Backpackers guide to Cartagena

Where to eat, drink and chill when backpacking through Cartagena.

Cartagena is a small city in the north of Colombia, it´s a rich history and stunning colonial architecture makes it one of the most important tourist destinations and well worth visiting. This guide will introduce you to some of the most popular backpacker hotspots, making it easy to plan your trip and get inspired.

Best place to stay

The most popular backpacker hostels in Cartagena

There are hundreds of hostels in Cartagena, with the main strip located in Getsamani, just outside the walled city.

Media Luna Hostel

Media Luna is Cartagena’s biggest party hostel and one of the few that has a pool (albeit a small one). The dorms are 12 – 14 GBP a night and are rather uncharismatic, however, the free breakfast is ok and it´s nice to have a big open courtyard. This is a good hostel to come to if you’re traveling in a group and wanting to party, not so accommodating to solo backpackers or people looking to chill.

Hostel Mamallema

Mamallema is a hostel, bar, and restaurant. It´s slightly cheaper than Media Luna (10.15 GBP per night) but has no pool and a much smaller courtyard. I found this smaller more intimate hostel a much better place to meet people, and would, therefore, recommend it for solo travelers.

Best place to party

The busiest nightclubs in Getsamani and the old city

Media Luna Hostel

This hostel is the place to party, but only on a Wednesday. I recommend arriving late as there is a mediocre live band that steals the show until 1 pm. After that expect a DJ playing mainly reggaeton with some occasional rnb thrown in. There is a roof Terrace which opens at 1 pm, It has amazing views of the city, lots of places to sit, and a much more comfortable place to dance.

Entry: 20,000COP
Best day to party: Wednesday

Tasca Maria

This tiny bar located opposite Media Luna hostel is always packed. It has a great atmosphere and is often more appealing than paying for club entry.

Entry: Free
Best day to party: Any day

Elvissa

Elvissa is a medium sized club facing the clock tower of the old city. It has two dance floors, the first is inside playing reggaeton, bachata and salsa. The second can be found on the roof, it has backpacker-friendly electronic music and a beautiful view of the Plaza Major. The DJs here are much better than most other clubs and there´s a good mix of locals and backpackers. On Tuesdays, you can get free entry with a wristband (ask your hostel if they have any). They advertise a free “shot” on arrival, but don´t be fooled, I´m pretty sure it´s just juice.

Entry 20,000COP
Best day to party: Tuesday, Friday, Saturday

Bazurto Social Club

Bazurto social club is a great place to experience local Colombian music. It is colorful and beautifully decorated, playing mostly champeta, which is traditional Colombian music with a heavy African influence. This place has a great vibe with everyone dancing and is not a place to go to sit and have a drink.

Entry 20,000COP
Best day to party: Friday

Best places to drink

Cartagenas livliest bars

Cocktail stalls at Plaza Trinidad

Plaza Trinidad in Getsamani is always buzzing with tourists, there are live performers, and plenty of food and drink options. My favorite place to get cheap cocktails is Pauls stall, located on Calle de Guerrero (the street linking Havana Club to Plaza Trinidad).

Donde Fidel

Donde Fidel is Cartagena’s most famous salsa bar. Arrive early to get a table where you can watch couples dancing. If it all gets too hot, you can move to the outdoor seating area and enjoy table service.

Bourbon Street

This bar, located in Santo Domingo’s square, is where you can find live music, electronic DJ’s and rock bands. It’s a good place to meet local people which makes up around the 70% percent of the crowd. There is cheap beer, good cocktails, and a decent fast food menu.

Best places to eat

Cartagenas best cheap eats

There are so many amazing restaurants in Cartagena and something to suit every budget. For cheapest food look no further than the stalls scattered throughout the city, for more medium priced restaurants go to:

Cafe Stepping Stone

This socially responsible restaurant employs individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and donates some of its profits to charity. It has a great selection of food for vegans and vegetarians and is very healthy. The restaurant has a really relaxed feel and is well worth a visit, if only for a coffee. Note that this restaurant is not open in the evening, so visit at breakfast or lunch.

Crepes and Waffles

Crepes and Waffles is a Colombian chain serving both sweet and savory crepes. The franchise in the old city has an industrial, elegant feel and is always packed so expect to queue. If you can I recommend going to the one near Saint Peter’s square taking a seat on the roof terrace.

Best beaches

The nicest beaches within and surrounding Cartagena

Boca Grande

Cartagena’s beaches are not the most beautiful and offer little more than plastic chairs to tan in (I can´t understand why sun loungers are so elusive). This is made worse by the lack of beach bars or restaurants. However, if you don´t want to travel to nearby island paradises such as Isla Baru, you could spend a few hours bronzing at Las Playas de Boca Grande.

Playa Blanca

To find a beach worth going to, take a bus or boat to Playa Blanca, about two hours outside the city. It gets very busy here on weekends but has white sand, crystal blue water, and tonnes of fresh fish restaurants. You can stay the night, which I recommend, but there is no running water so you’ll be rationed to 1 or 2 bucket baths a day.

Best things to see and do

Fun things to do in Cartagena

See the old city on a free walking tour

The free walking tour takes place Monday to Saturday at 9:30 Am and 4:30 Pm from beside the Clock Tower. It fills you in on Cartagena’s colorful history and s a great way to orientate yourself at the start of your trip, as the walled city is notoriously difficult to navigate. The tour is technically free, but it is expected you tip at the end. (book in advance by clicking here)

Watch the sunset at Cafe Del Mar

This popular mid-priced bar and restaurant is located on Cartagena’s great wall. Overlooking the sea, it is the best place to grab a drink and watch the sunset. If you want the same view, but don´t want to pay so much for drinks, there are people selling cans of beer on the street to the right of the Cafe.

Learn to Kite Surf

Cartagena has a huge kitesurfing community, and if you’re into extreme sports and can dedicate a couple of full-on days to learning, kite surfing could be a great. It´s definitely not easy, and you’ll need at least 8-10 hours to kite by yourself. Schools are located in La Boquilla and are priced around 150,000 COP/ hour. The teachers with the best rep can be found at En Colombia, Kite Surf school.

Learn Spanish

The cheapest Spanish school to spend a week or two at is Nueva Lengua in Getsamani. I recommend the intensive course costing 185 USD / Week, for 20 hours of lessons. This school is the best value for money as it also offers free dancing and cooking lessons, as well as 2 paid activities a week. These include trips to nearby tourist attractions like Playa Blanca and El Totumo Mud Volcano.

That summarises the best of Cartagena, but do spend a good amount of time just wondering throughout the old city. With no agenda, your bound to find many equally beautiful places.

Go top