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On the north coast of Colombia and the southern edge of the Caribbean sits Cartagena, a destination that boasts year-round warm weather and colonial charm (it’s also a short, five-hour direct flight from New York City). The cobbled streets stay open late, alive with the sound of salsa music, horse-drawn carriages and the din of revelers. The Walled City, the beating heart of this place, is small yet diverse — from San Diego’s classic architecture and more calm, laid-back aura to the edginess and cultural vibrancy of Getsemaní, a hip, young, bohemian neighborhood. Carta’s also in a sweet spot: the city’s enjoyed a handful of years of tourism influx, yet it’s still undiscovered enough to retain the charm of a distinct, eclectic, charming Caribbean/Colombian destination. For that alone, it’s worth hopping on that direct flight to paradise.

For a map to all destinations listed below, click here.

Where to Stay

Relax in a Sophisticated Spanish Colonial Center

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The best hotels in Cartagena aren’t necessarily the biggest. There’s a handful of boutique hotels offering full-house rentals or single rooms in small occupancy places. One converted family home, Casa La Cartujita, offers high-end hotel luxuries with the charm of a B&B. If you’re looking to join the foreign crowd, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena is the place of choice for high-end clientele — from actors to diplomats. It also features the best pool in the small confines of the walled city, a major plus during the wilting hot days.

Casa la Cartujita
A converted family home that’s big on hospitality.
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Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena
Trendy, luxurious accommodations and a fantastic pool.
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Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa
A refined, classic hotel with a more traditional feel.
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Hilton Cartagena Hotel
A great place for families, offering multiple pools and direct access to the beach.
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Where to Eat

Coastal Cuisine Inspired by Many Culinary Traditions

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Cartagena cuisine lands at the intersection of three traditions: Caribbean, Spanish and Colombian. It’s also situated in a fantastic locale for fresh fish, so seafood dominates most menus. Places like Donjuán offer a more “international” appeal, while local favorite El Santísimo feels more like an abuelita is running the kitchen. One piece of advice to heed: don’t succumb to the tourist spots (there are many, and they’re not great). The five restaurants below are strong recommendations, and if you need more, ask a local.

La Cevichería
The best place to enjoy Cartagena’s favorite dish: ceviche.
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Restaurante El Santísimo
Traditional Cartagena fare, favored by the locals.
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Restaurante Donjuán
You won’t see many locals, but the food is some of the best in the walled city.
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Demente
A great tapas bar in the heart of the hip Getsemaní neighborhood.
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Patagonia Asados del Sur
The colorful decor is only exceeded by the richness of flavor in the meats.
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Tip from a Local

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“Baila salsa aquí.” (Dance salsa here.)
– Fidel, of Salsa Donde Fidel, the center of salsa dancing in Cartagena. Every major salsa musician and dancer has passed through the small space, and it continues to entertain a good crowd every night.

What to Do

Avoid the Heat, Go Out at Night

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One of the best things to do in Cartagena is to walk. The streets are narrow, crowded and colorful. Or, you can take a water taxi out to Isla del Rosario for a beach day (avoid the beaches in Carta, they’re not great). The other option is to eat and drink your way through town. There’s a few great bars, and they are, thankfully, air conditioned. Then, post-sunset, the city comes alive. Plan on late nights and slow days, and you’ll be right in the swing of the Carta lifestyle.

La Movida
The most popular bar in town. Go early (9:00 p.m.) to avoid the line out the door.
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Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
A Spanish fort overlooking the city. If you’re looking for history, here’s the grandest display.
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El Barón
Top-notch drinks with a casual vibe. A great place to start the night.
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Cafe Havana Cartagena
Strong drinks and live music; hours melt away inside these walls.
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What to Pack

The gear you’ll want

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Kingston Camp-Collar Printed Cotton Shirt by Rag & Bone $250

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Canyon Two-Tone Woven Faux Leather Sandals by Malibu + Missoni $90

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Cotton Shorts by A.P.C. $154

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Promaster Navihawk GPS by Citizen $1,395

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