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How to Spend THREE Days in Cartagena, Colombia: An Ideal 3-Day Itinerary

How to Spend THREE Days in Cartagena, Colombia: An Ideal 3-Day Itinerary

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A trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without spending a few days in the coastal city of Cartagena.

I fell in love with this city, from the colonial architecture to the stunning beaches – so much so that I even decided to live here for a few months. There are so many things to do in Cartagena, like eating exceptional seafood, exploring Old Town, and having a day on the water. The tropical climate is ideal for year-round activities, but it’s a much smaller city than the capital of Bogota, so the atmosphere is more relaxed.

If it’s your first time visiting Cartagena, I recommend spending at least 3 days exploring some of the top spots. Luckily for you, I’ve included an ideal 3-day itinerary below!

Day 1

Morning: Old City walking tour

Walking the streets of Old Town Cartagena on a free walking tour
Walking the streets of Old Town Cartagena on a free walking tour.

To start your journey, we recommend learning a bit of Cartagena’s history by joining a walking tour.

Cartagena is split between Old Town Cartagena, often called the Walled City, which is flush with history, and the more modern side which some people refer to as New Town as it’s filled with much more modern attractions. Walking around the old part of the city is a must-do when visiting Cartagena, and there are plenty of walking tours to choose from.

You can check out our full list of the best tours in Cartagena here, but we’ve highlighted our top choices that visit Old Town below.

This free walking tour is great for people on a budget. It’s a fantastic introduction to Old Town that visits the plaza, parks, churches, and famous landmarks around the city. This area is so colorful, and we loved hearing the stories of the buildings and main squares from our guide.

This tour lasts about 1.5 hours and we recommend choosing the 9:30 am start time as we’ve got a full day of events planned. While it’s free, we still think it’s a good idea to give the guide a tip – they do a great job!

For a more personalized experience with fewer crowds, this private walking tour includes stops at some very popular areas like Plaza de la Aduana, Torre del Reloj, and some off-the-grid gems that show the artistic side of this area. We also got to relax and view some local wildlife at one of the parks.

All in all, we really loved this walking tour because it was a great mix of storytelling and gave us a better idea of how modern-day art and culture stem from traditional values in Cartagena. This tour is a full 2 hours of insightful and interesting facts and has multiple start times throughout the day, starting from 8 am. It costs between $60 and $74 USD per person depending on the size of the group and is offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

No matter your budget or preference, taking a walking tour of Old Town Cartagena is at the top of our list of things to do in Cartagena. You really can’t miss this!

Related Read: Before booking your flight, read our top tips for the ultimate Colombia travel guide.

Mid-morning: Explore Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe in Cartagena with a view of the modern city
It’s hard to get over how thick the walls are!

Another historical site to check out is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas which is about a 20-minute walk from the Old City.

This fortress stands on top of the Hill of San Lazaro and is almost 500 years old! It was built by African slaves under Spanish rule from 1536-1657 and has a long history of being a stronghold in various battles against pirates, the French, and even a British invasion in the 1700s.

The fort is known for its impressive tunnel system and excellent vantage points that gave Spanish rulers the ability to defend the territory and treasures. This fort has an impressive role in Cartagena’s history, so it’s a pretty popular place to visit.

I recommend arriving early to avoid the heat (and the crowds), but you’ll only need 1 to 2 hours to explore the area. The views of the city below are wonderful, so be sure to bring a camera!

There are display boards throughout the site, so you can wander around on your own, or if you want more details, there are tour guides available at the entrance for approximately $4 USD. I personally suggest hiring a guide because I always end up learning a ton more. I’ll be the first to admit I briefly skim the information boards after a few minutes, so having someone explain the history verbally is a preference I will happily pay a few dollars for.

The entrance fee to the fortress is around $5 USD, so be sure to have some Colombian pesos on hand. This is definitely a cool place to explore, and we’ve got a treat for your next stop, so learn as much as you can in the morning because lunch is on the horizon!

