I’ve been fortunate to visit the beautiful city of Cartagena twice within the past two years. With a relatively short direct flight from NYC (just over four hours), average temperatures in the high 80’s, and hardly any rain from December through April, Cartagena checks all the boxes as a perfect winter getaway destination. The charming and colorful streets and gorgeous colonial architecture are simply unforgettable. Add amazing food, easy beach access, and a thriving night culture, and there is a ton to experience.
TO STAY //
I have stayed in four different hotels in Cartagena, all inside the old walled city. La Passion Hotel is a family-owned, converted mansion that dates back to the 19th century colonial period and features original tiled floors, furnishings from countries all over the world, and winding staircases throughout. The balconied second floor looks down on a beautiful open central courtyard full of couches, tables, and plants. Highlights here were the intimate feel, private breakfasts, and rooftop pool. Casa San Agustin is your choice if you are looking for pure luxury and relaxation. This twenty room, boutique hotel is the re-imagination of three combined colonial houses. Large stone arches in the courtyard and pool area (rescued from an old aqueduct in the city) and original wood beam ceilings in the rooms are just a few of the beautiful architectural details. There is a spa on property (Aurum) and the hotel’s sceney restaurant, Alma, has amazing food and some of the best cocktails in the city. Tcherassi Hotel + Spa, by fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi, offers a relaxing and elegant experience with more modern rooms that feature balconies and large open bathrooms. The large pool on the roof and accompanying cabanas are wonderful, and don’t miss the upscale “street food” menu from Tuc Tuc. Be sure to check out Mansion Tcherassi just around the corner, Silvia’s original seven room boutique hotel. Casa Pombo is a gorgeous boutique hotel situated in one of the oldest buildings in the city of Cartagena. It sits directly next to the Cathedral and has unobstructed views of the Plaza de la Proclamación. The spaces inside this dreamy colonial mansion are simply incredible and the hotel offers apartment-like suites that are perfect for larger groups. Casa Pombo has a sister hotel a few blocks away called Casa Pestagua that also looks quite amazing. While we didn’t stay here, we did stop by for a drink in the courtyard!
TO EAT & DRINK //
There are plenty of “where to eat” articles floating around online on Cartagena, so I will keep this section brief! The culinary scene is absolutely spectacular and seemingly endless. Below are five of my recommendations.
La Mulata – With a limited menu consisting mostly of ceviche and fresh shrimp dishes, La Mulata is simple and delicious. It’s a bit more on the casual side, which makes it a bit better for a late lunch when there won’t be a wait.
La Cevicheria – Probably the most popular ceviche spot in the city, so be prepared for a wait. With that being said, the dishes are all quite amazing and the outdoor tables provide the best people watching.
La Vitrola – A Colombian mainstay that evokes old Havana, the atmosphere is unbelievable. A reservation here is on the harder side, so make sure to plan ahead. Bring your dancing shoes!
Demente – Located in the Getsemani neighborhood, the tapa-style menu here is perfect for sharing with large groups. Great drinks, better music, and a lively outdoor back patio can keep you here for hours. Rooftop fish tacos at Malagana nearby are also an option before stopping by Demente for drinks and bites.
El Baron – This cozy cocktail bar has the best drinks in the city. The Rosarito cocktail was my favorite. The location right at Plaza San Pedro Claver makes the perfect setting for an outdoor table.
NEIGHBORHOODS TO SEE //
A quick review of my three favorite neighborhoods. The entire city is so easy to walk and my advice is to take full advantage and explore! It’s very easy to learn the city and you will know your way around in no time.
Centro – The busiest neighborhood within the old walled city. Walking these picturesque and colorful streets filled with colonial architecture is magical. Don’t miss the San Pedro Claver Church, the Palace of the Inquisition, and Bolivar Plaza. The street just south of the plaza, near the library, has some of the most beautiful flowers in the city, draping down from wooden balconies over the streets. It won’t take long to walk nearly every street in the Centro neighborhood and be sure to stop at Abacus, the cutest bookstore and café, for a coffee pick-me-up.
San Diego – A bit further north within the old walled city, sits San Diego. This neighborhood is a bit quieter in comparison to Centro, but boasts many of the best restaurants in the city. La Bovedas craft market is a must see for local crafts – it’s housed in a former jail built under the city walls. The center of San Diego is the plaza, which comes alive at night with live music and vendors, all surrounded by outdoor restaurants and balcony bars.
Getsemani – This neighborhood is just outside the walled city and has a distinct, more artsy vibe. It is bustling every night of the week as the restaurants and bars begin to fill. Trinidad Plaza is the center of the action, a place where locals and tourists celebrate the evenings together. Demente, Malagna, Mister Babilla, and Di Silvio Trattoria are among the more popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Also, I wasn’t able to stop by, but have heard amazing things about Oh La La as the go-to neighborhood spot for breakfast. Of course, the famous dance clubs Café Havana and Bazurto Social Club are also here.
WHERE TO SHOP //
St Dom – An amazing conceptual fashion boutique located in Centro. St Dom should be your first stop in Cartagena.
Silvia Tcherassi – I’ve always loved Silvia’s designs (you can see me wearing her most recently here) and her beautiful boutique next to the Santa Teresa Plaza is not to be missed.
Casa Chiqui – This interior design store sits inside an old warehouse in the old city and exhibits accessories and furniture from the global travels of the owner herself. It has a huge array of all things home – think lamps, embroidered pillows, and furniture – as well as a full collection of fashion accessories. Everything is so chic.
Mercedes Salazar – I’ve long admired the inventive jewelry from Mercedes Salazar and was delighted to find her stand-alone boutique just down the road from Silvia’s store.