Cartagena is a must-see destination and Colombia’s most visited city. People flock to check out the colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, delectable food, and wild nightlife here!
This community is the first autonomous slave colony in the Americas. They’ve preserved an exquisite indigenous lifestyle that has been integrated into contemporary society. Today, Cartagena has a distinct social scene and thriving arts and cultural sector.
Visitors swarm to the “Jewel of the Indies” to take advantage of the Caribbean temperature, stunning medieval Walled City, distinctive fusions of cultures, and neighboring beaches.
Tropical weather with rainy and dry seasons prevails in Cartagena. It’s a little taste of paradise in Colombia! You can maximize your stay by knowing the best time to visit Cartagena. We’ll explore that and more in our guide.
Why You Should Visit Cartagena
The city of Cartagena has a lot to offer visitors and it’s one of the most exciting destinations to add to your list!
Some of Colombia’s finest dining can be found in Cartagena. Everyone can find something to their liking here, from upscale restaurants serving the freshest seafood to humble market stalls serving hearty stews over an open fire.
Did we mention the amazing selection of freshly squeezed fruit juices that seem to be sold on every corner? It’s a foodie paradise here.
Cartagena’s palenqueras, the Afro-Colombian women who wear brightly colored dresses and sell fruit in the city’s plazas, have become an internationally recognized city symbol.
However, few know that they originate from San Basilio de Palenque, a village just an hour outside the city that UNESCO recognizes as the earliest freed slave settlement in the Americas and the birthplace of a distinctive language.
While many are quick to sing the praises of the Walled City, Cartagena’s location on the Colombian Caribbean coast means vast stretches of stunning beaches and islands surround it.
Bocagrande and La Boquilla each have some nice beaches in the city, but those who want to soak up the rays should head out to the islands. Playa Blanca, Isla Grande, Tierra Bomba, or the Rosario Islands offer the most amazing beaches in the area.
The city of Cartagena provides an intriguing contrast between the old and the modern. You won’t find another city like it!
The modern skyscrapers and hotel chains of Bocagrande can be seen from the city walls, reminding visitors that despite the city’s historical significance and past glory, it is very much a part of the present.
You can’t often spend a day touring medieval monasteries and castles in Spain that date back 500 years, then go to a high-end casino and wine bar that evening.
Cartagena’s juxtaposition of old and new may seem odd at first, but it’s one thing that gives the city its special appeal.
Overall Best Time to Visit Cartagena
The months of December through April – the dry season – are ideal for a trip to Cartagena.
Although average annual highs hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the city’s tropical climate results in wildly varying amounts of precipitation across the four distinct seasons.
Cartagena experiences its summer during the dry season (December–April), which is also when the city sees the largest influx of tourists.
It’s worth braving the crowds of tourists, though, because the winter months feature nearly constant precipitation and oppressive humidity that make outdoor activities unpleasant.
Daytime highs in the upper 80s and nighttime lows in the upper 70s characterize Cartagena’s summers when the city is flooded with tourists and sunshine.
During this time, rain is uncommon, though it is possible to experience a few showers at the start of December or the end of April. Visitors can take advantage of the city’s outdoor activities because of the reliable weather.
During summer, kayaking and paddle boarding are fun activities to try here. The kayak paddles will require some strength and skill to propel you through the water, but you don’t need countless hours of practice to master the sport.
Snorkeling is a great activity for people who want to see the underwater world but don’t want to dive too deeply. Don a mask, fins, and snorkel to experience the city in a new way. The islands of Bar, Tierrabomba, Rosario, and Bocachica are all suitable for this activity.
Cheapest Time to Visit Cartagena
Traveling to Cartagena is cheapest in the shoulder seasons of late August through November and in May.
Even though it is the rainy season in the highlands and along the coast, it rarely rains all day here. You may have to switch your plans around to accommodate short-lived showers, but it’s very possible to enjoy time outdoors during the rainy season!
Having fun in Cartagena during the rainy season isn’t hard. It’s home to some of the world’s best festivals, historical sites, and great spots to eat in addition to those stunning beaches.
The homemade candies and Caribbean treats are a highlight of the Festival del Dulce, which takes place in March and April. That’s definitely a reason to look forward to trip planned during the cheaper shoulder season!
Cartagena’s rains are quick to arrive and just as quick to leave. After taking a break from the tropical sun to enjoy a leisurely lunch or explore the stunning Catholic churches of the Old City, you’ll find that the sun has dried up the rain while you were inside.
Keep in mind that it’s cheaper to fly during the week rather than on the weekend to make your trip even more cost-effective.
Least Busy Time to Visit Cartagena
The rainy season from May to mid-June and August to November is the least busy time to go to Cartagena.
Prices for both attractions and lodging are typically reduced during the rainy, less busy off-season. Go sometime in May through the middle of June, or from August through November.
You’ll benefit from smaller crowds and better availability for flights and accommodations. These are the wettest and hottest times of the year, so fewer tourists are clamoring to arrive at these times. For a relaxed, uncrowded stay, that’s ideal!
