The Caribbean Coast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Caribbean Coast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Aviario Nacional de Colombia

    This impressive bird sanctuary is the country's best and South America's largest. In a nation famed for avian biodiversity it's an opportunity not to be...

    This impressive bird sanctuary is the country's best and South America's largest. In a nation famed for avian biodiversity it's an opportunity not to be missed. Colombians are justifiably proud of the Andean condor, their not-so-colorful national bird, and the condor gets ample coverage here, but scarlet macaws, blue-winged tanagers, and cocks on the rock will give your camera a workout. There are three distinct biomes (tropical jungle, coastal, and desert) as well as 21 areas to explore that are home to 190 species of birds. If you wish to take everything in, a self-guided walk should last around 2½ hours. A guided tour speeds things up a bit. All exhibit signs are in Spanish and English. Plan on about a 45-minute drive to get out here from the city. You can easily combine the aviary with beach time at Playa Blanca.

    Km 14.5, Vía Barú, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
    5-673–4045

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 40,000 pesos
  • 2. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

    What began in 1657 as a small fort designed to protect the overland entrance to Cartagena grew over the following century into a sprawling stone...

    What began in 1657 as a small fort designed to protect the overland entrance to Cartagena grew over the following century into a sprawling stone behemoth covering the entire hill. Spanish military engineer Antonio Arevalo presided in 1762 over the defining phase of construction that would leave the fort much as it is seen today, the largest of its kind on the continent and a fascinating example of asymmetrical military construction unseen in Europe. The unique layout allowed for devastatingly efficient lines of coverage for some 63 cannons lining the walls, and the fort would never fall. In addition to the cannons, another of his ingenious devices was a maze of tunnels—minimally lit today to allow for spooky exploration—that connects vital points of the fort. Notice the near-perfect acoustics here: occupants could even hear the footsteps of the approaching enemy. If you don't speak Spanish, an English audio guide (10,000 pesos) makes the visit infinitely richer. The fort is an easy enough walk from Getsemaní with great views of the city; the best time to go is in the afternoon. A taxi shouldn't cost more than the standard minimum 6,000 pesos, although most drivers will want to charge you 8,000.

    Av. Pedro de Heredia at Carrera 17, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
    5-656–6803

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 25,000 pesos, Daily 8–6
  • 3. Cerro de la Popa

    Make this one of your first stops on any visit to get the best possible grasp of the city's geography and its role as a...

    Make this one of your first stops on any visit to get the best possible grasp of the city's geography and its role as a fortified protector of a crucial headland, as well as a more modern context for the historic center that is now surrounded by a sprawling city. Because of its strategic location, the white-walled 17th-century monastery here intermittently served as a fortress during the colonial era. It now houses a museum and a chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Candelaria, Cartagena's patron saint, with a stunning gilded altar and religious relics up to 500 years old. Taxis charge around 10,000 pesos one way to bring you here (plus the wait and return trip, expect to pay between 40,000 and 50,000 pesos) and the sight can be included on one of Cartagena's popular chiva (horsedrawn carriage) tours. Under no circumstances should you walk between the city center and the hill; occasional muggings of tourists have been reported along the route. For spectacular views of Cartagena, ascend the hill around sunset.

    Barrio Pie de la Popa Cra. 29, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 8,000 pesos, Daily 8:30–5:30, Closed Mon.–Tues.
  • 4. Getsemaní

    Once run-down and troubled, the Getsemaní neighborhood just beyond the posher parts of the historic walled city now exudes fresh but still bohemian energy, thanks...

    Once run-down and troubled, the Getsemaní neighborhood just beyond the posher parts of the historic walled city now exudes fresh but still bohemian energy, thanks to an infusion of new restaurants and bars, as well as boutique hotels. Locals hang out and chat on the narrow streets like Callejón Angosto and gather at Plaza de la Santísima Trinidad, the heart of the neighborhood. In the plaza, look for the statue of Pedro Romero, who fought for independence from Spain. Abundant street art along Calle de la Sierpe (and other avenues) and gritty edges keep the scene real and down to earth, at least for now. You can stroll Getsemaní day or night to check things out; weekend evenings are very lively.

    Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
  • 5. Museo del Oro Tairona

    If you want to learn a bit more about the history and incredible cultural riches that the area has to offer, this is an essential...