Lunch: Eat at La Cevicheria

Bailey with her ceviche at La Cevicheria in Cartagena, Colombia
This place is sooooo good!
The Ceviche at La Cevicheria in Cartagena, Colombia
That’s coconut on the top.

Ok, hear me out. The BEST ceviche I’ve ever had is at La Cevicheria, which is located just a 20-minute walk from the Castillo de San Felipe mentioned above.

Now, that might sound like a bold statement. I mean, I’ve traveled all over Peru, aka the “capital of ceviche,” and I stand firm on this. Believe me, it holds a special place in my seafood-loving heart.

Ceviche has been around for almost 2000 years, and while it originated in Peru, it can now be found all over the world. For those who don’t know, ceviche is a dish made from raw, fresh fish cured in citrus juice. I personally prefer the Colombian version because it’s served with coconut which I love!

Apart from being one of the best seafood restaurants in Cartagena, La Cevicheria has great views that offer some fun people-watching opportunities while eating a delicious meal outside. I’m not the only one obsessed with this restaurant though, so expect to wait upwards of a few hours if you’re dining during peak times. For this reason, we highly recommend going during off hours. We went at 3 pm and didn’t have any issues.

La Cevicheria is open from 1 pm to 10:30 pm every day, and we found their prices to be very reasonable. Their food is high quality and in my opinion, it’s the best place in Cartagena for fresh seafood.

Coffee break: Enjoy the most award-winning coffee in Colombia

Bailey drinks a coffee at San Alberto in Cartagena, Colombia
A coffee at San Alberto in Cartagena, Colombia

Before heading out to have an adventurous afternoon, we suggest grabbing a coffee at Café San Alberto.

This adorable cafe has some of the best coffee around, and it’s a really small, bright space located next to Plaza de Santo Domingo. I absolutely love coffee and am a self-proclaimed coffee addict. We’ve written a whole article on the best things to do in Colombia – and sampling local coffee is high on that list, which is why we’re so happy we stumbled upon this place.

In fact, San Alberto has the most award-winning coffee in all of Colombia! They grow the coffee on their own farm, and its unique flavor has a caramel taste. If you really want to impress your friends back home, you can buy the coffee in a special take-home pack to bring some of Cartagena back with you!

We were also super excited because the staff spoke excellent English and took their time explaining each type of coffee. They also let us smell the beans and told us how best to prepare each type of coffee. As a self-professed coffee snob, I absolutely adored this coffee! I can’t wait to return to Cartagena to drink fresh coffee here again.

This cafe can be a little tricky to spot, so I recommend following your nose… or asking a local for help. It’s open daily from 9 am to 9 pm, so should be easy to fit into your day.

While living and traveling in Colombia, we’ve taken lots of coffee tours and this is truly a hidden gem in Cartagena. On that note, if you’re a coffee fanatic (like me!) and visiting other parts of the country, I recommend trying one of these coffee tours in Medellin.

Afternoon: Visit the Gold Museum

Gold artifacts in the gold museum of Cartagena
Gold artifacts in the Gold Museum of Cartagena

Now that you’re energized, it’s just a quick 5-minute walk to the Museo del Oro Zenú, aka the Gold Museum.

This museum is full of over 500 ancient gold artifacts created by the Zenú people who inhabited this coastal region of Cartagena up until the 1600s. These indigenous works of art are fascinating, and there’s even a golden jaguar on display.

The Gold Museum is free to enter, so it’s a great budget-friendly option. We also thought it was one of the most interesting museums in Cartagena. Win-win!

We recommend spending about an hour here, and there are plenty of English-printed information boards, which were super useful since our Spanish isn’t quite learning-about-anciety-history comprehension levels, but hey, we try our best.

The museum is located across from Bolivar Plaza and is open every day except Mondays from 9 am to 5 pm, but closes at 2 pm on Sundays.

Sunset: Walk the fort wall at sunset

Bailey on the fort wall in Cartagena, Colombia
I love exploring the wall!

