A week in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, with kids – and a private island day trip

Cartagena, in Colombia, is one incredible destination: hot, sunny, beachy, tropical, Caribbean. The food is delicious, the people are amazing, it's incredibly beautiful. Everything that makes one place special, it has. Great for families with kids, couples, and solo travelers!

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At the end of our trip through Central America, we had one week in Cartagena because we just couldn’t miss it. Colombia never fails to please, Cartagena was a pleasure. We spent a week in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, with kids.

Cartagena is in the North of Colombia, with tropical weather (hot, very hot all year round), and it’s one gorgeous place. The Walled City, or the part of the city that’s walled, is the most famous part (and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site): no wonder, it’s stunning. It’s also the only walled town in South America.

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Where to Stay in Cartagena with kids

Budget option:

We spent our days in Hotel Marie Real, in the Walled City. We arrived late at night due to delays (thanks a lot, Avianca) but our ride was there. Well, since I don’t speak much Spanish, I couldn’t chat much but to my surprise, our drivers were the owner and the lawyer of the hotel. Funny.

The service was great throughout our stay, and little problems were fixed as we asked for it.

It’s well located, close to the supermarket, to everything, really. And it had a kitchen – without tools to do our dishes, but the cleaning staff came in every morning to do it. We felt a bit weird about it, but that’s how they work.

The view during sunset is gorgeous, I could stay up there all the time.

The sunsets in Cartagena, Colombia, were just magical. We all loved watching it from the top floor of the hotel, even though the mosquitos weren't really nice most days.

This is the sunset from Hotel Marie Real’s top floor. What a beautiful sight, every single day.

Fancy option:

Our last day was spent in Hotel Caribe because Avianca delayed our flight and they paid for it. It had food (great food, by the way, even our ‘free food’), a pool, nice, fluffy towels, and HOT SHOWER! It was a dream. Not really. The air conditioning in the room was broken or something and it was so freaking cold all the time, we all had to wear socks and jackets to sleeping.

The best thing there, though, were the animals. We were walking casually to the pool or lunch or something when we saw deer. Roaming around guests, and all. Then, later, we saw a sloth. It was slowly crossing the grassy path, it crossed between us – and it was really close, we could even touch it – to reach the other grassy area with more trees.

It was fun.

Coral loved the playground.

This one is in Bocagrande, so a bit far from the walled city, within the modern part of Cartagena.

We weren't expecting to see a sloth in Cartagena, but we did. It was one of the highlights of this trip for the kids, as it came really, really close, and it wasn't scared of us at all.

This was the cute sloth in Hotel Caribe. It was super cool with the humans around, not caring to even look once, threatening to walk right over me if I didn’t get off the way.

Best things in Cartagena for families

You basically walk around! It’s just SO BEAUTIFUL, and I mean it, that it’s really all we did. We walked, had a few coconuts, walked, had a coffee, walked, ate, walked. The kids did complain about the heat A LOT but, well, we had no means to change that.

But, of course, there are a few musts around there.

Walk around the incredible Walled City

The walled part of the city is alive, colorful, and so unbelievably beautiful! We walked for 3 days just there and it was super worth it! Everywhere is beautiful, and the people were great. Once, a guy tried to sell us hats, and we declined. We were lost and he saw it. He asked, we told him where we were going, and nobody knew where the Hotel was. He went around asking everyone until he found out – we were already walking lost. He found us and gave us directions.

It happened twice more until we ended up getting a local SIM card – offline maps weren’t working for some reason then.

There are museums, cafés, restaurants, shops, and, well, a lot to keep everyone busy for at least a couple of days.

If there's one beautiful town in the world, it would be the Walled City in Cartagena, Colombia. The colorful houses, the beautiful people, it's stunning!

Walking in the city within the walls was amazing. Something like Quebec City, though more colorful and way hotter (and cheaper). Stunning all the way!

 

 

Chocomuseo

To our surprise, there was a Chocomuseo there. We decided to do the workshop again because Coral kept asking for it. This time, we did the short workshop, where we only make our own chocolate. It was fun as it should be. We loved it. Plus, they have air conditioning, which is fantastic in the heat. Just in the workshop area, though. The rest doesn’t.

The store itself is pretty entertaining and they have the museum and the café there too. It’s different from branch to branch, so they’re all worth a visit, even if you’re not doing the workshops.

All of the most incredible things we find during our travels with kids is found walking aimlessly around. This street in Cartagena, Colombia, was a beauty.

