Cartagena Nightlife | The 11 Best Bars and Clubs in 2020
Cartagena nightlife is well known for a damn good reason…
There's a lot to love about the rumba in this Caribbean beach city.
Famed for its enchanting colonial-era edifices, beautiful palm-fringed beaches, and marvelous world-class museums, Cartegena's is the jewel of Colombia's tourism tiara.
Case in point:
The buzzing Caribbean destination reels in 3 million foreigners a year, making it the most popular spot to visit in the entire country. And with so many cashed-up international tourists in town plus a strong contingent of rowdy domestic holidaymakers, you can bet your bottom dollar the party scene is going to be top-notch.
For a city of around one million people, the nightlife in Cartagena is bopping almost every night of the week. From laidback watering holes to lux nightclubs, a whole host of boozy venues cater to the party crowd.
Sure, prices are high, and it's a little on the touristy side.
But dig a little deeper, and you'll find affordable digs packed full of Colombians and locals alike. Better yet, its breezy Carribean vibe and quaint colonial setting make Cartagena a memorable spot for some cheeky after-dark debauchery.
Although it might not compete with the boisterous fiestas of Bogota or the madness of Medellin, I still rate Cartagena as one of the best places to rumba in Colombia.
And to help you make the most of a wild night out in the party capital of the Carribean, I've put together an in-depth nightlife guide:
What to Expect From Nightlife in Cartagena?
Well, that all depends.
Cartagena nightlife can range from high-end clubs for tourists to laid-back ‘champeta' spots where the locals get down all night long. Bumpin' and grindin' Costeño sytle.
But here's a little bit of what you can expect:
The clubs are empty early in the night
Like many places in Colombia–or South America–the clubs don't kick off till late in Cartagena. Unless there's a super-cheap drink special or free dancing lessons, there's no point in rocking up to a club before 11 pm.
Most people won't even get there before midnight. Either pre-game in your hotel or check out one of the local bars around town instead.
Working girls are everywhere
Cartegena is famous for its pre-pagos, A.K.A. prostitutes. Women of the night are out in force right throughout the city, infiltrating everywhere from backpacker bars to high-end haunts.
And the worst part? They won't even tell you they're on the clock until you've invested several hours and numerous drinks. Hell, some will keep their true profession a secret until after you've done the deed, and it's time to pay up.
So how do you work out who's a professional and who's not? Well, you could try asking a few qualifying questions about her job. And be honest with yourself: if she's way out of your league, then it's probably a business transaction.
It's sweltering hot
Cartagena is famously warm–sweltering, stinking hot.
And while the intense Carribean heat subsides substantially after sunset, it's still going to be pretty warm out at night. Leave your blazer in Bogota and come kitted out in lightweight and breathable clothing instead. You don't want to be the sweaty gringo who perspires all over everyone in the club.
There's often a dress code
Colombians dress well, especially on a night out–you won't get away with your flip-flop and boardshorts combo at the city's top-end nightclubs. If you plan on going out clubbing, I'd recommend a button-down shirt, dark jeans, and shoes. Bars are a little more laidback and many don't enforce a dress code.
Given Cartagena's humid climate, you might scoff at the idea of wearing long pants and shoes. But remember, even if you do get into a nicer place in casual clothing, you'll stick out like a sore thumb and have a much harder time befriending the local crowd.
Tourists are everywhere
Gringos are everywhere in Cartagena. If you're looking for an authentic Colombian party scene with scarcely another pasty-faced foreigner in sight, then you've come to the wrong city.
Still, there are steps you can take to avoid the brunt of the tourist crowd. Give Getsemani and the Old Town a miss and opt for more local barrios like Manga instead. I've heard the area around Paseo de la Castellana has some fun local spots.
The Chiva party bus is amazing
Pub crawl the Colombian way on the fun-filled nocturnal “sightseeing” tour. Thirty or so excitable revelers from around the world pack on to a brightly colored old chicken bus to run laps around the city, with free-flowing rum and a live local band providing the onboard entertainment.
Sure, it's a little trashy, but it's a hell of a lot of fun and a great way to meet new friends for a rowdy night of rumba. You'll come across party-goers from elsewhere in Colombia too — this isn't a cheesy tourist trap. Local Colombians from around the country love a good Chiva fiesta too.
Spanish is super useful
Sure, you can make your way around gringo-friendly Cartagena on English alone. In fact, millions of people do exactly that because the city is set up to cater to the foreign crowd.
But to make the most of the nightlife in Cartagena, it's essential to speak a little español. That way, you'll become friends with the locals, meet new romantic partners, and avoid getting ripped off all the damn time. Life is just so much easier when you speak the local language.
Where to Stay in Cartagena?
The main tourist part of Cartegena is relatively compact, so it's easy enough to navigate your way around the city on foot.
