Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia, a beautiful, yet VERY hot little city. As a Florida girl, I thought I could handle my heat, but Cartagena was next level steamy…picture actually sweating off your mascara, a thing I didn’t even know was possible. In any case, the city is definitely worth a visit, so read on for planning an epic 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia. You could also stretch it to a 4 day Cartagena itinerary if you want to take it slow.
Totumo Mud Volcano
Wake up bright and early on day 1, because you’re off to play in the Totumo Mud Volcano! What is this mud volcano, you ask? Basically, it’s a very small volcano, which is now filled with (allegedly) healing mud. After climbing up to the top of the volcano, climb down the ladder into the mud and receive a massage from the attendants. Fun fact: from up above, it looks like everyone is standing in the mud. This is a lie…you’re actually suspended/ floating in the mud. It’s a really unique feeling. After splashing around in the mud for a bit, climb down some very slippery stairs and enter the lagoon to wash all that mud off. Fair warning: if you think you can casually frolic in the lagoon and wash the mud off yourself, you’re sorely mistaken. Ladies will approach you to wash you off, which entails waterboarding dumping pitchers of water over your head, and trying to basically remove your bathing suit in an attempt to remove all the mud from you. That was not my favorite part.
After your morning mud bath, head to the Manzanillo Beach, right outside of Cartagena for a lovely lunch on the beach and some time to play in the ocean. If you do this Totumo Mud Volcano Tour , they’ll provide transportation to the volcano from Cartagena, lunch on the beach, and then transport back to Cartagena from your beach stop. It’s a no-headache way to go, and definitely worth the small fee.
After your beach frolicking, you’ll make it back to Cartagena with plenty of time for a shower before dinner. Trust me, this was one of the longest showers I ever took…between the mud in my ears, the salt in my hair, and the horrendous water pressure at the hostel, I was in there for a while. But good news – the mud/ sulfur smell does come off, so once you’re clean, treat yourself to a giant Coco Loco (my fave Cartagena drink!) and some delicious ceviche!
Day 2 of your 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia will be a day of relaxation and pampering. Hop on a speed boat in the morning to kick off your Rosario Islands day trip. Our little spot of paradise included a sweet cabana (complete with a cabana boy!), a gorgeous swimming area, and obviously a well-stocked bar. Spend the day hopping between swimming in the beautiful ocean, napping in your cabana, and sipping on tropical drinks. The islands are known to be somewhat of a honeymoon location, but no fear if you’re there solo or with friends…I was there on a girl’s trip, and we had an epic time. This was possibly my favorite day in Cartagena. I mean come on, how can you beat boats, beaches, cabanas, and some seriously potent drinks?
The Rosario Islands are a full-day trip. We met at the port at 8 AM and returned around 4:30 PM, so you’ll have a little time to relax before dinner. A few recommendations: La Mulata, La Cevicheria, and for Taco Tuesday, Lobo del Mar! Only 40,000 Colombian pesos (~$12.50) for 4 tacos and a margarita!
Cartagena Photo Shoot
For day 3 in Cartagena, you’ll spend your day in the city, so plan to wear your lightest clothing, because it’s very hot…I sweated through everything I put on, and ended up changing pretty much every time we went back to the hostel. Get up early, and do a little photo shoot around the city. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s also really fun, so just go with it. Bonus points for flowy dresses! We were done with this by 8 AM, so cooled down and ate some breakfast (and changed, because it’s surprisingly hot before 8 AM) before heading out for the next part of the day.
Cartagena Walking Tour
Cartagena has a ton of history, so join a walking tour and soak up all that the city has to offer. There are a surprising amount of cool looking door knockers throughout the city (I liked the mermaids and turtles)…this was probably my favorite thing to learn about. If you feel like you might boil to death walking through the city in 100+ degree heat, try a hop-on, hop-off bus tour to get around. In hindsight, this might have been a better idea…
Last but not least is the artsy area of Getsemani, an up and coming area of Cartagena. You can definitely fit this in on your third afternoon, but we actually opted to go souvenir shopping (I have a magnet addiction), and did this on our last morning before we went to the airport. You don’t need much time, but we spent an hour and change strolling through the area and checking out the awesome street art. It’s worth a visit…and obviously another excellent spot for spontaneous photo shoots.
With an Extra Day
If you have more than 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia, consider adding some stops to your itinerary. I would have loved to do a Santa Marta Day Trip. A bunch of other travelers we met had spent some time there, and had great things to say about the city and the surrounding area.
Another cool option would be to do a Cooking Class or a Bazurto Food Market Tour. Trust me when I say the food in Cartagena is magical; I fell in love with their fish, ceviche, arepas, and all the drinks! I would have loved to do a cooking class to learn some of the basics; this can be done if you have even an extra half a day in Cartagena!
How to get to Cartagena: I’d recommend checking out Momondo for cheap flights into Cartagena. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and let you filter by cheapest, best, and shortest. From Miami, it’s only a 3 hour flight, and totally doable for a long weekend trip!
Where to Stay in Cartagena: There’s a wide variety of options for Cartagena from boutique hotels to apartments to hostels. If you’re traveling with a group, consider checking out an Airbnb (Use my link for savings on your first stay!) For a safe hotel pick, stay at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena. It has plush accommodations, a bar, pool, and some excellent views of the ocean.
For hostels, I cannot recommend El Viajero enough. While the water pressure is subpar (and chilly) in some showers, it’s in a perfect location—literally steps away from some of the cutest houses in Cartagena and a short walk to the grocery store. (This is clutch since I found myself at the grocery store at least daily to buy giant bottles of water.) Also, there’s a bar located inside the hostel, the front desk folks are amazingly helpful, and I got to play musical chairs while there.
And there you have it, how to spend 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia. You can always stretch it out to a 4 day Cartagena itinerary, but bottom line is come to this colorful city for beautiful islands, delicious tropical drinks, and somewhat ridiculous photo shoots.
Have you been to Cartagena? What were some of your favorite things to do there?
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