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Steamy Cartagena truly is a beautiful city that families will enjoy exploring. Cartagena is Colombia’s fifth largest city with just over 1 million inhabitants. Officially called “Cartagena de Indias” to differentiate itself from the Cartagena in Spain, the picturesque Old Town is picture-perfect, safe and there are many great things to do in Cartagena with kids.
We suggest spending a minimum of 2 days in the city, but 3 days will allow for a much more leisurely pace, which is usually best when travelling with kids.
- 1 What You Should Know About Cartagena
- 2 10 Awesome Things to do in Cartagena with Kids
- 3 3. See the Street Art and Tour Getsemani
- 4 4. Sample Exotic Fruit Juices
- 5 5. Watch the Sunset from the Ramparts
- 6 6. Explore Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
- 7 7. Getsemani in the Evening
- 8 8. Visit Parque del Centenario
- 9 9. Eat Some Colombian or International Cuisine
- 10 What You Should NOT do in Cartagena
- 11 Where to Stay in Cartagena
- 12 Getting to Cartagena
What You Should Know About Cartagena
- it is hot! And humid (84% humidity on average)! And relatively the same temperature all year
- get out and do your sightseeing in the morning and then plan some relaxing time in the afternoon before heading out again in the evening
- it isn’t a great beach destination
- a hotel with a pool is a must when travelling with kids to Cartagena
- the currency is difficult to use (1 USD = 4,850 COP) – keep those 0s straight
- speaking of currency, Colombia is very much a Cash-based society. However, you can use credit cards at mid-level and above resturants, hotels and for tours.
- since Cartagena receives so many tourists, English is widely spoken in the Old Town
- Cartagena is exotic fruit heaven – try fruits you have never heard
- Taxis don’t use meters in Cartagena – always agree on a price before starting a ride. Or you can use Uber.
- the airport is very close to the Old Town (10 minutes)
- the tap water is safe to drink
- Old Town and Getsemani are where most tourists spend their time, but it isn’t the “real Cartagena” and that is okay
- you may be wondering “is Cartagena safe?” Cartagena felt very safe to us and we felt very comfortable walking around the Old Town, Getsemani and Boca Grande in the evenings. Take the usual precautions when travelling and you will be fine.
10 Awesome Things to do in Cartagena with Kids
1. Tour the Old Town
The colourful colonial buildings of the Old Town are what most people picture when they think of Cartagena. Cartagena’s Old Town, also known as the Walled City, is a historical gem located on the northern coast of Colombia. Founded in 1533 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, the Old Town quickly became an important port city for the Spanish empire. The city’s strategic location made it an important hub for the transportation of goods such as gold, silver, and slaves from the colonies to Spain.
Over the centuries, Cartagena’s Old Town has survived pirate attacks, wars, and natural disasters; it has managed to preserve its colonial architecture, colorful streets, and rich cultural heritage. The Old Town is surrounded by thick stone walls that were built to protect the city from invaders. These walls, along with the fortresses, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
You can discover the Old Town on your own by simple wandering the streets, however, we suggest doing the free walking tour through Free Tour Cartagena which is a 2 hours walking tour offered daily at 10 am (most days they also run the tour at 4 pm as well). The tours are offered in English and Spanish and depart from Plaza Santa Teresa. This should be one of the first things you do in Cartagena as it will give you a good background and history of the city. Our kids enjoyed learning about the history and there are a few stops to try local sweets and fruits. As with all free tours, it is expected that you tip your guide for their services. You can sign up in advance on their website, but we like keeping things flexible and it is perfectly fine to just show up 10 minutes before.
2. Stay Cool with Artisanal Popsicles and Icecream
Cartagena is steamy hot, therefore one of the best things to do in Cartagena with kids is to sample the many artisanal popsicles and icecream throughout the Old Town and Getsemani. We stopped by La Palleteria daily and always tried something new. They have popsicles in many exotic fruit flavours and more traditional kid favourites as well. They also have really delicious home-made gelato with delicious waffle cones. Stepping into their air conditioning was always a nice treat and this was a great way to keep the kids motivated during our exploring.