The epicenter of the scene is the ‘Old Town,‘ A.KA the Ciudad Amurallada (Walled City) for the ancient perimeter encircling it. Inside, you'll find the best-preserved colonial architecture in South America; a beautiful cobble-stoned barrio packed full of sleek boutiques and boozy bars.
The neighborhood caters to cashed-up foreign tourists, so it's far from authentic and a little on the pricey side. Still, it's a top option if you want to be as close as possible to the city's historic heart.
Another possible option is Bocagrande, an upmarket seaside resort full of modern high rises and swanky gastronomic delights. The nightlife scene is somewhat upscale, so you'll need to be prepared to splash some cash and don fancy threads to fit in. Come here if you want easy access to the beach and don't mind forking out for a posh apartment.
But for me–and for most millennial party animals–you can't go past Getsemani.
This former working-class neighborhood has had a facelift in recent years to become Colombia's most vibrant bohemian enclave. Street art, hip gastronomic venues, and hedonistic nightlife sets the scene. The liveliest venues in the city lie within, so it's the neighborhood of choice for when fiestas are your number one priority.
Getsemani is packed to the rafters with backpackers, although you'll find a couple of upmarket boutiques around here as well.
In Getsemani, you'll find a number of backpacker hostels and boutique hotels. I've tried a few of them, but one seems to stand out above the rest.
My favorite hotel spot in Getsemani features a stunning boutique decor, colonial-style swimming pool, and sweeping rooftop views of stunning Cartegana.
The location is absolutely ideal if you're looking to party the night away. You'll be within walking distance to dozens upon dozens of waterholes, nightclubs, and more. Highly recommended…
My favorite? The best hotel in Getsemani is the Hotel Capellán.
Nightlife in Cartagena | How Much Will It Cost You?
Don't come to Cartagena expecting a cheap night out on the tiles.
Colombia is a middle-tier Latin American nation, so prices are neither high nor low in relative terms. And as the most touristic city in the country, Cartagena suffers from a severe case of ‘gringo pricing.'
In other words, drinking here is more expensive than Bogota and Medellin.
Still, you don't have to drop a ton for a fun fiesta here. Stacks of bars and clubs cater to backpackers with prices to match, especially in Getsemani. You'll find the fanciest joints in Bocagrande, although the Old Town has quite a few expensive establishments as well.
Pick and choose accordingly, and expect to drop anywhere between $30-150 USD on a night out.
Consider the following prices to be a rough guide:
- Cover charge: $0-15 USD
- Beer: $1-6 USD
- Drink: $3-12 USD
- Bottle of wine: $20-60 USD
- Bottle of booze at a club: $30-250 USD
If you're looking to booze for a bit cheaper, try and stick with the local Caribbean rum. Not only is it damn delicious, but it's by far the cheapest liquor in Cartagena.
Best Bars in Cartagena, Colombia | Top 5
As someone who has partied more than a few weekends away in Cartagena, I wanted to start by breaking down a few of the best bars in Cartagena.
Here's my favorite watering holes in the Caribbean city…
A top spot for a sundowner, Cafe del Mar serves ice-cold cerveza and tasty cocktails at sky-high prices. At least you'll get the best view in the city along with your overpriced drink, which makes it all worthwhile in the end.
Dress well if you want to fit in with the upmarket crowd.
Cafe Havana's marketing peeps reckon it's among the top salsa clubs in the world. Whether that's true or not, it's good enough for Bill and Hillary Clinton — and does tend to attract big-name bands.
You'll pay $10 bucks just to get in and struggle to swing your hips on the crowded dance floor, but the atmosphere is electric and the music on point.
Come to Alquimico to savor the best cocktails in the city, although expect to pay a premium as these puppies come in at US$10 a pop. Still, the old colonial-era shoe shop has been beautifully restored in a chic modern style, making it the funkiest place to imbibe in the city. There's a panoramic rooftop bar above, and the food is damn good.
The spot also turns into a full-on nightclub later on weekend nights.
La Casa de la Cerveza is your go-to spot for sampling the sweet amber nectar, as this busy beer house produces the finest craft lager in town.
It's a pretty pricey place to pre-game, but sweeping vistas of Bocagrande and the sea make it worth the splurge.
Mamallena is one of the best backpacker haunts in town, and inside you'll find a perpetually busy bar. Expect to run into young travelers from all over the world here, which is great for putting together an impromptu party posse.
The booze is cheap, and you don't have to sleep here to drink at the bar.
Best Clubs in Cartagena, Colombia | Top 6
Cartagena has more than just a few bars to stroll into. There's also a bumping club scene, that features some of the wildest dancing you've ever seen…
Yep, I'm talking about ‘champeta' for those of you not familiar with the Cartagena nightlife scene.
