I had been dreaming of hiking to Laguna de Los Tres, the base of Mount Fitz Roy, in Argentinian Patagonia, since my first trip to Argentina in 2012. Back then, a million of reasons – none of them good enough, if I think about it now – prevented me from going to El Chalten, the starting point of the hike.
Much like a million reasons prevented me from hiking to Laguna de Los Tres back in 2012, another million reasons stopped me from going back to Argentina (except for a short visit to Mendoza in 2015) to follow my dreams. I kept wanting to go, but I kept pushing the idea out of my mind, saying that I wasn’t ready for it yet. It felt like Fitz Roy would continue remaining a dream.
Check out my guide to the things to do in Argentina.
Then, Flash Pack challenged me to embrace the “no more not yets” motto and join one of their trips to Argentina. That’s how, in February 2019, I joined a group of 4 other fierce women and together we hiked to the base of Fitz Roy, on the Laguna de Los Tres Trail.
It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and to date, the most incredible hike I have ever done. In this post, I highlight everything you should know to hike to Laguna de Los Tres and reach the base of Mount Fitz Roy (or Cerro Fitz Roy, as it is called locally).
Check out my full review of Flash Pack’s Argentina itinerary.
The view of Fitz Roy from a distance
Some Background Information on Fitz Roy
Fitz Roy is located in the Andes Mountain Range, between Argentina (where it is part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) and Chile and close to the tiny town of El Chalten, in the region of Patagonia. With its 3405 meters it is not the highest peak in the region (that would be Cerro Torre), but it has a prominence of 2000 meters which means that on a clear day you can see even it from a far distance.
Discover more about Chile in my post “Ten Incredible Places To Visit In Chile.”
The original name of the Cerro Fitz Roy is Chalten, which in the Aoniken language means “smoking mountain.” The name referred to the clouds that normally form around the peaks. Mount Fitz Roy was a sacred mountain to the Mapuche indigenous peoples that used to live in the region.
The name Fitz Roy was assigned by Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno in 1877: he named the mountain in honor of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, who travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834.
Together with the rest of Patagonia, Fitz Roy is considered to be a climbers’ paradise. However, several recent incidents that resulted in the death of four climbers are a good reminder of how unpredictably dangerous this part of the world can be.
The impressive view of Mount Fitz Roy from Laguna de Los Tres.
Hiking To The Base Of Fitz Roy
Hiking remains one of the top things to do in Patagonia. The trail to Laguna de Los Tres is the one that goes all the way to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. The starting point is of the trail is on the Northwestern side of El Chalten, where you’ll find a big sign saying “Sendero al Fitz Roy” (trail to Fitz Roy). This is the trail that most people follow.
Alternatively, you can start walking from Hostaria El Pilar on a trail that goes all the way to El Chalten. This is located north of El Chalten, at around 14 km from the town on Ruta 41. A taxi to get from El Chalten to Hosteria El Pilar should cost no more than 800 ARS (Argentinian Pesos), which at the time of writing is around $20 USD.
I followed the trail that starts in Hostaria El Pilar, but the walking distance and walking time are more or less the same whichever trail you decide to follow.
If you follow the trail that starts in Hostaria El Pilar, for about two hours you will walk along the banks of the Rio Blanco, through a beautiful shady forest. At about halfway you’ll find the first viewpoint, Mirador Piedras Blanca, from where you get the first incredible peak of Fitz Roy.
Once at Campamento Poincenot, a camping site where some hikers spend the night to then have a very early start to Laguna de Los Tres, the trail splits in two: one trail goes up all the way to Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Mount Fitz Roy, and one continues to Laguna Capri and then back to El Chalten.
To go up to Laguna de Los Tres you’ll have to cross the river (you can refill on your water there) and then reach the base of the trail to Laguna de Los Tres.
Once down, you will have to follow the signs to Laguna Capri to walk back to El Chalten. Before reaching Laguna Capri (where there is another camping site), right at a sign that marks km 5 of the trail, you can take a short detour to go to Chorrillo del Salto, a beautiful waterfall. There’s no marked trail, but you can follow the roar of the water and it is fairly easy to find.
From Laguna Capri, the walk is mostly downhill, first through the forest and then along an easy trail (the same you’d take if you follow the trail starting in El Chalten).
The hike to the base of Fitz Roy is long, mostly easy but with a very tough ascent to the lagoon.
Practical Facts for your Fitz Roy trek to Laguna de Los Tres
Overall walking distance: Depending on whether you walk the trail from El Chalten or from Hostaria el Pilar, the overall walking distance is either 26 or 24 km.
Overall walking time: 8 hours, including various stops for photos, rest, lunch and to admire the views.
Food and drinks: You will have to carry your food and drinks for the duration your Fitz Roy trek . With regards to water, you can refill at the river – all guides ensure the water is pristine and safe to drink.
There are no toilets along the way, save for a hole in the ground kind of toilet right at the base of the trail to Laguna de Los Tres. There are no garbage bins either, so make sure to carry an extra bag to dispose of your tissues, toilet paper and any other garbage, and take it back to El Chalten.
The beautiful Chorrillo del Salto is one of the nicest sights during the hike to the base of Fitz Roy.
Throughout Fitz Roy trek, the views are incredible. The first part of the trail is mostly through a beautiful, thick forest and in the shade. You’ll get the first peak of the mighty Mount Fitz Roy from Mirador Piedras Blancas.
Once at Laguna Los Tres the view of Fitz Roy is simply breathtaking, and you will feel rewarded for all the effort of walking up the trail. It’s the perfect lunch spot, too!
At km 5 of the main trail, a short detour goes to Chorrillo del Salto, a beautiful waterfall with a nice swimming hole (though the water is mighty cold). It is a great spot to relax for a short while, enjoying yet another incredible view of Fitz Roy and the surrounding landscape.
Laguna Capri is another lovely sight. It’s a good place to hang out for a bit – there is a camping site nearby so there’s quite a few people there, but the views remain splendid.
Expressing joy at the first sight of Cerro Fitz Roy.
What to expect when hiking around Fitz Roy
The trail to Laguna de Los Tres, much like all other trails in Patagonia, is very well marked and easy to follow, in all its parts, and the terrain is usually good.
The walk is nice and easy until the Campamento Poincenot.
At about 1 km from there, the trail to Laguna de Los Tres, the main viewpoint of Cerro Fitz Roy, starts, and with that, the actual challenge. A sign warns people walking up about the difficulty, and suggests to continue walking only if you are in excellent physical conditions.
The walk to the base of Mount Fitz Roy is a mere km, but it’s a steady uphill walk with a good 40% incline, most of it on rocks and small boulders so you’ll have to watch your step. It takes roughly one hour to walk all the way up.
You have to walk down on the same trail, and for as tough as walking uphill it is, I found the walking down by far more challenging. It takes pretty much the same amount of time to walk back down from Laguna de Los Tres.
TIP: The good thing about hiking in Patagonia is that the days are very long, and you have plenty of time to make it to Laguna de Los Tres and admire Fitz Roy in all its glory. However, I recommend setting to walk nice and early to avoid the largest crowds and so that you can take your time with photos and taking in the views.
TIP: The hike to Laguna de Los Tres is one of the most popular ones in Patagonia. This means that on any given day there will be quite a few people on the trail. Regardless of that, I strongly advise you not to walk this trail alone (check out my post “11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea”): there is no phone reception at all along the trail and it is simply safer to have someone you can rely on for emergencies.
Another impressive sight alone the Fitz Roy trek.
Essential items to wear and carry on a Fitz Roy trek
The list of items you should wear and carry for your hike to Laguna de Los Tres is based on my experience of a day hike. For a more detailed list of items to carry for a long distance hike, check out my post “The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek.”