3. See the Street Art and Tour Getsemani
Getsemani is a vibrant and eclectic neighborhood located just outside of Cartagena’s Old Town walls. Once a rough and tumble area, Getsemani has undergone a renaissance in recent years and has become a hub for artists, musicians, and backpackers. In Getsemani you will find colorful street art, lively music venues, and a bustling street food scene. Getsamani truly has something for everyone and has a very special, strong sense of cultural identity.
Getsemani was our favourite part of Cartagena and while we encourage you to wander its streets on your own during the day and again in the evening (see below), we once again recommend a free walking tour of the neighborhood. Luckily Free Tour Cartagena offers a Getsemani tour Monday-Saturday at 4pm (2 hours) focusing on the thriving street art scene of this area. Our guide, Luis, was from Getsamani and in addition to showing and explaining the context and importance of many of the street art, he provided an interesting dialogue on the changes the area is experiencing. This was another tour our kids enjoyed and we loved learning about our favourite area of Cartagena.
4. Sample Exotic Fruit Juices
Have you heard of these fruits: lulo, guanabana (soursop), corozo, zapote? Throughout the streets of Cartagena you will see vendors with vats of these ice cold exotic fruit juices. Since tap water is safe to drink in Cartagena, we felt comfortable drinking from these carts. But, you can also try them at restaurants throughout the city. They are another great way to beat the heat and kids will have fun trying these different flavours. The lulo was our firm favourite!
5. Watch the Sunset from the Ramparts
One of the classic experiences in Cartagena is to watch the sunset from Cafe del Mar up on the city’s iconic walls. The views straight out to the Caribbean, the colourful Colombian flags waving and the elevated position have made this THE spot for sunset. However, it is popular so you will need to get there early to get a seat. There are great cocktails at Cafe del Mar, and mocktails sure to excite the kids. Most evenings there is live music as well.
However, there is also a DIY version. As sunset nears, roaming vendors with drinks and snacks are up on the ramparts and you can claim a spot on the wall. You will enjoy the exact same view, much cheaper and as an added bonus, the kids can run around on the wall.
6. Explore Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a historic fortress that sits across the river from Getsemani. Built in the 16th century by the Spanish, it was used to protect the city from attacks by pirates and enemy countries. The castle is an impressive example of military engineering, and is one of the best things to do with kids in Cartagena. Kids will most enjoy the dark tunnels and walking along the wall and seeing the battlements.
The fortress gets very hot, so plan your visit for first thing in the morning or after 4 pm. You can hire a guide or use audioguides to learn more about the history of the Castillo. This is one of the Cartagena places to visit that you shouldn’t miss.
The fortress is only a 15 minute walk from the Old City. Tickets cost 30,000 COP, children half price.
7. Getsemani in the Evening
This is probably our favourite activity in Cartagena and each night we would usually return to Getsemani to people watch and enjoy the atmosphere. Getsamani’s evening activity is centered around Plaza de la Trinidad, a small plaza with a church. In the evenings, the plaza comes alive with street vendors selling their work, food and drink carts and roaming dancers and musicians. This is a great place to try arepas, a Colombian staple and many other Colombian street food. You’re likely to hear champeta, which is a type of local folk music with Afro-Caribbean roots.
You can’t help but be taken in by the energy at Plaza de la Trinidad in the evening. Grab a variety of dishes from the street vendors, grab a beer and cold drink for the kids, sit on the steps in front of the church, people watch and admire the energetic performers. Even if you don’t eat here, come after dinner, to soak up the atmosphere.
8. Visit Parque del Centenario
This large park right between the Old Town and Getsemani is a great place for the kids to run around and blow off some steam. It is also home to 9 monkeys, ignuanas, many birds and even sloths so you can try to spot these urban animals. The park has great shade so makes for a nice place to relax, people-watch, and grab a fruit juice from one of the vendors. We enjoyed corozo juice here, which is made from a bitter fruit, but its juice tastes similar to cranberry juice.
9. Eat Some Colombian or International Cuisine
Cartagena has a pretty impressive food scene. One night you can eat traditional Caribbean Colombian foods, the next you can be eating Mexican tacos, the next Asian noodles and so on. Of course being located right on the sea, fish and seafood feature heavily on Cartagena menus.
