On the northern coast of Colombia, you’ll find the stunning colonial city of Cartagena. Full of colorful buildings, old churches, and flower-adorned balconies, the city has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the interest of preserving the architecture of this Colombian jewel.
All you have to do is spend an afternoon wandering the narrow streets lined with picturesque buildings of all colors, with some of the most interesting and unique door knockers in the world, and you’ll understand why this place is so special. Wondering where to stay in Cartagena, Colombia? Read on for our top picks based on our experience exploring the city on foot.
Cartagena was our last stop on our six week Colombia itinerary, and it did not disappoint. We loved the vibrancy of the city, which was similar to other Colombian cities we had visited, but there’s something about the colorful colonial architecture that exudes energy. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all the historic beauty remains while modern life continues around it. You will find trendy cafes and restaurants with everything from Mediterranean food to locally-caught ceviche, all in gorgeous city streets lined with colorful buildings and open squares that seem like they were made for people watching.
While this is a guide to where to stay in Cartagena, and we’ll get to our top picks for places to stay, we want to start off with something different and let you know about one area you should DEFINITELY NOT stay on your trip.
A lot of tourists choose to stay in Bocagrande for the beach, but in our opinion, that is a huge mistake.
The beach is nothing special and definitely not worth being constantly harassed by beach vendors. Also, parts of Bocagrande can be sketchy at night. Most importantly, though, it is way too far from the historic walled city and all the trendy bars and restaurants of Getsemaní. If you want to include the beach in your stay, then I would recommend heading to Bocagrande for an afternoon rather than staying there.
Or, better yet, take a day trip to one of the pristine white sand beaches just outside of the city, like Tierra Bomba Island – here’s a kayaking tour that we wish we’d discovered while we were there.
We have not stayed at most of the hostels and hotels on this list – more on where we stayed in a second. But what we did do is spend days exploring the city on foot to figure out our favorite areas, then we did a TON of research on places to stay in each neighborhood to bring you a curated list of top-rated places to stay in Cartagena.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about the best places to stay in Cartagena.
Planning a trip to Colombia? You’ll want to read our other Colombia travel guides that we put together to help you plan the perfect trip.
- 2 Weeks in Colombia: A Perfect Colombia Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Bogota
- 3 Perfect Days in Bogotá
- Gluten Free Bogota
- Where to Stay in Medellin
- Gluten Free Medellin
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Stay in Cartagena, Colombia: A Complete Guide for First Timers
Our number one tip for where to stay in Cartagena is to stay inside the Walled City. We have thoughts and strong opinions on what part of the Walled City to stay in, which you’ll find below, but we firmly believe that staying inside the walls gives you the best experience in Cartagena.
The only place we’d even consider staying outside the Old City would be Getsemaní, which is the up-and-coming neighborhood to the southeast of Old Town Cartagena. It’s hipster and Insta-friendly, thanks to the colorful umbrellas hanging above the streets and incredible street art, and is generally more affordable than the Walled City.
In Cartagena, you’re going to find a mix of boutique hotels, which fall on the expensive end of the spectrum if they’re within the Walled City, Airbnb options (which are a good option), and boutique hostels, which are a cross between the privacy you get from a hotel and the social atmosphere you get with a hostel.
We fell in love with boutique hostels during our time in Colombia, and think they’re a great option for travelers who feel too old for dorm rooms and party hostels (that describes us perfectly) but still want the opportunity to connect with other travelers.
We stayed in a mediocre Airbnb in Cartagena, which I won’t even mention here, and wouldn’t stay there again. Instead, if we were planning another trip to Cartagena, we’d opt for Maloka Boutique Hostel, which you can find a longer write up on below, or an Airbnb like this stylish loft in Getsemaní, or this charming apartment inside the Old City.
Let’s dive into where to stay in Cartagena so you can find the perfect place for your style and budget!
Want to stay in an Airbnb in Cartagena? Good choice! Here is a curated list of our top Airbnb picks for you to find the perfect home base in Cartagena.
San Diego: Overall Best Place To Stay In Cartagena
San Diego is just a few blocks from the historic center of Cartagena but moves at a more relaxed pace. The thing that makes this neighborhood the best area to stay in Cartagena is that it’s a little more low-key and removed from the tourists drinking their way through the city – although there are definitely plenty of buzzing squares and restaurants to be found.
As we wandered this area both during the day and at night, we found far less people than just a few blocks to the south in the heart of the Walled City. And we fell in love.
