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The Ultimate Guide to Cartagena’s Colonial District: The Walled City vs. Getsemaní

Blog Cartagena
Beautiful sunset over Cartagena, Colombia
Beautiful sunset over Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by: Starcevic.

Not sure where to stay in Cartagena? If you’re looking to immerse yourself in culture, a stay in Cartagena’s colonial Centro area is in order. But which is better, the Walled City or Getsemaní? Stick with us as we take a deep dive into Cartagena’s most historic neighborhoods, from accommodation to nightlife, and safety.

Cartagena is undeniably the jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Positioned on the Caribbean Sea, this historic port town attracts thousands of visitors every year due to its unique architecture and charm. In Cartagena, you can see the stunning juxtaposition of new and old. It is a beautiful sight to see the Miami-like skyline of Bocagrande whilst standing on the centuries-old city wall. But the true appeal to most visitors is the timeless beauty of the colonial neighborhoods of Centro and San Diego within the Walled City, and Getsemaní, just outside of it. These neighborhoods are iconic and, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remain as a window to a past that has long gone by. 

Cartagena’s Walled City: A Charming and Romantic Escape

Cartagena Colombia
Photo: Shutterstock

The historic center of Cartagena is surrounded by 11 kilometers of defensive walls. Built in 1586 to protect Cartagena from invading pirates, they now form a central part of the identity of the city. Nowadays, with no threat from conquistadors, pirates, or invasions, Cartagena welcomes thousands of visitors each year to stroll its picturesque streets. You are sure to be charmed by its cobbled streets and quaint, colorful buildings with flowering bougainvillea all year round. Cartagena has been named one of the most romantic cities in the world. Despite its historic facade, Cartagena is full of modern restaurants, trendy bars, and boutique designer shops. This makes it the perfect place to wander around for the afternoon, and well into the evening.

What is the Nightlife like in the Walled City?

Nightlife in Alquimico, one of Cartagena's best bars.
Nightlife in Alquimico, one of Cartagena’s best bars.

The nightlife in Cartagena’s walled city is unparalleled. As the sleepy heat of the day wears off, the city comes alive at night. Stroll through quaint plazas where artisans sell their wares, such as San Diego Square, or grab an arepa de huevo (Cartagena’s signature fried treat – the egg arepa) in Fernandez de Madrid Square.

The walled city is always buzzing with people until the small hours of the morning. You can find some of the best and most stylish bars and clubs in Cartagena inside the old town. Check out our guide to the best bars and clubs in Cartagena – all of which are located within the walled city. Some of our favorites include Alquimico for the best craft cocktails in town, and La Movida for a stylish nightclub with excellent music. The old town of Cartagena is super walkable and bar hopping is not only easy but recommended.

Where can I stay in the Walled City?

Luxury Villa in Cartagena Colombia
Luxury Villa in Cartagena, Colombia.

The old town of Cartagena probably has one of the highest ratios of hotels and Airbnbs per square meter than anywhere else. It is positively bursting with incredible locations to stay. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of hotels and hostels inside the walled city of Cartagena, we will always prefer to choose a villa over a hotel.

A villa rental is superior because you and your group will have the whole vacation rental to yourselves. The appeal of privacy, plus your own private garden, balcony, and swimming pool is just too much to pass on. Plus, the colonial architecture of the private villas in the walled city is second to none. You can even hire a private chef to cook up a storm for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, while you kick back on your private rooftop terrace. Sounds too good to be true? Check out our villas and see for yourself.

If you do fancy a hotel stay, there are some world-renowned options within the old city, such as the Charleston Santa Teresa or the Sofitel Santa Clara. The Santa Clara is a converted convent that looks onto the ocean and is steeped in history. It is even said to be the inspiration for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book “Of Love and Other Demons”.

Click here to let the journey begin and unlock the secrets of Colombia’s Colonial District with our tailored trip planning!

How safe is the Walled City of Cartagena?

If you’re within the walled city, you’re in one of the safest areas of Cartagena. The main streets are busy at all hours and are well-lit. As with any major city, it’s always good to have your wits about you. Pick-pocketing can easily happen, especially in large crowds. Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you, and make sure you take out some Colombian pesos rather than dollars if you want to buy any souvenirs in the street.

