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My Cartagena, Colombia Travel Checklist

a woman

by Joy Loving

a woman balancing fruit upon her head

A local woman in Cartagena balances fruit atop her head

In the spring of 2023, I will go on a week-long trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is the fifth largest city in Colombia, and it hosts more than 1 million residents. The city’s economy is growing rapidly, with tourism being one of its most popular sectors. Known for its picturesque colonial architecture, lively music scene, and delicious cuisine, Cartagena has become an increasingly popular destination for travelers looking to explore the beauty and culture of Colombia.

Perhaps what Cartagena is most-known for is its robust Afro-Colombian population. Forty-five percent of Cartagena’s inhabitants are of African descent. To visit Cartagena means taking a trip through the expansive and rich cultural history of the region, with an emphasis on music, art, and people. There are countless things a person can do while visiting Cartagena – my itinerary is full of activities like visiting the first free African town in South America, San Basilio De Palenque, taking a local cooking class, and bathing in a mud volcano. 

This will be my second trip to South America. My first was to Peru in 2015 with a Washington, DC-based travel group I found via I always thought my second trip to South America would be to Brazil, but once I saw the opportunity to travel to Colombia, I couldn’t pass it up. This time, I will be traveling with a group through Adventure in Black, a black-woman-owned and operated travel agency and event company that designs experiences specifically for Black professionals. The company provides a suggested packing list along with other pertinent information about registering with immigration and how to navigate Cartagena like the locals.


Joy Loving shares some of the light and colorful clothing she will wear on her trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

What I’m Packing

One thing I’m nervous about is not packing enough outfits. Cartagena is located in a tropical climate zone, and the weather is expected to be in the 80s (Fahrenheit). So I plan to pack light and breathable clothing– hello, sundresses!– as well as plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent. I’m going to bring comfortable walking shoes, as many of the city’s attractions are within walking distance of each other. In addition to mud bathing, one of my activities involves taking a boat tour with the option of swimming, so I’m going to bring a couple of swimsuits and towels.

Getting There

I’ll be arriving in Cartagena at the Rafael Núñez International Airport, which offers direct flights from many major cities in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.  Once I arrive in Cartagena, I can take a taxi or shuttle bus to my hotel. Luckily for me, transportation to and from the airport is provided by Adventure in Black.

self-care supplies

Joy Loving is taking special supplies including insect repellent and sunscreen on her trip to Cartagena.


Cartagena offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget and preference, from luxurious resorts to affordable hostels. To get a taste of traditional Cartagena culture, my travel group and I are staying in one of the many boutique hotels located in the historic walled city. These properties offer unique and authentic experiences, with charming courtyards, rooftop terraces, and other amenities that capture the essence of Cartagena’s colonial past.


I’ll be able to communicate with my friends and family even while overseas thanks to a global travel data plan with my cell phone provider. My fellow travelers and I also plan to communicate with each other over Whatsapp. We’ve been given a list of emergency numbers and numbers for our group leaders in case we get separated or another emergency occurs.

The amount of Spanish that I know is minimal. I’ve learned enough through Duolingo to know basic phrases that will help me when I’m ordering food, buying gifts, or asking for transportation. For phrases that I don’t know, I will rely on Google Translate.

Plaza de Bolívar

The Plaza de Bolívar

Things To Do in Cartagena 

Cartagena is home to a wealth of cultural and historical attractions, as well as plenty of opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Some of the must-see sights I may visit include:

  • The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: This massive fortress was built by the Spanish in the 17th century to protect against pirate attacks. Today, it offers panoramic views of the city and is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
  • The Cartagena Cathedral: Located in the heart of the walled city, this ornate cathedral was built in the 16th century and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Cartagena.
  • The Rosario Islands: Located just off the coast of Cartagena, these idyllic islands offer pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a wide range of outdoor activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking.

Overall, the anticipated cost of the trip will be around $3,000. This includes seven days of accommodation, meals, activities, and flights. Not bad!

A trip to Cartagena, Colombia offers a unique opportunity to explore the rich history and culture of this vibrant city. Whether you’re interested in architecture, art, music, or outdoor adventures, Cartagena has something to offer every traveler. With careful planning and preparation, you can ensure that your trip to this beautiful destination is safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable. Now, I’m going to pack my bags, brush up on my Spanish, and get ready to discover all that Cartagena has to offer!


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