Since I have no decent photos of the Chocomuseo, here’s one of us on the way there. Isn’t it just beautiful?

A walk over the walls

This was a bit hard, as the wall isn’t very continuous, so it was full of going-ups and downs, but the view from the walls is amazing.

It’s very sunny and hot, so don’t forget a hat and water. There are people selling both everywhere, so it’s not the end of the world if you forget, though.

A stop around the beach

We didn’t go to the beach in the mainland, but we visited a private island. I’ll say more about it later on.

There are, though, a few beaches around Cartagena itself, so if you have the time, the Caribbeans rarely fail.

There is some kind of magic on walled cities, and Cartagena, in Colombia, is one of those cities. Great fun and learning experience for kids and adults alike!

The fortifications around the town of Cartagena are impressive and some parts of it are great for a stroll. It even has a restaurant somewhere around that part. That is the only way in and out of it by car.

A stop in Bocagrande

Bocagrande is the modern part of the city, with tall buildings, malls, and chain restaurants. We had plans to go see it on our last day, but we ended up never leaving the hotel because the hotel was great. Next time, we’ll go. If you miss the city, well, then it should be a good stop!

The contrast between the Walled City of Cartagena and the modern part of the same city, in Bocagrande (Colombia) was enormous. It was one great thing for the kids to see, and for us too.

Walking over the wall, we saw Bocagrande: tall buildings, so very different from the old part of the town! It doesn’t feel like the same place at all!

Have a coffee at Juan Valdez

Juan Valdez coffee is delicious, even I love it – and I don’t like coffee. Their chai is also great. We loved it there to grab a snack before returning to the hotel. It’s delicious, it’s cheap, and it’s got air conditioning.

 

Drink Lemonade or orange juice from the street vendors

When walking around, but this is mostly just outside the walled town, there are MANY vendors with big fish tanks on carts selling fruit juice. They make it right there. A lot of locals were having it, so I believe it’s safe. We were always wanting to but ended up missing the chance here. There are loads of them so you can choose one that looks cleaner.

Buy a treat from one of the stalls by the Clock Tower

Just in the walled town, by the Clock Tower entrance, there are many treat stalls. Coco con arequipe, yes, please! It’s a sweet made out of coconut and milk caramel, which is heavenly. There were many flavors, though, so you can choose whichever you want. There were meringues and other traditional deliciousness, but I can’t even remember anymore. Too much sugar can ruin your brain.

Colombian food in general is great and delicious, and so are its sweets. There's no way not to overeat.

Jars and jars of heavenly yumminess: coconut with a little extra for all tastes. Unfortunately, my kids aren’t into coconut so I had to eat it all by myself. Sad. So sad.

Grab a fruit from one of the street vendors

Many people also sell fruit. Men, cutting up the mangos, or women in beautiful and colorful traditional costumes, carrying fruit over their heads, it’s pretty cool and an easy way to have healthier snacks throughout the day.

My favorite is the coconut, from which I drink the yummy water and then eat the rich flesh of the fruit. Just perfect! I always ask the person who sold me to open it up and sometimes, they even remove the coconut from the shell. Cool to watch!

Walk outside the Walled City

The walled city is stunning, but the outside, just outside the wall, is beautiful too! Things also get a bit cheaper there, though it was a lot less lively and full: it can be good or bad, depending on the mood. You can walk boarding the sea, watch fishes, find the Bucanero (a pirate boat museum (it was closed for refurbishing then), watch the people walking around, have a cup of coffee, or just chill. We loved it too.

The pirates were common around the Caribbean and now they have a pirate museum - that was closed, unfortunately - there. Should be fun!

Just outside the walled town is the Bucanero. It’s supposedly a pirate museum, but it was close for refurbishment while we were there, so we don’t really know. Maybe next time we’re there… We saw it first when we were coming back from the private island – fun!

 

 

Private Island tour: a MUST!

This is just great. We talked to a lady in the hotel, selling tours, and she recommended quite a few tours. We decided on going on a Private Island tour because we missed the beach and, well, it wasn’t too expensive. They were ranging from 45,000 COP to 130,000 COP per person, including land transport from the hotel to the port (not the way back, though, weirdly), the boat to and from the island, and lunch. The price depends on the distance from Cartagena to the island, and the island’s infrastructure.

We were torn between the Pirate Island and Bendita Beach.