The first thing to keep in mind when gearing up for the hike to Laguna de Los Tres is that the weather in Patagonia tends to be unpredictable. You may wake up in the morning and find a fantastic sunny day and perfect visibility of Fitz Roy, and moments later the wind may start blowing, the clouds gathering up and it may start raining. Make sure to be properly equipped for any weather conditions.
Here’s a list of essentials:
- A good pair of hiking boots. Make sure to pick a pair that is waterproof and that provides excellent ankle support: you will need it when walking downhill.
- A pair of hiking pants, best if waterproof as well. I swear by my new Kuhl Horizn Straight or my Kuhl Weekendr Tight.
- A cotton t-shirt such as Kuhl W S Born Tee – it’s comfortable and lightweight.
- A comfortable fleece – I like Kuhl Alska. You may even want to carry an extra one, in case the weather turns for the worst.
- A good wind proof jacket. I use Kuhl Airstorm Rain jacket and love it.
- A hat (you can use a baseball hat to protect against the sun, or even a fleece hat to keep warm) and gloves (it is fairly cold in the early morning).
- A good daypack. Make sure to take something with easy to reach, outside pockets for your bottle of water. I like Osprey Daylite Plus.
- A refillable water bottle.
- Sunscreen with high protection factor, as well as lip balm.
- Don’t forget to take your camera. I use a Nikon D3300 and on this occasion carried a 18-105 mm lens. Alternatively, a smartphone with a good camera such as iPhone Xwill do an excellent job. Make sure to take a power bank as well!
- Tissues or toilet paper, and a good antibacterial hand gel.
- Food and water for the duration of the hike, and an extra spare bag to put all your garbage.
Sitting down to admire Fitz Roy.
Practical Information To Organize A Fitz Roy Trek
The best time for a Fitz Roy trek
The best time to hike around Patagonia is in the late spring and summer months, between October and April. Even then, the weather remains unpredictable and you can expect wind, rain and even snow at any time. I was actually very lucky and enjoyed sunny, warm weather throughout my stay, but unless you have a tight schedule, I advise you to be as flexible as possible so that you can wait for the perfect day for your Fitz Roy trek.
How to get to El Chalten
El Chalten is the nearest getaway to Mount Fitz Roy. The nearest airport is that of El Calafate, which is well connected with direct Aerolinas Argentinas flights to Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. It then is a very scenic 3 hours ride to El Chalten.
There are regular bus rides between El Calafate and El Chalten, with buses departing from the main terminal located on Julio Argentino Roca in El Calafate at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. During peak season there is an extra bus that leaves at 1:00 pm. The most reliable bus companies are Chalten Travel and Caltur. The bus costs around $20 USD one way.
Alternatively, you can rent a car directly at El Calafate airport. Check out the prices of car rental here. The only stop along the way is at Estancia La Leona. There, you can have a snack (though let me tell you, the food is barely passable) and use the washrooms.
ATMs in El Chalten
There are only two ATMs in El Chalten, both of them by the bus terminal. The town is tiny, but it does get crowded in the summer with the ATMs often resulting out of service. Many businesses still won’t take credit cards, so I advise to do a bit of planning and budgeting and take out cash in El Calafate, before even getting to El Chalten.
Where to stay and eat in El Chalten
El Chalten has some excellent accommodation options and a few good restaurants and breweries. Keep in mind that most hotels and restaurants are closed between the end of April and the beginning of October.
Here is a selection of the best places to stay in El Chalten:
Keep in mind that virtually all restaurants, bars and pubs in El Chalten observe some sort of happy hour, so they tend to be quite crowded between 5:00 and 8:00 pm when most people come back from hiking Fitz Roy. These are the best places to eat in El Chalten:
- Maffìa is a simple eatery that still makes home made pasta. It’s not the way Italians make it, but it is good enough. Prices are fair.
- Ahonikenk makes some of the Argentine staples, including a good Milanesa (breaded, fried meat or chicken). Portions are earthy and prices fair.
- Curcuma is a great options for vegans.
- La Vineria has an excellent selections of draft beers and wines.
- Cerveceria Artesanal is quite simply the best pub in El Chalten.
- Mathilda is a lovely café with great salads and a good selection of drinks.
Other useful information
Like for any other trip, if you plan to hike around Mount Fitz Roy make sure to get a good travel insurance. Click here for good insurance deals. Check out my post “Ten Reasons I Always Get Travel Insurance.”
Have you been to El Chalten and hiked around Fitz Roy? If so, do share any other useful tips and recommendations!
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Not many people realize it, but hiking in Sardinia is actually world class. The island, famous for the incredible beaches and transparent seas that make it the best summer holidays destination in the Mediterranean, has a fantastic array of trails of varying length and difficulty levels, and it’s a fabulous playground for people who love venturing in the nature. Without any doubt, hiking is one of the best things to do in Sardinia.
For more things to do in Sardinia, check out my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”
Having lived in Sardinia almost my entire life, I never miss an opportunity to walk out and explore, and each time I am reminded of how much my beloved island has to offer. Hiking trails in Sardinia vary dramatically one from the other. Coastal trails afford stunning views of the Mediterranean. Other trails go well into the mountains and gorges. And there are those that take to archeological sites.
In this post, I select some the best hiking trails on the island dividing them by area, and share some tips on how to make the most of your time hiking in Sardinia.
The view from Sella del Diavolo proves that this is one of the best hikes in Sardinia
Hiking In Sardinia: The Best Trails
The best hikes in the South of Sardinia
Sella del Diavolo Hike – Cagliari
The hike to Sella del Diavolo is one of the nicest short hikes in Sardinia, and possibly the most accessible one. The trail starts behind Calamosca beach, one of Cagliari’s urban beaches, and goes to one of the local natural landmarks, Sella del Diavolo. It takes no more than two hours to complete – though chances are that you’ll stop several times along the way to admire the views.
The first part of the trail faces the beach of Calamosca and you get impressive views of the lighthouse and the watchtower. Once you get to the top, the view opens up to show the Gulf of Cagliari and Poetto beach (Cagliari’s main urban beach) with Molentargius lagoon at its back. The trail continues on the plane, and gets all the way to another watchtower.
It’s an easy trail, suitable also to families with children and perfect to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city without having to travel far. There are no fountains on the trail, but you can buy water at the kiosks in the parking lot of Calamosca beach.
TIP: This hike can be enjoyed year round. In the winter time, it is short enough to be walked even when the hours of light aren’t too many; in the summer time, short enough for you not to feel sick with the heat.
The hike to Sella del Diavolo can be done independently, but if you’d rather have a guide that gives you insightful information on the area and its history, you can book one online. These are the best guided hikes to Sella del Diavolo:
From Su Cordolinu, you can reach the Spanish watchtower in Chia
The Roman Road to Su Cordolinu
This is one of the nicest, easiest hikes in Sardinia. The trail starts in Pinus Village, a nice summer residence at little over one hour drive from Cagliari, and it follows an old Roman Road along the coast and all the way to Su Cordolinu island and – if you like to continue walking – the beach of Chia and its Spanish tower.
This trail takes around 4 hours there and back – longer if you include a nice lunch break at Su Cordolinu and you continue to the Spanish tower. It’s very easy to follow, and the trail has no particular difficulty. It is large enough for bikes to pass through as well so chances are you’ll encounter a few people on bikes as well.
The coastal views along the way are splendid. Once you get to Su Cordolinu, you have to go down a steeper trail to get to the small beach. When the tide is low, you can also cross to get on the island, from where there are fantastic views.
There are no kiosks along the way, so make sure you take plenty of water and sufficient food or snacks for the hike.
TIP: This is a relatively short hike, so ideal even in the winter months. Make sure to start at around 10:00 or 11:00 am and you’ll have plenty of time to walk, take photos, enjoy a break at the beach and head back.
If you’d rather join a guided hike along the Roman Road, you can book it online. This is the best option:
Hiking in Sardinia affords you impressive coastal views
From Cala Cipolla to Tuerredda
If you are thinking of trekking in Sardinia, you shouldn’t skip this trail that goes from Cala Cipolla, a beautiful cove at around 1 hour drive from Cagliari, to Tuerredda, one of the best beaches in Sardinia.
Check out my post about the best beaches in Sardinia.
The hike goes to Capo Spartivento, a lighthouse now turned into a luxury boutique hotel; and it then gets to a few more gorgeous beaches including Pedra Longa and Cala Antoniareddu, which can’t be reached by car.
It’s an easy to moderate trail, depending on the adds on. The hardest part is the walk up the observatory, from where you get impressive coastal views.
TIP: This trail can be rather long if you plan to walk all the way back from Tuerredda to Cala Cipolla. A good solution may be to go with two cars and park one of them on the main road (SS 195), nearer to the observatory, and the other in Cala Cipolla. Or else, join a guided hike with transportation, so that the driver will pick up the group at a suitable place.
Cala Domestica can be reached on a nice hike from Masua Pan di Zucchero
From Masua Pan di Zucchero to Cala Domestica
The hike from Masua Pan di Zucchero to Cala Domestica is only 12 km long (one way), but it’s one of the most challenging hiking trails in Sardinia. The trail starts in Masua Pan di Zucchero, at about 1 and a half hour drive from Cagliari. It’s a fantastic beach and a favorite surfing spot, and goes all the way to Cala Domestica, a small cove in what looks like a fjord.
Discover more surfing spots in Sardinia in this post.
As far as hiking in Sardinia goes, this is one of the most technical trails, as it is very narrow (in points it’s no more than 50 cm wide) along cliffs and thick Mediterranean bushes which you have to cut through. Yet, it’s incredibly rewarding with spectacular coastal views.
Cala Domestica, where the trail ends, is surmounted by a hill where there is a Spanish watchtower and from where the views are splendid. At its back, there are beautiful sand dunes. There even are the remains of the railway that was used to bring coal to the boats docked here when mining was in full bloom in Sardinia.
There are no facilities along the way, so you’ll have to take your own lunch and plenty of water.
TIP: This is a technical hike and you’ll be better off joining a guided group to make the most of it. A guided expedition will also offer a pick up service from Cala Domestica back to Masua, where you have to park your car. One of the best companies offering the trail is Cooperativa Santa Margherita, whose headquarters are in Nebida, close to Masua.
EXTRA ACTIVITY TIP: The area of Nebida, Masua and Cala Domestica is packed with dismantled mines that can be visited on guided tours. These are some of the most unique places to visit in Sardinia, and I strongly advise you to spend an extra day to explore the area. The pretties place is Porto Flavia. You can also join a guided tour to the mines. Here’s a selection of the best ones:
The lovely forest of Is Cannoneris
If you are up for hiking in Sardinia, but are looking for something very moderate, head to Is Cannoneris. This gorgeous oak forest is one of the oldest in Europe and pleasant even on a hot summer day. It’s perfect for families with children, who have the chance to meet animals such as goats and Sardinian deer. The highlight, however, is the view from Punta Calamixi. Guided walks can be booked online:
One of the nicest, easy hikes in Sardinia is that to the gorgeous waterfalls of Sa Spendula, located in the vicinity of Villacidro, at about 45 minutes drive from Cagliari. To be fair, the area is packed with lovely waterfalls but Sa Spendula is the most famous one.
The starting point is the parking lot of Campanas de Sisinni Conti, and the trail, which is well marked and on good terrain, follows a road that was created when the pipes to carry drinking water to the nearby village were placed. The first part of the trail is fairly easy, but the second half, to reach the peak of Monte Margiani at around 900 meters above sea level and is steadily uphill, is more challenging.
The overall hike takes around 2 hours. If you want to go hiking in Sardinia in the summer, this is a good option as it is fairly shady and you’ll get to the waterfalls where you can also get in the water.
You can even join a group hike to Sa Spendula that departs from Cagliari. This is a good option:
Su Gorroppu has some of the best hiking trails in Sardinia
The best hikes in the Center of Sardinia
According to some, Gorropu is the deepest canyon in Europe. Whether it is or not, it’s a fantastic place, and here you’ll find some of the best hiking trails in Sardinia, of varying levels of difficulty, and starting in various points.
I have hiked several of them, and each of them is fantastic for different reasons. The trail starting outside Urzulei and going through Sa Giuntura reaches the natural pools of Piscina Urtaddala and Piscina Gorropu via a steep downhill walk – which means that it is a steep walk uphill on the way back.
The trail that starts at about 10 km outside Dorgali, from the parking of Rifugio Gorroppu, is not as steep. It takes between 6 and 8 hours to complete both trails, depending on how fast you walk and how many stops you make. You can complete both trails independently, though having a guide and a group definitely adds to the fun.
Read my post “11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea.”
Once you get to the actual canyon, there is a €5 admission fee. The first part of the walk is fairly easy, but then you have to climb over some massive boulders which are rather slippery. Gorroppu Canyon is a fantastic place for rock climbing too.
TIP: There are no fountains or kiosks along the way (other than in the parking lot of Rifugio Gorroppu where you have to leave the car), so you need to carry enough water and food for the duration of the hike.
One of the nicest hikes in Sardinia is that to Cala Goloritze
This is one of the most rewarding hikes in Sardinia. It starts at the parking lot of Su Porteddu, in the Golgo Plateau, right above Baunei, and gets to one of the most spectacular beaches on the island, that can’t be accessed in any other way.
The hike is an almost steady downhill on the way to the beach, and completely uphill on the way back. It takes about one hour and 15 minutes to walk down and roughly the same amount of time to walk back up.
I recommend heading down nice and early so that you can get to enjoy a full day at the beach. Make sure to bring food and plenty of water, as there is no kiosk at the beach. On the way back, you can stop at the coffee shop located in the parking lot to enjoy a much deserved drink before heading back to town.
TIP: This is one of the most beautiful areas on the island. If you are considering hiking in Sardinia, you may want to base yourself here and each day hike to one of the different beaches of the Gulf of Orosei such as Cala dei Gabbiani or Cala Mariolu.
The lovely Bidderosa Natural Park has some incredible hiking trails, connecting gorgeous beaches
Bidderosa Natural Park is one of the most incredible places in Sardinia. The park is open from May to October and access is restricted to a limited number of cars, but no restrictions are placed on the numbers of visitors who walk there. There are five beautiful coves in the oasis, and a number of hiking and biking trails connecting them and going around the park. You can walk independently, or join a guided hike through the park authorities.
There is a kiosk only in cove n. 3, so you’re better off carrying enough food and water for the day.
TIP: If you plan to arrive by car, you have to reserve your admission in advance by calling the park well in advance. This is the website.
Asinara is packed with good hiking trails
The best hikes in the North of Sardinia
Punta Giglio, Porto Conte
Porto Conte Regional Park is one of the nicest places to go hiking in Sardinia. There are five different trails, all of them go all the way to Punta Giglio, a beautiful viewpoint. Trails are well marked and you can pick between those that go through the nature or those that allow you to visit military sites. Trails vary in difficulty level too. You can even go on a guided hike that you can book here.
Asinara National Park
Off the North tip of Sardinia there is the gorgeous Asinara Island, which can be reached by ferry from either Porto Torres or Stintino. Once a leper colony, then a high security prison, Asinara became a national park in 1997 and nobody – other than the park rangers – lives there.
The park is ruled by nature and wildlife, with wild boars, white donkeys, sheep, foxes and the Sardinian deer all living there, and sea turtles laying their eggs in one of the many gorgeous beaches.
The island, which is highly protected, is packed with incredible biking and hiking trails that offer splendid coastal views. The park is open from April until the end of October, and visitors can stay at the very basic hostel in the white village of Cala d’Oliva.
