Cartagena is Colombia’s main destination city. It offers quite a lot for families, including a lovely gorgeous colonial city, a rich history, great beaches, and good food. Here you can learn about amazing things to do in Cartagena with kids.
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Table of Contents
Top Things to do in Cartagena with kids
1. Wander the Colonial Districts
Cartagena (also known as Cartagena de Indias) was among the most important Spanish colonial trading ports, especially in early colonial times. Gold and silver mined inland were transferred to Europe from here in the large treasure fleets that Spain sent every year. The city of Cartagena was one of the designated ports for the Spanish fleet.
Today, the city walls that were built to protect this important trading post largely remains intact, one of the few examples of a colonial era stone wall remaining. Going for a stroll along them while enjoying views of the Caribbean is a must do in Cartagena.
Another testament to the city’s colonial importance is its lovely architecture. The former homes of aristocrats, church officials, colonial military officers, and the wealthiest merchants, mansions with huge wooden doors and flower covered balconies are located throughout the Walled City of Cartagena.
Strolling along these narrow streets and past the colonial buildings feels like going back in time. As a bonus, you’ll find Cartagena’s finest hotels, best restaurants, and cafes here as well.
Just outside the Walled City, you will also want to explore Getsemaní. This sector was the home of the colonial era artisan and working class, many of them freed slaves. While the colonial architecture here is not quite as elaborate, it is still gorgeous. This is often considered to be the birthplace of Cartagena’s unique culture.
Today, you can find a mix of locals and tourists enjoying the trendy cafes and restaurants here. Umbrella and colorful flag covered streets, as well as street art, makes this one of the best places for photos in Cartagena.
A unique way to explore these areas is by renting bikes. You might prefer to take a guided tour or even a free walking tour. Many of the other things to do in Cartagena below are also located in the city center. The loveliest boutique hotels in Cartagena are also in these two areas and make for great places to stay.
2. Visit the Castillo San Felipe Fort
Just outside of the Walled City is the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a massive structure. In fact, it is the largest colonial era fort built by the Spanish on mainland South America. This is a unique example of colonial fortification design. (If you’ve visited Puerto Rico, you’ll find it’s quite similar to Castillo San Felipe del Morro).
Built atop a hill, it was eventually enlarged with stone covering the entire hill, meaning it does not have the square or rectangular shape of most forts built at this time.
Today, the fort hosts visitors from around the world. There are great views of the Walled City from its top, and walking thought the internal tunnels are fun and a bit eerie.
You can learn about the fort’s decisive role in the 1741 Battle of Cartagena, when it served as the last line of defense against a huge British force, in a short video. In sum, it’s an absolute must see in Cartagena.
3. Learn More About the City’s History at the Museums
With such a historic city, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cartagena has several nice museums. The best museum to learn about Cartagena’s history is the Naval Museum or Museo Naval del Caribe.
There are exhibits here on the city’s founding and the numerous attacks on it by pirates and foreign invaders. The museum also shows Cartagena’s important role in the fight for Colombian independence and the modern Colombian navy, including its little known role in the Korean War. Kids will love the interactive models of a submarine and warship bridge.
Another good history museum is the Palacio de la Inquisición (the Palace of the Inquisition). Located in a gorgeous colonial era building, this was once a seat of the Spanish Inquisition. Today it doubles as a historical museum and a museum of the inquisition. Just be sure to watch out for bickering siblings around the model gallows and guillotine!
Finally, the Museo del Oro Zenu or Gold Museum is located just across Bolívar Park from the Palacio de la Inquisición and worth a visit. It has some gorgeous examples of pre-colonial gold work made by Colombia’s indigenous peoples. This museum is always free.
4. Enjoy Colombia’s Caribbean coast
In addition to its interesting history and lovely colonial charm, Cartagena is well known for its beautiful beaches. The best beaches in Cartagena are located outside the city itself in the Rosario Islands and the Island of Barú. Here, you’ll find white sand beaches and crystal clear waters great for snorkeling.
If you are traveling in a group or with a large family, a private boat rental is the best way to enjoy the different islands. Day tours can also be a good way to see them. Of course, spending a few nights here at a place like IslaBela or Isla del Encanto is a great way to relax and be a beach bum for a few days.
It’s worth noting, the beaches in town are also nice, just not as beautiful as out on the islands. The beaches on the closer island of Tierra Bomba are also good options. Playa Blanca is a popular spot, although it is best avoided on weekends and holidays as it can get overcrowded.
5. Take a Dip in a Mud Volcano
Perhaps Cartagena’s most unique attraction is the Volcán del Totumo mud volcano. Located about 45 minutes outside of the city, this is an active mud volcano. It is recommended to book a tour of the Totumo Mud Volcano, but you could also take a taxi.
After climbing the stairs up the side, you can climb in and float in the mud. The natural consistency of the mud will keep you from sinking below shoulder height. Locals claim the mud works wonders for your skin.
Doing a trip to the mud volcano is one of the more interesting things to do in Cartagena, and depending on season, it can be combined with another unique experience.
Not far away there is a salt mine in the town of Galerazamba. In the salty waters there are microorganisms that give the water a pinkish glow, creating a pink sea. If it has been raining a lot or the salt has been recently harvested, the pink color is not visible, but if it is, this can easily be combined on a day trip that includes the mud volcano and the pink sea.
6. Go for a Sunset Cruise
Cartagena was so important for the Spanish due to its large bay. Taking a sunset cruise is one of the top things to do in Cartagena. There are several sunset cruises, including one on a pirate ship and one on a catamaran.
The ship’s crew will take you to the edge of the bay where you can enjoy a perfect view of the sun setting over the Caribbean. You also get to enjoy the city lights at night as the cruise returns.
Other good places to see the sunset in Cartagena are at the rooftop bar of Hotel Movich, Cafe del Mar, which is atop the wall, and along the beaches in Bocagrande.
7. Try Some Great Seafood
Situated on the Caribbean coast, Cartagena has terrific, fresh seafood. At the beach, you have to sample the traditional fried fish plate which includes coconut rice and fried plantain patties known as patacones to go with a golden brown, freshly caught fish. Seafood rices, the seafood stew known as cazuela de mariscos, and ceviches are all terrific in Cartagena.
Some restaurants that are worth trying are Club de Pesca, Carmen Cartagena, La Mulata, La Cevicheria, and Cuzco. If you want to try some non seafood dishes, posta negra is a traditional beef roast in a sweet sauce, and you can get great steaks at Quebracho.
For another local favorite, be sure to try an arepa de huevo, a favorite street food that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack anytime!
There you have some of the best things to do in Cartagena kids. You can learn more about history, enjoy the beach, cruise on the bay, and try some of the best seafood around. With Colombia and Cartagena becoming more well known every year, now is the perfect time to plan a visit. And don’t miss this itinerary for Colombia.
*All photo credits to Adam McConnaughhay with the exception of the castle, food, and lead Pinterest images.
About the Author: Adam McConnaughhay lived in Cartagena for over a decade and writes about it and other destinations in Colombia at CartagenaExplorer.com.
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