Planning a family vacation to Cartagena, Colombia, and looking for the best things to do in Cartagena with kids? We found them! Follow these Cartagena tips to have a great time during your Cartagena visit!
Cartagena city is the oldest and most famous Colombian city on the country’s northern coast. Since Cartagena weather is generally warm, Old Town Cartagena is full of colorful architecture, and the city is surrounded by historical remnants of early South American colonization, Cartagena has become a gem in the South American tourism industry.
We visited Cartagena with kids during an epic tour of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. After seeing all of the fun things to do in San Andres Island and staying in Tayrona Park in Santa Marta, we decided our Cartagena vacation was our favorite destination along the Colombian coast. There are so many things to do in Cartagena, and we fervently wish we could spend every day wandering the beautiful streets soaking in the local culture and history!
Top things to do in Old Town Cartagena with kids
We primarily stayed in Old Town Cartagena during our 3-day vacation. The greater Cartagena area has lots of things to do, but we were particularly drawn to the beautiful, historic, walled portion of Old Cartagena. Don’t be scared off by the small size, there is plenty to do within the Cartagena walled city!
1. Forego Colombian coffee for a chocolate candy class
Our very favorite thing to do in Old Cartagena with kids was make our own chocolates! Known as one of the coffee capitals of the world, the same ground and weather which is perfect for growing coffee beans in Colombia is also ideal for cocoa.
The Museo Del Cacao is a two-story chocolate candy store of fun. The upper story is a free museum on the history and production of cocao and chocolate in Colombia, and the main floor features plenty of samples of locally-made chocolate products for sale.
Those interested in going the extra mile can sign up for a 45 minute (49,000 COP) or 2 hour (59,000- 79,000 COP) class to make your own chocolate candy bars! Chocolate classes include your choice of white, milk, or dark chocolate and liberal use of any of their many toppings.
The museum was interesting, the class was fun, and the finished product was a delicious souvenir from our Cartagena vacation!
What you need to know about taking a chocolate class in Cartagena:
- Museo Del Cacao: Carrera 7#36-145
- 45 minute class: 45,000 COP/ person
- 2 hour class: 55,000 COP/ kids 75,000 COP / adults
- Class includes a museum tour on the history of chocolate and a demonstration on making your own chocolate
2. Visit the Gold and Emerald museums to learn about Colombia’s biggest exports
Emerald and gold are two of Colombia’s biggest exports. Up to 70% of the world’s emerald jewelry can be traced back to Colombia in any given year, in fact, and Cartagena is the second largest hub for buying and learning about emeralds!
While adults may be most interested in shopping for this green gem, kids will be equally fascinated with the effort of harvesting them. Visit the Caribe Jewelry Museum and Factory across from Simon Bolivar Plaza for a fun walk-through of the history of the emerald trade in Colombia and modern mining practices!
To learn more about gold head to the Museo del Oro, a small museum with a few quick exhibits on the historic use of gold in tools, jewelry, and household goods complete with unearthed examples of the ancient relics.
Both museums are an interesting and beautiful way to learn more about Colombia, yet are small enough to not lose interest or take too much time away from sightseeing in Cartagena!
Plus, entrance to both the Cartagena emerald museum and gold museum are free!
What you need to know about the emerald and gold museums in Cartagena:
- Museo de la Esmerelda: Calle San Pedro Claver ##31-18
- Free, open until 6:30 pm
- Museo del Oro: Cra. 4 #3326
- Free, open until 5:00 pm
3. Tour the Buccaneer ship museum on the Cartagena Marina
Walk to the Pier los Pegasos, one of Cartagena’s boat marinas, to find the Buccannear Ship and museum. You can’t miss the large, historic, black ship decorated in traditional pirate manner sitting beside the walkway!
Walk through the ship to learn about the history of Caribbean pirates in Cartagena. A true thrill for any kids in Cartagena!
4. Tour San Felipe Castillo
The San Felipe Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Cartagena. The fortress sits atop San Lazaro hill, visible to those approaching from land or sea. Originally built in the 16th century by the Spanish, San Felipe has seen military action in 3 wars and between Spain, France, and Britain by the mid-19th century. San Felipe Castillo features a maze of tunnels and high, sloped walls, making it nearly impossible for outsiders to penetrate. Today it is considered the strongest defensive structure ever owned by the Spanish militia.
