Like pairing a gourmet meal with a fine wine, the best way to complement a trip to the Spanish-colonial fortress city of Cartagena is to include an excursion to nearby Caribbean islands. This short and sweet four-day itinerary offers just that: colonial culture and a relaxing beach holiday wrapped into one.

Highlights

  • Stroll the cobble streets and walk the ancient ramparts of Cartagena
  • Take a cooking class and discover the joys of Caribbean cuisine
  • Kick back on Playa Azul, one of the standout beaches in the Rosario Islands

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena - Cooking Class Cartagena
Day 2 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 3 Rosario Islands Day Trip Cartagena
Day 4 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena - Cooking Class

The soul of Cartagena
The soul of Cartagena

Welcome to Cartagena de Indias! Upon arrival, a driver will transfer you from the airport to your hotel. Even on the drive into the city, the aura of Cartagena stands out. This well-preserved colonial gem on the Caribbean is rich in culture, architecture, romance, and even a bit of pirate history. After all, Cartagena was once the strongest fortress city in the New World, and its fortifications protected Spanish gold from attacks by plunderers. 

Your first order of business: a cooking class! Gilles and his wife will welcome you to his restaurant in Cartagena's historic walled city (Old Town) and you'll discover the exotic, rich flavors that comprise Caribbean cuisine. After a welcome cocktail, you will start cooking. The class culminates with an epic dinner where you'll get to enjoy all the delectable dishes you've prepared.

Day 2: Explore Cartagena

The main gate of Cartagena's Old Walled City
The main gate of Cartagena's Old Walled City

After breakfast, take your pick of numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour. Maybe a surfing excursion on the coast, or a day lazing near the Caribbean waters of Playa Blanca, or even a sunset sail with a glass of bubbly.

Other options include a guided walking tour of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city (Old Town). Together with an English-speaking guide, you will delve deep into Cartagena's Spanish-colonial history. You'll visit the city's extensive fortifications and famous fortresses like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. You'll also stroll the walled city's cobbled plazas, like the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, with its Andalusian-style Cathedral.

If an organized tour isn’t appealing, simply create your own adventure around Cartagena. At dusk, take part in the sultry coastal atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 3: Rosario Islands Day Trip

A petit island in Rosario
A petit island in Rosario

After an early breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the pier where you will board a speedboat for an hour trip to the Barú Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, ancient forts that once protected Cartagena from hostile invaders.

After arriving at the Rosario Islands, change into your swimwear and head to Playa Azul, a crescent beach with soft white sands hugging the turquoise Caribbean Sea. After enjoying a buffet lunch, you will have time to relax and sunbathe. An optional add-on is to rent a kayak and embark on a two or three-hour paddling excursion before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. A car will pick you up at the pier to take you back to your hotel.

Day 4: 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.

Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019