The trails of Asinara are all well marked and the terrain is good. All visitors are given a map to follow the trails, but if you want to make the most of the island, you may join a guided hike.
TIP: Asinara is a fantastic place to visit for a few days, to disconnect from the stress of daily life. Make sure to book your place at the hostel in Cala d’Oliva well in advance. You can also go on guided trips to Asinara that depart from Cagliari.
Long distance hiking in Sardinia is out of this world!
Long distance hiking in Sardinia
When it comes to long distance hiking in Sardinia, I believe nothing beats Selvaggio Blu. This is a challenging 7 day and 45 km hike along the east coast of the island, on a trail that goes through forests, along ravines and cliffs, and typically follows the trails of goatherds. Some parts also require rock climbing.
The trail starts in Pedra Longa, not far from Baunei, and from there reaches Porto Cuau (literally “hidden harbour”) and goes to all the most beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Orosei, such as Cala Goloritzé, Bacu Maduloru, Cuile Piddi, Cala Sisine, and finally Cala Luna and Cala Fuili.
You can’t hike the Selvaggio Blu alone, as you inevitably need organizational help (if anything, for the food and water for the duration of the trail). I wholeheartedly recommend joining one of the few reputable companies that organize the Selvaggio Blu a couple of times per year, and enquire well in advance. Follow The Sun Sardinia is the one I recommend the most – the chief and guide Alessandro Abis is experienced and reliable.
Sentiero Sardegna is the local section of Sentiero Italia and Sentiero Europa, and goes through the highest peaks and along the most challenging trails in Sardinia. You can either start in the top north in Santa Teresa di Gallura, and walk all the way to the south in Castiadas, at about one hour drive from Cagliari, or the other way around. It takes a minimum of three weeks to walk the entire trail, but you can also opt to walk bits of it.
A book with detailed description of the trail of Sentiero Sardegna and maps is available for download on the website of the environment authority of Sardinia, here – but unfortunately it is only in Italian.
Cammino S. Barbara
One of longest yet rewarding hiking trails in Sardinia is Cammino Santa Barbara. It’s a circular route of 386 km in the south of the island, in the Sulcis Iglesiente region. Most of the trail is on dirt roads and mule tracks, and a smaller percentage on tar road and paved road.
The trail is composed of 24 different stages, each of around 16 km, and on any stage you can mix a walk in the nature with visits to archeological sites and villages.
The views from Sella del Diavolo, one of the nicest places to go hiking in Sardinia
When to go hiking in Sardinia
I typically recommend to avoid the summer months if you intend to go hiking in Sardinia, but truth be told, some of the nicest hikes are those that finish at one of the incredible beaches so you may want to battle the heat to be rewarded with a swim in the cold waters.
Other than that, the best time to go hiking in Sardinia is the fall and the spring, until May – then it starts becoming too hot. Winter can be good as well, but keep in mind that the days are much shorter so you’ll have to pick shorter trails.
Main cities in Sardinia
The main city in Sardinia is Cagliari – a gorgeous city between the Campidano plane, the Mediterranean Sea, and the mountains. Cagliari has a lot to offer to its visitors, with plenty of historical charms in the 4 main districts, and several archeological sites, good museums and gorgeous churches. It’s also where you’ll find the best restaurants, accommodation options and the best nightlife.
For more information about Cagliari, check out my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari.”
If you are keen on learning more about the history and culture of Sardinia, make sure to visit Oristano and Nuoro, where a combination of good museums, local events and festival is bound to keep you entertained. From Nuoro, you’ll also have access to the best trails of Central Sardinia such as those of Gorroppu.
Discover all the places in Sardinia where you can learn about its history and culture in this post.
Best places to stay in Sardinia
Sardinia is packed with good accommodation options, scattered around the island. This is only a selection:
You may also want to check out my post on “Where To Stay In Cagliari.”
Sardinia is packed with good hiking trails
How to get to and around Sardinia
The best way to get to Sardinia is by plane. There are three airports in Sardinia: Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia. All of them are connected to the rest of Italy and Europe via standard and budget airlines.
You can also get to Sardinia by ferry. There are ferries departing from mainland Italy and other places in France and Spain getting to Sardinia. You can check ferry prices online here.
Once you are in Sardinia, the best way to move around is by car. You can rent one here.
Other tips for hiking in Sardinia
Make sure to be properly equipped when you go hiking in Sardinia. Always wear a good pair of hiking boots that provide good ankle support, and thick hiking socks. Make sure to layer up, with a good technical shirt, a light sweater and a wind proof jacket to stop the rain and the wind.
Keep in mind that oftentimes hiking trails in Sardinia start in one point and end in another, and if you plan to hike independently this may require a bit of organization (and two cars at least) to make sure that you can get back to your car at the end of the hike. Guided hikes have the benefit of having a driver dropping you off at one place and picking you up at another.
Make sure to get full insurance coverage if you plan to go hiking in Sardinia. Check out the prices of travel insurance here.
Have you ever been hiking in Sardinia? What are your favorite trails?
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There are many interesting things to do in Bogota. The capital of Colombia, a city of no less than 7.5 million people, well deserves to be explored and has plenty of things to see and do to keep visitors entertained – though many mistakenly decide to only spend a few hours there, while on a layover to go elsewhere.
It’s a pity, really. Bogota has a lot to offer, a lot more than meets the eye, and despite being such a vast metropolis, the vibe is friendly and the locals are extremely welcoming.
Perched at 2600 meters above sea level in the Andes, Bogota it’s a world apart from the sunny Cartagena, which is on the Caribbean coast (read more about Cartagena in this post). The average temperature here is 14 degrees Celsius, and it pretty much rains every day. Upon arriving, the impression you will get is that of being in northern England, or Ireland. Definitely not the sunny, hot, salsa-dancing, tropical picture that fills up the imagination of most foreigners.
Yet, one can’t help but warming to it.
Bogota is sophisticated, progressive and at times overwhelming. It’s chaotic, but it can also be incredibly peaceful. It’s a city of contrasts: next to the colorful colonial buildings of La Candelaria, you’ll find the skyscrapers of the financial district. The center is packed with beautiful historical sights, good museums and colonial buildings.
This posts highlights all the unmissable things to do in Bogota, and includes a few tips on how to make the most of the city.
These are some of the best guided tours of Bogota:
The beautiful cathedral in Plaza Bolivar
17 Things To Do In Bogota That You Shouldn’t Miss
Go to Plaza de Bolivar
Located in the historic heart of Bogota, Plaza de Bolivar is actually as eclectic as it gets in terms of architectural styles. The Capitolio Nacional, where the congress sits, is built in a neoclassical style. The Alcaldia (the City Hall) is built in French style and dates back to the early 20th century. The Catedral Primada, which is on the eastern side of the square, is Bogota’s largest church and was built in neoclassical style. The only example of colonial style architecture in the square is the Capilla del Sagrario, which is right next to the Cathedral. Whichever way you look at it, Plaza de Bolivar is an interesting place and visiting is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires.
Walk around Candelaria
Visiting La Candelaria is what to do in Bogotà to appreciate the colonial feel of the city. It’s a lovely neighborhood of cobbled alleys, museums galore, theaters, cafés and street art. The area has some good hostels and other places to stay, and some fairly good restaurants too. It’s one of the safest neighborhood in Bogota, so you can safely explore by yourself. But if you are curious to learn more about the history of the area and of how it evolved into becoming a place for artists, you may as well join a guided tour.
