Cartagena, Colombia is a city full of culture, color, and people proud of their country and heritage. Whenever I visit a new place, I make it my goal to immerse in the culture as much as possible. Cartagena is a huge tourist destination, so there are both modern influences and historic sites to enjoy. Here are 10 Things you must do during your visit.

1. Walk The Old City

Cartagena is surrounded by a wall, historically used to protect the city against pirate invasion. Within the wall are a collection of souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and bars. Here is where you can ride horse carriages, gain great photo opportunities and meet the beautiful culture of Cartagena. The buildings are preserved from earlier centuries, the colors are bright and illuminate the traditional gravel grounds. You can’t visit Cartagena and not visit the Old City.

2. View the Sunset On Top of The Old Wall

I’ve witnessed many sunsets, but nothing like the one on top of the Old Wall. There’s a walkway for visitors to climb the top of the Old Wall that overlooks the Old City and the Carribean Sea. Just over the Wall– right at sunset you can witness the closeness of the sun like you’ve never seen. Photos can’t do it justice. There’s live music, bars and traditional Colombian plates if you prefer to sit and view until the sun sets.

3. Take Photos with the Afro- Colombian Fruit Ladies

What I found most fascinating about Cartagena, Colombia is its celebration of African culture. The black Colombians are proud of the color of their skin and ancestry. Throughout the Old City nightlife you’ll find beautiful women with traditional African Garb with fruit bowls balancing effortlessly on their heads. When taking a photo they sing and dance with you. You’ll need to tip them for the experience of course.

4. Walk The Streets of Bocagrande

During our time in Cartagena we stayed in Bocagrande– a modern spin on the Cartagena experience. The city is full of high sky rises, right off the coast and surrounded by beaches on both sides of the city. Throughout the city there are fruit carts with fresh mangos and melons, popular North American Franchises, like KFC, Burger King and even Mcdonalds. We, of course, avoided these chains and opted for Colombian meals whenever possible. Our favorite spot in Bocagrande was Joshua’s a bar walking distance from our hotel that served delicious Margaritas and Mojitos for low prices.

5. Spend a Day at Playa Blanca

Our Hotel arranged a tour to Playa Blanca one of the most beautiful beaches. The sand is rich and tan and the water is clear with different shades of blue layered on the coast. If you search the internet you’ll find negative commentary of Playa Blanca because it gets crowded. I’d recommend going on a weekday. We visited on a Tuesday and it was a perfect beach day. You’ll have the option for Jet Skis, snorkeling, and boat riding. Our tour included lunch, but there are vendors with empanadas, papas and fruit. While on the beach there will be several salesmen and women, selling everything from fruit, bracelets, necklaces and massages. Ask for the price before you do anything, and politely decline if you’re not interested. A lot of the locals make a living from tourism.

6. Ride Motorcycles With Locals

When you arrive at Playa Blanca there may be a gang of motorcyclists there to greet you. For a small tip, you can hop on the back and ride to the beach or the nearby park. You could even nightlife ride for a mile or two for the rush, and get a good photo opp. Don’t be like me. I dropped by phone during the ride, so be cautious.

7. Visit Aviario National Park

If you don’t do anything on this list, you must see Avario Nacional– A park located only a couple miles from Playa Blanca. We took the motorcycles from the beach, and it was an unforgettable experience. The park has unique birds you don’t see in other places in the world. You walk next to Peacocks, see toucans, my favorite was the sea of pink flamingos. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

8. Eat Signature Colombian Dishes

One of the signature meals in Cartagena is Fish, Coconut Rice with beans, salad, and Plantains. Restaurants have their different spin on the meal, so some were better than others. Naturally we brought a bottle of Cholula with us everywhere as we heard the food isn’t seasoned as we are used to. I’d recommend Selina’s and Cha- Cha both located in Getsemani directly outside the Old City. Do your best to try new foods. It will be tempting to gravitate to what your use to, but traveling is about experiencing new things.

9. Make Friends With a Local

If you’re like me, you like to learn as much as you can. If you’re not fluent in Spanish, be sure to bring a Spanish Dictionary so you can communicate with the locals. One of my favorite parts about my time in Cartagena was meeting new people. The taxi drivers, servers, the bartenders at the beach. Do your best to ask questions about their culture get to know them. I learned more about Colombian history and how I am perceived as a Black North American. It opened me up to different ideas and experiences and remind us the world is much bigger than on our everyday routine.

10. Explore the Night Life of  Getsemani

Looking for Salsa dance and a good time? The small plaza of Getsemani has great night life. We ate food got drinks and experienced the beauty and culture of Cartagena in La Plaza de Trinidad. Like the Old City Getsemani is colorful and full of life. The city is also home to large murals and street graffiti. If you find yourself in an activity rut, I’d recommend Getsemani- a good time here is inevitable.

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