Anyone who thinks you can't get to the heart of Cartagena, Colombia in six days is obviously not familiar with this itinerary. In a little less than a week, you can discover every inch of this well-preserved Spanish colonial metropolis, from the most off-the-beaten-path street markets to the trendiest cocktail lounges. You'll visit ancient fortresses and learn to dance like a local in a professional salsa class. You'll even be able to work in a little Caribbean beach time, too.

Highlights

  • Tour the ancient fortress of San Felipe de Barajas
  • Laze on the white sands of Playa Blanca
  • Take a jewelry class and make your own emerald adornments
  • Learn the secrets of Colombia's most passionate dance, salsa

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Cultural visit of Bazurto Market and Cartagena Cartagena
Day 3 Kayaking Around Barú Island Cartagena
Day 4 Emeralds and Alchemy Cartagena
Day 5 Salsa Dancing Cartagena
Day 6 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena

Cartagena's historic Old Town
Cartagena's historic Old Town

Welcome to Cartagena! This colonial fortress city on the Caribbean is rich in culture, architecture, romance, and even pirate history. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel.

Depending on the time of your arrival, you'll have a few options for activities. You can relax and enjoy the hotel amenities or get right into the mix with a neighborhood walk, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide (optional add-on). Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Wander the narrow streets of the historic Old Town, snapping photos of the lively plazas and colorful houses with bougainvillea-draped balconies.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo, stopping at key sites like Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana, Parque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls (dating back to 1586), constructed to protect Cartagena from sea attacks. These ramparts also afford panoramic views of the city and make great sunset-viewing spots.
  • Visit Santo Domingo, which, having been erected in 1552, is reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Explore Getsemaní, the bohemian neighborhood just outside the walls of Cartagena's Old Town. Once a seedy area, Getsemani is now a cultural enclave filled with Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

Finish the day with mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s hip restaurants or rooftop bars.

Day 2: Cultural visit of Bazurto Market and Cartagena

Colorful streets of Cartagena de Indias
Colorful streets of Cartagena de Indias

With its mix of colonial history and cutting-edge modernity, Cartagena is such an enchanting city, and it definitely deserves a second day of exploring. 

During the morning you will go to discover the Bazurto Market, a real pearl at the same level as La Popa Monastery and San Felipe Fort. Here you'll explore the Gastronomy from the city, with more than 20 secret points between fruit stands, vegetables, herbs and spices, milk products, fishes, seafood, and traditional kitchen equipment.

Try native fruits, local beers... take a lunch of the traditional cuisine at the same place where Antony Bourdain recorded for his tv show No Reservations at Travel and Living Channel. Meet some chefs, owners and providers from this important Market.

During the afternoon, beyond the historic center, there are two spots that really provide insight into the city's past: La Popa Monastery and San Felipe Castle. Both were strategic sites used to defend Cartagena against pirates and the conquistadors of colonial times. San Felipe was built in 1536 to protect the bay and is a masterpiece of military architecture. La Popa sits at a high point in Cartegena, and the views from the monastery are as fabulous as you'd expect — all the way out to the Boca Grande neighborhood and its glittering skyscrapers. 

Day 3: Kayaking Around Barú Island

Kayaking the Caribbean
Kayaking the Caribbean

This morning you’ll embark on a kayaking trip around Isla Barú, one of the gems of Colombia’s Caribbean. Located just south of the city of Cartagena, Barú was once part of the peninsula but is now separated by the narrow Canal del Dique, which runs inland and eventually connects to the Magdalena river. You’ll be exploring this canal and its attendant flora and fauna. The mangroves here are home to manatees, turtles, capybaras, and caimans. Some bird species you might encounter include hummingbirds, herons, and the yellow warbler.

Spend the remainder of the day relaxing. The best spot for this is also on Barú at Playa Blanca. It's generally regarded as Cartagena’s most beautiful beach, and the crystalline waters and soft white sands make a perfect spot to while away the afternoon hours.

Kayak trip: Three hours

Day 4: Emeralds and Alchemy

Mixologist at work at Alquimico
Mixologist at work at Alquimico

Spend the morning however you desire. You can stay in and enjoy your hotel's amenities, venture out and tour Cartagena at your own pace, or participate in an additional activity (consult us).

Next up is a luxurious exercise in jewelry making. Any fan of precious stones is likely aware of Colombia's famous emeralds, and today you'll be making your own adornments starring this coveted gem. During the class, you'll learn the various techniques jewelers employ to transform raw stones into the elegant jewels you see in the display cases. You'll make rings, earrings, and pendants, and you can take one of your creations home. The class also includes a presentation about the historical relevance of emeralds in Colombia, as well as their mystic and romantic heritage. Finally, you will get a glimpse of Petra, the biggest emerald in the world. 

You can spend the evening however you wish, but we recommend heading back into the classroom. This time its cocktail lessons at Alquimico Bar, a swanky watering hole located in a converted colonial building in Old Town. This lounge prides itself on the alchemy of its cocktail menu, and here you'll uncover the secrets to some of their most exotic concoctions. You'll also learn a bit about the history of rum, one of the hallmark liquors used at Alquimico. Of course, there will be frequent tastings of the bar's most famous potations. 

Day 5: Salsa Dancing

Put your dancing shoes on
Put your dancing shoes on

You'll have the entire morning and afternoon to spend on your own. Maybe visit Cartagena's bohemian colonial neighborhood of Getsemaní, if you haven't already, and enjoy the cafes and colonial churches. In the evening, head back to Old Town and prepare to experience the beating heart of Colombian culture: salsa. Music and dance link every corner of this nation, none more so than this genre. That's right, you won't just be listening to the music, you'll be hitting the dance floor as well. 

Under the tutelage of a local instructor, you will learn the fundamentals of salsa dancing—its rhythms and syncopations, its heart and soul. The best part is all experience levels are welcome. In fact, you can do it by yourself if you're traveling solo. Ultimately, salsa in the Caribbean is about giving yourself over to the romantic mood and sultry night, and everyone's invited to the party.  

Day 6: Depart Cartagena

Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena
Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you didn't do the guided tour the previous day, explore the bulk of the city.

Enjoy Cartagena's cobbled maze of vividly colorful houses and ancient squares dating from the 16th century. Meander through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about important historical sites like Saint Philip's Castle. Maybe pay a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition in Plaza de Bolívar, which was once the seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and is now a macabre museum. 

A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.