Where To Stay In Cartagena: The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay

Finding where to stay in Cartagena can prove a bit of a challenge. Founded in the 16th century, the jewel of the Caribbean is easily the most beautiful city in Colombia, and – with more than a million people living there – its 5th largest. Although there are plenty of good places to stay, with the amount of tourists visiting the city each month you may find it hard to get a good place at a reasonable price. Moreover, Cartagena is quite widespread and 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 based on what your interests and budget may be. Before I go on to recommend the best areas and hotels, however, let me share a few tips and things to know before you book.

accommodation in Cartagena
There are some excellent places to stay in Cartagena

What To Know When Looking For A Place To Stay In Cartagena

Cartagena is an incredible place to visit, where you can easily and pleasantly get lost while wandering its narrow, cobbled alleys and admiring the colorful, perfectly kept colonial buildings. I got to spend over a week there during my my overland trip across Central and South America. I arrived there from Panama, after a failed attempted at sailing across San Blas, and quickly fell in love with it, despite the terrible heat. 

Which brings me to say – there are a few important things you need to know when looking for a place to stay in Cartagena. Let me outline them below.

IT’S HOT – Cartagena city is hot year round – terribly so indeed. And humid – way more than you’d like. With this in mind, you will be significantly better off with an air conditioned room – and no, not all places have it believe it or not. A room with AC will provide a fantastic, cool respite from the heat during the hottest hours. In fact, you may even want to invest in a place that has a pool where you can cool down – and lots of hotels and even good hostels count with a (sometimes small, but still refreshing) pool.

IT’S CROWDED – Another thing to keep in mind is that Cartagena is the most popular tourist destination in Colombia, and also its most expensive one. This means that in order to grab a good room at a reasonable price, you need to book well ahead of time. Don’t expect to show up in town last minute, knock on a door and land a perfect room! Trust me, I have made that mistake and my first night in Cartagena was absolutely miserable.

CARTAGENA OLD TOWN IS THE BEST AREA TO STAY – This is where most attractions – the Gold Museum, the Porta del Reloj, the Palace of the Inquisition – are located; and where you will find some of the best hotels in Cartagena as well as some great restaurants. The Old Town is small enough that you can easily walk around, and there are several nice districts – Getsemaní (by far my favorite), San Diego and Santo Domingo – that are perfect for first time visitors. 

Now, without further ado, let me tell you where to stay in Cartagena.

where to stay in Cartagena
Some of the best places to stay in Cartagena are in the Old City

Where To Stay In Cartagena: Best Areas And Hotels

Old City – AKA Centro

If it is your first time in Cartagena, stop right here: the Old City is where to stay in Cartagena. This part of the city is packed with atmosphere: picture narrow cobbled alleys with the balconies pouring colorful flowers onto the street; street vendors selling all sorts of tropical fruits; and locals and tourists alike sitting in the share, sipping a cold drink and seeking respite from the heat. The Old City is also where you’ll find most of the museums, churches and colonial buildings in Cartagena.

Another benefit of staying in this area is that there is the best choice of restaurants and cocktail bars, and lots of shopping opportunities. The main downside is that it can be quite lively at night, which means loud – not nice if you are a light sleeper.

As it is the most touristy area of Cartagena. This means that here you’ll find some of the best places to stay in Cartagena – luxury and boutique hotels, but also a few good hostels. For the best deals, make sure to book in advance. 

These are the best places to stay in Cartagena located in the Old City:

TIP: Join a guided tour of Cartagena Old City such as this one to get a good feel for it, then continue exploring by yourself to find the most hidden, picture perfect streets.

where to stay in Cartagena
San Diego has some of the best places to stay in Cartagena

San Diego

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 of the Old Town, San Diego is where to stay in Cartagena. It’s probably the best choice for families wanting to stay in the historic center. Still within the walled city (it’s on the north-east corner), 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 Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The following places are all in San Diego:

where to stay in Cartagena
Getsemani is where to stay in Cartagena for nightlife and street art

Getsemani

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 for you. Formerly a red light district, this part of the old city located just 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 and get a break from the terrible heat. 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.