No matter what part of the world I’m traveling in, I’m always looking for the best places to watch a sunset.

In Old Town Cartagena, we caught some amazing views from the fort wall, which is a 20-minute walk from the Gold Museum. There is a perfect vantage point of the sun setting over the bay, and honestly, the ocean breeze at sunset is one of my favorite sensations.

The sun typically sets in Cartagena around 7 pm, but you can check the exact time online here. After sunset, I suggest enjoying dinner at one of the restaurants on the wall. We’ll talk about our top pick below, but while you wait, you can enjoy a cold drink from one of the street vendors. They carry coolers filled with beer that cost just over $1 USD! We won’t judge if you want more than one, but don’t get too full just yet!

The sunsets from the Old City of Cartagena are breathtaking, and standing at the fort wall offers some of the best views in the city!

Dinner: Restaurante Candé

Live muscic at Restaurante Candé
Photo credit: Restaurante Candé
Meal at Restaurante Candé in Cartagena
Photo credit: Restaurante Candé

For a truly unforgettable meal, head over to Restaurante Candé.

This restaurant has a Caribbean-style aesthetic, live music, and some truly incredible food. It’s in the historic center, just 5 minutes from the Walls of Cartagena, and we loved our experience here.

To start, the live music is typically accompanied by some beautiful dancing, so this is really a dinner and a show type of establishment. On top of the fun atmosphere, the food is sooooo good! Come hungry because you’re going to want to sample a lot of the menu – at least that’s what we did.

For starters, the Ceviche Trilogy and Arepas are fantastic. If you’re a soup-lover, you’re in luck! There are tons of options like lobster bisque and local favorites like Mote de Queso which is a cheese soup with yams. For mains, we had the seafood rice and fried red snapper – they really know how to prepare their seafood.

If you’re not a seafood fan (no judgment, that’s more for me!), they also have some unique meat options like rabbit and ram. We didn’t try these, but we hear they’re all the rage.

Desserts here are pretty coconut-forward, which I love, and they have an awesome selection of wines and cocktails too. The staff are so incredibly friendly, and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening. While you can find cheaper meals in town, we thought the prices were super reasonable, especially given the excellent service and fun environment. Our main meals were around $25 USD each, but there are plenty of other options for less.

Celebrating a long day with a delicious meal and a glass of wine is always part of my dream vacation, and we were so happy with our decision to come to Restaurante Candé for dinner. This place is very popular, so we suggest making a reservation before your stay (just a heads up, the booking page is only in Spanish!). It’s open every night until 10 pm or 11:30 pm, depending on the day.

Night: Go dancing at Café Havana

Cafe Havana, Cartagena bar-2
Photo credit: Café Havana
Cafe Havana in Cartagena Colombia
Photo credit: Café Havana

We know it’s been a long day, but we’ve got one more stop, and it’s just 15 minutes on foot from the restaurant above.

After a fun-filled day of sightseeing, eating, and walking around Old Town, we’re getting into the spirit by dancing at Café Havana!

This popular spot feels like being transported to Cuba, and features live music and of course, salsa dancing. There’ve even been famous Cuban singers that pop in from time to time for a set, so you might get lucky and hear some world-class musicians!

We will mention that this is a very energetic spot, so it can get loud and crowded, but it’s such a fun way to end the night. Our recommendation is to grab a cold mojito and bring some dancing shoes!

There is a higher cover charge now of around $25 USD, but this really is the place to be for dancing and nightlife. This isn’t a large space, so I recommend arriving around 9 pm to find a good spot before it starts getting crowded. Most of the time it’s standing-room only, so make sure to bring a backup pair of comfy flats to change into after all that dancing.

Café Havana is open every day except Monday, and there’s live music from Wednesday to Sunday with two bands that play until 3 am. I had such a blast and definitely had sore feet in the morning, but don’t worry, we’ve got a relaxing adventure for your second day in Cartagena.