Here's my top clubs to check out in Cartagena:
This wild club is probably the craziest place in the city and gets jam-packed with boisterous revelers almost every night of the week. And who can blame them? Banging electro tunes, fearsome fire shows, and killer Old Town views make this place stand out above the rest.
If you liked Andres Carne de Rey in the Bogota nightlife scene, you're going to love this loco joint.
Stuffed full of kitschy Colombian decor from where live bands bust out banging Latin tunes, the party here is refreshingly authentic and reasonably priced. Expect a healthy mix of gringos and locals.
Come here to pull shapes with the best-looking people in the city–Sofia Vergara is supposedly a big fan of the place. The raucous two-story venue is a hit among Colombia's financial elite for its killer sound system where DJs bust out non-stop Latin beats.
Excellent cocktails made from exotic local fruits ($10 USD and up) help the crowd loosen up, and there's a breezy rooftop terrace to escape the madness of the dancefloor.
Barzuto is a little more laidback than most options on my list, so check this joint out if you're looking to boogie on the cheap. The staff serves affordable mixers and ice-cold beers to a mostly Colombian clientele, and its uber-bright decor adds a fun vibe to the space.
Go here for the experiences…at least once!
The primary genre here is Champeta, a fast-paced style that's traditional to the Caribbean — although you'll hear a smattering of reggae and afro-beat as well.
This cozy cave-like establishment is where Obama's secret service agents went astray, so don't assume the hot ladies at the bar will be wooed by your boyish charm alone. A DJ or band plays reggaeton and merengue, which attracts a local crowd, and there's an upstairs rooftop should you start feeling claustrophobic. Be sure to try the spicy ceviche.
If Cafe Havana is too pricey or crowded, head here for your nightly salsa fix instead. The fancy joint attracts a lively crowd of locals and foreigners alike, especially on Thursdays, when they host a famous salsa night. Donde Fidel is another top option for salsa lovers in the city.
Media Luna has long been Cartagena's craziest party hostel, largely thanks to the bustling two-story club up top. Non-guests are welcome to party on the premises, which attracts a loyal contingent of locals during it's epic Wednesday night fiestas.
On the whole, however, the place is packed with backpackers — but you'll find a more “club” atmopshere here than in Mamallena.
Is Cartagena Safe at Night?
This is an interesting question…
Is Colombia safe? I believe it is. Although Colombia has come a long way in recent years, it's still a little rough around the edges.
But the good news is that Cartagena is generally quite safe.
The city council has put a policeman on seemingly every corner within the tourist areas, and it's highly unlikely you'll encounter trouble under their watchful eye.
However, in the wee hours of the morning after the bars and clubs shut, the streets thin out at lightning speed. It's not a good time to go wandering around deserted alleys on your own, not here nor anywhere in South America. If you find yourself in this situation, stay inside and grab an Uber or taxi home instead.
The city is awash with drugs, especially coke. Local pushers are known to rip tourists off, so don't be surprised to find yourself with talcum powder instead of the real deal.
Another nefarious tactic is to lure gringos into a secluded alley and rob them before the sale.
Basically, the less drugs you look for, the safer you are. The same goes for interacting with pre-pagos. Less interactions with pre-pagos equals safety.
Best Nights to Party in Cartagena, Colombia?
Even though it's a tourist town, Cartagena doesn't hit full steam until the end of the week. Domestic tourists account for a large proportion of the party scene, so expect Friday and Saturday to be the biggest nights.
Nevertheless, you certainly can have a stonking night out midweek, but you have to know where to go. Consider the following:
Monday-Tuesday: Give Alquimico or Eivissa a shot, as these tend to be busy all week (and often too busy on the weekend).
Wednesday: Media Luna Hostel has long been hosting insane Wednesday fiestas, where hundreds of excitable backpackers and locals meet to let loose in the middle of the week. A young and exuberant crowd makes this one of the wildest events in the city, where everyone dances the night away in the in-house club before heading to the after-party in the wee hours.
Thursday: Crazy Salsa hosts a lively salsa party on Thursday if you're into that sort of thing. Learn at least a few moves before arrival and don decent clothes to fit in.
Friday-Saturday: Everywhere will be busy.
Sunday: Almost all the clubs close. Try one of the bars like Cafe del Mar or Havana if you fancy a brew. Gringo hostels like Media Luna and Mamellena usually have a few people partying.
Cartagena Nightlife | Verdict
It might be touristy, but nightlife in Cartagena is a damn good time. Scores of supercharged pubs and clubs see locals and foreigners alike getting down and dirty on a proper good night out.
But remember, this isn't the place to save money. Cartagena is quite a bit more expensive than other Colombian cities, so expect to drop some cash.
That's all then, folks.
Hope ya'll have an unforgettable night out in this crazy Carribean party town!
Que te vaya bien,