The best day trips from Cartagena are all within easy reach of the city, making it the perfect place to base yourself. It has world-class restaurants, stunning colonial architecture and a very cool vibe. Below we will take a look at which picturesque beaches and islands you shouldn’t miss, as well as some unique cultural activities.
San Basilio de Palenque
For the history buffs out there, this place is a must-visit. Declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2005, it is one of South America’s most important historical villages.
Just an hour south of Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque was one of the first cities to take a stand against slavery. It was founded in the 16th century by Benkos Biohó, a former African King who was sold into slavery and escaped in 1599. As time passed, a small group of formerly enslaved people started living secretly in this village in the mountains. They were able to save their culture, practice their own religion and speak their own language. You will still hear a type of Spanish Creole, the native language formed so they could communicate with each other.
It wasn’t until 1713 that the Spanish Crown issued a royal decree officially freeing the Africans in Palenque from slavery.
Don’t miss the palenquera ladies selling traditional sweets and tropical fruit. Some recipes were created hundreds of years ago.
It’s not unusual to be invited into a local’s home to hear the stories of the people. Willingly accept and you’ll be taken aback by the area’s history.
Playa Blanca and Isla Baru
If you’ve come to Cartagena seeking white sandy beaches and palm trees, you will quickly discover the city center won’t offer this. Don’t stress! Hop on a leisurely 1-hour speed boat, bus or taxi, and you’ll arrive at the paradise island of Isla Baru.
How can you take a bus or taxi to an island? Nowadays, there is a bridge that connects the island to the mainland.
Playa Blanca is the main reason tourists visit this island for a day trip. It’s an action-packed beach with music, drinks, juices and fresh seafood. There are also some beautiful snorkeling spots with lots of fish hovering around the reefs.
Hot tip: Arrive before noon or after 3 pm to avoid the crowds. If you have the time, choose to stay overnight to maximize your time.
Tierra Bomba Island
If you aren’t up to an hour ride but want an easy beach day, head to Tierra Bomba.
A quick 15-minute boat ride makes Tierra Bomba the perfect day trip from Cartagena. From the hospital in Bocagrande (in the city center), you will find lots of lanchas (small boats) which can take you to the island.
The only downside (really struggling to find one) is that the water is not quite as crystal clear as what you will find on Isla Baru.
The island has a few beach clubs, such as Blue Apple Beach or Fenix, and they are one of the main attractions on the island. Prices start at around $50 and typically include beach beds, lunch and return transfers.
Expect to pay a bit more, but this option makes for a carefree beach day.
For those looking for a relaxed day trip without the beach club prices, check out Punta Arena beach. It is a popular tourist spot with many small bars and beach umbrellas. If you want peace and quiet, make a beeline for the spots towards the end of the beach.
If you prefer something quieter, then Playa Linda is the perfect place for you.
A day trip from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands should be on your bucket list. The 28-island archipelago was declared a National Park in 1988. Once you arrive, it’s easy to see why!
The largest of the islands is Isla Grande, where most people arrive. It will take 60-90 minutes, depending on the boat you take. The ferries depart from Muelle De La Bodeguita and typically cost $13.
Hot tip: If you are traveling in a group of 7+ people or have the budget, jump on a private boat or catamaran for the day. That way, you can take in the beauty of all the islands with greater flexibility. Also, avoid the group tours sold in the city streets. You will find yourself squished on a boat with too many people.
Don’t forget to pack your snorkel and mask. No day trip to the Rosario Islands is complete without taking in the gorgeous crystal waters. Some of the hot spots to visit are La Piscinita (for insane snorkeling), Cholón (a popular swimming spot with overwater day huts) and Agua Azul (an incredible beach location).
Totumo Mud Volcano
Covering yourself in mud may not be for everyone. However, traveling is all about trying new things!
Located just over an hour from Cartagena, this volcano is a 50-foot mound filled with—you guessed it—mud. Legend has it that this volcano was once active with lava until a priest intervened. He sprinkled it with holy water turning it into the attraction it is today.
On your visit, you’ll walk to the top, which takes only a few minutes. From there, descend one by one down a ladder into the mud pit, known to have therapeutic qualities. It’s not difficult to climb down, but it will be muddy so take it slowly.
Let the attendants give you a massage. It’s all part of the experience. Be sure to float on your back, as you will notice how buoyant you are.
Hot tip: Pack your oldest swimsuit—it will be covered in mud by the end.
There are two options for seeing the Totumo Mud Volcano. You can visit on your own or take a tour. It’s easy to sign up for a half-day tour through the hostel or hotel you are staying at. The group tour will cost approximately $10 (COP45,000) and includes transportation to/from and a snack after the experience.
This day trip from Cartagena makes for a hilarious outing as you realize how ridiculous you all look covered in mud!
San Bernardo Islands
Looking for something less touristy? Then we have the perfect place for you.
Located 50 miles south of Cartagena, the San Bernardo Islands is a small island chain in the Caribbean. The boat trip there takes 2 hours so if you have the time it’s recommended to stay on one of the islands for the night. Unfortunately, you may be crammed onto a boat for the journey there but trust us, it’s well worth it.
If you are joining a group tour, it will no doubt include a stop at Mucura island. Think sandy white beaches, palm trees and a laid-back atmosphere. And plenty of snorkeling spots, too.
Tintipan Island is home to several mangrove forests. It’s a quiet island with a picturesque beach area.
There is one word to describe the island of Santa Cruz—unique. This artificial island is one of the most densely populated islands on earth. Just over 12,000 square meters, the island has a population of 1300. With no roads and just a few alleyways and colorful buildings, you won’t want to spend the whole day here, but it’s worth checking out.
Rounding out the best day trips from Cartagena with La Boquilla. For nature lovers, this place is a must.
Located only 20 minutes from the city by car, this tiny fishing village is home to protected mangrove swamp canals. As part of a day trip, you will paddle in wooden canoes through the network of canals and see the local fisherman at work. Keep your eyes peeled for seafish, seagulls, plovers, southern lapwings and herons.
You may even be lucky to see your guide fish for crabs. It’s the most prized delicacy in La Boquilla.
End the day by enjoying a fresh fish lunch before taking a dip in the Caribbean sea.
No matter which day trip from Cartagena you go for, you’ll be in paradise!
Check out all the places you can travel to and from Cartagena.
Rafael Núñez International Airport is the main airport in Cartagena, which is 20 minutes from the city center.
Expect a lot of potatoes and rice. Some typical dishes you must eat include ajiaco (chicken and potato soup), sopa de pan (bread soup) and arepas (stuffed cornmeal patties).
Yes, a lot of major cities, including Cartagena, accept credit cards. Carry cash as well for taxis and local restaurants.