Speaking of money, make sure you always negotiate a price before purchasing a service. For example, getting in a yellow cab, getting a massage on the beach, or renting the horse and carts you will see around town. It’s always better to agree on the price beforehand to avoid getting scammed. And that photo with the beautiful Palenquera lady with the fruit basket on her head? It’s not for free. And finally, be careful when using dating apps. Make sure to always meet in a public place and keep your friends informed of your whereabouts.

Getsemaní: The Walled City’s Bohemian younger sister

Cartagena colombia Gesemani neighborhood
Beautiful street in Getsemaní neighborhood. Photo by: Priscilla Burcher

Getsemaní (pronounced het-sem-a-KNEE) was, historically, a slum where the slaves would live during colonial times. Until around 10 years ago, it was preceded by its reputation for being seedy and dangerous. Today, however, it is a totally different neighborhood. Getsemaní is a diamond in the rough; it is charming, without being perfectly polished like many parts of Centro. Enjoy its vibrant street art, much of which celebrates the essence of what it is to be proudly Afro-Colombian. The locals of Getsemaní have banded together to make the most of living right in the heart of one of Cartagena’s most touristic districts. Every family home has become a business; whether they are selling beers through their window, colorful canvases with local art, or cheap cocktails. Getsemaní was even named by Forbes magazine back in 2018 as one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world”.

What is the Nightlife like in Getsemaní?

Getsemani Cartagena Colombia
Café Havana in Getsemaní, Cartagena, Colombia.

The nightlife experience in Getsemaní is very different from the experience in the walled city. It is a lot more chaotic and busy as there is a high volume of people in a smaller space. It is also a lot more relaxed in terms of the general atmosphere. The beating heart of Getsemani is Plaza de la Trinidad, where you will find many locals and tourists alike. Many people gather in this square during the evenings to chat, drink, and watch the street performers. Keep an eye out, and you might see Michael Jackson, or even Shakiro (Cartagena’s answer to Shakira which needs to be seen to be believed). Or if you fancy a $2 cocktail, head down to Callejon Ancho, where you will find a bunch of makeshift bars, blaring music, and the best vibes to get your weekend started.

There are also some great bars, restaurants, and clubs in Getsemaní. We like Seven Times, a cabaret-style club with different ambiances. Head to the famous Cafe Havana to dance salsa into the small hours of the night, or to Calle Dragones for some creative cocktails. We also can’t forget about dinner at Celele, a contender in the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants (2022).

Our guide dissects The Walled City vs. Getsemaní. Intrigued? Click now to connect with us and start the journey toward a personalized Colombian experience like no other!

Where can I stay in Getsemaní?

Casa Santa Ana Cartagena
Luxury Villa in Cartagena, Colombia

Much like the walled city, Getsemaní also has its fair share of Colonial villas. Much like the villas in the old city, these stunning, centuries-old houses have private pools, terraces, and all the modern amenities. After the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Getsemaní, entering your private villa feels like the perfect escape. Relax, party, or host in total privacy. Getsemaní has a much higher proportion of backpacker hostels compared to the Old City. Many of these are located on its main street, Calle Media Luna. There are also some more upper-scale hotels, such as Casa Lola, which stays true to the rugged yet charming vibe of Getsemaní.

How safe is Getsemaní?

Despite being a little rougher around the edges compared to the walled city, Getsemaní is also pretty safe. In recent years, safety has improved a lot in this area, as it has gotten more gentrified and popular. Still, it’s important to stick to well-populated areas such as the main square and the streets where the main bars and restaurants are. Don’t engage in conversation with homeless people or people selling things. All our previous recommendations for the walled city of Cartagena also apply here; no des papaya (don’t give papaya) as they say in Cartagena, and you’ll be fine! This local saying basically translates to don’t flash what you’re not willing to lose. If you stick with your group and go to reputable places, you have nothing to worry about. You’re sure to have the best time on your trip to Cartagena!

Eager to explore these historic streets yourself? Click now and kickstart the adventure of a lifetime with our expert assistance!

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