After living in Bogota for a few months, I needed a change. So a quick trip to the Colombian coast was in order. Cartagena it was. The beaches, rumba, and sun were sure to make for a fun trip.
It was my second trip to the city, so I decided to throw together a Cartagena travel guide for digital nomads. While the city can be amazing for tourism, many a traveler finds working difficult here.
Beach cities are rarely made for crushing 10-12 hour days behind the computer screen. You’re not supposed to spend every waking hour indoors when the stunning Caribbean sea is right outside your front door.
As well, things in Cartagena sometimes don’t work how they’re supposed to. I’m talking air conditioning, Wi-Fi routers, doors, pools, and more. If you head to this stunning beach town, you should expect a few things to go wrong during the trip. Just a warning.
Still, Cartagena is a travelers’ dream. From one of the best colonial cities to beaches to high-rise rooftop pools and pumping nightlife – it’s damn near impossible to get bored in Colombia’s biggest beach city.
Cartagena Travel Guide
Population: Cartagena is a beach city of around 1 million people. However, with all the tourists in the city at any given time, the population tends to feel larger than it is.
Weather: Cartagena is hot. Typically, you’ll find temperatures between 75-90 degrees Farhenieght year around. The average temperature hovers between 80-82 degrees on a normal day. May, June, and July are the rainy season – but the rain just isn’t that bad in this beach city compared to other places.
Safety: As the majority of money coming into Cartagena is from tourism, the city is pretty safe. Police are found around most corners in the colonial city and Bocagrande never seemed sketchy. Other areas of the city may be a little rougher, but this isn’t Cali, Colombia or Venezuela.
Language: Spanish is the official language of all cities in Colombia. As a tourist city, you can definitely find English speakers here. You’ll still be better off with Spanish in Cartagena. By speaking Spanish, you’ll avoid getting scammed as much as possible.
Costs in Cartagena vary. Luckily, I got a pretty good grasp for this Cartagena travel guide during my trips here. Overall, Cartagena is the second most expensive city in Colombia behind Bogota.
Things like apartments and gym memberships cost more here than anywhere else in Colombia. However, you can find cheap restaurants and bars all over. Food and drink in Cartagena are cheaper than Bogota by a mile. It’s a tourist town. No one is cooking and everyone is ready to party.
Apartment Costs: A one-bedroom or studio apartment in Bocagrande or the colonial city will run you at least $750 a month for decent amenities. For something that’s sure to work, you’ll want $1,000. Great two-bedroom spots can be found in Bocagrande with pools and gyms for around $1,300-1,500 a month.
Gym Membership: The gym is pretty expensive in Cartagena. You’ll definitely find better deals in Bogota or Cali. Expect to pay $20-30 a week for a short-term membership. Monthly deals can be found for $45-75 – depending on the gym.
Typical Meal: I found a number of great restaurants in Cartagena that I happily became a regular at. I was impressed with the food here. Breakfast was about $4 and came with a fresh juice. Lunch and dinner usually ran about $7-9 per meal, but the quality was excellent. You could do it cheaper for sure, but quality may drop. If you’re eating out three meals a day, you’ll want a budget of $15-25 per day.
Beer in Bar: $2-5 USD
Bottle of Wine in Bar: $20-50 USD
Bottle of Liquor in Club: $40-200 depending on the type of booze and the bar. Good rum can be found for cheap at certain places.
Where to Stay
While it can be difficult to choose where to stay in Bogota, there aren’t a ton of different neighborhoods that cater to digital nomads in Cartagena. You’ll want to base up in:
The Old City aka Ciudad Amurallada
That’s it. You won’t want to rent a hotel, hostel, or apartment anywhere else. This is where the vast majority of tourist and upper-class locals live. You’ll find modern amenities in every sector. From restaurants to bars to coffee shops to gyms (although not sure about Getsemani for gym life).
Bocagrande is full of high-rise apartments, rooftop pools, a few nice malls, casinos, restaurants, a few bars, and a decent beach. If you plan to stay in Cartagena for more than a few days, I’d highly recommend starting here. You’ll be able to get a little work done, enjoy the beach, and you’re a five-minute taxi from the colonial city.
The Old City aka Ciudad Amuralladaisn’t a bad place to base up, either. The Wi-Fi is good here and there are more cafes than you could imagine. The issue is tourism. You won’t be able to escape it here. You’ll be surrounded by tourists every single minute of the day and the annoying vendors they attract. Better for a 3-5 day trip than basing up for a month.