There is no public transportation connecting San Diego to the rest of the city, so you will need to walk everywhere. That’s not much of an issue though, because narrow streets lined with picturesque buildings and talented street performers make walking an enjoyable part of the adventure.
Plaza San Diego is the place to start for great bars and restaurants, but don’t miss out on the local eateries and cafes tucked away in the side streets.
A quick note here: we’re making a distinction between San Diego, which is at the northeastern corner of the Walled City, and the rest of the Walled City. San Diego feels distinct enough to earn its own spot on this list of the best places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia.
What To Do In San Diego
- Eat Ceviche. This dish of fresh diced fish marinated in citrus juices and served in a salsa style salad is a must-eat in San Diego. While plenty of restaurants serve ceviche in this neighborhood, the most popular places to get it are La Cevicheria or El Boliche.
- Explore the shopping mall that used to be a bullfighting ring. A testament to the innovation of Cartagena. The Serrezuela Centro Comercial is a former bullfighting ring that has been transformed into a performance space and shopping center. Aside from the unique concept, the shopping here is quite good, with five floors of boutiques and a high-end food court.
- Walk along the eastern walls of the city. One of the most popular things to do in Cartagena is to walk the iconic city walls. On top of the wall, you get some spectacular views of the whole city. Head up there later in the day so you can get the best vantage point for sunset.
- Browse the souvenir shops at Las Bovedas. Souvenir shops are built into the arches of this old jail. Even if you are not in need of souvenirs, visit this phenomenal building, painted such a cheery yellow for such a dark history. Because it is so close to the sea, it is said that at high tide, the water would come up to the knees of the prisoners. Now there are no such issues, just a bustling marketplace with hawkers clamoring to be heard.
Best Places To Stay In San Diego
Here are some of our top picks for the best places to stay in San Diego.
Hotels and Hostels in San Diego
Best Boutique Hostel – Maloka Boutique Hostel: This is at the top of our list for next visit. They have exclusively private rooms, all of which are super well done. Stylish and bright, some have shared bathrooms, while others have their own private bathroom. Choose from different configurations like two twin beds, a double bed, or a queen bed. They offer a continental breakfast and have a delightful rooftop terrace. It’s essentially a boutique hotel at more affordable prices.
Best Hotel in San Diego – Bantu: It can be really difficult to find hotels that truly capture the spirit of the city, but Hotel Bantu does this well. The rooms have traditional mosaic, exposed brick, and an onsite restaurant serves traditional Colombian and Caribbean food.
The Best Airbnb Options in San Diego
If you’re more of an Airbnb person, like we usually are, here are three options for you in the quiet corner of the city that is San Diego.
Casa Bijou, a Little House in the Old City: A small historic home located in the heart of San Diego, this is where to stay in Cartagena if you want to feel like a local. The house itself is one of the colorful houses which line the streets of the city. Inside, the floors are tiled to assist the air conditioning in keeping the house cool in summer. It has a full kitchen, and a tiny little balcony where you can enjoy a drink and some people watching. (1 bedroom / 1 bathroom)
Beautiful Private Home in Centro Historico with a Swimming Pool: First of all, a private swimming pool. Second of all, it has a rooftop terrace where you can watch the sun rise or set from your own private oasis. The place has a full, well-equipped kitchen, a hammock, and a comfortable double bed. The stylish living room can be converted into a second bedroom, and sleeps three more people (total of five) with two single beds and a sofa bed. Overall, this place is gorgeous, and one of our top picks for places to stay in Cartagena. It is a little more expensive than other choices on this list, but it has a private pool and rooftop terrace, so we think it’s worth the splurge. (1 bedroom + 2 single beds & a sofa bed, 1 bathroom)
The Best Location & Comfort in the Walled City: I mean, look at this gorgeous apartment! This is certainly a luxury apartment, but it’s super stylish, spacious, and full of natural light. It has a private patio, complete with a hammock perfect for lounging on a warm afternoon with a good book, and a shared rooftop pool. The kitchen is spacious, with a stove and an oven and new appliances all around.
The Walled City: The Best Area To Stay In Cartagena For Sightseeing
The Walled City is the historic old town of Cartagena, packed with romantic cobbled narrow streets and colorful houses. It is the perfect place to stay if you are a first-time traveler to Cartagena looking to be close to the best sightseeing, or if you are only here for a few days. The old town also has the highest concentration of restaurants, bars, and cafes in such a small area, so it is well equipped as a tourist hot-spot. This can mean pushy street vendors and the absence of a local feel though.
