Colombia used to have a bad reputation with foreigners in the 1980s, but those days are long over. The country has changed immensely and it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination due to its beautiful colonial architecture, fantastic food, and relaxed lifestyle with a European feel. Over fifty films have used Cartagena as a location due to its beautiful streets and colorful houses.

Cartagena, Colombia’s capital city, is a fun place to explore, and you will want to plan to spend several days there. From visiting historic castles to scuba diving in gorgeous coral reefs, there are activities for everyone.Here are 11 great things to do during your visit to Cartagena.

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What to Do in Cartagena

1. Explore Cartagena’s Old City

Once you arrive, take a walk through La Ciudad Vieja, the oldest part of Cartagena. Take time to walk through the three neighborhoods of Centro, San Diego, and Getsemani. You’ll love the street art in Getsemani, which is known as the coolest place to be for young Cartagenans.

2. Go on a bike tour

A bike tour is a great way to get a feeling for an entire city within just a few hours. Companies like Cartagena Bike Tours offers great city tours with various themes. You can bike through fishing villages on the edge of the city, or see locations where scenes from movies were filmed within the city. You’ll get a good feeling for Cartagena’s unique combination of old architecture with new, modern buildings in areas with names like “mini Miami.”

3. Take a mud bath in a volcano

Soak in the healing minerals of a volcano that erupts mud at El Totumo, an hour away from the city. You can take a tour with guide companies like Colombia Eco Travel, or go on your own - once you are there, you will be guided through the mud bath process!

4. Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

This fortress is an incredible piece of history, because it is the biggest defense structure that the Spanish ever built in any of their colonies. It was built on top of the Hill of San Lazaro in order to defend the city and the sea - which means that you will get a beautiful view when you visit. It is so large that it still comprises a large part of Cartagena’s cityscape, so be sure to visit and learn about Colombia’s Spanish past.

5. Go to the Rosario Islands

Escape the city and head to the Rosario Islands, where you will get a real taste for the Caribbean lifestyle! The Rosario Islands are about sixty miles off the coast of Cartagena. You can get there in a one-hour cruise, so it is perfect for a day trip. The area became a national park in the 1970s due to its pristine and intact ecosystem. Swim in the clear blue waters, snorkel, or go scuba diving to get a closer look at the beautiful life underwater.

6. Relax at Playa Blanca

The calm waters of this spectacular beach are worth a visit! Take a day trip here and enjoy a break from the city, which is only an hour away. Take a walk along the beach with its soft white sand, or swim in the warm water. Consider going on a weekday, when there are fewer crowds.

7. Take pictures by the Torre del Reloj

The Torre del Reloj, or clock tower, is Cartagena’s most famous landmark. It used to be the gateway to the entire city and is still the main entrance to historical Cartagena. Construction began in 1601, and a clock was added in the 19th century so that residents of the city could stay on time. Today, it is a great place to take pictures and imagine what life was like in old Cartagena.

8. Try the popsicles at La Paletteria

Nothing is better on a warm day than a fruit popsicle, which La Paletteria, located right downtown in Cartagena, does in style! For about $1.50, you can choose from La Paletteria’s expansive array of flavors such as guava, dulce de leche and coconut.

9. Sample arepas at Quero

Arepas are corn pancakes which are eaten in Colombia and Venezuela, and Quero does them best. Located in downtown Cartagena, try Quero’s arepas with chicken, cheese, or just plain!

10. Go salsa dancing

The nightlife in Cartagena is so much fun in the summer with the warm nights, and salsa dancing is a great way to experience local music and culture while celebrating life! Head to Donde Fidel near the Torre del Reloj or Cafe Havana in the Getsemani area and dance the night away!

11. Visit Cartagena’s Museums

The Museum of Gold and the Museum of the Inquisition are great places to start learning about Cartagena’s past. See exquisite, priceless works of art at the museum of gold and learn about the pre-Hispanic, Caribbean societies in Colombia that made these artifacts. The Museum of the Inquisition is housed inside a former palace and is known as one of the finest buildings in the entire city.

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This article was written by Cathy Trainor.