    If you want to learn a bit more about the history and incredible cultural riches that the area has to offer, this is an essential stop. Housed in a handsome former customs house, the well-designed displays provide an overview of the culture and craftsmanship of the pre-Columbian cultures—the Nahuange and Tairon—which thrived in the area as well as insight into the lives and traditions of the native cultures of modern Magdalena, notably the Kogui, Wiwa, Arhuaco, and Kankuamo groups of the Sierra Nevada. There is also an entire salon dedicated to the great liberator, Simón Bolívar, who died nearby, and who's vigil was held in this very building. Information is presented in English and Spanish, and tours must be organized in advance.

    Cra. 2 con Calle 14, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia
    575-421–0251

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: free, Closed Mon.
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  • 6. Museo Histórico de Cartagena de Indias

    Centro

    One of Cartagena's most visited tourist sites documents the darkest period in the city's history. A baroque limestone doorway off Plaza de Bolívar marks the...

    One of Cartagena's most visited tourist sites documents the darkest period in the city's history. A baroque limestone doorway off Plaza de Bolívar marks the entrance to the 1770 Palace of the Inquisition, the headquarters of the repressive arbiters of political and spiritual orthodoxy who once exercised jurisdiction over Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Although the museum displays benign colonial and pre-Columbian artifacts and also has a brief overview of the city's history with maps and models, most people congregate on the ground floor to "Eeewww!" over the implements of torture (racks and thumbscrews, to name but two) and the displays on how to judge a witch. We recommend you hire an English-speaking guide since many displays need explanations and all signs are in Spanish.

    Plaza de Bolívar, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
    5-664–4570

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 21,000 pesos, Mon.–Sat. 9–6, Sun. 10–4
  • 7. Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

    On the seafront, flag down a taxi and head to the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, 20 minutes away. This honey-color hacienda is where Simón...

    On the seafront, flag down a taxi and head to the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, 20 minutes away. This honey-color hacienda is where Simón Bolívar died in 1830. The grounds of the estate have been converted into a small botanical garden and there are a number of monuments to Bolívar, most notably the gleaming Altar de la Patria. There is also the Museo Bolivariano de Arte Contemporáneo, which houses an impressive range of contemporary artworks by artists from all of the countries liberated by Bolívar.

    Av. del Libertador, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia
    301–241–5913

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20,000 pesos, Daily 9–4:30
  • 8. Bahía Concha

    Relatively easily to get to, Bahia Concha is a 30-minute taxi ride from town and is an attractive bay set in the region's typical bosque...

    Relatively easily to get to, Bahia Concha is a 30-minute taxi ride from town and is an attractive bay set in the region's typical bosque seco (dry indigenous forest) with warm, gently lapping water. It is, however, a popular destination on weekends and local holidays, so best to avoid at those times. Much of the first part of the beach is cluttered with metal frames for shade canopies, and there are several options for buying cold drinks and a freshly grilled fish lunch. Plan to come early, and head down to the far right end of the beach—you can even ask for a cooler when you buy drinks and take it with you. Here you will find empty sands, a patch of shade and, a little way up the rocky side of the bay, some degraded but still beautiful patches of coral for snorkeling. Although the beach is within the borders of the PNN Tayrona, you do not have to pay the full entrance fee, only a small fee to local administration. Best for: partiers; walking; snorkeling. Amenities: toilets; food and drink.

    Santa Marta, Magdalena, 470004, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 6,000 pesos
  • 9. Barrio San Diego

    Originally known as the Barrio de los Jagüeyes (the ponds), being the neighborhood richest in fresh water (the city's most precious resource), San Diego was...

    Originally known as the Barrio de los Jagüeyes (the ponds), being the neighborhood richest in fresh water (the city's most precious resource), San Diego was home to most of the gardens supplying fresh produce. These days, travelers are seeking out the peaceful streets of this enchanting north-end district lined with squat colonial houses and mansions painted white, ocher, and deep blue. Boutique and other hotels are opening, along with restaurants. Around the area, multicolored bougainvillea cascades over balconies, and open doorways reveal lush hidden courtyards. Plaza San Diego is a local gem, anchored by the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts), based in a former convent. At the northern corner of the city walls you'll find Las Bóvedas (The Vaults), a row of storerooms built in the 18th century to hold gunpowder and other military essentials, now home to colorful, tourist-oriented souvenir shops.

    Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
  • 10. Catedral Metropolitana

    Centro

    The cathedral on the main square is always the heart of any Latin American city. Plaza de Bolívar—watched over by a statue of South American...

    The cathedral on the main square is always the heart of any Latin American city. Plaza de Bolívar—watched over by a statue of South American liberator Simón Bolívar—is a shady place from which to admire Cartagena's 16th-century cathedral. (It's officially the "Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandria.") Construction lasted from 1577 to 1612. British pirates attacked and pillaged the site about halfway through the process, a fate that befell many buildings in Cartagena in those early days. The colorful bell tower and dome date from the early 20th century; inside are a massive gilded altar and towering arches.

    Plaza de Bolívar, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Cathedral free; audio tour rental 12000 pesos
  • 11. Cementerio Municipal

    Finalized in 1789, the ancient cemetery displays elaborate tombstones and mausoleums of the bold and imperious as well as the lowly of Mompox. Look out...

    Finalized in 1789, the ancient cemetery displays elaborate tombstones and mausoleums of the bold and imperious as well as the lowly of Mompox. Look out for the bust of Candelario Obeso, the forefather of black poetry in the Americas, as well as the tombs of early German and Lebanese immigrants looking to make their fortunes. On Wednesday of Easter week Momposinos make the pilgrimage out to the cemetery to place candles on the tombs of family and friends, making for a moving and illuminated spectacle.

    Santa Cruz de Mompox, Bolívar, 132567, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 12. Convento y Iglesia de San Pedro Claver

    Centro

    Cartagena's most impressive religious building, the church's yellow dome is an icon of the city skyline, and the carved stone facade dominates the small plaza...

    Cartagena's most impressive religious building, the church's yellow dome is an icon of the city skyline, and the carved stone facade dominates the small plaza below that is surrounded by restaurants and often filled with street vendors and musicians. Constructed at the beginning of the 17th century, the cool, peaceful interior centers around the lush green courtyard of the cloister, most of which is open to visitors, including a small museum that displays African and Haitian art and a variety of religious relics. To the right is the rather austere church, dominated by an ornate altar, which also holds the bones of San Pedro Claver, for whom the building and plaza are named. Claver was a Spanish Jesuit monk who spent 40 years in Cartagena—visitors can also enter the cell where he lived—dedicated to healing and ministering to the tens of thousands of slaves who passed through the port annually. Known as the "Slave of the Slaves," he was canonized in 1888, the first in the new world to receive this honor. There is some information in English, but we recommend hiring an English-speaking guide at the ticket office.

    Carrera 4 No. 31–00, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
    5-664–4741

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 9,000 pesos
  • 13. Iglesia Santa Bárbara

    Perhaps the architectural icon of Mompox itself, this imposing baroque structure towers over the Magdalena River and dates back to the 17th century. Molds of...

    Perhaps the architectural icon of Mompox itself, this imposing baroque structure towers over the Magdalena River and dates back to the 17th century. Molds of palms, flowers, and lions adorn its wedding-cake-like tower.

    Santa Cruz de Mompox, Bolívar, 132567, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9–noon
  • 14. Las Murallas

    Centro

    Cartagena survived only because of its walls, and its murallas remain today the city's most distinctive feature, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that...

    Cartagena survived only because of its walls, and its murallas remain today the city's most distinctive feature, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws visitors to the historic and well-preserved city center full of plazas, shops, and diversions. Repeated sacking by pirates and foreign invaders convinced the Spaniards of the need to enclose the region's most important port. Construction began in 1600 and finished in 1796. The Puerta del Reloj is the principal gate to the innermost sector of the walled city. Its four-sided clock tower was a relatively late addition (1888), and has become the symbol of the city. Walking along the thick walls (you can enter at many points, and there are overpriced bars in some parts) is one of Cartagena's time-honored pastimes, especially late in the afternoon when you can watch the setting sun redden the Caribbean. (Depending on time of year, the sun sets here between 5:30 and 6:30 pm.)

    Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
  • 15. Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena

    Centro

    A stop at the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art provides a colorful overview of regional modern art, including a gallery dedicated to local painter and...