These are some of the best tours of Bogota that include La Candelaria:
One of the things to do in Bogota is admiring the view from Monserrate – photo courtesy of Mariusz Kluzniak (flickr)
Enjoy the view from Monserrate
Among the unmissable things to do in Bogota there’s visiting Cerro de Monserrate. This peak towers over Bogota with its 3200 meters. It’s been a place of pilgrimage since the 1600s and a church was built at the top in the 1650s. The views of the city from Monserrate are impressive, but the site is also famous for the statue of El Señor Caido – a statue that depicts Jesus Christ right after being taken off the cross. There is also a park, which is nice to explore.
To get to Monserrate, you have three options: you can take the cable car, which is called Teleferico, the funicular, or walk all the way up the more than 1500 steps to the top. Although there are meant to be uniformed guards on the trail, robberies are often reported so take precautions should you decide to walk it – and by all means don’t go alone.
TIP: Bogota gets terribly congested with traffic, and as the day goes along, the pollution increases and the views from Cerro Monserrate become less clear. Make sure to go up quite early in the morning for clear views. Also, keep in mind that the temperature inevitably drops even more compared to the already cold city, so bring up an extra layer.
You can also join a guided tour that goes all the way to Monserrate. These are the best options:
Enjoy a different view from Torre Colpatria
You can get a good 360 degrees view of Bogota from its tallest skyscraper, Torre Colpatria, where you can access the mirador (viewpoint) on the 48th floor.
Visit La Zona Rosa
Zona Rosa, whose official name is Zona T, is the upscale area of Bogota – with all the luxury shops, restaurants and hotels and some of the best bars and nightlife in the city. It’s definitely where to go in Bogota if you want to treat yourself to a good dinner, but keep in mind that prices are going to be higher than in the rest of the city.
In Zona Rosa you’ll also find the famous Andres Carne de Res, a restaurant which originally opened in Chia but that now also has opened here in Bogota. It’s more than just a restaurant – here you can spend the night dancing to salsa and merengue tunes. Spending a night there is one of the best things to do in Bogota at night.
You can book a visit to Andres Carne de Res (with transfer) online:
Chapinero is one of the nicest areas of the city and if you want to get out of the main tourist trail, visiting is what to do in Bogota. It’s where a large university is located, so the vibe is young and friendly. Here, you’ll find some very good restaurants – though not as expensive as those of Zona Rosa, and good places to stay that are a world away from the backpackers’ places of Candelaria.
Make sure to visit Candelaria – it’s one of the things to do in Bogota
Explore Bogota by bike
One of the things that impressed me the most about Bogota is how biking friendly the city is. There’s something like 300 km of biking lanes, that have been built since 1998, and locals regularly use this mode of transportation to go about their daily business. Needless to say, one of the top things to do in Bogota to properly see it is joining a bike tour. Most of them start in La Candelaria and make several stops throughout the day, to visit museums, have a taste of street food, admire street art. Tours vary depending on the events going on in the city.
These are some of the best bike tours of Bogota:
Biking is the best way to move around Bogota
Join the Ciclovia Sundays
Speaking of bikes, one of the most fun things to do in Bogota on Sundays is joining the Ciclovia. That’s when more than 100 km of roads are closed to traffic, and the locals get to use them to bike, skate, rollerblade, run and even walk the dogs. You can rent a bike to join in the fun. And if you get hungry you can stop at the many stalls that pop up at the side of the street.
There’s a lot of street art in Bogota – photo courtesy of Pedro Szekely (flickr)
Admire all the street art
If you love street art, you’ll be in for a treat. One of the nicest things to do in Bogota is admiring the many pieces of art painted on the city walls. Bogota street art is thriving, and has been so for decades – despite the fact that graffiti artists had to work at nights and under cover not to be caught by the police. In 2011, Diego Felipe Becerra was shot by two police officers as he painted his famous Felix de Cat, causing such a reaction from the rest of the artists community and the public that the two officers were eventually arrested. That’s when graffiti art was finally legalized in certain parts of the city, and it became an integral part of Bogota identity.
You can join a guided tour of Bogota street art that will take you to the most impressive pieces – some work on a donation basis, most you have to pay. This is a selection of the best street art tours of Bogota:
Visit the incredible museums
Colombia’s capital has some excellent museums and art galleries, and visiting them is what to do in Bogota on a rainy day. Museo del Oro is thought to be the most important gold museums in the world. Yet, if you have to pick just one museum to visit in town, go to Museo Botero. It’s a great gallery, funded by a donation by Botero (Colombia’s most famous artist) himself. Other than his paintings, you’ll also be able to see works of Picasso, Mirò, Renoir, Dali, Matisse and Monet.
Other interesting museums include the Museo Nacional, which is located in an old prison and gives plenty of insights into the history of Colombia; the Museo de Arte Colonial; and the Museo Historico Policia, which is a rather quirky museum with dummies of drug dealers of the likes of Pablo Escobar.
If you want to make the most of Bogota’s museums, you can join a guided tour. These are two of the best:
Hang out in Simon Bolivar Park
Simon Bolivar is to Bogota what Central Park is to New York: it’s the biggest park in the city, and it gets incredibly busy at weekends. It’s the perfect place to visit at the weekend, for a picnic, to hang out by the lake, rent a bike and take a stroll. During the summer, lots of concerts are held in the park.
Mingle with the locals at the market
Bogota isn’t a touristy city – you can get much of a local feel here wherever you go, really. Yet, if you want to get a good understanding of the local vibe and way of life, a visit to one of the local markets is one of the most interesting things to do in Bogota. The market in Plaza Paloquemao has an incredible array of fresh produce, flowers, eggs, seafood and meat. You’ll also get to taste a lot of street food.
If you prefer, you can even join a guided market tour. This is a selection of the best tours available:
Eating arepas is one of the things to do in Bogota
Go on a food tour
Food in Colombia is quite an experience: this is a country with an incredible array of fruit that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world. Most people who travel to Colombia complain that food is either incredibly bland, or too deep fried. In my month in Colombia, I actually tried a few things that were delicious, and I enjoyed the earthy, warm soups that are served any time of day. Bogota is a great dining destination.
Some of Colombia’s must try are:
- Arepas – corn patties that can be plain or filled with cheese;
- Bandeja paisa – which is actually a full meal of rice, beans, avocado, arepa, fried eggs and often also some grilled meat;
- Sancocho de gallina – a chicken soup with potaoes, onions, corn and whatever else is available;
- Ajaco – similar to sancocho de gallina, this soup is typical from the Bogota region and is served with rice and avocado.
While the best restaurants in Bogota are in Zona Rosa, your best bet for excellent food that is also cheap is the street, and if you dig well, you’ll find some delicious stuff. If you have just arrived in Colombia and feel overwhelmed by the incredible offer of food, you may want to opt for a food tour (even better, a street food tour) to taste all the local specialties – it’s one of the recommended things to do in Bogota.
Here is a selection of the best food tours of Bogota:
Tasting coffee is one of the things to do in Bogota
Learn about coffee
In a country that exports some of the best quality coffee in the world, one of the most interesting things to do is learning about the secrets to a good coffee. While the Eje Cafetero, the coffee region of Colombia is at some 10 hours drive from Bogota, you can still appreciate coffee in the capital. One of the nicest things to do in Bogota is drinking coffee, and learning more about it. There even are guided coffee crawl tours (yes, seriously!).
These are some of the best coffee tours of Bogota:
Taste some beer
Latin America was never big on good beer – no matter how hard I tried in Costa Rica or even Panama, I never found a beer that I truly enjoyed. Except in Colombia, which has its own great breweries and where you can get draft beer. The most famous brewery is Bogota Beer Company, which has opened several locations across the city where you can walk in to enjoy some good pub food and what is unarguably the best beer in the country. They even do beer tours of the city – it certainly is what to do in Bogota if you like your pint!
These are some of the best beer tours of Bogota:
Enjoy Bogota’s nightlife
For the best nightlife in Bogota, you have to head to Zona Rosa, which attracts a good crowd of both locals and tourists. It’s where the best bars in the city are located, and home to the famous Andres Carne de Res where you can dine like a king before admiring dance shows and even dancing yourself. The gay friendly part of Bogota is Zona G, which also has some great bars.
