Wondering where to stay in Cartagena the first time? This tremendous popular destination in the north of Colombia attracts many tourists both international and domestic for many different reasons. The historic centre which is known as the Walled City is a treasure of colonial architecture where you can find a huge variety of shops, restaurants, bars and all sorts of other leisure activities. A quick ride from El Centro takes you to many beaches and even the newer, modern city. So, with all these possibilities come choices and that’s why we’ve come up with this article to help you pick the best area to stay in Cartagena for first-timers. The purpose of this article is to give you solid, straightforward advice. At the bottom of this article, you find a map with all the recommended areas in Cartagena for first-timers including the highlights of the city. With that all being said, let’s jump straight to the recommendations.
 
best area to stay in Cartagena first time
Where to stay in Cartagena first time? Keep reading!
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In short:
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Where to stay in Cartagena for the first time?


The best areas to stay in Cartagena the first time are Historic Walled City (El Centro, San Diego), Getsemaní, El Carbrero and Marbella, Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande, Manga and Rosario Islands. Each of these recommended areas has its unique characteristics. Some are more suitable for the budget traveller while others are more suitable for those planning to stay in Cartagena for a longer period of time. In the next paragraphs, we dive deeper into each recommended area. 
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where to stay in Cartagena first time
Cartagena is a city full of culture and beautiful people. Make sure your batteries for your camera are fully charged!
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The best areas in Cartagena for first-time visitors are:

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1. Historic Walled City (El Centro, San Diego) - Best sightseeing area 


The historic centre of Cartagena is the main reason why people visit the city in the first place and staying in this so-called El Centro is the best area to stay in Cartagena for tourists. The closer you are at the historic centre, the easier it is to reach the highlights of the city. There are entertainment venues for every type of traveller, meaning that you can easily spoil yourself in luxury but also have a good night's rest and delicious food for a decent price. But as this area is the most popular area in Cartagena, you do pay a premium and hotels often are fully booked during high season.

What’s so nice about the centre is that you find all sorts of unique shops and bars and discovering the city in the evening when the temperature is much more pleasant, is one of the things the majority of the visitors do. So, the historic centre is vibrant and during the evening, you can witness live performances from street artists and dance groups. Those looking for a night out can enjoy some drinks and the panoramic view on top of the many rooftops of these iconic colonial buildings. The Historic Walled City is perfect for those staying just a few days in Cartagena. The hotels are smaller compared to accommodations outside El Centro and the lack of direct access to the beach does not make it ideal for those planning to stay for a longer period. The historic centre is by far the safest area in Cartagena, though, with patrolling police offers on every corner. 
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where to stay in Cartagena first time
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where to stay in Cartagena first time

where to stay in Cartagena first time

where to stay in Cartagena first time
An impression of the old city centre in Cartagena.


For who: sightseeing tourists, those tending to stay in Cartagena for a few days.

Pros: most vibrant area of Cartagena, and most city highlights nearby.

Cons: pricier, crowded, no access to the beach.


Some of the best hotels in Cartagena for first-time visitors in this particular area are visually listed below.
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2. Getsemaní - Area ideal for couples


During our first visit to Cartagena, we stayed in Getsemaní, which is an upcoming neighbourhood that offers more affordable hotels while still having a good, central location. From here, you are in the old city centre within ten minutes. When walking through these colourful alleys full of graffiti, you really feel like you’re in a special place as the graffiti is even more impressive than the ones in Comuna 13 (Medellin). Similar to the Historic Walled City, Getsemaní offers a good variety of restaurants and cafes, ranging from typical coastal Colombian food to higher-end, trendy dining. This is because this former working-class neighbourhood got a complete renovation and revitalization. 

Although the majority of the tourists will explore El Centro, a stroll through Barrio Getsemani Cartagena Bolivar is highly recommended. During the evening, you can witness the true laid-back vibe from locals who often have a small party on the streets with cheap drinks and typical music. The parties take place on the streets although there are local bars to discover as well. Similar to El Centro, Getsemaní is a safe neighbourhood, but you won’t see so many police officers patrolling like the Historical Center. 
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where to stay in Cartagena first time

where to stay in Cartagena first time

where to stay in Cartagena first time
An impression of the vibrant upcoming neighbourhood in Cartagena.


For who: sightseeing tourists on a budget, couples. 

Pros: colourful upcoming neighbourhood, safe, more affordable hotels.

Cons: city highlights are located in another area, with no access to the beach. 


Some of the best hotels in Cartagena for first-time visitors in this particular area are visually listed below.
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3. El Carbrero and Marbella - Families, those looking for a spacious accommodation


Those looking for a beach view and still want to be located centrally can choose to stay in El Carbrero, which is located northeast of the old city centre. Contrary to the previously recommended Getsemaní, El Carbrero is far from colourful but the hotels here are more spacious than the previously recommended areas. As for taking a refreshing swim in the ocean, it’s not particularly the most beautiful beach Cartagena and its outskirts have to offer, but the hotels here often have large swimming pools that come in handy as temperatures easily rise above thirty degrees Celsius. Those who are planning to visit Santa Marta or any other nearby destinations after their visit to Cartagena can take the bus from El Carbrero to their next destination which is provided by the  Transportes Marsol company. 

