Okay seriously, bringing in the the New Year in Cartagena is badass. Few cities in the Hemisphere--or the world--bring together such an amazing combination of Caribbean sun, beach, island hopping adventures, colonial architecture, thumping music, fresh tropical delights, and outstanding street parties as Cartagena.
First and foremost, if you are planning a trip to Cartagena for NYE, you MUST figure out your lodging in advance. Cartagena is a very popular tourist destination not just for international tourists, but for many Colombian tourists as well, at that time of year. We booked our lodging three months in advance and already there were hardly any options available. Try to book inside the Old City (also sometimes known as the Walled City, or simply Centro, in Spanish). That’s where you will find some beautiful and unique boutique hotels. We ended up staying right outside the walled city, in the beachfront casino district known as Bocagrande, at the Intercontinental. There were three of us when we booked a room for with two queen beds. Be wary that the hotel charges extra for a third person. Of my other Colombian visits: Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali - Cartagena was our favorite city in Colombia. Just a trip here itself will do justice but do realize that Cartagena is not representative of the majority of Colombia. Cartagena--at least so far as its gem, the Old City, is concerned--is an impeccably colorful colonial town with cobblestone streets in a tropical climate. All of this and more makes this coastal city of Colombia unique.
Planning a trip to various cities in Colombia? Make sure to read ‘The Stuff You Want to Know Before Planning a Trip to Colombia.’
This post contains a detailed trip itinerary for a stay in Cartagena of 3 days and 3 nights. I spent days doing research and talking to experienced visitors and locals before creating my itineraries and my purpose is to share with the world the most idyllic trips. I believe you will find this helpful in your planning. This trip to Colombia included the following cities which you can also find detailed itineraries for - Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali.
Day 1: Cali --> Cartagena
7:30am. - 9:00am: Flight to Cartagena
9:30am. - 11:00am: Settle into the Intercontinental and get ready for the day's activities
Great hotel, good location right outside the walled city
Note - breakfast is not included in your rate
My advice is to book accommodation inside the Old City, and book at least four months ahead of time to secure an ornate colonial hotel, bed and breakfast, or Airbnb for a group during what is undoubtedly the best time of the year--NYE. We booked the Intercontinental only because everything else (other than maybe youth hostels) was sold out.
1:00pm -4:50pm: Leave for El Centro
We had a few other plans scheduled for this day but the minute we got inside the walled city (El Centro) we were mesmerized and spent hours walking around!
Find a cute cafe or an elegant restaurant to have lunch in
Make sure to peek into the several old book stores inside the walled city
Gelato galore - a must in this coastal heat!
5:00pm - 7:00pm: Watch the Sunset over Cartagena at the Roof of Hotel Movich
Watching the sunset and appreciating the juxtaposition of the Old City against Bocagrande in the background made for a stunningly beautiful contrast
7:00pm - 9:00pm: Downtime
We continued to walk around the Old City and enjoy the evening culture there. There are dancers, horse carriages, and live music throughout.
As there is another early morning and boat day ahead of us, we took the night in
Day 2:Island Hopping
You will need to book a tour ahead of time to visit the various Caribbean islands outside of Cartagena. We used Viator to book our tour which we found to be a family friendly tour that included lunch and snorkeling equipment. If you are looking for a more lively tour, our advice would be to book a boat with an individual agency to enjoy the turn up.
You will notice that the islands are known for having boats dock on them, blaring reggaeton music, and consuming copious amounts of aguardiente (the infamous and dangerously drinkable Colombian anise-flavored liqueur). If you’re in Cartagena for New Years--I mean, might as well!
Our favorite island was Rosario. There were boats docked with people from all over the world, dancing waist-deep in the water and partying under the sun.
Day 3: NYE in Cartagena
12:00pm- 2:30pm: Crepes and Waffles for Brunch
Popular (but decently good quality) chain restaurant found throughout Colombia recommended by locals
An array of sweet and savory options--and affordable as well
3:00pm - 4:30pm: Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
You have to pay for entry to the castle, and with that said, I highly recommend getting a guide. Unless you have read and have a deep understanding behind the history and architecture of this Castillo, learning the history from a local expert will really make the visit worthwhile.
4:30pm - 5:30pm: Downtime
Decided this would be a good time to go get NYE drinks and snacks for ourselves. Skipped out on dining for dinner as everywhere would require a reservation on NYE. If you are interested in making a nice dinner reservation for NYE in Cartagena, I would recommend Alma.
5:30pm - 7:00pm: Watch the sunset on the walls of the Old Town
Pop up on the wall with you friends, buy a $1 beer from the locals and take in the views and ocean breeze
7:00pm - 11:00pm: Naps, Get Ready, Pregame, Go watch Fireworks
It’s NYE baby, time to get our beauty rest and start getting ready for an epic night out!
11:45pm: Watch the fireworks show inside the walled city
- The firework show is great. An illuminated sky in all directions. People cheering and drinking the cheap beers offered by the locals. This is the true start to a magical night within this colonial city!
Ok so let me fill you in on what not to do in Cartagena for NYE
There will be a lot of “exclusive” NYE events and parties that cost $100 - $300--or more--to get in. Yes, the price tags to go out on NYE even in Colombia can be quite expensive. Well, we ended up at one of those $300 per person NYE parties. Arrived at the party around 1:30a.m., only to find it be half empty with pretty terrible music and NO ONE dancing. Sure the drinks were flowing as the ticket included an open bar. But for a party that costs $300 per person, I would not expect the bathrooms to be porta-potties. Yeah, you read that right. Well, we ended up meeting a few folks that were thinking the same thing we were. So what happens next? We all decided to leave the party and HIT THE STREETS! AND FOLKS - partying on the streets with the locals is the way to do New Years Eve in Cartagena. You don’t need an exclusive party! Just be fluid with your plans and let it all happen. If everyone goes in with a good attitude and openness to spontaneity, you'll wind up embracing local music and drink and white linen banquets and revelry in what amounts to a truly memorable experience.
Maybe you’re thinking...What exactly do you do...on the streets? If you’ve been to NOLA, you get what you do on the streets. You walk around with hundreds and hundreds of people, enjoy the street corners have DJs that have set up outside restaurants, playing music from all around the world. And you basically go from DJ to DJ dancing the night away. Another one of those things you have to experience for yourself.
Who knows, you may just meet someone special as the night goes on ;) Stay partying till the sun comes up if you're adventurous!
Day 3: Jan 1 - hungover AF
11am: Room Service
When you left the curtains of your room at the Intercontinental just slightly open and the sun starts pouring and you wake up to the thirst and reflect on the helluva night you just had - you order room service with your best friends and gossip about it.
Alright folks - I don’t have much of an itinerary for this day as we are experiencing extreme exhaustion from day partying, boat partying, night partying, crazy all day excursions, and break-of-dawn flights from the entirety of the Colombia trip (Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali). All 100% worth it. A lazy day at the Intercontinental's infinity pool with some new friends was the move. Here's some poolside pizza we devoured
8:00pm: Dinner at Carmen
Great spot for a last night in Cartagena to reminisce and soak in your newfound obsession with the Colombian Caribbean
Make sure to try the cocktail that comes in the golden pineapple ;)
Cheers and happy New Year!