The Pirate Island was cheaper, but it had no beach. The access to the sea is through stairs – they’re like natural pools. It’s closer to Cartagena, and it has even a hotel.

Bendita Beach, on the other hand, had nothing. No hotel, no restaurant. The food was made in the staff kitchen. BUT: there was no one visiting it on that Friday. It’d be only us. Well, how could we turn it down?

A private island tour from Cartagena is a must! What a great (and rich) experience it was to have an island all to ourselves!

In ‘our’ private beach. The first thing the kids said when we saw it from the boat was ‘Well, I think I like this trip already’. By the way, the sign says ‘Silence, mermaids resting’

At 8:30, our driver arrived. He took us to the pier, where the captain was waiting for us. The lady who sold us the package was going along, so she was there too. Angelo went to pay for the trip, and we were led to the boat. We put on our life jackets and had the time of our lives. The speedboat was fun, and even though we had over an hour in the boat, it was so beautiful we didn’t get tired.

They toured the other islands for us to see, then went to ‘our’ island.

Bendita Beach was empty and beautiful. The sand was clean and stunning, and the water was an incredible tone of blue, and so clear we could see everything at the bottom.

After throwing our stuff in one of the beds, we headed straight to the water. They lent us snorkels, and it was amazing.

Bendita Beach was one piece of heaven. Oh, the Caribbeans! This was one of the things the kids loved about our trip!

This water, though, was just the clearest, bluest, most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!

There were SO MANY fishes in there that we couldn’t believe! They were everywhere, swimming between us like we were nothing. Beautiful creatures!

We were called to have cocktails (which were just a sip of fruit juice, really) and then to lunch. Well, lunch was divine. Simple, but perfectly done. We all devoured our food and went to see the rest of the island. It’s small enough so we could walk the whole island in 30 minutes, see the baby turtles they rescued (or so they said), and get back into the water.

We spent the whole day in the water, really.

After a while, we were called because due to a storm approaching (there was a huge black cloud pairing around), we had to leave. So we went to say goodbye to the turtles and went to the boat.

The ride home was delightful, but since the light was a lot prettier now, it felt even better. Coral (5) slept most of the time.

Very few things in life can top a private island experience. It'll be hard to get the kids used to the regular beaches now.

It was a cloudy day, and it’s always the perfect outdoors weather. It doesn’t burn as much as a clear day and it was still super hot and delicious!

During most of the day, we had the island for ourselves. Two boats came during the day, people spent 30 minutes ~ 1 hour there and left. It seems pretty common, that island hopping thing.

The captain was nice enough to drop us off at a pier very close to the Walled City, where we were able to walk home.

It was such a great day that we thought about buying another trip, this time to Pirate Islands, but we had problems with our following flight and it really took 2 days off of our week. We ended up not having the time. But it’s VERY WORTH it!

As happened with most islands there, they used to be the drug dealers’ islands. After the drug business went down, the government took back all the islands and people started buying them. The drug-related buildings aren’t supposed to be messed with, so most islands have one or two ruins.

After a full day in an island all alone, we had one terrific motor boat ride back to the city. What an incredible family day out!

That boat ride back to the hotel was one incredible thing! We were super tired, and yet, it was so worth it! It could have lasted longer!

What you need for Cartagena

Summer clothing, a bathing suit, a hat, comfortable shoes. That’s it.

But you’ll find everything else there too, no need to overpack.

One thing that we missed was an underwater camera. We had a Polaroid Cube with the water case but it died in Costa Rica. We decided not to buy another one and we’ve regretted that stupid decision since then.

If you’re going to the Caribbeans, GET A GOOD ACTION CAMERA. Seriously. Or get a waterproof case for your phone, whatever, really, but you’ll want to take photos underwater.

The sunsets in Cartagena, Colombia, were stunning. Anywhere and everywhere, they are worth the time! Take the kids to watch it and just enjoy or start a conversation about science: the colors, refraction, reflection, and a lot more!

Another sunset to say goodbye, Cartagena, you beautiful thing!

To finish it, a table!

  • City / Country
  • Minimun Stay
  • $ ~ $$$
  • Child-friendlyness
  • Best local transport option
  • Safety
  • Do we recommend it?
  • Cartagena de Índias / Colombia
  • 3 days
  • $$
  • Perfect!
  • WALK! Taxis aren’t expensive, but they’re small.
  • At night, a bit dogdy, but great during the day
  • Absolutely yes!

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