Day 2

Morning: Visit the Rosario Islands

Two boats on the beautiful Rosario Islands, Colombia
The water is crystal clear!

Welcome to day 2 of our itinerary! Today is all about relaxing and enjoying yourself.

The majority of our day is spent on this excursion to the Rosario Islands, which has you sailing the sea on a catamaran and snorkeling in gorgeous clear waters. What better way to feel refreshed after a night of dancing?

We met our captain at 8 am at this dock at door 3, which was just a 15-minute walk from the center of Old Town. Once we boarded the catamaran, we were on our way to the Rosario Islands.

This tour has stops at two different spots, and we were given snorkeling gear so we could see all the marine life in the clear waters all around us. These islands are a true slice of paradise, and we loved swimming around searching for sea turtles and other creatures in the reef.

While on the boat, the crew plays fun reggaeton music which really helped keep the vibe upbeat and fun. The crew were all super friendly, and there was a really tasty buffet lunch and complimentary soft drinks. There is a bar on board, but alcohol is an additional expense.

While this trip doesn’t include docking at any beaches, the catamaran is quite large and there are lots of opportunities to see the islands and go for a refreshing swim. You can discover more day trips from Cartagena online here – visiting the Rosario Islands is just one of them, but it’s absolutely worth the time.

The tour lasts roughly 7.5 hours and costs $94 USD per person. Snorkeling equipment, lunch, and non-alcoholic drinks are included, and for an added fee, there are separate vendors that come up to the boat and offer to go jet skiing or on a banana boat ride.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Sunset/afternoon: Go for a drink at El Muelle Beach Club

el Muelle cartagena view
Photo credit: El Muelle
el Muelle Cartagena cerviche
Photo credit: El Muelle

El Muelle is a restaurant and bar, and essentially the only beach club of its kind in Cartagena. 

You can come here straight from the catamaran tour, which is roughly a 25-minute Uber/taxi ride. Or, relax, shower, and recoup some energy at your hotel before heading out for the evening.

When I lived here, my place was just across the road, so I frequented El Muelle to enjoy a cold drink and relax in the comfortable loungers many times. There is a beautiful ocean view and the private beach is clean and tidy, so spending an evening here is pure bliss.

There is a lovely balcony and beach loungers that offer views of Tierra Bomba Island. The decor isn’t over the top, and the overall vibe here is very chill.

If you’re hungry after your daytime catamaran adventure, their menu is excellent and has some reputable seafood items as well. I worked my way through the menu, but nothing came close to the whole fried fish. It’s super fresh and the flavors are so delicious. They have a lot of great items and the presentation is beautiful, plus the servers are always so nice.

Cocktails cost around $12 USD and they have a good variety of traditional and unique drinks, and they have a few non-alcoholic versions as well. I usually got a rum punch (“ron punch”) which runs for about $5 USD. The main dishes are well-priced too, with most averaging around $15 USD.

The ambiance is fantastic, and there’s nothing quite like sitting under the Colombian sky on a warm evening. El Muelle offers amazing food and drinks, top-quality service, and exclusivity with stunning views in the heart of Cartagena.

Dinner/night: El Baluarte San Francisco Javier

El Baluarte San Francisco Javier in Cartagena, Colombia
Photo credit: El Baluarte San Francisco Javier

To finish off your night, head on over to El Baluarte San Francisco Javier.

This bar and grill isn’t super close to El Muelle, so we recommend taking an Uber or hailing a taxi, which should be less than a 20-minute drive in total.

El Baluarte offers a Caribbean-inspired menu and amazing views of Old Town and the seaside. They have tasty tapas like sliders and ceviche, and a good variety of main dishes as well. I recommend the citrus salmon or the paella. They also have plenty of beef options if you’re not into seafood.

Their cocktails are fantastic and this is the perfect location to enjoy a drink after a long day. I really enjoyed The Garden (that’s the name of a drink, not a place) and they have classics like Pina Coladas and Mojitos as well.