These are some of the best night tours of Bogota:
A day trip out of the city is a must!
Take a day trip to out of the city
Bogota is lovely, but the surroundings are amazing too. One of the best things to do in Bogota is to take a day trip out of the city. The following is a selection of places that can be visited from Bogota.
Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral
The Salt Catedral, which was born out of an old salt mine, is one of the most fascinating things to see in Colombia. It’s located near Zipaquira, which is 50 km north of Bogota. The Cathedral was open to the public in 1995 and can host up to 8400 people. Visiting is what to do in Bogota if you want to get out of the city for a day. You can get there on a combination of public transportation, or else you can join a guided tour.
These are some of the best guided tours of Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral:
La Laguna de Guatavita is located at around 18 km from Guatavita, which in and of itself is quite an interesting place to visit. The lagoon is a sacred lake and the ritual center of the Muisca indigenous peoples. It’s where the myth of El Dorado was born. Visits to Guatavita often include a tour of the Museo del Oro of Bogota, as this includes a lot of pieces coming from the Guatavita region. This is one of the nicest things to do in Bogota to get out of the city.
You can go to Guatavita by a combination of public transportation, or opt for a guided tour. These are the best tours available:
Villa de Leyva
Villa del Leyva is a gorgeous small colonial town at about 3 hours drive from Bogota. It’s a lovely place to explore for a day, though if you have more time I actually recommend to spend at least a weekend there. It’s where people from Bogota actually go for a getaway from the city. If you are pressed for time but you still want to visit, you can go there on a day trip.
These are the best tours of Villa de Leyva departing from Bogota:
A Layover In Bogota
Bogota has a lot to offer, but if you are tight on time you can still try to make the most of the city, and do at least some of the things to do in Bogota. The best way to explore the city if you are tight on time is on a guided tour.
There are especially designed tours for people who are visiting Bogota on a layover. This is a selection of the best tours:
There are a lot of good places to stay in Bogota
Where to stay in Bogota
Most people who visit Bogota stay in La Candelaria, where you’ll find the majority of boutique hotels and hostels. A few good ones can also be found in Chapinero and Zona Rosa.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Bogota:
Watch this space as I will be writing a more detailed guide on where to stay in Bogota.
How to get to Bogota
Bogota is very well connected to the rest of the country by an incredible web of bus routes. The main bus station is La Terminal, around 5 km west of the city center in an area called La Salitre. There, you’ll find buses going to the rest of the country.
Bogota airport is called El Dorado and has flights to various locations in the country and to the rest of the world. From there, you can get to Bogota by public transportation, taxi or private transfer. You can book your Bogota airport transfer here.
Unless you want to move around by bike, you can count on Bogota’s very efficient bus system. The service is cheap and fast, and buses run from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm.
I didn’t have any issue when I visited Bogota, and in the last few years crime rates have decreased thanks to the efforts of the police forces. Check the latest reports on safety here. However I recommend you use your caution when you walk around, especially at night. When in doubt, opt to take a taxi. Make sure to also purchase travel insurance before visiting. You can get one here.
If you are concerned about safety, you can actually get a local guide you around. Find out how here.
Have you ever been to Bogota? What are your favorite things to do in Bogota?
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Finding where to stay in Cartagena can prove a bit of a challenge. The city is by far the most beautiful in Colombia. However, it’s quite widespread and while there is a vast choice of excellent places to stay in each district, not every district may be suitable to your needs or budget.
Whether you are looking for the best hotels in Cartagena to stay with your loved one or your family; or you are a solo backpacker traveling on a tighter budget and searching for good hostels in Cartagena, you’ve come to the right place.
This post highlight the best places to stay in Cartagena, selecting the best areas to stay according to interests, and the best places to stay according to budget.
Finding Where To Stay In Cartagena, Colombia
I spent quite a while in Cartagena during my overland trip across Central and South America. I arrived there from Panama, after a failed attempted at sailing across San Blas (read about my experience in this post) and was quite miserable after all the sea sickness, and in need of a place to just hang out. Cartagena proved to be an incredible place to explore. The city is gorgeous, and it has a lot to offer to lovers of history and culture and to anyone who wants an easy Caribbean getaway.
Check out my post “25 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena.”
Much like the rest of the Caribbean, Cartagena is hot year round. This means that for increased chances of getting some decent sleep (or better, if you want to sleep at all), you may want to invest in a place that has air conditioning – even if only a hostel. And you may want to pick a place that has a pool, even if only a tiny one, where you can jump in during the day for a quick cool down.
The good news is that there is no shortage of good places to stay in Cartagena. The bad news is that the city is constantly packed with tourists, so I strongly advise you to book a room in advance. If you are stuck in your search for the best hotels in Cartagena, worry not! I have you covered.
Continue reading to discover where to stay in Cartagena.
There are some incredible hotels in Cartagena
Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Options
Best Hotels In Cartagena
Casa Gastelbondo is where to stay in Cartagena if you are a traveling couple looking for a spacious, contemporary looking and comfortable room with all the amenities. The friendly staff and the perfect location make it one of the best hotels in Cartagena. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique is an incredible value for money option. It’s located in Getsemani, one of the best places to stay in Cartagena – a fun, trendy neighborhood packed with bars and good restaurants. Rooms are large and comfortable; there is a nice pool area; and the complimentary breakfast is delicious. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Great Hostels In Cartagena
Bourbon St. Hostal Boutique is the perfect place to stay for travelers on a budget. This gorgeous boutique hostel is in the heart of historical Cartagena, and features modern dorms with plenty of space to store your stuff, and quiet surroundings so you will be sure to get some good sleep. Breakfast is included in the deal, and it’s fabulous. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Life Is Good is a fabulous hostel in the trendy Getsemani, perfect for solo travelers who need a comfortable, cozy and well organized dorm but also couples who prefer having a private room. The common areas are beautiful and the overall atmosphere chilled and friendly. It’s spotless. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Hostal Casa Roman is one of the nicest hostels in Cartagena. Dorms are basic, but specious and clean. There is free coffee and a water filter system which means you can save on plastic. And the much needed air conditioning. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Continue reading for neighborhood guide on where to stay in Cartagena.
Some of the best places to stay in Cartagena are in the Old City
Where To Stay In Cartagena – Based On Neighborhood And Interests
Where to stay in Cartagena for: Newly arrived
If it is your first time in Cartagena, stop right here: the Old City center is where to stay in Cartagena. This part of the city is packed with atmosphere. Here, you’ll find the narrow cobbled alleys with the balconies pouring colorful flowers onto the street; you’ll spot street vendors selling all sorts of tropical fruits; and locals and tourists alike sitting in a shady square, trying to take a break from the heat.
The Old City is where you’ll find most of the museums, churches and colonial buildings in Cartagena.
TIP: Join a guided tour of Cartagena Old City to get a good feel for it, then continue exploring by yourself to find the most hidden, picture perfect streets.
These are some of the best tours of Cartagena Old City:
The following is a selection of the best tours of Cartagena old city:
The Old City is obviously the most touristy area of Cartagena. This means that here you’ll find some of the best places to stay in Cartagena – mostly luxury and boutique hotels, but also a few good hostels.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cartagena that are located in the Old City:
San Diego has some of the best places to stay in Cartagena
Where to stay in Cartagena for: All of the fun, none of the crowds
If you want to be minutes away from all the action, but can’t be bothered to put up with the chaos and the crowds, San Diego is where to stay in Cartagena. Still within the walled city, from here you’ll have access to all the nicest places to visit in the city, including Plaza de la Boveda with all the small souvenir shops, and the house of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the famous Colombian novelist.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cartagena that are located in San Diego:
Getsemani is where to stay in Cartagena for nightlife and street art
Where to stay in Cartagena for: Party goers and trendsetters
If you are a party animal, enjoy street art and have a taste for street food, look no further. Getsemani is where to stay in Cartagena. Formerly a red light district, this part of the old city located outside the walls is full of charm and character. It’s a maze of narrow alleys that the Spanish colonizers cleverly built to catch the marine breeze. Here you’ll spot locals sitting outside their doors in the late afternoon, snoozing on a chair as the temperatures finally start to drop a little.