The main downside of staying in Getsemani is that the area tends to be quite noisy; it’s not as close to the main attractions as the rest of the Old Town; and you may still come across some drug dealing. Incidentally, this is where I stayed when I visited and yes, I came across drug dealing but no, I never felt unsafe.

Some of the nicest hostels in Cartagena are located in Getsemani, but here you’ll also find some excellent boutique hotels. Here is a selection of the best places to stay:

TIP: If you really want to visit Getsemani, you can join a guided street art tour – you may want to check out this guided tour of Getsemani street art.

trip to Cartagena

Marbella

Together with nearby  El Cabrero, Marbella is a great compromise if you want to stay along the waterfront but don’t want to blow your budget with the expensive hotels of Bocagrande (more about those below). It’s a local, residential area, so prices are a bit lower than in the rest of the historic center.

The main downside of staying in Marbella is that the choice of restaurants is slim, and it’s a 20 minutes walk to the Centro Historico. 

I have selected a few good places to stay in Marbella for you:

where to stay in Cartagena
Bocagrande is perfect for families

Bocagrande and Laguito

Known as the Miami Beach of Cartagena, Bocagrande is the most modern part of Cartagena, the one with the shiny skyscrapers and the international food restaurants. You are 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. El Laguito, on the left of the Bocagrande Peninsula, is one of it’s nicest bits – it gets its name from the big lake in the area.

This is where the wealthy Colombians from other parts of the country own a holiday home. There is a beach – though hardly a good one – as well as to luxury shops. The main downside of staying in Bocagrande is that it’s far from all the attractions of the historic center, and as the public transportation links are scarce, you will be bound to taking a taxi to get there. 

Bocagrande has some of the best places to stay in Cartagena, but it’s an expensive area – so not a good place to stay if you are on a tight budget. I have selected a couple of good options for you:

cartagena de indias

Castillogrande

If you are looking for a more upscale, luxury place to stay in Cartagena, Castillogrande is probably your safest bet. This neighborhood is located in the Bocagrande peninsula, so outside of the walled city, and it’s where wealthy Colombians live, in newly built apartment buildings. It’s very safe, and there is a good selection of bars and restaurants too. 

While access to the beach is easy, you should know that the beaches in this part of town are hardly the best in the area. Other than that, the main downside of staying in Castillogrande is that it’s far from the historic center, and public transport options are scarce. 

There aren’t that many hotels in this part of town – which is relatively small and new. So you may be better off booking an Airbnb. I have selected a mix for you:

day trips from Cartagena
A tiny island in Islas del Rosario

Islas del Rosario

The Rosario Islands are 28 islands – some of them truly tiny – located 100 km (around 62 miles) off the coast of Cartagena , which most people visit on a day trip from the city. A National Park, the islands are the ideal place to appreciate the coral reef and marine life – so a perfect place to stay if you are more interested in nature than the city, if you want to snorkel, kayak and enjoy the sandy beaches. Either way, they are an absolute must see. 

While some islands are inhabited and have a choice of resorts and even Airbnbs, others are so small that there is nothing there. They are certainly a quiet and unique place to stay, but keep in mind they are over one hour by boat from the actual city. 

These are a couple of good places to stay in Isla Grande, one of the largest Rosario Islands:

GOOD TO KNOW: Most hotels in the Rosario Islands offer a full board option. Unless you are staying in a large resort with a couple of restaurants, you probably are better off paying for that!

TIP: Only have a day to visit the Islas del Rosario? Go on a guided tour such as this one

where to stay in Cartagena
Budget traveler? Manga is where to stay in Cartagena

Manga

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 really budget friendly.

You will get some of the nicest views 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. The main downside is that it’s a bit far from the Old Town. 

I have selected some of the best places to stay in Manga:

Conclusions On The Best Hotels In Cartagena

I truly hope that this guide of the best neighborhoods and places to stay will help you plan your trip to Cartagena and make the most of it. This is an incredible city, with lots to see and do, and I have no doubt you will fall in love with it. If you have any question about Cartagena or other places to visit in Colombia, let me know in the comments below or get in touch via email.

Further Readings

Are you planning a trip to Colombia? Make sure to check out my other posts:

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