Cartagena was, hands down, one of the best family vacations we have ever had. About a week before we left, we made our bucket list and we made it through an impressive amount. Because the city is an up and coming destination, one of the most important things to me was finding things to do with kids in Cartagena. When we travel, we try to balance interests for both adults and kids and Cartagena and the surrounding islands had great options.
During our 10 day trip, we stayed at several different hotels to get a taste of the options available to families. Even the luxury class of hotels we stayed at were overwhelmingly family friendly. The Latin culture is very family focused and kids are welcome pretty much anywhere. We asked the kids what their top five activities in Cartagena were.
Playing in the pool at the Hilton
The Hilton is just outside the walled city of Cartagena in the Bocagrande neighborhood. The hotel is a typical city Hilton. We had enough points for 2 free nights so we booked it because we had heard the pool was fantastic and I thought starting out the trip letting the kids have a kid day was a good idea. We weren’t disappointed. The pool is huge and included a swim up bar, huge beach balls, shallow and deep ends, waterfalls and a water slide. The kids had a great day playing in the pool and we followed up our day with some homemade pizza at the cafe. Overall the grounds were huge and spectacular. We didn’t like the Bocagrande neighborhood of Cartagena nearly as much as the walled city (think Miami beach), but the waterslide here was a great way to start the trip.
Cool off with some gelato at Gelateria Paradiso
Yum. Cartagena is hot. Really hot. We loved walking around the walled city and taking in the sights, so a stop to cool off was necessary. Gelateria Paradiso does the trick. The shop has delightfully kitschy decor, interesting flavors and a polite staff. The shop bills itself as “authentic Italian Gelato”. All gelato is 100% organic. It was fun to experience a bit of Italy in Colombia. The kids loved it and it was so good. Really really good ice cream.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride
The walled city of Cartagena is a gorgeous area of narrow streets, colorful buildings, little squares and tons of flowers. One of the best things to do in Cartagena with family is to explore in a horse-drawn carriage ride. We didn’t want to take a ride during the day because it was so hot and we felt bad for the horses, but dusk was a perfect time. The sun is lower and it’s still light enough to see everything. Our driver was friendly and even gave us a little history lesson on the city. It was the kids first time in a horse drawn carriage and they loved it. It’s best to agree on a price before you get in the carriage.
Relax watching the sunset at Cafe del Mar
Cafe del Mar is a bar/restaurant built right on part of the wall that surrounds the walled city. This wall is hundreds of years old and totally authentic. it even had old cannons! We were floored at how cool it was. It was definitely one of the neatest restaurant we have ever been to and, although it’s mostly a bar for adults, the kids loved it. We sat right on the edge to see the sunset, took pictures of each other and just people watched. The bar is filled with Colombians, Americans and every nationality in between. It serves drinks and mainly bar food. If you are looking for things to do in Cartagena, but want to keep it casual one night, I think Cafe del Mar is an absolute must. Last I heard they had stopped taking reservations so if you want a seat near the wall, head over in plenty of time.
Take a trip to the islands
Our trip to the islands was two days long and in the San Bernardo Islands. Technically, not Cartagena. However, many people take day trips to the Rosario Islands, which are only about 15 minutes to an hour outside of the port. Day trips and overnight trips are available and there are plenty of areas and beaches to visit. Day trips are cheaper and faster, but I highly recommend staying in the islands for a few days similar to our trip to Punta Faro. If you really want a pristine, white sand beach, you have to get away from the city. Cartagena is beautiful but I wouldn’t consider it a beach vacation. The sand on the beaches off the city is brown and dirty and the water is dark and murky. The islands are definitely where it’s at for beaches! For more information on where to stay in Cartagena, check out this awesome post.
Colombia is such a wonderful country and an ideal place to visit if it’s your first time in South America as a family. Finding family friendly activities in Cartagena was easy. Great people, beautiful scenery, amazing food, plenty of things to do. It has it all. Our kids loved it. In fact, Zoe cried when we had to come home. Next stops, Bogota and Medallin!
Hoping to find Cartagena activities? I can plan your trip! You can reach me here for my travel planning services.