Cartagena is a beautiful oceanfront city that is full of history and vibrant, colorful old buildings in the historic district. That being said, in just one full day you can see a lot and get a feel for the history and culture of Cartagena.
If you are spending one day in Cartagena as a landing spot before heading to Santa Marta for the Lost City Trek, check out our guide here.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
When visiting Cartagena, it may be tempting to look for places on the outskirts of the city either because they are offering excellent accommodation or because you’re on a budget. However, if you want to get the most out of one day in Cartagena, I would highly recommend staying within the historic walled city.
Maloka Boutique Hostel is where we stayed during our time in Cartagena and we would recommend it for those on a budget who aren’t willing to sacrifice comfort for a few dollars. We spent about $40 per night for a private room that was small but very nice and clean, with a shared balcony overlooking the street and rooftop. The hostel has a bar downstairs offering a great selection of beers and they have a delicious complimentary breakfast.
What You Should See in One Day in Cartagena
Cartagena is a large city, and while you will be spending your time in the historic district, there are a lot of options to choose from. We loved our time in Cartagena and highly recommend the sites listed below.
Cartagena in our experience felt very safe but we have heard stories of pick-pockets targeting tourists. Definitely keep your wits about you and keep track of your belongings at all times.
If you are looking for high quality, stylish clothes designed specifically for travel check out Bluffworks. They have hidden zippered pockets that protect your belongings and they are incredibly comfortable and durable. Note: We are affiliates for Bluffworks and we will receive a small amount of compensation if you decide to purchase using our link at no additional cost to you. I wear Bluffworks clothes everyday of my life and highly recommend them.
Castillo de San Felipe
Castillo de San Felipe was hands down the coolest place we went to in Cartagena. We’ve both been in a lot of castles around the world, including magnificent castles in England and Ireland, but we had never been anywhere quite like Castillo de San Felipe.
The castle itself is impressive and fort-like, with intricate defense systems and varying levels which give it a deceiving shape. However, the most amazing part is the network of tunnels throughout the castle. You can literally get lost in them and I highly recommend you do! There is an entrance fee – at the time of writing it was 25,000 COP (~$8 USD) per person.
Check out this video to see us exploring Castillo de San Felipe.
Bairro Getsemani Art District
Bairro Getsemani is a neighborhood of Cartagena that is known for its incredible street art installations and murals that line the streets. There isn’t an actual specific destination I would recommend besides the “Umbrella Street” of Calle Angosto. If you have one day in Cartagena and you are looking for the perfect picture to capture it, Calle Angosto is a great place to go.
Wander through the streets (during the day – we were told it’s not the safest area to be walking around at night) and marvel at the incredible murals that line the walls. There are plenty of bars and restaurants that you will find along the way if you want to stop and get a drink or a bite to eat before moving on.
Check out this video to see us exploring Bairro Getsemani. It’s the same video as above but it will bring you straight to the portion where we are exploring Bairro Getsemani.
Walk the Walls of Cartagena
There are portions of the walls of the historic city that you can walk on. We would particularly recommend walking along the wall near the beach – you can use Café del Mar as a mile marker and a great place to grab a beer at sunset. If you start at the café and walk in either direction, you won’t be disappointed with the beautiful views of the water and city you will find.
El Torre de Reloj (The Clocktower)
The Clocktower in Cartagena is beautiful and definitely worth the visit. Originally built in 1601, the tower didn’t always house a clock – the clock was added in 1871. In the 1930’s, a replacement clock from Switzerland was installed that is still in operation today.
You can’t miss the Clocktower on your one day in Cartagena – it’s the main entrance to the old city and also brings you into a great portion of the old city to walk around in. Walk around, enjoy the European influenced squares and bright colors that surround you.
Restaurants to Visit in One Day in Cartagena
Restaurante Vegetariano Girasoles
This restaurant is fully vegetarian and has an incredible lunch deal. In Colombian fashion, it has a menú del día that changes daily but gives you a soup and full main course for around 4 USD. It was phenomenal and if we had more time we definitely would have gone back for another lunch.
Also, if you are still hungry after all of that food, they make incredible desserts – we had a vegan brownie and it was one of the best vegan brownies I’ve ever had!
The staff at Maloka Boutique Hostel recommended on our first day that we check out La Mulata for lunch. It’s mostly a seafood restaurant, but we were able to find two vegetarian dishes on the menu that were pretty solid. However, we wanted to put it on the list because La Mulata is well known for their amazing seafood – if you want great, fresh seafood, this is definitely a spot you should check out!
Bars to Visit in One Day in Cartagena
While we were in Cartagena, we had early mornings so we never truly went “out”, but we still managed to find two great spots you should check out if you have time on your one day in Cartagena.
Being Beer Lovers ourselves, we happened upon this bar and instantly entered to see what it was all about. They have an incredible beer selection in bottles from all around the world and a great tap selection of Colombian beers from around the country. This is where we were first introduced to Tres Cordilleras, our favorite brewery in Medellin.
The ambiance in this bar is wonderful; it’s two stories and features a floor to ceiling wall with different bottles of beer from around the world. We had some beers at the bar, ordered surprisingly delicious appetizers, and enjoyed our time there immensely.
Café del Mar
We mentioned this place twice for a reason – you can enjoy a beer and food while having an unparalleled view of the ocean from on top of the wall of the historic city. We went and sat down for a while but unfortunately we arrived about an hour before they opened so we didn’t actually order anything from the restaurant.
This would be a perfect sunset spot, wrapping up a big day of walking around sightseeing with a drink overlooking the water. Since we were there a little too early, when we go back to Cartagena, I would make sure to be there at sunset.
In just one day in Cartagena, you can see the highlights of the historic district, eat incredible food, and have a drink at a great craft beer bar or enjoy a beer with expansive ocean views. While you’re only scratching the surface, it’s a recipe for a great day.
If you aren’t feeling a historic day and just want to relax, go to one of Cartagena’s picturesque white sand beaches.