You can go on a few great day trips from Cartagena.
This may come as a surprise to you, but although Cartagena sits right on the Caribbean Sea, it actually lacks a good beach. Bocagrande, probably the most popular beach in town, will probably be a disappointment as it is somewhat dirty (picture cigarette butts and trash) and plagued by vendors who at literally any minute will interrupt you from your nap to ask whether you want to buy a juice / ceviche / or even drugs.
If that is not your idea of a relaxing day, you’ll be relieved to know that there are many great places that can be visited on day trips from Cartagena.
Not sure where to go? Continue reading to discover a selection of places that are perfect for a day trip – and a few tips on others that are too far for that.
8 Great Day Trips From Cartagena
Playa Blanca and Isla Baru
This is probably the easiest of all day trips from Cartagena – and a popular one. Playa Blanca is located on Isla Baru, about 20 km south of Cartagena. It’s a lovely beach of fine, white sand and clear turquoise waters, where you can spend the day being lazy in the sun, enjoying a bit of snorkeling and getting a drink from one of the kiosks or the beach vendors. The beach is equipped with umbrella and sun beds which you can rent for the day.
It’s a popular place among locals and tourists, so it can get quite crowded.
Isla Baru is actually connected to Cartagena by road, so you can get there by taxi or public transport. Alternatively, you can go there on a guided tour that includes hotel pick up and drop off and lunch – such as this one.
For a beach a bit closer to the city, opt to go to El Laguito – there even is a trail that is perfect for running, skating and biking. The beach is honestly much better than Bocagrande.
You should also read my post 19 Best Beaches In Colombia.
Islas del Rosario
If you only have time for a day trip from Cartagena, definitely opt for this one. The archipelago of Islas del Rosario was declared a national park in 1998 and is made up of 27 islands. Most of them are public, some are privately owned and a couple are so tiny that literally no more than a shed can be built on it.
The waters of the archipelago are as clear as it gets, and a fantastic place to spend the day swimming, snorkeling and simply having fun.
The archipelago is located about 35 km south of Cartagena and it takes around one hour to get there on a speed boat (lancha rapida); a bit longer on slower boats. You can go there independently or on guided day trips.
INDEPENDENTLY – Boats depart at 8:00, 9:00 and 10:00 am from El Muelle La Bodeguita (just outside the walled city). Expect to pay around $20 USD for the boat ride and the port fees (one way). If you visit independently, keep your eyes open for the fishermen who may be able to catch fresh lobster or crab. You will literally be able to pick which one you want, and can ask them to be back at a certain time with lunch ready for you – I have done it and it was probably the best crab I have ever eaten in my life!
GUIDED TOURS – Most guided tours go to Isla del Rosario and Isla Grande, which are the largest islands and where most guided tours go. Guided tours depart from El Muelle La Bodeguita and include lunch, and are usually back by 4:00 pm. You will be offered a variety of guided tours as soon as you walk inside the harbor, or you can book your day trip here.
If you fancy a place that is a bit lesser known, and where you will find some beautiful mangrove swamps, head to La Boquilla, a lovely fishing village at about 20 minutes from Cartagena which is an excellent place to learn a bit more about the life of the local Afro-Colombian communities. It’s not the best beach in the area, really, but you will likely have it to yourself – which is a nice change!
You can easily go there independently – just hop on a taxi from Cartagena after having negotiated the price. Alternatively, ask your accommodation to book you for a guided tour, which will include transportation and a canoe ride through the mangrove swamp.
Manzanillo del Mar
Another nice place that can be visited on day trips from Cartagena and which is ideal for a day in the sun is Manzanillo del Mar, home to a lovely beach with fine sand and clear waters. It’s a bit of a lesser known place, so you won’t find it too crowded. Once there, you can rent an umbrella or even a thatched hut for shade, and enjoy grilled fish at one of the local restaurants.
Manzanillo del Mar is about 40 minutes north of Cartagena. You can get there by bus.
El Totumo Volcano
About 50 km northeast of Cartagena, El Totumo is a volcano crater that instead of throwing out lava, it spits out mud. Climb to the top using the stairs, then head down to the crater and have a mud bath – they say it’s great for the skin and for the bones. Afterwards, you can go wash the mud off in the lagoon. Just make sure to bring a towel and a change of clothes.
You can go to El Totumo independently on a combination of buses, or else you can opt to take a guided tour such as this Totumo Volcano and mud baths day tour from Cartagena.
San Basilio de Palenque
Declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, San Basilio de Palenque is an interesting place to visit to discover more about the traditional life and struggles, as well as the history of Colombia. This is one of the first cities in the Americas were the slave trade was prohibited. The people of African descent living in San Basilio de Palenque have been recognized as an indigenous group in Colombia, and the cultural, linguistic and even musical heritage of the village is something you will want to learn about.
Many of the inhabitants of Palenque now work in Cartagena, usually as street vendors – hence the name “Palenqueras.”
The best way to visit is on guided tours such as this one.
Right in front of Bocagrande and easily seen from Cartagena, Tierra Bomba is home to around 9000 people and used to have an important defensive role for the Spaniards – as testified by the forts built to monitor it. Other than the fort, the main attraction is the beautiful Punta Arena beach. You will also be able to enjoy delicious seafood.
You can get to Tierra Bomba by boat from Bocagrande. The ride lasts around 10 minutes and costs around $5 USD one way.
83 km and 1 hour 40 minutes drive from Cartagena, this village is a great example of Spanish colonial architecture. Founded in 1533 by Francisco Cesar, it’s one of the oldest towns on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia. Other than walking around the village, it’s a great place for shopping as you will find lots of crafts and souvenirs to buy.
You can get to Usiacuri by bus from Cartagena.
Where Not To Go On Day Trips From Cartagena
While preparing my trip to Colombia I came across a bunch of posts that said it is possible to visit places such as Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Taganga and even Tayrona National Park on day trips from Cartagena. While Tayrona National Park is actually doable if you join a guided day tour such as this one that depart super early to take you there – I honestly don’t recommend you do it. Nor do I recommend going to the other places for such as short time.
Indeed, they are honestly stunning and deserve way more time than just the few hours you may be able to squeeze in if you went there on a day trip. My advice if you are short on time? Either cut your visit of Cartagena short and head there for a few days to properly explore, or skip it completely for a day trip closer to the city.
Make sure to read my posts about other Colombia destinations:
- 29 Beautiful Places To Visit In Colombia
- The Best Itinerary For 2 Weeks In Colombia
- 22 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- Is Cartagena Safe For Tourists?
- Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- The Best Airbnb In Cartagena
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia
- A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia
- A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia
- A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia