When you visit Cartagena de Indias, your first stop will most likely be the historic center, also known as the Walled City. While the Walled City may be a highlight of Cartagena, it is also the area most crowded with tourists. If you are looking for ways to experience Cartagena like a local and escape the tourist crowds, you’ll need to explore beyond the walls of the center.
Here are 5 things to do off the beaten tourist path in Cartagena to help you get started:
1. Stroll Along the Bay in Castillogrande
Castillogrande is an upscale residential neighborhood located just 10 minutes from the Walled City. It sits directly on Cartagena’s bay and features a long pedestrian walkway along the water. In the early morning and evening, residents of the neighborhood clamber onto the well-maintained walkway to enjoy a jog, bike ride, or stroll with a great view. This is an excellent place to connect with local life in a way that most tourists never experience. Grab a seat on a bench and watch the people and boats come and go.
2. Get Lost at the Bazurto Market
If you are itching to experience ‘the real’ Cartagena, you must head to the sprawling Bazurto Market. Here you will find everything from clothing, to fresh fish, to car tires being sold in a chaotic maze of vendor booths. This is an excellent place to experience local culture, sample typical costeño (coastal) cuisine, and pick-up a souvenir. To get the most of your visit to the market, its recommended you book a knowledgeable local guide to show you around. The size and energy of Bazurto can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. But if you are determined to fly solo, just remember prices are always negotiable and it’s probably best to leave your valuables at home.
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3. Birdwatch at the Colombian National Aviary
While many tourists make the trip to Barú Island, most head straight to Playa Blanca and skip over one of Cartagena’s most fascinating attractions: the Aviario Nacional. Did you know that Colombia is home to the largest biodiversity of bird species in the world? You’ll be able to observe over 190 of these species at the National Aviary, including flamingos, toucans, parrots, and condors. The National Aviary features 3 different ecosystems (rainforest, coastal, and desert) and is home to over 2000 bird specimens. You need about 2 hours to see everything, making this a perfect morning activity before you head to the white sand beaches of Playa Blanca nearby.
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4. Gawk at Colonial Architecture in Manga
The residential neighborhood of Manga sits just across the bridge from the popular and oft-visited Getsemaní area. While few tourists make it to Manga, it is a safe, beautiful neighborhood worth exploring for its colonial architecture and waterfront views. Strolling along the quiet streets, you can peak into gates and windows to see some of the most beautiful homes and gardens in Cartagena, primarily built in the Spanish-colonial style. After your walk, head to the park by the bay to mingle among locals and enjoy the evening breeze rolling in off the water. Often, there will be a free Zumba class or salsa lesson happening in the rotunda. Don’t be afraid to join in!
5. Go Fishing in La Boquilla
Most tourists flock to the city beaches in Bocagrande, but just north of the airport you can find the larger, less crowded beaches of La Boquilla. A visit to the town of La Boquilla also provides a glimpse into the authentic Cartagena. Many of Cartagena’s residents live in small, humble homes in neighborhoods with dirt roads and limited infrastructure. If you thrive on authentic experiences and conversation with locals, La Boquilla is a must-visit. Locals are friendly, restaurants serve up delicious seafood meals, and the ocean is warm and inviting. If you want to deepen the experience even further, you can elect to join an Eco-tour with a local fisherman who will help you catch your lunch!
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