In 1984 UNESCO declared the fort, as well as the walled city of Cartagena, a World Heritage Site. Efforts were made to clean up the castle, and it now serves as one of the most important landmarks in Cargena and is a must-see on any list of things to do in Cartagena.
What you need to know about touring Castillo San Felipe:
- Buy tickets in advance on San Felipe website
- Tickets cost 25,000 COP for foreign adults, 10,000 COP for children ages 6-13
- Open from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
5. Photograph the Getsemani street murals
Across Centenario Park you pass from historic city of Cartagena to the neighborhood of Getsemani. Getsemani is where you’ll find the more local, colorful, cultural part of Old Cartagena.
Walk the 10 minutes from the historic city center to Getsemani for a more grass-roots experience of the same beautiful Cartagena. Here you’ll find street vendors selling a variety of fried foods, locals walking the low streets, and, most famously, lots and lots of wall art!
Getsemani is famous for it’s abundant, large, and detailed wall art. A stroll around the cobwebs of streets will reveal gorgeous, political, and thought-provoking public artwork kids and adults will all love.
The best part of a visit to Getsemani? Not many other tourists are around, so you’ll have plenty of street space to yourself to take in the local culture!
What you need to know about touring Getsemani:
- Follow directions on Google Maps, crossing Centenario Park and the Old Cartagena marina to get there
- Getsemani is slightly more dangerous than Old Town Cartagena. Be on guard, but not overly alarmed
- Wall murals are plentiful! Wander the streets to find the best street art
6. Eat, Rest, and Learn in Simon Bolivar Plaza
Simon Bolivar is the great liberator of northern South America. Museums, statues, shrines, and cities exist all over South America in homage to this stalwart defender.
One such statue exists in Old Cartagena. The Simon Bolivar plaza features a large statue of Simon Bolivar on horseback surrounded by sidewalks, foliage, and locals hawking woven hats and fresh lime juice.
We love that the plaza is central to other fun things to do in Cartagena and is a great teaching opportunity of Colombian history for our son. We could rest from our busy Cartagena walking tour on a bench, drink a delicious fresh juice, and talk about the man Colombians regard so highly.
Just because a vacation is beautiful and fun doesn’t mean it can’t also be educational!
What you need to know about Simon Bolivar Plaza:
- Simon Bolivar Plaza is located across from the Museo del Esmerelda, in the center of town
- Bring small change to purchase snacks and drinks
7. Visit Plaza Santo Domingo for Night Performers
By day Plaza Santo Domingo is a beautiful square in front of a historic cathedral. The square features a statue by famous Colombian artist Botera as well as other public works of art. By night the plaza is transformed into a hip nightlife hot spot for all ages. Outdoor restaurants pop up and tables and chairs fill the plaza. By dusk the plaza fills up with street performers, ready to entertain the Cartagena tourists.
Walk through Plaza Santo Domingo at night to see mimes, on-the-spot rappers, tropical dancing women, balloon artists, and more!
What you need to know about Santo Domingo Plaza:
- Borders the famous cathedral
- Outdoor restaurants and bars available
- Bring small change, street buskers may not leave you alone until you pay!
8. Walk along the Old Cartagena Wall
Cartagena was once the largest and most important sea port serving the Americas. Boats came in and out of the port with all manner of treasure and important goods, which made Cartagena an object of desire by theives and world leaders. Consequently, Old City of Cartagena is rounded by a 4km stone wall which was built to protect the city from attacks by warring nations and zealous Caribbean pirates.
Over decades the wall was expanded, watch towers were built, and a walkway was constructed for the city protectors to keep better watch of assailants approaching from the water.
Large portions of the wall still exist in good condition today, and taking to the walkways has become a popular thing to do in Cartagena. Pedestrians walk the wall for the beautiful views of the Old City on one side and the ocean on the other. It’s also considered one of the best spots to view the sunset in Cartagena, and is flanked by fancy, delicious restaurants, hotels, and street vendors selling home made goods.