The best place to hang out in Getsemani is Plaza Trinidad. It’s where locals and tourists alike gather at night, to chat, play soccer in the square, have a drink. There, you’ll find a bunch of nice restaurants, good bars and a series of street food stalls.
TIP: Make sure to properly visit Getsemani. If you want to get a proper taste for street food and learn all the secrets of local recipes, book a guided street food tour.
These are some of the best street food tours in Cartagena:
Some of the nicest hostels in Cartagena are located in Getsemani, but here you’ll also find some excellent boutique hotels.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cartagena that are located in Getsemani:
Bocagrande is perfect for families
Where to stay in Cartagena for: Families
Bocagrande is the most modern part of Cartagena, the one with the shiny skyscrapers and the international food restaurants. You probably not going to get the charming colonial atmosphere of the Old City, but if you are looking for a place that offers you all the comforts of modern life and a super safe environment, this is where to stay in Cartagena.
This is where the wealthy Colombians live – those that most likely have a holiday home here, but regularly reside elsewhere. Here, you’ll have direct access to the beach as well as to luxury shops.
TIP: For a day of complete relax, go on a trip to one of the nearby islands.
These are some of the best tours to Rosario Islands, Baru and Playa Blanca:
Bocagrande has some of the best places to stay in Cartagena, but it’s also one of the most expensive areas in the city. You won’t really find hostels here, but there are a few good budget options.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cartagena that are located in Manga:
Budget traveler? Manga is where to stay in Cartagena
Where to stay in Cartagena for: Budget travelers
Manga is pretty much the opposite of the Old City and of Getsemani. It’s not as pretty as the historical parts of Cartagena, but it’s quieter and much much cheaper – which means it’s one of best places to stay in Cartagena if you are looking for something more budget friendly.
Manga has some of the nicest views you’ll get of Cartagena – especially that of the skyscrapers around the harbor in Bocagrande. There are some nice colonial buildings and mansions such as Casa Roman. And there are a few good seafood restaurants.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cartagena that are located in Manga:
Have you ever been to Cartagena? What are your favorite places to stay in Cartagena?
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There are many incredible things to do in Cartagena, that it’s easy to fall in love with it. This Colombian colonial town is rightly considered the most beautiful city in Colombia, and one of the most beautiful ones in South America. It’s the kind of place where you can get lost in the narrow, cobbled alleys while sipping some tropical fruit juice; where you will end up dancing salsa in the streets, or playing futbol with a team of local children. Regardless of how you spend your time, you’re bound to enjoy it.
The city was founded in 1533 and soon became one of the most important cities in the region. Nowadays, it is Colombia’s largest port, and it has swelled to more than a million people. Cartagena has became a major resort city thanks to the easy access to the beautiful Caribbean Sea (going to the beach is what to do in Cartagena to escape the heat). Tourism in Cartagena is constantly growing, but thankfully the old walled town has remained pretty the same, and it’s a fantastic place to explore for a few days, or even more.
In this post, I highlight all the unmissable things to do in Cartagena and share some tips to make the most of this incredible city.
These are some of best tours of Cartagena. They go to the Old City and beyond:
Walking around the old city is one of the things to do in Cartagena
25 Fun Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia
Walk around the old city
The first thing I do in any place I visit is going for a spontaneous walk, without anything particular in mind other than getting a feel for the city. Needless to say, this is one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena. For some reason, the old city and the atmosphere reminds me of Havana. The walled town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is full of hidden treasures: colonial style balconies pour colorful flowers onto the cobbled streets; street vendors sell their fresh fruits at street corners; locals and tourists alike sit in one of the lovely coffee shops, trying to get away from the heat.
The following is a selection of the best tours of Cartagena old city:
A walk on the city walls is what to do in Cartagena
Walk along Las Murallas
Walking along Las Murallas is one of the things to do in Cartagena. The old town of Cartagena is surrounded by thick walls that were built to protect it at the end of the 16th century, after the city had been attacked by Francis Drake. It actually took almost two centuries to complete the walls, because continued pirate attacks and storms caused much damage to the construction.
Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
One of the things to do in Cartagena to appreciate its history is visiting the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Construction of this fortress – the largest ever built by the Spaniards in any of their colonies – started in 1639 and went on for 150 years. Yes, it took a long time to visit, but once it was completed the city proved to be unassailable!
TIP: Among the coolest things to do in Cartagena is walking through the tunnel system at the Castillo. Make sure not to skip this!
A walk around the main square is among the things to do in Cartagena
Stop at Puerta del Reloj
Where the Puerta del Reloj is now located there used to be the main gate to the walled city. The watch was actually added in the 19th century. Behind it, there’s Plaza de los Coches, which used to be Cartagena’s biggest slave market and where there now is a monument to Pedro de Heredia, founder of the city. This is one of Cartagena’s landmark and visiting is one of the unmissable things to do in Cartagena.
Visit the Museo del Oro Zanú
If you would like to know more about the history of Cartagena and how important gold was for it, then visiting Museo del Oro Zanú is one of the unmissable things to do in Cartagena. Most of the exhibit is composed of gold and pottery that throughout time was raided from the Zanú indigenous peoples. The first expedition against them was actually organized by Pedro de Heredia, who went up the river Sinú in search of gold.
The museum is open daily and there is no entry fee, and you’ll also be able to enjoy the nice air conditioning, getting a break from the incessant heat of the city.
Visit the Museo de Arte Moderno
Located in the 17th century former Royal Customs House, this nice museum has a good exhibit with a collection of works of the most prominent Colombian artists.
Go to the Palace of the Inquisition
The Palace of the Inquisition is one of the nicest buildings in Cartagena and one of the best examples of colonial architecture. Today, the palace is a museum with an exhibit of instruments of torture that were used at the time of the Inquisition. Visiting is one of the most interesting things to do in Cartagena.
Visit Iglesia y Convento de San Pedro Claver
San Pedro Claver church has an imposing stone façade and inside there are the remains of Claver. Next to it there is a huge three floors building which surrounds a beautiful courtyard. This is the convent of Pedro Claver, a monk who lived in Cartagena in the 17th century and who made it a mission to serve to the slaves brought from Africa. A part of the convent is now an interesting museum that is open to visitors.
Taking in the views from Convento de la Popa – one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena
Visit Convento de la Popa
Although the city is mostly flat, one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena is getting a panoramic view. Convento de la Popa, which was founded by the Augustinians in 1607, is built on top of a hill beyond San Felipe fortress. There is a nice chapel and a gorgeous patio filled with flowers. The main attraction, however, is the incredible view of the city.
TIP: Convento de la Popa is a bit of a way and public transportation doesn’t get there. Make sure to haggle the price of a taxi: the area is notorious for robberies, and it’s better to keep in the safe side.
Visit Iglesia de Santo Domingo
This is Cartagena’s oldest church, whose interior is really spacious and beautiful. There’s an entry fee (unless you are going for Sunday mass), but with that you also get an audio guide in a variety of languages.
Visit Cartagena Cathedral
Among the many buildings in Cartagena that took years to complete is the Cathedral. It was begun in 1575, destroyed by Francis Drake in 1586, and completed in 1612. There is a dome on the tower, which was added in the 20th century. It’s one of the nicest attractions in Cartagena.