When travelling with kids, we always like to eat local foods, but they also really enjoy some comfort foods like pizza and pasta. La Concina de Pepina is a great place to try local foods like fish soups, ceviches, coconut rice, and patacones (fried green plantain patties). Even if you don’t eat it, make sure you check out the street food in the evenings at Getemani’s Plaza de la Trinidad. Although of course we think you should try the arepas and other fried delights.
A great place for pizza and pasta that the whole family will enjoy is Di Silvio Trattoria – lovely courtyard, great food and good prices.
10. Stay Cool in your Hotel Pool
If you want to stay sane while visiting Cartagena with kids, you definitely want to book a hotel with a pool. Our advice is to get out early and sightsee in the morning, have lunch and then come back for some pool time in the afternoon, before venturing out again in the evening for dinner. Luckily, most of our accomodation recommendations below have pools.
What You Should NOT do in Cartagena
We don’t usually produce a NOT list, but we want you to learn from our mistake. Even though we knew Cartagena wasn’t a beach destination, we were tempted by the white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Playa Blanca. We had heard it was a tourist trap with agressive vendors, but we thought we were seasoned travellers and could handle it. We took an Uber for an hour to this beautiful beach on a Cartagena day trip and were absolutely hounded by touts starting about 2 km out from the water, chasing our Uber on motorbikes. We spent the first two hours of our visit, trying to loose the touts that followed us incessantly (even running down the beach after us). Apparently they lead you to a restaurant and umbrellas where they will charge you hundreds of US dollars in a scam at the end. While the sea was a lovely blue, the experience with the touts, the overcrowded beach full of garbage and polluting boats, made this a destination you should avoid.
However, if you are keen to visit a beach while you are in Cartagena, we recommend you do it as part of an organized tour where you won’t have to deal with the touts trying to rip you off. Another alternative is spending a few days in the Rosario Islands, although that also receives quite mixed reviews. Also, even if you stay in Boca Grande, the beach there is nothing special.
We think you are better to focus on the city sights in Cartagena and leave the beach time to a different destination.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
There are three areas we suggest choosing your Cartagena with kids accomodation from: Old Town, Getsemani or Boca Grande. Old Town is the classic choice with many charming accomodation options. Getsemani used to be the backpacker area of town, but has been gentrified in the last decade and is now very trendy. Old Town and Getsemani are side by side and the line between the two has blurred. Boca Grande is the Miami Beach of Cartagena and is located 15+ minute walk from the Old Town and features high rises with beach views.
Where to Stay in Cartagena Old Town
Casa Claver Boutique Hotel (mid-range) – great location right in the centre of the historic area, this Cartagena hotel has a variety of rooms suitable for families. Great breakfasts included and a lovely rooftop pool. Click here for the latest prices.
Hotel Boutique Las Carretas (mid-range) – featuring colonial decor and a Spanish courtyard, this charming hotel has family rooms with 2 double beds and a balcony. It also has a pool! Click here for the latest prices.
Where to Stay in Getsemani
Casa Villa Colonial (mid-range) – small, colonial hotel right in the centre of Getsemandi, this hotel offers great value and has the coveted rooftop pool as well. Guest appreciate the kind staff and the included breakfast served on the rooftop terrace. Click here for the latest prices.
Casa Morales Cartagena (luxury) – 2 bedroom apartments are perfect for families in this beautiful heritage designed hotel. There is a great swimming pool, friendly staff and many amenities. Click here for the latest prices.
Where to Stay in Boca Grande
Hyatt Regency Cartagena (luxury) – this 4 star hotel has all the wonderful amenities you would expect from a Hyatt Regency. It is also within walking distance to the Old Town and of course, it has a great pool with ocean views. Click here for the latest prices.
San Martin Cartagena (budget) – clean and comfortable rooms with friendly staff, this is a great budget option in Boca Grande. No pool, but it is 100 m from the beach. Click here for the latest prices.
Of course, there are many Airbnb in Cartagena options as well if you are looking for an apartment with more space.
Getting to Cartagena
Most visitors to Cartagena will arrive by air at Rafael Núñez International Airport. Luckily the airport is very close to the city and the easiest way to get into the centre is by taking a taxi. Taxis from the airport to the centre are fixed price and there is even a machine you can use as you come out of arrivals that will print out what your fare will be. Our fare to Boca Grande was 22,000 COP and took 15 minutes.