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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
To finish it, a table!
- City / Country
- Minimun Stay
- $ ~ $$$
- Best local transport option
- Do we recommend it?
- Cartagena de Índias / Colombia
- 3 days
- 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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