Temperatures typically reach record highs before clouds roll in later in the day. Additionally, the city frequently experiences tropical storms during these periods.
There’s a brief rainy season in May, with an average rainfall of about 5 inches. This declines to about 4 inches in July and August. Rainfall rises to an estimated 9 inches in October during the height of the hurricane season.
Traditionally, Carnival takes place in February, during the four days preceding Lent. The partying is just as exciting and lively as the Caribbean carnivals. The cost of staying in a hotel naturally rises during this time, so keep that in mind.
Worst Time to Visit Cartagena
The worst time to visit Cartagena is during the busy tourist seasons – Carnival, Easter’s Holy Week, and mid-June through July.
February’s Carnival, Holy Week (March or April), and mid-June through July see a huge increase in tourist numbers. This drives prices up and restricts room and flight options, making them the worst times to go.
The dry months of December and January are followed by relatively wet months of June and July. This period gets an average rainfall of about 4 inches, which can add to the frustration of traveling at this time of year.
Meeting new individuals is easy and enjoyable throughout both busy seasons. Locals will tell you that Cartagena’s nightlife is worth visiting the city for year-round, but note that it’s more relaxed than other Colombian towns.
Since the worst times to visit Cartagena are peak travel seasons, expect higher prices wherever you go. According to residents, the humidity levels in Cartagena tend to rise around Holy Week.
Enjoying the city’s most well-known attractions might be challenging if you want to avoid large crowds.
Things to Consider
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not Cartagena should be on your agenda, you might just need a little more info! Here’s what you should keep in mind when you’re thinking about planning a trip here.
- Study up on the arts. Before you go, familiarize yourself with the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Cartagena was the setting for most of the author’s formative years and early journalistic career. Knowing this before you go will offer a new dimension to your explorations of the city.
- Go island hopping. Independently or on tour, you can visit the nearby islands of Islas del Rosario, Islas del Encanto, and Playa Blanca from Cartagena in about two hours. Even though day visits are highly popular, traveling for at least one night is ideal for enjoying the beaches without crowds.
- See if you’ll need an adaptor. In Cartagena and the rest of Colombia, the power outlets have two prongs, much like in the United States. If you’re traveling from the United Kingdom or Europe, you’ll need an adaptor.
- You can safely drink the tap water in Cartagena. Feel comfortable using it as you would tap water at home – to brush your teeth, wash your produce, and make ice for your cocktails.
- Stay long enough to enjoy it. We recommend spending at least four nights in Cartagena for the curious traveler or long-term backpacker. However, this may be extended if you take many day excursions to the islands. Stay at least three nights to get the full experience, but more is better!
- Check out nearby destinations. Traveling from Cartagena to Santa Marta will allow you to reach further locations along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. This includes the beaches of Tayrona, the chill hippie community of Palomino, and the Lost City Trek.
- Know what’s walkable. We suggest doing most of your sightseeing in Cartagena since the city and its major sites are easily accessible on foot. Knowing how local cabs work is helpful when you arrive or depart or find yourself on the wrong side of town after dark.
Frequently Asked Questions
Need more answers to start planning your perfect visit? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Cartagena.
What language is spoken in Cartagena?
Spanish is the official and main language spoken in Cartagena, but English is also widely spoken here.
It's worth brushing up on basic Spanish phrases or sticking to tourist destinations where people are most likely to speak English.
What currency is used in Cartagena?
The peso, sometimes shortened as COP, is Colombia's national currency. All prices in Colombia are denoted in dollars.
Can I use US dollars in Cartagena?
The dollar and the euro are accepted as currencies everywhere. Use caution while using credit or debit cards and always save your receipts.
It's best to use an ATM at a bank, grocery store, or other major commercial facilities during normal business hours.
Is tap water in Cartagena safe to drink?
Like other major towns in Colombia, Cartagena has safe drinking water straight from the tap. However, bottled and filtered water is readily available, inexpensive, and available anywhere if you're worried about the water.
Is Cartagena safe for tourists?
Cartagena is relatively safe for tourists. Those who stick to popular tourist locations like Old Town, Getsemani, and Bocagrande should feel completely secure in Cartagena.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Cartagena?
Visit Cartagena Colombia between December through April for the overall best travel experience. It’s the dry season, so the weather is incredible, sunny, and warm.
While the dry season is ideal, travel isn’t an issue here any time of year. Go during the rainy season in August through November or May to mid-June for cheaper prices and fewer crowds. You’ll have plenty of time to hang outdoors since the rain showers are short!
Try to skip traveling here during busy holidays, like Carnival in February, Holy Week in March or April, and July when summer tourists arrive. You’ll experience higher costs and less hotel and flight options during these times.
Whenever you decide to go, Cartagena is a warm and inviting city you shouldn’t miss. So, what are you waiting for? Get to know its history by exploring its many cultures and people today!