Cartagena historic clock tower gate

Is Holidays in Cartagena Colombia A Year-Round Solo Destination?

What is the best time for solo holidays in Cartagena, Colombia, a colonial city with a beautiful walled-in old city, squares, cafes, bars, and buzzing life? This charming Caribbean town will not take long to seduce you!

I visited Cartagena solo when I was traveling South America for six months, and for travel itinerary reasons, I ended up visiting at the end of May.

This is a great time of year to visit, although not the best time to visit Cartagena, according to most recommendations. That may be because the average temperatures in May are high, and the high humidity is starting to creep up the scale, too.

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When Is The Best Time To Visit Cartagena Colombia?

Stunning sunset over Cartagena Colombia. But when is the best time to visit Cartagena Colombia, is it winter, summer, or in between? holidays in Cartagena
Stunning sunset over Cartagena Colombia

Statistically, the best time to visit Cartagena de Indias in Colombia is between December and March each year!

The reason for this is that the dry season in the Caribbean region starts in late November or December and lasts through March or maybe even April every year.

The dry season in Cartagena in early December coincides with the start of the high season. It typically has warm weather with less humidity than in the summer, and it is not excruciatingly hot!

In May, when I visited, the wet season was at the annual toddler stage (the wettest months are from June through September), and you can generally expect afternoon showers from May onwards.

From around late August through October is also peak hurricane season in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Season In Cartagena Colombia

Statistically, Cartagena is not hit frequently directly by hurricanes, but heavy winds and rains from passing hurricanes and tropical storms can still affect weather and air traffic in the region.

Still, it is the Caribbean! So, make sure you pay attention to the time of the year and the weather forecast before your trip, especially if you are traveling during the peak hurricane season.

EpicNomadLife Tip: Check your travel insurance coverage, flight ticket cancellation policy, and anything that may affect you if a hurricane should hamper your holiday!

Cartagena Columbia Vacation!

Looking at the sea outside Cartagena through an old window in the wall around the historic city. You see fishermen with rods outside trying to catch dinner.

South American country Colombia is a lot more than dubious drug cartels and trafficking, for which the country has had unfortunate fame for decades.

The country is also known for its world-class coffee beans, exquisite emeralds, a stern party culture (especially in Cali, where the salsa dancing is fierce), and exotic fruits!

Along the northern coastline of the Caribbean Sea lies the beautiful colonial town of Cartagena, super popular among travelers because of its Caribbean beaches, old colonial town, and vibrant nightlife.

Colombia also has a Pacific coastline, which is a few hours’ drive to the south!

I traveled here right after a five-day trek to The Lost City in the Colombian Amazone, after a good night’s sleep and ready for city life again, and I had no idea what was the best time and best months to visit Cartagena Colombia, before I arrived!

Leaving northern Santa Marta in the morning hours, with the help of Google Maps and screenshots in the streets of Santa Marta, I found my way to the long-distance bus that was heading towards the south and Cartagena. Lucky!! 

After about 6 hours of chilling on the bus toward new Columbian adventures, I was ready for Cartagena.

Before I got here, I had booked a hostel inside the old historic walled city, and it was so amazing that I stayed for a lot longer than I had planned!

Cartagena is so cool. It is a real city with great nightlife and shopping, history, and charm, and it has beaches!

Modern Day Cartagena

Photo collage from Cartagena colombia. One is from the old city with elegant colonial buildings, and the other from the city main square full of people enjoying the evening seated at outdoors restaurants.

Modern-day Cartagena is a beautiful town with an incredibly charming walled-in Old City. I was super-fast smitten after I found the hostel, could dump my backpack, and had cooled down a little.

Because a Cartagena Columbia vacation is HOT!   

The population of modern Cartagena is just over one million, making it the second-largest city in this region of Columbia.

In colonial times, the Spanish ran this city for almost three whole centuries. One of the most important seaports for all kinds of world trade was here, including the horrible slave trade.

Today, what you will see are mainly cruise ships docking in Cartagena.

There are lots and lots of details in architecture, art, fortress structures, and museums that tell the tales of the historic importance Cartagena had in the growing connection with the old and the new world centuries ago.

And if you feel like exploring the area outside the old city walls as well, there are a variety of fun and interesting day trips from Cartagena you can embark on!

Today, Cartagena depends heavily on the tourist industry, maritime, and petrochemical industries (if that interests you).

Charming Cartagena streets lit at night

Long-Haul Bus from Santa Marta To Cartagena

Columbia is a large country; we are not talking about short bus rides or a few hours here and there.

The bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta is five’ish hours, and that is a short bus ride for Colombia or South America in general.

Air conditioning, snacks, and old-fashioned entertainment like a book make the whole trip a breeze, so if you are into road trips and staring out of windows traveling, you will love this!