It’s notably more busy and loud than San Diego, which is the northeast corner of old town Cartagena. Still, the central location is pretty much unbeatable.
What To Do While Staying In The Walled City
- Sip a cocktail at Alquimico. This multiple floor cocktail bar gives you the opportunity to find the right atmosphere for their night – from speakeasy vibes to tropical open-air rooftop. They turn their noses up at classic cocktails, and have instead curated a cocktail list full of imaginative original cocktails.
- Learn about the city’s history at some of the museums. The Naval Museum takes you back to the conquest of Cartagena and how it was colonized. It also talks about Cartagena’s many run-ins with pirates, including Sir Francis Drake’s famous attack. See a list of the other museums here.
Best Places To Stay The Walled City
In general, the Walled City is an expensive place to stay in Cartagena. But the central location and atmosphere is worth it, we think.
The Best Hotels & Hostels inside the Walled City
The Center of Cartagena is full of boutique hotels and a few really solid hostels.
If you’re looking for a hostel, consider the Clock Hostel, which has two stylish private rooms (with private bathrooms) along with all sorts of dorm options with private little pods (choose from single or double beds) and shared bathrooms. There’s also a bar on site, and a full shared kitchen for you to use during your stay.
El Barrio Hostal is another good option, which has exclusively private rooms that are small, simple, and affordable. If all you need is a place to rest your head at the end of the day, this is a good option for you.
As far as boutique hotels go, they’re a dime-a-dozen in this part of the city.
We like the style of the Sophia Hotel, which is probably the one you’ve seen on Instagram with spectacular views of the church from the rooftop pool. The 15 rooms are nice, with spacious bathrooms and comfortable beds, and the rooftop terrace, which you’ll have access to, is pretty spectacular. It’s relatively expensive though.
A more affordable option would be Casa BuGo, which also has a pool, though the view is of the interior courtyard rather than the best view in Cartagena. Still, the rooms are plenty nice and spacious, and some have balconies.
We also love Casa Clever Loft, which is a splurge, but would be a perfect romantic getaway for couples in Cartagena. The standard rooms line the leafy green courtyard, and are very, very stylish. And there’s a pool, because of course there is.
The Best Airbnb Options in the Walled City
If you’re looking for an Airbnb, here are three that caught our eye.
Cool & Central 1 Bedroom Apartment in Old City: This is a gorgeous apartment, and it’s at the top of our list for our return trip to Cartagena. It has a hammock across the living room to lounge in! Definitely one of the best Airbnb options in all of Cartagena. It’s bright and airy, and has a full kitchen and a private balcony. It’s also across the street from the city walls on the west end of the city, which means you’ll be able to catch the sunset almost right outside your front door.
Hidden Gem in the Heart of the Walled City: A spacious three story apartment within the hustle and bustle of Cartagena. The apartment is bright and spacious, with two bedrooms. There is a private rooftop terrace with a small seating area and pool, perfect for warm nights overlooking the city with a cold drink. Tons of light throughout the apartment, and a huge (and beautiful) kitchen with everything you need to cook a meal during your stay.
Apt. Inside the Walled City with AC and Sea View: A fifth floor apartment that has exactly what you need – including a kitchenette with mini-fridge and microwave – and nothing you don’t for your stay. It’s tiny, but it’s a super affordable price that might be the best value in the Walled City.
Getsemaní: Where to Stay in Cartagena on a Budget
Like most up-and-coming neighborhoods, Getsemaní is one of those areas where you can feel the gentrification emanating from the streets as you walk them. Looking up at the colorful umbrellas on strings above the narrow streets, I thought to myself “I wonder if there’s any other use for those other than they look good on the ‘gram?”
It used to be a poor area of the city, mostly as a result of Cartagena’s past as a major port for the African slave trade, which is something you should absolutely take the time to learn about while you’re in the city. Getsemaní has had a recent resurgence, particularly among young backpackers looking for affordable accommodations.
This is where to stay in Cartagena if you enjoy stumbling upon street art or an energetic street performance. It used to be a pretty sketchy neighborhood, but now trendy bars, hipster cafes, and quirky hostels have moved in. My one tip for getting the most out of Getsemaní is just walk the streets and people watch. Whether you’re sitting outside at a cafe or bar, or just wandering through the neighborhood, the mix of tourists and locals make this neighborhood an interesting place.
