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With a booming tourist industry and more international investment than ever, Cartagena, Colombia is growing as a business travel destination. If you do travel to Cartagena for work, here you’ll learn some of the best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, after work.
Exploring the historic walled city is undoubtedly the one can’t miss thing to do in Cartagena. Luckily, the evening is a great time to do it since the temperature will be a bit cooler. You’ll want to stroll and take in all the beautiful colonial architecture. Be sure to check out the Parque Bolívar, where you’ll likely be able to see a dance performance and the city’s iconic Clocktower, which is beautiful lit up in the evening.
How to Get to Cartagena
Most travelers will be arriving to the Rafael Nuñez International Airport, located just 10 minutes outside the heart of the city. Flights come direct from most major cities in Colombia as well as a number of cities in the USA, among them Miami, Atlanta, and New York City. While you may pass through the capital Bogotá depending on where your flights originate from, there are a growing number of direct international flights every year.
When arriving, you will want to look for the little electronic taxi ticket kiosk to the right of the exit when arriving internationally or the window to the left when arriving domestically to get the correct taxi price to head to your destination.
You can also arrive to Cartagena by bus. From the interior of Colombia or the southern coast, you will most likely be arriving to the main bus terminal, located near the southeastern edge of the city. From there you can take a taxi into town. There are also the shuttle bus services of Marsol and Berlinas that travel between Cartagena and other cities along the coast to the north, including Barranquilla and Santa Marta.
For practically all travelers, the easiest and best way to get around Cartagena is by taxi.
Taxis are plentiful, easy to flag down, and relatively inexpensive. Taxis in Cartagena do have a bit of a reputation for overcharging. The two top tips to avoid this is to make sure you have at least an idea of the correct price and be willing to negotiate. Ask your local coworkers an idea for the correct prices, and taxi drivers should carry a placard with the correct legal fares, which are established every year. Generally, speaking, you should expect to pay 7-12,000 pesos for most places around the central part of the city. Finally, make sure you always agree to a price with the driver when getting in.
The public bus system Transcaribe can also be an effective way to get around if its routes are convenient to yours. Meant to function like a metro, you do have to buy a card and add credit to it at one of the main stations. You can see the routes at Transcaribe’s website.
I would generally not recommend renting a car. Traffic can be bad, people tend to drive aggressively, and finding parking can be challenging. Combined with how easy taxis are, it seems like more trouble than it’s worth. The only exception is if you have to work outside the city proper or be mobile extremely early in the morning.
Where to Eat in Cartagena
La Cevicheria // Made famous after being featured by Anthony Bourdain, La Cevicheria serves up, well, great ceviche. There are also a number of other great cooked seafood dishes. It does get crowded, so expect a bit of a wait, especially for the outside, street side tables. La Cevichería is located just off the Plaza San Diego, around the side of the Hotel Santa Clara.
Alma // Located in the Casa San Agustín, one of Cartagena’s most famous hotels, Alma is one of the finest restaurants in the city. It serves up locally inspired cuisine in a charming atmosphere. It is best to make a reservation to ensure you get a table.
Marea by Rausch // Located in the Cartagena Convention Center, Marea is managed by Colombia’s most famous chefs, the Rausch Brothers. They serve up creative dishes inspired by local cuisine. The waterfront terrace also offers a terrific view of the walled city. You will also want to make reservations here to ensure you get a table on the terrace.
El Burlador Gastrobar // This restaurant serves up great Spanish cuisine in a nice atmosphere. There is also frequently live music. The paellas are especially good, but everything is delicious. The Burlador Gastrobar is located just off the Plaza de Santodomingo.
Cuzco Cocina Peruana // Located just down the street from El Burlador, Cuzco serves up great Peruvian inspired fare. There is also frequently live music here, and an ample menu offers something for just about everybody. The ceviches and chaufa fried rices are especially good here.
El Bistro // If you’re looking for something a bit more casual but that still serves up good food, check out El Bistro. There’s a variety of seafood as well as beef and chicken dishes. They also do a great daily 2 x 1 happy hour on most of their cocktails until 7 pm, making it a nice place to enjoy a couple drinks after work in Cartagena as well.
La Pepita Burger Bar // For those looking for a burger and possibly a beer or three after work in Cartagena, La Pepita offers tasty burgers and other casual, bar and grill style food. There is a full bar and often a live band, usually playing popular Spanish and English rock cover songs, later in the evening.
