Cartagena, Colombia, has been on the rise as a solo travel destination for some time now. Part of the attraction is its mix of old and new neighborhoods that keeps things lively and interesting. And, with its compact Old Town and reasonable taxi fares, it’s particularly attractive for solo travel.
Here are the hidden sights to check out when exploring Cartagena.
Indulge in Affordable Luxury
The city is bursting with accommodations from quiet B&Bs to high-end hotels, many in exceptionally restored colonial buildings. Locals take pride in their historic homes and have graciously opened their doors to visitors. You can also find an apartment for rent in Cartagena, Colombia, and become part of the in-the-know crowd by checking out the surrounding areas and beaches.
Whether taking in city views in Old Town or quiet courtyards in Getsemani, the solo traveler is bound to find an attentive host with personalized advice, while couples and groups can settle into entire homes.
Art Galleries and Museums
For art lovers, Cartagena is alive with galleries and museums featuring notable Colombian artists and a deep artistic tradition. Take in the Casa Museo la Presentacion for its expansive exhibits and its one-of-a-kind antiques market. Or stroll into NH Galeria for a taste of some of Colombia’s emerging and internationally-known artists.
The food scene in the city is equally compelling. Experience the mastery of local dishes with global fusion specialities at Carmen Cartagena in the city center, or slip into Pretezian for inexpensive, yet superb ceviche and sushi.
Seek Out Local Artisans for Shopping
With Cartagena’s open-plaza shopping traditions, it’s easy to pick up a trinket or two. For something a little more authentic, This Is Cartagena-The Shop is the perfect place for truly local goods. Among the souvenirs for sale, there are fair-trade coffees, handwoven hammocks, leather bags, and more. If you want that hand-made black and white Vueltiao hat, this is the place to find it, with the confidence that you’re getting the real deal.
Colombia is the emerald capital of the world, and the jewelry shops in Cartagena prove it.
Lucy Jewelry is known for its unique designs and good prices. By selling direct, the owner doesn’t pay commissions to street vendors and passes on the commission savings to the customer.
For a real treat, visit the Caribe Emerald and Jewelry Museum where you will not only get a fascinating understanding of the mining and craftsmanship of emeralds, but also the shop offers quality stones at factory-level prices. As a bonus, go on the three-hour jewelry-making class, and take home a personal piece you made yourself, included in the fee.
Explore Beyond the Expected
The once-neglected neighborhood of Getsemani is fun, and funky. It has become a hotspot for artists and musicians, which imparts a creative aura throughout the area. The streets are littered with graffiti, but in an artistic and inspiring way.
There are plenty of food carts, open plaza shopping, and romantic Spanish colonial architecture to keep you engrossed. It’s well worth a stroll and a meal through Getsemani, and maybe a little drinking and dancing later in the evening.
What to Do in Getsemani
Start your day in the main Plaza and meander through the side streets, camera-ready. You’ll encounter the vibrant street art practically everywhere you turn, which means the photo-ops are endless. As a solo traveler, you might even get to meet some artists at work and strike up a conversation.
Several restaurants in Getsemani have developed a following for their authentic Colombian cuisine. La Cocina de Pepina gets raves from visitors, along with Chachara and Di Silvio. Go even more local by sampling street food, such as chuzos (kebabs), empanadas, and Colombian-style burgers and hot dogs.
At night, the neighborhood comes alive with music. Cafe Havana has been packing in the salsa- and mojito-loving crowd since opening in 2006. If it gets too crowded, you can still hear the bands from outside and dance on the sidewalk.
Hit up Bazurto Social Club if you want to get your champeta on. The lively, folk music and dance is guaranteed to get you moving. For drinks and arepas, the Bar del Sur has a rep for fun and, yes, mojitos.
Soak in the Sea and Sun
After you’ve seen the sites and danced the night away in the city, head offshore for some relaxation to Isla Barú. A quick, hour-long boat ride will get you to Playa Blanca with its gleaming white sands and perfect temperature for swimming.
A word to the wise: If you don’t want to end up on an expensive snorkeling tour, make sure your boat is going directly to Barú.
Hang a left down the beach and keep going until you’re happy with the crowd. It’s densely packed near the boat landings, but you can find quiet further along the beach. Like every prime beach spot, the earlier you go, the more you have to choose from.
From Barú, the solo traveler as well as groups can enjoy all kinds of water sports, from snorkeling and scuba diving to kayaking and jet skiing. Full-day charters for sports fishing at all levels will get you even farther offshore for more adventure on the crystal clear waters.
Whether you stay in the city proper or take excursions to the surrounding neighborhoods and beaches, Cartagena is a solo traveler’s dream! Click here to listen to Astrid’s podcast on more reasons why!
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