Introducing guest blogger Adam from Cartagena Explorer
Cartagena is Colombia’s prime tourist destination with good reason. The city has charming colonial architecture, great beaches nearby, terrific restaurants, and vibrant culture. While long a popular backpacker destination, Colombia is increasingly becoming a mainstream international destination.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals
I have lived in Cartagena for over a decade, and while my wife Susana and I have not had children of our own yet, we love taking our niece around to all there is to do in Cartagena. Here, I’ll go over the top 10 family friendly activities in Cartagena and hopefully convince you to include it on your family’s list of upcoming destinations!
Explore the Castillo San Felipe Fortress
This giant fort is the largest the Spanish built on the South American mainland. Originally only a small fort built atop a hill, it was later expanded to cover the entire hill. It played a key role in a 1741 battle against a British invasion force.
The fort today is deservedly at the top of any list of what to see in Cartagena. Kids and adults alike will enjoy exploring the colonial-era stone walls and taking in the great views of the Walled City. You’ll also enjoy exploring the tunnels in the depths of the fort!
Learn More About the City’s History at the Naval Museum
The Museo Naval del Caribe is the best history museum in Cartagena. Downstairs, you can see exhibits on the colonial era, including some neat dioramas showing the different attacks on the city by pirates and the British. There’s a neat, interactive sail mast as well that shows how you would sail to other major colonial cities like Havana, Cuba.
Upstairs, you’ll see exhibits on Cartagena’s leading role in Colombia’s independence movement as well as the modern Colombian Navy. Kids will especially love the interactive models of the inside of a submarine and bridge of a destroyer.
Visit the Inquisition Museum
The Naval Museum is often overshadowed by the more well-known Inquisition Museum (Palacio de la Inquisición), which also has exhibits on the city’s history as well as the Inquisition. It makes for a great place to visit as well. There are more exhibits on the city’s history here as well as exhibits on the Spanish Inquisition, which was housed in the building. You can even see some examples of torture devices. Among those are a model guillotine and gallows. Handy if your children have been misbehaving.
Visit the Gold Museum
Across the street from the Inquisition Museum is the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro). There you will see some neat examples of the expert and ornate gold craftsmanship of Colombia’s precolonial indigenous peoples. The museum is also always free, so there’s no reason not to include it on your list of things to do with kids in Cartagena.
Go Bike Riding Around the Walled City
Exploring Cartagena’s historic city center is also a must include on your list of things to do with children in Cartagena. To have even more fun, consider renting bicycles and taking in the charming colonial streets that way. There is even a free bike tour you can join.
Along the way, you can take in the many pretty plazas and churches. If you want to tour one of the churches, the San Pedro Claver Church is very neat. Stopping in the Parque Bolívar or in front of the San Pedro Claver Church to feed the pigeons is also fun for the little ones. Be sure to bike up or walk along the wall itself as well!
Make Your Own Chocolate at the ChocoMuseo
The ChocoMuseo is really more of a gift shop with a few small exhibits on the production process. It is a great place to get gifts for loved ones at home, with everything from chocolate lip gloss, to chocolate cigars, to chocolate pasta.
However, the make-your-own chocolate workshops here are another great family-friendly activity in Cartagena. There is a longer workshop that explains the process in depth that is good for adults and older children, and a shorter one that includes a short tour of the museum and making some chocolates. You can add your own peanuts, sprinkles, or other toppings. This of course also makes for a great and unique gift to take home, as long as you don’t eat them all yourself!
Visit the Colombian National Aviary
Another great family activity in Cartagena is the National Aviary (Aviario Nacional de Colombia), located about an hour outside of Cartagena on the island of Barú. It is extremely well done, and despite how nice it is remains one of the lesser-known activities in Cartagena.
Among the birds you can see here include peacocks, the harpy eagle, flamingoes, Colombia’s national bird the condor, and lots of parrots. The Birds in Flight show is also really neat and enjoyable for the whole family.
It’s possible to arrange for private taxi transport to the Aviary or go with a tour, many of which also include lunch and the afternoon at the nearby famous Playa Blanca beach. It is best to go in the morning when it’s cooler and the birds are more active.
Get Some R&R at the Beach
The beaches in Cartagena proper are ok, but not nearly as nice as the nearby ones in Barú and the Rosario Islands. The aforementioned Playa Blanca is nice as a day trip, but the infrastructure isn’t great for staying the night.
For that, I suggest one of the resorts in Barú or in the islands. Isla del Encanto is a great family-friendly resort in Barú with pool and play area for kids and a nice beach area. While going to popular party spot Cholón might not be for the little ones, a private boat around the Rosario Islands can be family-friendly. There are a number of nice resorts in the islands as well. Staying a night or two is a great escape from the city.
Go on a Sunset Cruise in Cartagena’s Bay
Going on a sunset cruise in Cartagena’s bay is another one of the top things to do in Cartagena. There are a number of different options, some that include drinks and food. There is even on that goes on a mock pirate ship.
The Bona Vida is a good, family-friendly option. It is a large catamaran meaning it is a smooth ride, adults get one adult beverage included and there are also snacks included. There is a kids ticket price and the little net areas are great fun for playing and taking in the view of the sun setting over the Caribbean.
Enjoy Some Great Food
No vacation is complete without eating a bit too much! There are tons of great restaurants in Cartagena. Some family-friendly restaurants I recommend are Club de Pesca for great gourmet seafood on top of an old fort, the food trucks at Terraza Municipal which has variety and a great outdoor space on the waterfront, La Mulata for local fare at reasonable prices, Cuzco for Peruvian, and Crepes and Waffles for good food and great ice cream for dessert.
Don’t be shy about sampling the many street foods in Cartagena either. The arepa de huevo is a Cartagena favorite and good for breakfast or a snack anytime during the day. Kids, and adults for that matter, will also like the snow cones made in old-timey machines you will find around town.
In conclusion, there are many fun things to do with your family in Cartagena. Colombia’s Caribbean gem isn’t just for backpackers or younger travelers, but it can be enjoyed as a family trip as well. I hope this convinced you to consider it on your list of upcoming destinations.
About the Blogger
Adam McConnaughhay has lived in Cartagena since 2011 working as a teacher. He also writes about Cartagena and other destinations in Colombia at CartagenaExplorer.com.
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With thanks to Adam McConnaughhay for his contribution to our guest series. You may also like to read about San Ramon, Costa Rica, or Cusco, Peru.
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