Things to See in Cartagena
Watch the Sunset over the Caribbean // The sun sets fairly early here so close to the equator, going down between 5:30 and 6. That makes catching the sunset the number 1 what to do in Cartagena after work. There are a number of great places to see the sunset. My two favorites are from the rooftop Bar at Hotel Movich and from the famous Café del Mar atop the city’s iconic wall itself. Both have great drinks, a nice atmosphere, and tasty appetizers on offer. Movich gives a better view of the city and bay from the rooftop, while Café del Mar offers a direct view of the sun going down over the Caribbean.
See the Castillo San Felipe // The Castillo San Felipe is the largest colonial fortification built by the Spanish on mainland South America. A massive stone structure, it is a must visit for the history buffs or those wanting to get some proper sightseeing done after work in Cartagena. The Castillo does close at 6, but you can get in a quick tour of it and the beautiful views of the city the top of the fort offers. The sunset will also be pretty here.
Have a Beer at Donde Fidel // Located on a corner near the city’s iconic Clocktower, local salsa joint and watering hole Donde Fidel is a landmark and local treasure in Cartagena. While the inside gets packed, the tables outside on the plaza are a great place to have a drink, chat, and people watch in the early evening.
Enjoy a Fancy Cocktail at El Arsenal // The Rumbox or Al Quimico If a fancy cocktail is more your style for what to do after 5:00 pm in Cartagena, then check out El Arsenal: The Rumbox and Al Quimico. El Arsenal offers a variety of creative cocktails and is located on the Calle El Arsenal diagonal from the Convention Center. Al Quimico, in the walled city also serves up some interesting cocktails with their own infused spirits. Both also have casual gourmet style food on offer.
Enjoy the View from atop Townhouse // Townhouse Boutique Hotel’s rooftop bar also has some nice cocktails on offer, a cool atmosphere, and tasty tapas and appetizers. Its trendy style is an especially nice option for young professionals looking for things to do in Cartagena after work. Downstairs, Townhouse also has the unique Members Only bar that has a 1920s/30s style décor and atmosphere. There’s a house jazz band and burlesque show. Stop in here to pretend you are Jay Gatsby.
Check out the Plaza de la Trinidad // Located in the historic neighborhood of Getsemaní, the Plaza de la Trinidad is a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors. There’s usually a motley crowd of people here, often street performers amongst them. There are cheap beers on offer from the corner store, a number of good nearby restaurants, and some of the best street food in the city here.
Go Dancing // This may of course depend on whether you have to work the next day or not, but it’s hard to come to Cartagena and not want to go out dancing. To learn the Cartagena born and bred music and dance of Champeta, head to Bazurto Social Club. For Salsa dancing, head to Café Havana or Crazy Salsa. For a mix of popular house music, head to Mister Babilla.
Tips for Visiting Cartagena for Work
A few other quick tips for visiting Cartagena for work.
Time and Scheduling // First, do be aware that things run on Caribbean time here. This will depend a lot on the company and people you are working with, but it’s common for things to get started a tad late and tight schedules not to be adhered to here. It is something to keep in mind, especially if you’re making your own schedule.
Safety // Cartagena is quite safe, especially in the central areas where most visitors will be staying. It still is a good idea to follow standard safety tips, such as keeping valuables in the hotel, not carrying large amounts of cash, and being aware of what’s going on around you. To the extent possible, it’s best to not be out later in the evening with a laptop, so stash it at your hotel if you can.
Carry Colombian Pesos // Speaking of cash, it’s best to make sure you have Colombian pesos. While some places and taxi drivers may take US dollars, you’ll be paying more. The best exchange rates are usually at ATMs and that way you don’t have to travel with large sums of cash. Never exchange money with people in the street.
Be Prepared for the Heat // Finally, do make sure you are plenty prepared for the heat here in Cartagena. You’ll want to pack comfortable clothes for hot weather and things like sunscreen. This again does depend on who you are working with or for, but generally, linen Caribbean style guayabera shirts are considered formal attire here, and suits are not all that common as business attire. So, if you normally wear a suit, see if you can go with just a shirt or even a guayabera, and definitely stick to cotton or linen fabrics.