    A stop at the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art provides a colorful overview of regional modern art, including a gallery dedicated to local painter and sculptor Enrique Grau (1920–2004). The building itself is fascinating, creatively combining a 17th-century customs house and a 19th-century warehouse for a modern look. Besides rotating displays of Latin American art from its permanent collection, the museum presents changing shows by new artists. Outside the museum, on Plaza de San Pedro Claver, the charming wrought-iron works by Eduardo Carmona showing daily local activities are also part of the museum. Allow 45 minutes for a visit. Admission is free on Wednesday.

    Calle 30 #4–08, Cartagena, Bolívar, 13001, Colombia
    5-664–5815

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 5000 pesos (free Wed.), Closed Sun., Weekdays 9–noon and 3–7; Sat. 10–1
  • 16. Museo del Oro Zenú

    Centro

    The small Zenú Gold Museum, an institution funded and operated by Colombia's Central Bank, displays an interesting assortment of artifacts culled from the Zenú, an...

    The small Zenú Gold Museum, an institution funded and operated by Colombia's Central Bank, displays an interesting assortment of artifacts culled from the Zenú, an indigenous group that lived in this region some 2,000 years ago. Golden breastplates and intricately wrought jewelry are intriguing, and labels are in English and Spanish. The museum is off popular Plaza de Bolívar and worth a stop, particularly if you won't make it to the magnificent Gold Museum in Bogotá.

    Carrera 4 No. 33–26, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
    5-660–0778

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.
  • 17. Plaza de la Aduana

    Centro

    Cartagena has always opened its doors to visitors, and most have passed through this plaza. While it now hums with tourists and idling bicycles, in...

    Cartagena has always opened its doors to visitors, and most have passed through this plaza. While it now hums with tourists and idling bicycles, in previous centuries the hubbub rose from arguing traders and customs officers or rapping boots as soldiers paraded or ran in frantic defense. Cartagena's most expansive square, it is bordered on one side by the impressive Casa de la Aduana, (the Customs House), now the city hall. In the evenings, the square is particularly pleasant as the colonial arches and balconies are lit up, and often a lone trumpeter sets up near the statue of Christopher Colombus, playing tunes that add to the romantic ambience for which Cartagena is so loved.

    Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
  • 18. Plaza de Santo Domingo

    Centro

    The eponymous church looming over the plaza is the oldest in the city and a contrast to the plaza's generally festive and bustling atmosphere. At...

    The eponymous church looming over the plaza is the oldest in the city and a contrast to the plaza's generally festive and bustling atmosphere. At night the area is particularly attractive as it fills up with tables from surrounding bars and restaurants. A popular, eye-catching landmark since 2000 is Colombian artist Fernando Botero's large bronze Gertrudis, a sculpture of a plump, naked woman. Don't pass by the Iglesia de Santo Domingo: built in 1539, the church has a simple whitewashed interior, bare limestone pillars, a raised choir, and an adjacent cloistered seminary. Local lore says the bell tower's twisted profile is the work of the Devil, who, dispirited at having failed to destroy it, threw himself into the plaza's well. For a fee you can take an audio tour.

    Calle Santo Domingo and Carrera Santo Domingo, Cartagena, Bolívar, 130001, Colombia
  • 19. Taironaka Reserve

    The reserve is home to some Tairona ruins and a small museum that houses carved stone relics and a few pieces of golden jewelry. The...

    The reserve is home to some Tairona ruins and a small museum that houses carved stone relics and a few pieces of golden jewelry. The guides are superbly trained in the regional history and fauna and flora.

    Bolívar, Colombia
    317–666–8836

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 15,000 pesos
  • 20. Casa de Los Portales de la Marquesa

    Historic Home
    Closed Permanently

    Originally this building made up two mansions but has since been divided up. Two residences still belong to the original families that housed...

    Originally this building made up two mansions but has since been divided up. Two residences still belong to the original families that housed Simón Bolívar on his route through Mompox to Caracas to liberate northern South America. Although not open to the public at this writing, you can admire the outside of the building, typical of the style of homes constructed in Mompox during the colonial era. Wander along to the Piedra de Bolívar, which details the dates and days spent in Mompox by the Liberator.

    Albarrada de los Portales, Santa Cruz de Mompox, Bolívar, 132567, Colombia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free

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