. There are many variations of the dish. In fact, each Latin American country has its own spin on ceviche. So the best place to find ceviche in Cartagena is a restaurant that specializes in the dish.
There is no better ceviche place in Cartagena than La Cevicheria. The small restaurant on the edge of Old Town Cartagena is now quite popular thanks to the late Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant in one of his episodes of “No Reservations” which aired in the USA on the Discovery Channel. As a huge fan of Bourdain, I had to try it out. The food did not disappoint! It was so good, in fact, we ate there twice!
Watch the sunset at Café del Mar
Another great place to eat in Cartagena is Café del Mar. It is a trendy, outdoor restaurant and bar overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The large patio is probably the best place to watch the sunset in all of Cartagena. And the sunset here is a breathtaking sight to see! While a bit on the pricier side, the food was great. And watching the sunset at Café del Mar and feeling the cool ocean breeze against your skin is the perfect end to a day in Cartagena.
Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani
Cartagena is a city that comes a live at night. People eat late, stay out late, and once the sun sets the atmosphere becomes electric. Plazas become meeting places where locals and tourists gather. And there is one plaza in particular that is the place to go at night in Cartagena: Plaza de la Trinidad in the Getsemani district. I’m not sure how or why this plaza became so popular, but on any given night beginning around 7 pm, hundreds of people will congregate here. Street performers, dancers, musicians, and mimes entertain the crowds, while food vendors park their carts and serve up delicious and budget-friendly eats.
Other things to do in and around Cartagena, Colombia with kids
Depending on the age of your children and your interests, there are plenty of other things to do in Cartagena, Colombia with kids that we did not have the opportunity to experience.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo
A popular day trip from Cartagena, Colombia is a visit to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, where you can soak yourself in volcanic mud. After reading others’ experiences with the mud volcano tour, we decided it wasn’t for us. Crawling down into a crowded pit of mud where you’ll basically be forced into a massage for tips did not sound like fun. Plus, our daughter is still a toddler, and doesn’t always want to do what we want to do. So our chances of her willingly getting into the mud was maybe 50/50. We didn’t want to drive an hour away from Cartagena with those odds.
Museo de Oro Zenu
If your children are a little older, the Gold Museum or Museo de Oro Zenu is a great way to teach kids about the indigenous Zenu people of Colombia. The museum houses golden relics, carvings, and artifacts. It is free to enter, and located inside the walled city.
Covento de la Popa Monastery
La Popa Monastery is the highest point in Cartagena. It offers incredible views of the city below. Getting there requires a taxi or Uber ride.
4-day Cartagena itinerary
Planning an itinerary is stressful and often takes a lot of research. You never know how much time to allocate for an activity. I literally spend hours researching different places to visit and reviewing safety and important travel information when planning our trips. So to make things easier on others, I always like to lay out our full itinerary in hopes of saving you the time and effort. Here is how we spent our four days in Cartagena, Colombia.
Explore Old Town
Lunch at La Cevicheria
Rosario Islands day trip
Lunch on the island
Dinner in Old Town
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Lunch and ice cream in the plaza near our hotel
Cool off in the roof top pool
Dinner at Cafe del Mar
Plaza de la Trinidad
Walk on the wall
Hunt for street art in Getsemani
Lunch at a street food vendor or restaurant in Getsemani
Roof top pool again
Dinner in Old Town
(Alternative to Day 4 itinerary – day trip to Volcan de Totumo)
Four days in Cartagena, Colombia with kids is a good amount of time. You’ll be able to see and experience a lot in four days. If you have additional days, I’d recommend exploring other parts of the country, like Bogotá, Medellín, or the colorful town of Guatape. Or you can visit Panama City, which is just a 40 minute flight away from Cartagena.
Have you been to South America’s most colorful city or do you have a question or comment about visiting Cartagena, Colombia with kids? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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