Cartagena is a stunning city with a variety of colors, stories, and sites at every corner. From bright colored colonial buildings, and historical fortress walls, to vibrant street art and trendy skyscrapers- no two neighborhoods are alike.
Here are 10 ways (plus a bonus) to explore this city, its history, and get to know the locals without spending a dime.
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1. Join a Free Food Tour
Food is one of the best ways to experience the Colombian culture and what could be better than having a local show you all the traditional flavors on a free food tour!
On this food tour, you’ll explore local Colombian favorites like fried plantains and arepas and see how the locals shop by exploring a local street market.
Tours depart daily at 4p from Plaza Cervantes. You can sign up for the free tour here.
2. Join a Free Walking Tour of the Historic Centre
The historic centre is the gem of Cartagena’s beauty and history. There are so many stories you can learn in this free 2 hour tour. From tales of historical battles, slavery and compassion, and religion’s role in the city’s history.
While you could walk the avenues through the vibrant colonial buildings yourself, nothing beats a local bringing the history alive. You will be amazed and in awe of the buildings, epic tales, and art that live within the historic city walls.
You can sign up for the free walking tour here. While the tour is technically free, if you enjoy it it is courtesy to tip your guide.
3. Casa Muse Rafael Nuñez
The Antillien Creole style house of four-time Colombian President, Rafael Nuñez, carries as much Colombian history as it does Caribbean vibes. It worth the 20 minute walk from the city centre to explore this free museum.
The open air home of former Colombia,bian President, Rafael Nuñez, holds the original furniture and artifacts from the 1800s. Nuñes’ personal belonging tell the tale of man who not only was elected as Colombia’s leader four times, but also drafted Colombia’s constitution and wrote the country’s national anthem.
The artifacts here are a great way for Cartagena visitors to learn about Colombia’s national history with explanations in both English and Spanish.
Note: Check hours before arriving as an extended renovation is occurring to the home and it may be closed.
4. Join a Free Walking Tour of Getsemani
If city centre is the gem of Cartagena’s history, Getsemani is the living proof of the people’s history. This once overcrowded neighborhood literally has its history written on the walls with its amazing street art on every wall and banners down each narrow street.
Learn how locals flood the streets to partake in resurgence, community, and the human spirit during a free tour of Getsemani. You’ll find yourself as inspired as you are visually spellbound.
You can sign up for the free tour of Getsemani here. Tours are lead by locals and if you enjoy the tour, it is courtesy to tip your guide.
5. Experience The Historic Walls of the City
How often do you get to walk along a UNESCO World Heritage Site over 400 years old for free?
Each side of the ancient walls surrounding Cartagena’s city centre have bastions, fortifications, and cannons along their lines you can walk right up to and touch.
The historic walls, called La Heroíca, outline the city’s historic area and are as marvelous as they are adventurous. Poke your head through the fortifications, pose for a pic in a bastion, and take in some of the best views of the trendy skyscrapers and Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas form atop these strong fortresses.
You can reach the top of the walls from a series of large ramps along an edge or break in the wall’s boundary.
Ramps are approximately every 1-3 blocks so walk the inner boundary of the fortress (inside of City Centre) and you’ll find one.
6. Watch a Colombian Sunset
Colombia has some of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever witnessed and the ones here in Cartagena are amongst the best. It is well worth the time to stop and admire this natural beauty set over the Caribbean sea.
During Cartagena’s sunsets, there is a point where the sun lowers below the cloud line but not quite to the horizon that has a magical effect on the sun’s glow that must be experienced to believe.
The sun sets fast, within 20 minutes, so be sure to grab a spot early.
Two of my favorite places to catch the setting sun in Cartagena are along the top of the historic wall on the western side of City Centre facing the water, and behind the convention center.
7. Museo de Ora (Gold Museum)
Escape the midday sunshine by turning your attention to the shiny gold artifacts at the Museo de Oro. The Zenú people who inhabited the area prior to the Spanish arrival, enjoyed making mini masterpieces from gold that include intricate gold patterns and unique gold working styles.
The Cartagena location of the Museo Oro is a much smaller version of the larger gold museum in Bogata, but this smaller location does offer English translations for the exhibits which is great for tourists and expats alike.
You can enjoy these mini masterpieces free of charge Tuesday – Sunday each week. Check daily hours as they do vary.
The museum is located on Parque de Bolivar between Calle 34 and Calle 33 and is closed on Mondays.
8. Learn about Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Literary classics like Love in the Time of Cholera, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Of Love and Other Demons were penned by Nobel Prize Winning Colombian Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and were inspired by his experiences in Cartagena, Colombia.
Get up close and personal with these inspirational locations while a local brings the stories to life via this Free Gabriel Garcia Marquez tour.
This tour also occurs during the magic hours of golden hour and blue hour which perfect for great photos in additional to bringing visitors literary inspiration unlike anywhere else.
9. Attend Mass at Santo Domingo Church
Santo Domingo church is a former monastery build in the 16th century and is the oldest church in Cartagena. Attending mass in this classic church is a unique and free way to experience the living history of Cartagena and connect with the local culture.
The music that echos through Santo Domingo cathedral during Sunday mass will take your breath away. I couldn’t resist the call to attend service when I heard the operatic voice dancing through the town square.
Catholic services occur in Spanish at 9a each Sunday and are open to the public.
If attending service is not your style, the music of the mass can be heard in Santo Domingo Plaza where you can enjoy the sounds from the outdoor seating for restaurants and the open windows of San Alberto Cafe.
10. Casa Museo Arte y Cultura
This former university turned heritage center is home to some amazing paintings, sculptures, and an adorable central garden courtyard.
After walking the two floors of this colonial style marvel, visitors can sip on a Colombian coffee from the shaded courtyard and garden.
Casa Museo Arte y Cultura is open 9a to 8p, with select special events extending the evening hours. Check out the centre’s Facebook page for information on events like workshops, live music, and photography sessions.
Bonus: The Beach at Playa de Bocagrande
Beaches are not made equal here in Cartagena. Many beaches are too rocky to sit on and relax, and they commonly lack amenities like shade, restrooms, or restaurants.
As a rule of thumb in Cartagena, the best beach options are private beaches or a trip to one of the nearby islands (aka not free). The exception to that rule is Playa de Bocagrande.
The beach along this Cartagena peninsula has soft white sands and plenty of restaurants down the hotel lined streets that are worth a visit.
If a free, white sand beach isn’t enough to convince you, Play de Bocagrande is another great spot that faces the stunning Colombian sunset. The perfect place to take your shoes off and relax after a long day of exploration.
There it is- ten amazingly free things to do, visit, and see during your next trip to Cartagena, Colombia with a bonus extra.
Hope these tours and sites help make your trip to Cartagena, Colombia a budget-friendly one.