EpicNomadLife Tip: You can book a bus ticket for this distance (or other distances) online on Busbud for a budget option starting at $10, or at Pinbus starting at $40, boasting a luxury ride.

Arriving in Cartagena Old City

Cartagena old city architecture and charming narrow streets

Getting off just outside the Old City of Cartagena, I have directions from the hostel where I am going, a rather short distance, it seems, so I decided to load up my backpack and walk. 

Of course, old cities with walls and narrow streets are not the easiest to navigate. I ended up doing a scenic and very hot detour before I finally found my destination (with a lot of help from the locals and bad Spanish).

Temperature and humidity in Cartagena are no less intense than in Santa Marta, but once inside the hostel, there is a nice chill and a wonderfully calm atmosphere.

Exploring Cartagena

When I caught my breath the first day, I headed out into the city to search for dance and Spanish schools after a quick online research (these are “my things” for this journey!).

Just down the street, I find the Crazy Salsa dancing school, where it is easy to sign up for dancing lessons. Perfect!

Five minutes in the other direction, there is a renounced Spanish school as well, and after a quick chat, I sign up for lessons for the week.

The old city is incredibly charming, although visiting in the middle of summer as I did makes for a super hot experience.

If you can deal with the heat (or decide to visit during the shoulder seasons), exploring this historic place with plazas and stunning architecture, shops, museums, restaurants, and bars is a journey both in time, food, and music.

And you don’t need to travel far away from the city walls to be able to lounge on stunning beaches around Cartagena, so when visiting, you can easily get the best of both city life and amazing white sands!

Off the coast, just a short distance away, you will also find nearby islands like the famous Rosario Islands or Islas del Rosario in Spanish, which are perfect for a boat trip. And the vast Tayrona National Park is four hours to the north.

Cartagena Must-See Places!

I am just going to give you a short list of things you should prioritize in Cartagena in this article!

Also read: 14 Best Things To Do In Cartagena Colombia

Top Hostels In Cartagena

I stayed at the AMAZING Republica Hostel In The Middle Of The Old City Of Cartagena.

I booked Republica Hostel in Cartagena through Hostelworld based on their reviews (and the photos), and it really is a gem. Classic architecture with high ceilings, beautiful ambiance, and large clean rooms and bathrooms. 

The charming courtyard in Republica Hostel in the old city of Cartagena de Colombia

The little pool in the inner part of the courtyard is amazing, especially at night between the stone walls with little holes in it with lights.

Right next to the pool is a bar area and lots of café-like tables to hang around for socializing if you want. Online or offline, as the common area also provides fast Wi-Fi.

The Republica Hostel is a peaceful oasis in the center of the Old City of Cartagena, and it almost brings more of a hotel feel to me.

I also stayed in a dorm here (single rooms are also available), as the beds are built almost as tiny little studios! 

You can take refuge in them with a shelf and light charger for your phone and room for your bags. It feels private, although it is shared, and works very well, I think.

I was going to stay for only a few days but ended up here for the whole week!

Mind you; this is not a hostel for couples looking for a quiet, romantic time. It is very sociable; there is music and life in the common areas and bar and pool zone.

In the reviews, some people are not impressed, complaining about evening music and noise, so just be aware of this. I did not mind, but then again, I was traveling solo!

Other Great Places To Stay Cartagena

If hostels are not really your thing, there is no need to panic – Cartagena has it all, hotels and accommodation in all forms and price ranges.

If you prefer a quiet and more intimate atmosphere, somewhat upscale and with great service, try one of the amazing Boutique Hotels in Cartagena!

Old Cartagena Is A UNESCO World Heritage Site

For more than 275 years, like Cuba, Cartagena was under Spanish rule.

This went on until June 1810, when the Royal Commissioner and the Cartagena City Council banished the Spanish Governor Francisco de Montes.

De Montes was suspected of sympathizing with the French emperor and the French occupation forces which overthrew the king.

Finally, in November of that year, a Declaration of Independence was signed proclaiming “a free state, sovereign and independent of all domination and servitude to any power on Earth.

In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Central Square in Cartagena Colombia, at night, crowded with people seated at outdoor restaurants and bars

A Little History Of Cartagena De Indias

Cartagena, which was known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias, is both a city and a major port on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. 

The city was founded in 1533, but settlements by indigenous people date back to 4000 BC.

Under a contract with Queen Joanna of Castile, the Spanish commander (explorer and conquistador) Pedro de Heredia entered the Bay of Cartagena with three ships in 1533. A lighter, 150 men, and 22 horses, according to historical notes, on 14 January. 

After doing some exploring (and war’ring) Cartagena was founded on 1 June 1533 by Heredia in the former location of the indigenous Caribbean Calamarí village. 