What To Do in Getsemaní
- Brunch at Cafe Stepping Stone. If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, or even if it does, make sure you eat here. It is an Aussie-run cafe with an amazing brunch menu, killer coffee, a great selection of fresh juices, and even a stash of games to play. If there is one thing you can count on Aussie’s for, it’s great brunch.
- Dance until the early hours of the morning at Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad. During the day this square is bustling with restaurants and street performers, as well as visitors to the church. At night though, it is host to cheap drinks and delicious street food sold from stalls in the square. It becomes an open-air party where people meet to dance and socialize.
- Get lost in the alleys. This neighborhood is an aesthetic mix of the old, so there is nothing better than wandering the alleys and discovering charming buildings and political street art. There is no better place in Cartagena to find (and fill your Instagram feed with) colorful buildings and hanging umbrellas. Not that you need to have a destination in mind for wandering the alleys, but Callejon Angosto is a good place to start.
- Soak up the atmosphere at Bazurto Social Club. The music in Cartagena is unique, a mix of African and Creole influences combine to create Champeta music. The Bazurto Social club has live music and dancing lessons every night, so go along and join in the fun.
- Walk to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Just outside of the walls of Cartagena’s historic center is the fortress which dominates Cartagena’s skyline. Much of the fortress is open to visitors, and it is considered a must-see attraction in Cartagena. Beautiful views of the city and eerie, seemingly endless tunnels are waiting for you to discover.
- Keep an eye out for sloths in Parque del Centenario. This green space links Getsemaní with the rest of the historical center. It is a lovely place to wander and consider your plans for the rest of the day. Even though it is in the middle of a bustling city, with wildlife like monkeys, squirrels and sloths inhabiting the trees either side of the paths, the city feels so far removed.
Best Places To Stay In Getsemaní
This is a significantly more affordable place to stay in Cartagena than the other two areas listed above. You won’t find too many $200 USD stays in this part of town, but you will find good values all around.
Hotels and Hostels in Getsemaní
Hotels are going to be more basic than in other parts of Cartagena, but we certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing if you’re on a tight budget.
Top-rated Hostel: Life is Good
This hostel is located just a few minutes away from Plaza de Trinidad. It is a great location for eating and drinking, though it has an on-site Colombian restaurant if you are weary after a packed day of exploring. Life is Good offers four-bed or ten-bed dorms with shared bathrooms or private rooms. It has a gorgeous rooftop terrace and a shared kitchen too.
Top-rated Hotel: Casa Pizarro
Casa Pizarro is a hotel that has 15 rooms, all with air conditioning, an on-site restaurant, and a terrace with a hot tub and pool. The rooms are relatively simple, but elegantly decorated, and one of the rooms even features an outdoor bathtub. If you are looking for a quiet, centrally located hotel in Getsemaní, this is a great choice. The deluxe double rooms are the ones with the outdoor bathtub/jacuzzi. Just saying.
Airbnb in Getsemaní
There are tons of great Airbnb options in this part of the city, and most are relatively affordable (although there are some splurge-worthy stays here too).
Here are three options that we liked, and think you will too.
Lovely studio Apartment with Balcony | Walk Everywhere: This is one of the spots that is at the top of our list of where to stay in Cartagena when we make it back. It’s a super bright apartment in the heart of the neighborhood with a little balcony, air conditioning, and a kitchenette with cooktop, mini-fridge, and toaster oven. It’s gorgeous AND affordable, and we think we’re in love.
Casa Tucan: This charming two bedroom house has everything you need for a perfect stay in Cartagena. High ceilings and tons of natural light make this a very pleasant place to stay. It’s literally in the best possible location in the area, right on Carrera 10 (where Stepping Stone is) across from Plaza de Trinidad, which means you’re equidistant from the best street art, food, and nightlife. You’ll have plenty of room to spread out and relax, a full kitchen, a washing machine, and filtered water. Oh yeah, and it has a private rooftop pool.
Beautiful Townhouse in Historic Getsemaní: If you are looking at where to stay in Cartagena for a family, or a group of friends, then look no further. This beautiful house is spacious, with three bedrooms, a large dining table and full-sized kitchen. It is also decorated to be modern, yet giving the nod to the colorful, artistic streets around it. My favorite feature is the colorful mosaic sink. This townhouse sleeps six people in two bedrooms, and a sofa bed in the living room.
There you have it! The best places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia for all styles and budgets.
Planning a trip to Colombia? Don’t miss our other Colombia travel guides from our six week trip that kicked off our life of full time travel.