Cartagena is a South American destination enjoyed and loved by people of color from all over. With almost half of its population having African heritage, there is much about the city that resonates with Black travelers. From its music and dance to its food and art, the city’s African influence can be seen everywhere.
The bustling, modern hotspot is full of color and energy at every turn. In the walled city of Old Cartagena, you’ll find colonial architecture, a vibrant nightlife scene and culinary options ranging from street food to fine dining establishments. Ready to plan your getaway to this diverse South American/Caribbean gem? Read on for expert tips and ideas on where to dine, stay and play in Cartagena, Colombia.
Where to Stay
When visiting, the top areas to stay in are the walled city, Getsemani and Bocagrande. Located in the Old Town, Hotel Casa San Agustin offers some of the best accommodations in the area. Here, authentic charm meets luxury, and you’ll be conveniently located close to many of the top attractions in the city.
If you’re seeking a more affordable option, Casa Noir is a great choice located in the artsy neighborhood of Getsemani—and, it’s Black-owned. The area has its own unique, trendy vibe, tons of restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs, and it’s just outside the walled city.
Planning to spend a lot of time on the beach? Bocagrande’s Estelar Cartagena de Indias Hotel puts you right across the street from the shore, in a walkable area popular among tourists. The hotel offers incredible ocean views, a massive infinity pool and its rooftop establishment, 51 Sky Bar, is the highest bar in all of Colombia.
What to Eat
Wandering through the cobblestone streets of the walled city, you’re bound to come across food vendors peddling delicious eats. Be adventurous and try some! There are also tours available to take you to all the best spots.
One of the treats you must try is an arepa de huevo. This quintessential Columbian street food is a little pocket made from corn dough, filled with egg. Carimañolas are another popular snack. These fritters are made from yuca and filled with meat, spices, and sometimes cheese. Also, be sure to try some cocoda. Made from shredded coconut, these candies are super sweet and come in a variety of flavors.
If you’re looking for a local restaurant serving tasty local fare, try Buena Vida Marisqueria y Rooftop. This eatery is known not only for its amazingly fresh seafood, but for its fun atmosphere and great drinks. Some nights there is a DJ and/or live performances.
What to Do and See
Delve into the history of the region as you explore its most prominent landmark, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Seated atop the Hill of San Lazaro, this fortress, built to protect the city from intruders, is largely considered one of the greatest fortresses the Spanish have ever constructed. After ascending to the high ramparts of the castle, visitors are treated to panoramic views of the city and bay.
A 10-minute walk from the walled city, you’ll find the colorful barrio of Getsemani. The neighborhood was first inhabited by Cartagena’s Black residents, many of them shoemakers and blacksmiths. In recent years, the extremely walkable area has become known for its hip cafés, boutique hotels and many vibrant murals, many of which pay homage to the city’s African heritage. At night, visit Getsemani’s cultural hub, Plaza de la Trinidad, as it comes alive with street performers and vendors selling food and drinks.
Lastly, no Black traveler should conclude their trip without visiting San Basilio de Palenque. This small village located about an hour southeast of Cartagena was the very first free town for Africans in the Americas. You’ll see the brightly-dressed Palenqueras walking around selling fruits from the bowls expertly balanced on their heads. Taking a trip to their hometown provides a unique opportunity to learn all about their culture and history.