If you head further down the coast, towards the airport, you’re entering Marbella. Here, you can find a much broader variation of hotels compared to El Carbrero. You also have larger beaches here, but as you are located further away from the city’s highlights, you do have to travel a bit in order to get to the city centre. It’s not within walking distance anymore and the area is far from vibrant.


For who: sightseeing tourists who are looking for a more spacious hotel.

Pros: larger hotels with swimming pool, cheaper than the city centre, access to the beach.

Cons: the area is not vibrant, for this, you have to go to either El Centro or Getsemaní.


Some of the best hotels in Cartagena for first-time visitors in this particular area are visually listed below.
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4. Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande - Long-stay travelers


When you arrive by aeroplane, you fly over Cartagena and immediately notice the high-rise buildings. That area, which is by others referred to mini-Miami, is home to the industry’s big brands such as the Hilton and InterContinental. You can divide this complete area into three different neighbourhoods, namely Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande, but they are not that different from each other. This modern part of Cartagena has all the comforts of staying in Cartagena for a longer period. From good restaurants to local eateries and from small bars to nightclubs, there is plenty of entertainment to find here. You also have good access to the beach, which is better than the previously recommended El Carbrero, but far from beautiful. The downside of course is that the main attractions of Cartagena, which are mostly located in El Centro, are far away. But if you’re planning to stay in Cartagena for a longer period, El Centro does lose its impressiveness after a few days. Therefore, we think it’s better to stay in one of these three neighbourhoods and whenever you want to visit the older parts, you simply hail a taxi. 
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where to stay in Cartagena first time

where to stay in Cartagena first time
Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande from a distance and the sky.


For who: tourists who plan to stay in Cartagena for a longer period (for example, a week).

Pros: vibrant, modern area with all the comforts for a longer stay in Cartagena, access to the beach, big hotel brands with all facilities imaginable.

Cons: located away from the city’s highlights. 


Some of the best hotels in Cartagena for first-time visitors in this particular area are visually listed below.
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5. Manga - Budget travellers


Opposite both Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande and Getsemaní lie Manga, which is more of a residential area than a touristic area. But because these areas are getting crowded and the property prices rise, this area becomes more popular for budget-friendly accommodations. Especially when you’re looking to stay in a hostel, you have some options that can save you a few bucks. On the other hand, for tourists, there are not many activities nearby and nightlife for tourists don’t exist in this area. For that, you have to travel. But simply by crossing the bridge called Puente Román, you are already in Getsemaní. It wouldn’t be our first recommended area to stay in Cartagena for first-timers, but it’s worth checking out the prices of the hotels here when travelling on a stricter budget. 


For who: travellers on a strict budget.

Pros: affordable hotels and hostels, close to Getsemaní. 

Cons: a residential area that has no city highlights nearby, no nightlife or other entertainment for tourists.
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6. Rosario Islands - Beach lovers


White sand beaches and crystal clear water. Those are very good reasons why people love to visit the Rosario Islands. These islands are located far from Cartagena, however, both destinations are often combined by first-time visitors to Cartagena. If you plan accordingly, you can visit parts of Cartagena first and then take the boat to the Rosario Islands for a few days of ultimate relaxation and cocktail-sipping. You can also visit the Rosario Islands on a day trip. The only way to visit these islands is by boat from Cartagena. You can buy tickets at agencies in the Old City Center. The boat leaves in the morning and takes about forty-five minutes to get there. If you want to visit Rosario Islands, have a look at the next paragraph, where we briefly discuss the so-called Pasadía. 


Some of the best hotels in Cartagena for first-time visitors in this particular area are visually listed below.
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Pasadía


There are tours available in Cartagena, which can often be booked at the hotel you're staying at, which takes you to the Rosario Islands as a day trip. These trips are called Pasadías and it's a completely organized trip to these beautiful islands. As the beaches in Cartagena are far from beautiful, many people choose to visit the Rosario Islands as these are simply astonishing. What's unique about these tours is that you can access all the facilities of the partnering hotel, which means that you can use their bathrooms, swimming pools and other facilities. The lunch is included in the price too. 

Scam alert: whenever you are approached by vendors, especially on the beach, always make sure to agree to a price upfront. Cartagena is known for a scam where in the end, you pay a ridiculous amount of money for this tour. 
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Map of the best areas to stay in Cartagena for first-time visitors


A map with all the recommended areas and city highlights will follow soon.
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There you have it, all our recommendations to your question about the best areas to stay in Cartagena for first-timers. We hope you enjoyed it and hopefully, you can make a good decision and have the time of your life in this amazing, culturally-rich city!
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