Cartagena, the true magical realism

The sea breeze and the sunsets that transform the colors of the facades of houses of more than 400 years, and the lifestyle of living day by day enchant the visitors in Cartagena de Indias.

Cartagena is located on the northern coast of Colombia, in the Caribbean Coast and it is the fifth-largest city in the country. Economic activities include maritime and petrochemicals industry, as well as tourism. And because of that you will see lots and lots of tourists walking around the city — all year long, from the wealthy visitors to the low-budget backpackers.

This Historical Heritage of Humanity, preserves the colonial architecture of its constructions and is the most complete set of fortifications in South America. Add to that an intense nightlife, cultural festivals, exuberant landscapes, magnificent beaches, excellent gastronomy and an important tourist infrastructure. It is a fantastic city that keeps the secrets of history in its walls and balconies, in its constructions and in its narrow stone ways.

The weather is warm all year along, its people are friendly and their lifestyle is based on “no worries”, living life day-by-day and occupying public spaces. These are just some reasons why Cartagena is one of the most popular and booming destinations in the world!

What are the most popular attractions among the backpackers (diving/surfing/skiing/climbing/hiking etc.)

Cartagena offers a good combination between historical attractions such as museums, buildings, monasteries, forts and wonderful beaches such Rosario and Barú Island, good for relaxing, snorkeling and other water activities. Moreover there is always some festival or celebration going on or some party or music at the street!

What are the “must see” attractions?

  • Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
  • Islas del Rosário (27 islands to choose)
  • La Popa Monestery
  • Old town or Walled City and the clock tower (free walking tour)
  • Getsemani Neighborhood and La Trinidad Plaza (check the Street Art Tour)
  • Sunset at the wall
  • Inquisition and Modern Art Museum
  • Any festival that is going on (for example Celebrations of Independence’s day of Cartagena in november)
  • Joyeria Caribe Museum & Factory
  • Las Bovedas and The Fort San Sebastian del Pastelillo(for some good photos and a view)
  • Las Palenqueras (traditional woman from Palenque neighborhood that sells fruits in the city center).
  • Old shoes monument
  • Bazurto Market (recommed together with a local)
  • Carriage Night Ride
  • Squares: Santo Domingo, Simon Bolivar, San Diego and De la aduana.

What are the best restaurants for backpackers? What those restaurants has to offer? (Mediterranean/Italian/Caribbean/ any another type of cuisine).

The city has a big and diversify offer in gastronomy. Some good options are: La Mulata (I could go everyday lol, extremely tasty food and coconut lemonade for a backpacker price), El Boliche Cevicheria (great Colombian version of peruvian ceviche), Ostería Mar Rojo (simple place ate the street to have ceviche), Fritos at the street or San Diego Plaza (fried food such as carimañola), Acción de Gracias (Colombian executive menu), La casa de Socorro, Stefano’s Bistro and La Cocina de Pepina (Colombian food), El Santíssimo (italian cuisine, for a fair price), Ábaco Libros y Café (coffee, rest a little and read a book), La Cevicheria (really good ceviche not so cheap, La Perla (International cuisine) and Girasoles (Veggie food).

What are the best nightclubs? What did you specially liked about them?

Talking about partying, the backpackers and cartageneros really know how to do it in this city. Wherever you go, you probably gonna listen to: Salsa, Reggaeton, Champeta, Cumbia or Mapale (typical music from Colombia and Caribe), crossed with some international music. Some good places to party are: Donde Fidel Salsa Club (Salsa for real), Café Havana (salsa but old people), Tu Candela Bar (tropical music), Babar (good music and drinks), Quiebra Canto, Media Luna Hostel (Wednesday Party, a mix of backpackers and locals), La Havana and, for a typical champeta experience, Bazurto Social Club.

What are the best bars? What did you specially liked about them?

A lot of bars turns into a club at same moment during the night, and I wrote about some of them above. Another good options are: Mirador Café Bar and Café del Mar (lounge music, chilled with ocean view), Alquimico (really nice and different drinks), The Clock Pub (classic Irish Pub), Demente (good drinks), Leon de Baviera (good european and local brew) or just grab a beer/ron and go to the Plaza de La Trinidad or the Wall.

What are the coolest places around the city you’ve visited?

The beaches in the city are not so pretty as the ones outside. The coolest places to visit are: the beaches of Rosario’s Island, Baru Island (Playa Blanca), Punta Arena Beach, Isla Grande, Totumo (Mud volcano) and the Oceanarium (where you can play with dolphins).

Where backpackers usually continue after the place you’ve been?

Usually the ones that just got in Colombia (from Panama by boat) are gonna go to Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park, Minca and La Guajira (to the northern point in South America). The others ones that came from: Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla and Santa Marta are gonna cross the border to Panamá or go back home.

From where they are usually coming?

As I mentioned, Cartagena is VERY touristic! There are travelers from all over the world and all types of styles (and budgets). However, some countries stand out: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, US, Canada, Holland, England, Spain, France and Switzerland.

What did you feel was missing in the city? What could make your visit to a perfect one?

The only two things that bothered me a little were: weather and prices.

The hot days in Cartagena is almost impossible to go out and do something because it’s too hot and and humid. So everyone looks (and sometimes smells) sweaty and sticky during the day (gets better during the night).

The price of everything, when compared to the other cities of Colombia, is expensive! A taxi, lunch can be almost 50% more expensive. You need to bargain the whole time (at least 20% less the price given)!

Thank God I don’t look much as foreigner and I speak some costeño spanish and that helped me A LOT!

If Selina will set a hostel there — how do you imagine it?

For Selina would be a good option having a hostel that combines party, social/touristic activities and a work place. Cartagena receives all the biggest and most important events in Colombia (The Peace Agreement, for example) and having a place ready to host this public too would be a differential.

A beautiful colonial facade, a balcony for people’s watching, dorms and private rooms with air conditioner, a pool, terrace, social area with a bar and a small gym. Some rooms could be like a small apartment with a co-working space with high speed internet for longer stays.

Some activities could be Pool and Boat parties, Live bands/Open Mic day, Outdoors Movie, Yoga, Meditation and Sunset at the terrace, Champeta, Salsa, Reggaeton and Cooking/Cocktails Classes and tours to the coolest places mentioned above.

In addition, I suggest that the hostel has a social project related to the sustainability of Caribbean beaches because it is sad to see what tourism has done with them (for example “bring and win”, by bringing the trash from the day tour, get a fresh juice at the hostel).

Eventually, please write in your own words your opinion and describe your personal experience.

I had the best experience in Cartagena, a good combination between living with locals and learning more about their everyday life and having a great time with foreigners during the day tours and parties!
This is a city where you will understand more about the magical realism that Gabriel García Marquez (most famous Colombian author) wrote about. It is a place full of happiness and energy. That you could go back many and many times!


Ariadne Nardeli (Brazilian Backpacker Researcher for Selina Hostel)

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