The ambiance here is incredible, and there is a ton of outdoor seating, so while you can make a reservation (by calling or messaging +57 317 509 8739), I don’t think it’s super necessary. I will say that because this place is so large, service can take a while at times, so I recommend ordering everything you want all in one go.

El Baluarte is open daily from 4 pm to 2 am, so it’s a great place to end your night or even early morning!

Related Read: If you’re traveling around the country, we recommend getting off the beaten track by enjoying all that Southern Colombia has to offer.

Day 3

Morning: Visit the mud volcano and pink sea

Mud Volcano near Cartagena, Colombia
It’s a little weird at first! Photo credit: Posztos Depositphotos

We’re starting off day three with a bang! For an unforgettable experience, we recommend playing in the mud and seeing the pink sea!

Head on over to El Totumo, where you can take a dip and float in the mud. It’s called a mud volcano, but fear not, there’s no lava here! If you’ve got a rental car, it’s just over an hour-long drive from Cartagena. Personally, we recommend joining a tour for this experience.

This private tour is a great choice because it includes a stop at the mud volcano first thing in the morning, meaning there are hardly any other people around. The mud volcano isn’t very roomy, so it’s way more enjoyable if you have more space to immerse yourself in the experience.

It’s said that this mud has healing properties, and even though this volcano is 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) deep, there’s no risk of sinking as the chemical properties in the mud cause our bodies to float. Some people believe this mud has anti-aging properties, so if you’re always looking for the newest revolution in skincare, it couldn’t hurt to take a muddy swim here.

As you can imagine, we were pretty dirty by the time we were done with the mud bath. Luckily, there are people onsite to help hold your belongings, take pictures, clean you off, and even offer a mud massage. But they will expect a tip, so we recommend bringing some pesos with you.

After we got washed up, our guide, Gilberto, took us to Salinas de Galerazamba which is known for the “Pink Sea.” This area is made up of man-made lakes that are part of a salt mine, and the salt crystals are visible at the edges and bottom of the water. When conditions are right, microorganisms turn the water into bright shades of pink after consuming the salt. This attraction is only available at certain times of the year, and heavy rainfall can alter the color, so the best chance of seeing this phenomenon is during February or March.

This tour lasts about 4-5 hours and costs between $70 and $96 USD per person based on group size, and includes round-trip transportation and a fantastic guide! We also recommend bringing around $20 USD in local currency to tip the locals at El Totumo. Our guide helped us distribute this evenly, so don’t be shy to ask for help.

Afternoon: Free time

After a morning full of mud (in the best way), we suggest cooling down and enjoying some quiet time in Cartagena. While it can be hard not to take advantage of every free moment on vacation, we found that walking around in the heat took a toll on us. So, before our last suggestion on this 3-day itinerary, we want you to relax.

If chilling in your hotel room or at a local cafe isn’t up your alley, we suggest going to a nearby beach to let the sounds of the ocean lull you. I love Playa Castillo Grande, which might not be as vibrant as some of the other beaches in Cartagena, but it offers great views and less tourist noise. This is my beach of choice when I need to chill.

Alternatively, there are some cute places to shop around Old Town, and emerald jewelry is a top seller here. Check out our full guide to Old Town Cartagena here for ideas on where to wander. Be warned that street vendors often sell pseudo-emeralds, so we recommend getting the real deal from one of the shops. For more selection, head over to Casa Abba, which is a cute little gallery with some awesome clothing and art pieces.

Whichever way you choose, we think penciling in time to relax and get out of the heat is important for every vacation.

Dinner/sunset: Go on a cruise

View of the city from a sunset cruise in Cartagena Colombia
View of the city from a sunset cruise in Cartagena

After three full days in Cartagena, we can’t think of a better way to finish this journey than with a cruise on the Cartagena Bay.

There are a number of fantastic cruises to choose from, and they cater to all different budgets. We love going on sunset cruises as there’s something so romantic about being on the water, watching the sun go down.