What you need to know about walking the Old Cartagena wall:
- Free to walk
- Best entrance is from Baluarte de San Ignacio
- Best to go for sunset
- Be prepared for heavy foot traffic
9. Shop candy and souvenir markets
While we adults preferred to frequent the many jewelry stores in search of the perfect Colombian emerald jewelry, our son particularly like shopping the candy and souvenir markets. We can’t blame him- a few dollars goes a long way on the streets of Cartagena, and the new toys, accessories, sweets, and drinks are hard to ignore.
Our favorite candy market was outside the Clock Tower Monument, one of the main Cartagena sightseeing locations. The yellow building has an overhang on one side, where many stalls are set up with various Colombian candies and sweets. Walk along the clock tower building and test sweets from different stalls to satisfy your international sweet tooth!
Our son’s favorite souvenir market was just beyond the candy market, just inside the wall near Baluarte de San Ignacio. As this is where the main portion of the walking wall begins, it is also where there is a high concentration of tourists. Temporary stalls pop up in the afternoon with local artisans selling all number of products and toys to those who have come to enjoy a sunset stroll along the wall.
Tell your children to keep small coins with them and not be afraid to haggle with the sellers! Colombians are some of the most friendly people we’ve met in the entire world, and a sweet smile from a cute kid who speaks “Hola, por favor, and gracias” will go a long way!
What you need to know about souvenir shopping in Old Cartagena with kids:
- There are many street vendors along Cartagena!
- Find the candy station outside of the Clock Tower building
- Find the best souvenir shopping outside the entrance of the Old Wall
- Feel free to haggle with the vendors!
10. Go on a Carriage Ride Through Old Cartagena
*Warning: Some speculate that the horses used in Old Cartagena sightseeing are being mistreated and underfed. Ride at own discretion, and feel free to talk to the carriage driver about any specific questions you have on the animal’s welfare.*
What kid doesn’t love horses? And carriages? And waving at the people down below them?
By mid-afternoon the cobblestone streets of historic Cartagena are filled with horse-drawn carriages. You’ll see many pass in a row down one-way roads, full of tourists taking in the beautiful city the old fashioned way.
What you need to know about taking a horse-drawn carriage through Cartagena:
- Find drivers all over the walled city starting after noon
- Cost around 100,000 COP for a 1-hour tour
- Carriage carries up to 4 adults
Best Historic Cartagena Family Hotel
We stayed at a few places around historic Cartagena during our vacation, but only one Cartagena hotel is worth mentioning.
Cartagena is home to Casa San Agustin, recently named the 2nd best hotel in South America by Travel + Leisure magazine. We spent one night in Casa San Agustin and it was unbelievable! To be perfectly honest, we had some hotel depression after leaving this extraordinary place, as every other hotel falls short in comparison!
Here is why Casa San Agustin is the best Cartagena family hotel:
- Perfect location. It’s right in the middle of historic Old Cartagena, and you can easily walk to all the best Cartagena points of interest and come back for a rest without wasting any time.
- Beautiful outdoor pool. We loved the beautiful L-shaped pool in the center of the hotel! The lounge chairs are comfortable, and the water is warm.
- INCREDIBLE buffet breakfast. Attached Casa San Agustin is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. The restaurant offers a complimentary breakfast to guests. Choose from a meal off their menu and items from the buffet for an incredible, authentic meal.
- Extra bed for children. Our hotel room featured a main room and a living room with a pull-out couch. It meant so much that our son had his own bed, and that it was in another room! He was comfortable and we were able to have some privacy. Win win!
- Welcome drinks and ice cream. As we were signing in to the hotel a thoughtful employee brought us 2 virgin mojitos and a dish of special ice cream for our son. We loved this welcome treat!
- Incredible service. The entire team at Casa San Agustin made our trip so much easier, which made traveling to Cartagena with kids less stressful. They kept our bags stored for us when we arrived early, gave us a thorough hotel tour in English, got anything our son wanted, and answered all of our questions on things to do and places to eat in Cartagena. It felt like having an extra set of hands around!
If you are coming to Cartagena with kids it simply doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else. Book Casa San Agustin for your Cartagena vacation here!
Planning a family Cartagena vacation? Pin this article on the top Cartagena things to do with kids for later!