Cartagena boasts a cocktail culture worthy of a city three times its size, with scores of mixologist-laden bars using local ingredients. You'll find variants on the coco loco (a rum-and-coconut-based Colombian specialty) as well as mojitos that provide an antidote to Cartagena’s sultry heat. Whether you’re into low-key lounges or want a wild night out, these are the best watering holes in which to booze and schmooze. All are in El Centro—the historic walled city—or adjacent Getsemaní, the fashionably rehabbed nightlife epicenter.
The owners of Alquímico (“Alchemy”) have conjured gold with the right mix of atmosphere and superb cocktails. It occupies a multi-floored, high-ceilinged colonial mansion with distressed walls, red curtains, and a square island bar poised beneath an atrium. Giant glass jars contain the ingredients for in-house spirits like ginger rum, or the inquisición, made with rose salt, spices, and lime. Any time is a good time to go, but the rum-fueled, high-octane fun begins around 11 pm and is assisted by cool DJs spinning everything from disco to reggae to funk. Plus there’s a pool table, fusbol, and a screen showing the big game of the moment. Check out the top-floor roof lounge.
Calle del Colegio #34-24, El Centro, Cartagena
Bazurto Social Club
One of Cartagena’s liveliest yet most unpretentious nightspots, Bazurto is known for its top DJs and five house bands. One of them, the Bazurto All Stars, specialize in Afro-Colombian-infused champeta, cumbia, and other fusion tunes. Bazurto is adorned with whimsical art, including red chairs shaped like crabs; you’ll need to get here early on weekend evenings to stake one out. It serves seriously tasty ceviche and other seafood-based tapas until midnight, best washed down with a machacao (a house cocktail and fruity twist on the mojito). Check out Bazurto on Wednesday for free salsa lessons. It’s located in the northern end of Getsemaní.
Avenida del Centenario, Carrera 9 #30-42, Getsemaní, Cartagena
Café del Mar
Cartagena’s chillest sunset venue, the open-air Café del Mar, owes its pack-‘em-in popularity to its location atop the Baluarte Santo Domingo: a prime corner on the city's ramparts. Here the sea breeze cools you down, and DJs help pack the place by spinning old-school tracks. The cocktails don’t come cheap, but the potent house mojito is worth the splurge. Kick off your evening with a sundowner at this touristy hot spot before moving on.
Baluarte de Santo Domingo, El Centro, Cartagena
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The most famous bar in Cartagena (even Bill and Hillary have partied here), Café Havana is all about the sizzling Cuban vibes. Located in the heart of Getsemaní, in the party-hearty golden triangle, this homage to '50s Havana draws a mix of monied Colombians, tourists, travelers, and eager locals—all of whom come to splurge on hyper-inflated-yet-killer cocktails and dance the night away.
Located in a former warehouse, its deconstructed interior evokes a well-worn Havana, while portraits of Cuban music legends like Benny Moré, Celia Cruz, and Omara Portuondo compliment the theme. With live music hot enough to cook with—courtesy of a 12-piece house band—this is the place to practice (or watch locals showing off) hip-shaking salsa moves. Café Havana is so popular its clientele spill out into the streets.
Calle de la Media Luna & Calle de Guerrero, Getsemaní, Cartagena
Hints of weathered Havana also infuse Demente, with its bare limestone exterior and a minimalist contemporary interior that includes a retractable roof. It caters to a cultured crowd, many of whom like to settle into an outside rocking chair and puff on a Cuban cigar (sold on site). The friendly bar staff create delectable versions of signature cocktails, like their green mango daiquiri and madre sucia ("dirty mother") made with coffee, rum, and tequila. Located on Getsemaní’s Plaza de la Trinidad, it also serves great tapas and wood-fired pizzas. Another highlight is the eclectic music playlist, which spans Sinatra and Coltrane to Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse.
Plaza de la Trinidad, Getsemaní, Cartagena
Donde Fidel, or "Fidel's Place"—named for owner Fidel Leottau—is a legendary institution and a dive bar in the best sense of the term. So if you’re not keen on blowing a stack of money, this fun, no-frills place is a great option, not least for its superb salsa, excellent chilled beer on tap, and great people watching. Donde Fidel is located at the western corner of Plaza de los Coches, near the entrance to Cartagena's walled city, and when it gets really packed the crowd moves out onto the plaza. Be sure to peruse the inside walls of Donde Fidel—they're lined with photos of famous patrons.
Carerra 7 and Calle 32, El Centro, Cartagena
El Arsenal: The Rum Box
If you’re into sampling the latest rum cocktails, then El Arsenal is for you. The mixologists concoct monthly menus that include one-time-only temptations like the "Te-Killa" (comprised of rum, cachaca, fruit tea, and tequila) and a cool summer libation known as the Paitilla Pink. It's made with rum, lime, watermelon, and basil and is served in a fish-bowl glass. Abe, the owner, and his staff will even conjure improvised cocktails for you by request. They also offer rum-tasting classes. The bar is named for its location on Calle El Arsenal, in Getsemaní—ground zero for Cartagena’s night-life scene.
Calle 24 #8B-19, Getsemaní, Cartagena
El Barón Café & Liquor Bar
This is a bar to put a smile on any sophisticate’s face. El Barón exudes a New York Meatpacking District feel with its bare walls, cool tile floor, and speakeasy vibe. Add a modishly retro playlist and an alchemists’ touch to the cocktails (all prepared by vested mixologists), and it’s no wonder the well-heeled crowd hangs out here. Small in size but big on atmosphere, this stand-out is nestled on Plaza de San Pedro Claver.
Plaza de San Pedro Claver, Carrera 4 #31-7, El Centro, Cartagena
Looking for the perfect place to stay during your visit to Cartagena? Here's a list of the best boutique hotels. And for more on how to explore this incredible coastal city, head to the Ultimate Guide to Cartagena.