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5 Must-Do Activities in Cartagena

I first visited Cartagena in 2001 when a friend invited me to look at real estate here. I told him I’d never buy real estate in Colombia, but that I’d go look at properties with him which seemed crazy enough. A few months later, I had invested my entire life savings in a 300 year old colonial house next door to the Santa Clara hotel. I fell in love with Cartagena, introduced my girlfriend to this magical city and when we married and had our first child, she wanted to take her maternity leave here. In the years since, I have hosted many, many guests here.

There are lots of reasons to visit Cartagena, but amongst the most convincing are the history and Colonial architecture, the amazing culinary scene, the nightlife, and the constant flow of festivals events. I always recommend guests cover at least the following basics when visiting Cartagena:

Sunset at Cafe del Mar

Puesta de sol en Cafe del Mar Café del Mar is a Bar & Restaurant located on top of the wall of the historic center of Cartagena. This is a not-to-miss spot to catch the sun setting over the Caribbean. Cafe del Mar serves up excellent handcrafted cocktails and decent food, but I never recommend it for a meal; there are plenty of restaurants in the city where you can get much more interesting food.

The chill-out vibe with music will be sure to put you in full relax mode and creates an ambiance that could remind you of Ibiza. Get there at least an hour before sunset to score the best seats by the wall.
For more info and a map, check it here

Bike Ride along the Bay

Bicicleta en la bahía de Manga Without question the best way to see the city is on a bike. There are lots of bike rental shops around the old city. Give yourself a few hours, ride up the bay to Castillogrande and then back around by the Bocagrande beach. It’s a wonderful loop with most of your ride on paths that don’t have cars. You can ride around inside the city too, but it’s also easy to walk there and frankly more relaxing on foot.

Please be sure to tour some of the historical and architectural locations, they are all listed in a walking map on Donde.co.

Crafts Market behind the Naval Museum

Craf market behind the naval museum At night if you’re walking from the Santa Teresa hotel toward Plaza San Pedro (btw, the Naval Museum, the Modern Art Museum and the San Pedro Church Museum are worth a visit during the day), be sure to walk the back side of the Naval Museum. There are dozens of local crafts vendors lined up here and you’ll get the best prices, wide selection, and best of all, you’ll be buying from the actual artists.

There’s wonderful jewelry, bags, leather sandals, hats, and all sorts of other Colombian Art. If you don’t make it here, the crafts in Plaza San Diego next to the Santa Clara Hotel are also excellent, though not nearly as extensive.
For more info and a map, check it out here

Totumo Volcano and Mud Bath

The Mud bath at Totumo is about a 45 minute drive from Cartagena, but well worth the trip. The actual visit to the baths lasts about an hour, but there are lots of quiet, peaceful beaches on the road north out of Cartagena, so make sure your tour guide plans a beach stop on the way home. The actual volcano mud bath is not for everyone, but it’s definitely something very different from all the other tourist attractions in Cartagena.

When you arrive, you’ll change into a bathing suit, climb up some rickety old wooden stairs about 20 or 30 feet to the top of the volcano where you can slip into the thick mud. You float in the mud, it’s hard to actually go under the surface and you probably wouldn’t want to get it in your eyes anyway, but you can float, cover your body with silky soft, grey clay mud.

It’s supposed to be cleansing for your skin, but it’s definitely fun and squishy. When you’ve had enough 15 or 20 minutes, you climb back down the volcano and rinse off in the lake sometimes with the assistance of a local woman who can get those hard to reach spots in the middle of your back. Again, not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an adventure off the beaten path and you're not afraid to get really dirty, this is a great activity and photo op.
For more info and a map, check it out here

Cafe Havana or Quiebra Canto

It’s hard to visit a vibrant, Latin American city and not get some local latin music. Cafe Havana has live bands on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the drinks are great, the artwork is engaging, and it’s fun to see both tourists and locals burning up the dance floor.

The space is pretty small, so be prepared to be elbow to elbow, but the ambiance makes this hot spot worth the visit. If you really just want to dance, Quiebra Canto, just 2 blocks from Cafe Havana is an alternative with less live music, more dance floor, and also great artwork on the walls.
For more info and a map, check it out here

TOM HERMAN
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