Getsemani is the backpackers’ district that’s recently seen a facelift. I saw a bum eating napkins out of a trash can here and was somewhat repulsed by the vibe. There are some nice boutique hotels here and a few fun bars.
People come to Cartagena, Colombia for vacation. The city is built on tourism. As such, there’s a ton of things to do. I won’t even try to list them all. These are just a few of my favorite things to do in Cartagena, Colombia:
The Old City aka Ciudad Amurallada: First and foremost, the best thing to do in Cartagena is to soak up the architecture and culture in the old city. Walk around. Down a few tintos. Walk along the wall. Check out the ocean. Just relax.
Bocagrande: This beach isn’t postcard pretty. The vendors are annoying as hell. But I really liked Bocagrande. The warm is always at a perfect temperature and the waves often are perfect for body surfing and splashing around.
Playa Blanca: When you want real Caribbean white sand and crystal clear waters, you’ll need to head to Playa Blanca on Isla Baru. However, don’t take a tour. They blow. Find a reputable boat driver and go privately. Just negotiate and realize that these boat drivers are straight scammers. While they absolutely blow and I wish nothing but atrocities on them, Playa Blanca is worth it while in Cartagena. Try to leave as early as possible. The sea gets really choppy after 3:30 PM.
San Fernando de Bocachica: The coolest tourist attraction ever without tourists. San Fernando de Bocachica was an old slave prison near the original port where boats enter Cartagena during the time of the Spanish Conquistadores. We arrived at sunset and there were zero other tourists. Just some local kids running around. It didn’t even cost to get in. A MUST while in Cartagena. Take a private boat from the beach at Castillogrande here. If you’re just going here, you’ll pay between $30,000-50,000 Colombian Pesos per person depending on your group and negotiation.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Easy to get to and cheap to enter. You don’t need a tour guide at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Just grab a taxi and go inside. This place is massive and offers stunning views all over Cartagena. Try to go at sunset to truly enjoy the amazing views.
Jet Skis at the Beach: The final must-do in Cartagena involves riding Jet Skis in the Caribbean sea. It’s a bit pricey but worth it. You can’t even ride a Jet Ski in the Dominican Republic. So pony up the $140,000 Colombian Pesos for a half hour ride and split it with a friend. It’s a blast cruising Bocagrande looking at the old city and high-rise buildings from the sea.
Nightlife in Cartagena
Oh, and one other amazing thing to do in Cartagena – Party! No Cartagena travel guide would be complete without talk of a little rumbaaaa. While I find the nightlife in Bogota more fun than in Cartagena, there’s still a few fun spots here, including:
Green Moon Bar: Numerous locals told me this is where all the locals prefer to party – away from the hordes of tourists. If you’re only in Cartagena for a few days, I wouldn’t venture off here. For digital nomads basing up, this should be a great spot to check out.
Bazurto Social Club: A “normal” spot in Getsemani where you can find tourists from all over the world and Colombia. There’s less sex tourism here, so it was my favorite spot around the colonial areas. Plus, they occasionally play a type of music called Champeta that’s fun to dance to.
Cafe Havana: The world-renowned salsa spot in Cartagena, Cafe Havana is the place to go if you enjoy dancing salsa. I don’t. So I avoided it like the plague, but many tourists love it. Cafe Havana is in Getsemani.
Alquimico Bar: The best place to start your night in the old city. This unique bar has an old-school feel and a sick rooftop are perfect for pre-gaming. Many upper-class Cartageneros head here on the weekends. Solid music, too.
La Jugada Clubhouse: The best club in the old city for digital nomads. This place is four floors and features a rooftop, too. The vibe here was pretty fun and I highly recommend this spot.
If you’re traveling to Santa Marta or Barranquilla, just have someone call you a “Puerta-a-Puerta” instead of taking the bus. They cost $30,000-40,000 Colombian Pesos and pick you up from your hotel and drop you off at the next one in a different coastal city.
For other travel in Colombia, you’ll want to fly. Luckily, flights to major cities are all dirt cheap from Cartagena, including:
Cartagena also has a fairly active international airport. So you won’t have any issues getting home from here.
I’m torn on my Cartagena travel guide for digital nomads. On one hand, you have an amazing beach city with a decent population. There’s charm and natural beauty around every corner. On the other hand, the overbearing vendors and plethora of sex tourism kind of ruins it for me.
My advice to digital nomads: Cartagena is fun for one week to one month. Find a place in Bocagrande where everything actually works and plan to only do 3-5 hours of work a day. After a month, you’ll be ready to leave even though you had a good time.
Looking for more Colombia travel tips? Check out these pieces:
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel – one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.