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Cartagena, Colombia is a lively colonial city on the Caribbean coast of South America. With a rainbow of buildings 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.
This guide to visiting Cartagena with kids outlines the best activities in Cartagena for families and details the top things to do in Cartagena for children. We also provide a 4-day Cartagena itinerary for families to follow.
Staying in Cartagena, Colombia with kids
Cartagena, Colombia is divided into three primary areas where tourists or visitors typically stay: Old Town, Getsemani, and Bocagrande.
Old Town, often referred to as the walled city of Cartagena, is perhaps the most popular albeit most expensive place to stay in Cartagena with kids. There are a lot of beautiful, restored boutique hotels, or casas as they are called, in Old Town Cartagena.
Just outside the walled city, many budget travelers prefer to stay in the neighborhood of Getsemani. You’ll find a mixture of hotels, Airbnbs, and family-friendly hostels in Getsemani. Getsemani is within walking distance from the walled city, so it is a great place to stay if you want to be near all the action without being directly in the action. Finally, if you are looking for more traditional westernized hotels, you’ll find all the big, international hotel chains in the district of Bocagrande. It is about a 10-15 minute drive away from the walled city, but offers ocean views and modern hotel amenities.
TRYING TO DECIDE WHICH DISTRICT IS THE BEST FOR YOUR FAMILY? READ OUR POST COMPARING OLD TOWN, GETSEMANI, AND BOCAGRANDE FOR RECOMMENDATIONS ON WHERE TO STAY IN CARTAGENA.
Things to do in Cartagena with kids
There are so many fun 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.
Do a family 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!
Similar to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, the walled city is lined with impressive, Spanish-colonial buildings with grandiose doors and elaborate door knockers. Lush vines and flowers cascade from balconies and the tops of the buildings creating a romantic, storybook setting. The enchanting cobblestone streets of this area of Cartagena make for the ideal backdrop for a photo shoot. You can hire a photographer for professional pictures or bring along your own camera and capture your vacation memories.
We 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.
The walled city is the perfect place for a photo shoot in Cartagena, Colombia with kids!
Visit 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
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is more of a fort rather 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.
Take a street art tour of Getsemani
Getsemani is an up-and-coming neighborhood just outside the walled city of Cartagena. Just a few short years
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 and even in our hometown. 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. You can even take a guided tour so you won’t miss the best graffiti art or any of the main sights in this fun and funky district of Cartagena.
Stroll along on the city walls
Old Town Cartagena is surrounded by a thick stone wall that was once a defensive barrier to protect the city. The wall is approximately seven feet tall with steps or ramps that you can take to reach the top. Portions of the wall date back to the early 1600s. 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, an evening sunset walk, or simply a moment of quiet, peaceful reflection.
Take a 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. Book an excursion in advance and island hop around the archipelago for a full day of water activities and fun.
Learn to make chocolate at 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.)
Visiting the Museo de Cacao is one of the best things to do in Cartagena with kids.
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.
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 a.m., 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 we definitely recommend, many of the boutique hotels have small pools either on the roof or in a courtyard. The rooftop pools are small, but you get a beautiful view with your refreshing dip in the water. It is relaxing and peaceful for parents and fun for kids in Cartagena!
Eat ceviche at La Cevicheria
Ceviche is one of the most popular local dishes in Colombia and also one of our 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 huge fans of Bourdain, we had to try it out. The food did not disappoint! It was so good, in fact, we ate there twice!
Exposing kids to new foods while traveling is a great way to help them avoid becoming picky eaters as they get older and cultivate future world citizens.
ALSO A FAN OF ANTHONY BOURDAIN? FOLLOW IN HIS FOOTSTEPS ON A BAZURTO MARKET FOOD TOUR.
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.
The restaurant sits on the oldest portion of the wall in Cartagena. There are various street vendors selling trinkets and light up toys outside the restaurant. So, if you want a relaxing meal, buy your kiddo a toy and they’ll be entertained while you enjoy your food and a drink or two.
Watch street performers at Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani
Cartagena is a city that comes alive 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 p.m., 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. It has a very authentic and organic feel to it, as if the gathering and entertainment just happen, rather than an orchestrated or planned event.
We had a great time watching dance battles, taking in the intoxicating smells and tastes of the street food, and just enjoying the energy of the crowd.
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. You can also make Cartagena a base area to explore the surrounding areas.
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 was still a toddler, so the activity wasn’t a good fit at the time. 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.
But it is one of the most popular day trips from Cartagena, and if we go back, we may give it a try!
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, making it another great stop if you want to escape the heat while sightseeing.
Covento de la Popa Monastery
It has an interesting history that you can read up on while there, but there is not a lot to see at the monastery itself other than a lovely courtyard. Go for the views though! It is the best lookout spot in the entire city. Getting there requires a taxi or Uber ride. The area around the monastery isn’t the safest, so definitely take a taxi or Uber rather than walking up the hill to the convent.
4-day family-friendly 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. We 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, we always like to lay out our full itinerary in hopes of saving you time and effort during the planning process. Here is how we spent our four days in Cartagena, Colombia.
- Explore Old Town
- Lunch at La Cevicheria
- Chocolate museum
- 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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This post on the best things to do in Cartagena for kids was originally written in July 2018 but was updated in August 2021 for accuracy and current information.