Street dancers in Cartagena Colombia, in colorful costumes on a hot summer night

The town was named after the port city of Cartagena in Murcia, southeast Spain.

During the Spanish colonial period, Cartagena had a super-important role in the administration and expansion of the Spanish empire and was a center of political and economic activity. 

The super-strategic naval location made it the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, which at the time also included Cuba. 

The Creation Of Cartagena Historic Center

A street in Cartagena Colombia between beautiful colonial buildings covered in flowers and green plants

During the colonial era, Cartagena was also a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain AND for the import of enslaved Africans under the so-called asiento system.

Because of the city’s strategic maritime location, Cartagena has been attacked many times over the centuries. 

After several devastating attacks and pillages from enemies of the Spanish empire, the walled city and fortresses were finally built to protect it from naval attacks.

The construction began in 1586, and a beautiful job they did. 

Walking around the Old City today, it is spectacular; buildings and details on facades and doors and windows and street design all are like pieces of art.

The Spanish Inquisition

Do you remember anything about the Spanish Inquisition from your history lessons at school? 

Here is a short brush-up: it was a large and very violent movement within the Catholic church. The Spanish part started in Spain in the 15th Century, and its sole mission was to remove heresy from society.

Now, heresy means “the belief in faiths or opinions that differ from the generally accepted belief of society.”

The crimes the Inquisition saw fit to address in this term included those of blasphemy, bigamy, and, of course – witchcraft.

In Cartagena, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established In 1610, and the Palace of the Inquisition was completed in 1770 (yes, they had their own palace). 

A total of 767 persons were sentenced in Cartagena by the Inquisition. The horrible punishments range from fines, wearing a Sanbenito (a piece of clothing showing everyone that you were punished), life imprisonment, or death. 

(The Inquisition was particularly infamous for being creative in developing new and painful torture techniques to make people confess (or die denying) their crimes). 

The system was not abolished until its independence in 1811, when Cartagena was the first Columbian city to declare independence from The Spanish Empire. 

The Incredibly Sad Caribbean Slave Trade History

The first slaves were brought to Cartagena by Heredia, an explorer, conqueror, and founder of Cartagena.

They were brought to work as “macheteros”, which was the term for people clearing the underbrush in the jungle. 

As the slave trade grew, by the 17th Century, Cartagena had become an important New World slave market, and Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa.

Like Cuba, Cartagena Was Run By The Spanish Empire For Centuries

Spain was the only European power that could not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves (slave factories were a thing back then). 

Therefore, the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants from other countries licenses to trade slaves to their overseas territories. Cartagena was an important port for Spain’s business.

The slave history of Cartagena is one of the important things that has caught the interest of UNESCO, which has a project here called The Slavery Rout in Cartagena de Indias.

FAQ’s Cartagena Colombia

Charming square in Cartagena, surrounded by yellow colonial buildings, decorated with green plants

Is Cartagena Colombia Worth Visiting?

Yes, it is!

Cartagena is, at least, the Old City, quite the little gem with well-kept old houses, flowers everywhere, squares, and beautiful little spaces throughout the city.

It is hustling and bustling with life, people, and tourists alike, and I do recommend you do a walking tour here both to learn all the history, and to find your way! It is definitely possible to get a little lost.

Modern architecture is not very prominent in the city picture; most of the buildings are built in the old colonial style, with bright colors, and all the houses seem to be decorated with flowers wherever possible.

In the evenings, there are lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs around where you can dance and party as much as your heart desires.

Also, there are lots of rooftop terraces where you can go dancing for hours after dark if you want to – and I hope you do!

Staying in a hostel is very good for socializing if you are traveling alone. There is always someone to talk to, go on adventures with, or go out for dinner and dancing. 

Friendships somehow form quickly when you are in travel and adventure mode. People are easygoing and always looking for a good time.

So yes, from my point of view, Cartagena, Colombia, is well worth your time and money. There is so much history and vibrant city life, including nightlife, restaurants, and bars.

Maybe do a long weekend if you live somewhere with direct flights to Cartagena, like Miami?

Wrap-Up Holidays In Cartagena Colombia

Although not a very big city, the population is just under a million; Cartagena de Indias in Colombia is an amazingly charming city!

With lots of beautiful architecture and history and a stunning historic center within the old walled city, and funnily, there are flowers everywhere in Cartagena! The best time to visit will depend on your preferences.

Shoulder season in early March or late September and October are great for lower prices and fewer crowds. Summer is good for warm temperatures, bordering excruciatingly hot and humid!

To avoid hurricane season, spring is an excellent time to visit, when the average price level is still decent and there are lots of sunny days.

Related blog posts:

Lost City Hike Colombia Guide By An Expert (Ciudad Perdida)

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15 Reasons Santa Marta Magdalena Colombia Is A Great Destination (From A Local)

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