Make sure to visit the market – it’s one of the things to do in Cartagena!
Explore Mercado de Bazurto
At around 15 minutes drive from the center of Cartagena there is a really cool market, Mercado de Bazurto. It’s massive, chaotic and – at least to the eyes of a tourist – quite dirty. Yet, it’s an incredible place to get some local action, not to mention to buy some fresh fruits and vegetables. Visiting is, quite simply, one of the most fun things to do in Cartagena If you aren’t comfortable exploring on your own, you can actually take a guided tour.
These are the best tours of Bazurto Market:
Take a street food tour
Much like the rest of South America, Cartagena has an incredible street food scene. Whether you have a preference for healthy snacks of fresh fruit or would rather go for something greasy, filling and oh so tasty, there’s something for you. The go to place for street food is Getsemani, a nice part of the old city which is actually outside of the city walls. There, in Plaza Trinidad, there are lots of small restaurants and so many good street food vendors.
If you feel you need some help navigating all the street food, one of the things to do in Cartagena is joining a street food tour. These are some of the best street food tours in Cartagena:
Gorge on ceviche
In case you need a break from all the fried food that you can have in the street, having ceviche is what to do in Cartagena. This delicious, marinated raw fish dish has lots of lime and fresh flavors, and it is common in all of South America – and even more so in a city that has an abundance of fresh fish thanks to easy access to the sea. The best place in Cartagena for ceviche is La Cevicheria.
Walking around Getsemani is one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena
Hang out in Getsemani
One of my favorite areas of Cartagena is Getsemani, which is the old city right outside the city walls. Once an area of prostitutes and drug dealing, it’s now been restored to its old splendor and it’s a maze of narrow alleys where the most common scene in the early afternoon is that of locals sitting right outside their house, trying to catch a bit of breeze and have a break from the heat. At night, Plaza Trinidad, the heart of Getsemani, gets packed with street food vendors; bars open up and start pouring beer, and the actual square becomes a football ground for children. It’s a lovely area to hang out, really – it’s one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena.
You can even go on a guided tour of Cartagena. You can book it here.
Admire the street art
In its restoration process, most of the walls of Getsemani were painted with some beautiful murals and this part of Cartagena is now packed with incredible street art. One of the nicest things to do in Cartagena is going street art hunting.
Sip a sunset drink
Cartagena is hot. I mean, it’s so hot and humid that you’ll get exhausted and probably end up dragging yourself from place to place, and at times all you’ll want to do is sit somewhere with air-con and a cold drink at hand. When the sun goes down, one of the things to do in Cartagena is heading out for a much deserved refreshing sunset drink. The best place for a sunset drink is Café del Mar – the combination of excellent cocktails and incredible views make it a very popular spot.
Make sure to admire the sunset – it’s one of the things to do in Cartagena
Or go on a sunset cruise
Should you want to admire sunset but would rather go for a more intimate experience, one of the things to do in Cartagena is going on a sunset cruise. They normally last around two hours and depart from the marina.
These are the best sunset cruises in Cartagena:
Make sure to enjoy the nightlife – it’s one of the things to do in Cartagena
Go party at Media Luna hostel
Located in Getsemani, Media Luna is a lovely hostel in a colonial building that has an incredible rooftop lounge and a small yet nice pool. It’s a party hotspot, and if you are keen on some night time fun, this is the place to go in Cartagena. It goes without saying that where there’s party, there’s no sleeping – so staying at Media Luna hostel if you plan on going to bed early is not one of the things to do in Cartagena.
Learn to dance salsa
An incredible way to experience nightlife in Cartagena is dancing salsa. If you are a keen dancer, this is one of the most fun things to do in Cartagena. If you are not, you may want to join a class, such as those offered by Crazy Salsa in Calle Tumbamuertos, or a tour to learn the basics – fun is guaranteed!
These are some good salsa tours and classes in Cartagena:
Then hop on a Chiva
In case you are looking for more fun things to do in Cartagena, make sure to go partyon a Chiva. It’s a bus (yes, really!) where you are likely to get live music, a good cocktail and lots of dancing. The bus goes bar hopping, making stops at various salsa bars around town, and eventually stops at a larger salsa club where you can continue dancing. You can ask your accommodation to arrange a chiva tour for you.
Shopping is one of the things to do in Cartagena
Go shopping at Las Bovedas
Las Bovedas are 23 dungeons that were built in the defensive walls on the northern tip of the old city towards the end of the 18th century. They were meant to have military purposes but today they are tourist shops and visiting is what to do in Cartagena if you are after souvenirs and local crafts.
Enjoy a day at Playa Blanca
The Caribbean Sea is packed of dreamy beaches (I have seen some incredible ones in Antigua), and Cartagena beaches are beautiful for sure. Spending a day at the beach is one of the nicest things to do in Cartagena, not to mention a great way to get a break from the heat and chaos of the city. Playa Blanca, located at about 20 km south of Cartagena on Isla de Baru, is one of the nicest beaches in the area: it’s a white, sandy beach with incredibly clear turquoise waters. You can get your own umbrella and chairs, and grab food and drinks from the many vendors on the beach.
You can get to Playa Blanca by taxi, and there even are tours that take you there. These are some of the best:
A day trip to visit the beaches is a must!
Go on a day trip to Islas del Rosario
At about 35 km south of Cartagena there is an archipelago of 27 small islands called Islas del Rosario. Some islands are so small that they literally only fit one house. One of the nicest things to do in Cartagena is going on a day cruise to these islands. Cruises live from the Muelle Turistico and usually involve lunch (the lucky ones get freshly caught lobster!) and lots of snorkeling in the incredible waters.
These are the best tours to Islas del Rosario:
Swim in the crater of El Totumo Volcano
One of the most unique things to do in Cartagena if you want to get out of the city is going to El Totumo, a volcano crater at about 50 km northeast of the city. The interesting thing about it is that instead of lava, it actually spews out mud. There, you can climb to the top using the stairs, then head down to the crater and have a mud bath – the mud apparently has therapeutic properties, much like that of the Dead Sea in Israel. Afterwards, you can go wash the mud off in the lagoon.
You can go to El Totumo independently on a combination of buses, or else you can opt to take a guided tour there. This is a selection of the best tours that go to El Totumo:
Walking around Getsemani is one of the things to do in Cartagena
Where To Stay In Cartagena
Cartagena has a great selection of places to stay catering to any budget and taste. Here’s a selection of the best accommodation options:
Check out my detailed guide on the best places to stay in Cartagena.
Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Cartagena
When to visit Cartagena
There is no escaping the heat in Cartagena. This part of Colombia is typically hot and humid – though you can count on a bit of breeze in the late afternoon. There is a rainy season, but keep in mind that rain is common in the Caribbean even when it’s supposed to be the dry season.
How to get to Cartagena
Cartagena has a well connected airport with flights to Bogotà (read more about Bogota in this post) and the rest of the country and even international flights. To get from the airport to the city, you can hop on a colectivo, get a taxi, or book your private transfer here.
Cartagena is also connected to the rest of Colombia through a good bus system. It’s always better to buy your bus tickets in advance, as this is a common means of transportation in Colombia. Keep in mind that for some reason the air-con on the bus is kept very low, and you may well freeze there, so make sure to carry a good jacket, especially if the trip is long.
Finally, you can get to Cartagena by boat. Sailing boats regularly connect Cartagena to Panama via the San Blas islands. The trip lasts around 5 days and the prices vary depending on the company, but it usually is a minimum of $500 USD. This is not something you want to do if you get sea sick (you may want to read about my experience sailing San Blas) – the Atlantic Ocean can get very rough!
Cartagena is safe, but you should beware of scams. Make sure you also get a good travel insurance. You can check the prices here.
Have you been to Cartagena? What are the things to do in Cartagena that you enjoyed the most?
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