This sunset cruise is on a catamaran and offers amazing views during the 1.5-hour journey, as well as an open bar! It’s only $35 USD per person, and it’s a great way to get on the water and enjoy a few drinks, too. This tour has a capacity of 43 guests, so it’s a fun way to meet new people but isn’t as crowded as some of the other options. For the price, the views and ambiance are definitely worth it.

Another option is this dinner cruise which includes a 4-course meal for only $70 USD per person. The cruise is on a double-decker ship with A/C on the lower deck and open-air space on the upper deck. It lasts for 2 hours and has a maximum of 50 travelers. This is a great option for couples or anyone celebrating a special occasion, and for just $10 USD more per person, you can upgrade to the “romantic” option which includes a private table and a bottle of wine.

Both options have an additional docking fee of around $4 USD, so be sure to bring some pesos. These cruises offer outstanding views of Cartagena and are just a wonderful way to finish a trip to this beautiful city.

Related Read: For another adventure, check out our 3-day itinerary of Bogota, Colombia!

Where to Stay in Cartagena

view of the rooftop pool at Casa Claver in Cartagena
Imagine swimming in this gorgeous rooftop pool! Photo Credit: Casa Claver

I have no doubt you will love Cartagena as much as I do, so you’ll want to plan to stay here for a while. I’d say at least 3 days, although I ended up living here for a bit because I didn’t want to leave! Save yourself the hassle now and trust me on booking a few days here to enjoy.

I highly recommend staying in the Old Town just to soak up the history and have all the best sights within walking distance. All these hotels are in that part of the city and are for a variety of budgets, so you can find the right one for you.

Casa Claver Loft Boutique Hotel – $$$

For anyone who wants a stay that feels luxurious from start to finish, Casa Claver Loft Boutique Hotel has you covered. The stylish lofts here are huge and inside a restored 17th-century building. You’ll have AC, a kitchenette, a dining area, and plenty of seating.

If that hasn’t sold you, one look at the heated rooftop swimming pool will! It has stunning views of the city and is just one of the two pools this property offers. Breakfast is included and the location means you’re only steps away from exploring the best part of Cartagena. Check availability and book your getaway to this hotel here.

Ayenda El Viajero #2 – $$

Perfect for families or couples who want more space, the rooms at Ayenda El Viajero #2 are so spacious they feel more like tiny apartments! You’re in the middle of the action of the Old Town, so it’s a great place to crash after a busy day of exploring or a full night of dancing!

The rooms are air-conditioned for a nice break from the heat and all include a flat-screen TV. Some even have a little balcony or patio to enjoy your coffee on. I found the best price for this hotel on Booking.com!

Maloka Boutique Hostel – $

Right in the heart of the walled part of the city, Maloka Boutique Hostel is an affordable option that still puts you in the best area. It’s nice and quiet too as it isn’t right next to any clubs or bars.

Don’t let the word “hostel” discourage you – there are rooms with a shared bathroom or completely private rooms too. This place feels like a little home away from home – especially with a yummy breakfast and fantastic Colombian coffee included in your room price starting at $50 USD! Book your room now with Booking.com.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie together
Thanks for reading!

Now that we’ve highlighted some of our favorite things to do over three days, it’s time for you to enjoy all that Cartagena has to offer! From the beautiful architecture to the delicious food, and let’s not forget about the stunning beaches, Cartagena is a place we look forward to visiting time and time again. And who knows, maybe I’ll end up living here again!

If you enjoyed this blog, we hope you’ll check out some of our others. We love traveling around South America and have been all over Colombia, and we’d love to share some of our stories with you. Here are some more articles that you might enjoy:

The BEST 10-Day Colombia Itinerary

33 BEST Things to do in Medellin, Colombia

13 Things to KNOW about Visiting Tayrona National Park

17 EPIC Things to do in San Gil, Colombia & Visitor Guide