Why Cartagena Should Be at the Top of Your Travel Bucket List

Jennifer DeSimone
January 16, 2024

Ever since reading "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I became fascinated with Colombia. While the book takes places in an unnamed city, people believe the story takes places in Cartagena.

Visiting the port city along the sea and walking along the famed city walls became a bucket list item for me. It was, in my mind, the place to seek out my own magical realism - a term so often used to describe Marquez's intersection of fantasy and everyday life in Latin American fiction.

When the chance to visit Cartagena for a long weekend came up this summer, I quickly booked my tickets.

Here's why Cartagena should be at the top of your travel bucket list.

The Food


If you are a foodie, this is your city! The flavors of South America, Africa and Spanish blend with local ingredients to create an incredible culinary experience.

From ceviche to coconut rice and cheese arepas out off the grill - this is a foodie's paradise. Pop into a corner restaurant and enjoy fresh fish or sit on a rooftop with a cool drink to watch the sunset.

African influences fish and coconut rice

The History

Atop Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

From Spanish Fortresses, old alleys once walked by the Pulitzer Prize writer & national treasure Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and plaques explaining the heartbreaking story of slavery in the city, Cartagena is full of history.

According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez,

"there is always something left to love." 

When you walk atop the old walls you are able to take in the history of this 500 year old city. As you stand between the ocean and the city, you too become a part of its history.

The Culture

Sitting with the famous Palenque musician Rafael Cassiani after a performance

I had the opportunity to visit Palenque, the first free slave settlement in all of the Americas. Founded by a group of escaped slaves in 1691, the town is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

From preserving their rich oral culture, to the pride the people showcase through dance and music, this was one of the most profound experiences of my life. 

Palenque is a place where hope lives, where can see that if fight for your freedoms, that it can be achieved.

The Colors

Some of the many colors in Cartagena

I literally could not stop walking around the city in awe of the colors. 

Building range from yellow to green to turquoise in a blink of an eye. The old mixes with the new to create a marriage only found in Cartagena.

The Street Art

Street Art

One of the things I love about cities is the street art. I studied it in college and was blown away by it in Iceland. However, nothing compares to what I saw in Cartagena.

Their street art combines everything that the people of Cartagena embody: culture, history, color, music, movement, beautiful, and even sadness. Its an incredible ode to their culture.

And let's not forget those sunsets....

Sunset over Cartagena

Did I find my own piece of magic in the every day in Cartagena? Yes, and the magic lingers with me still.

Whether you travel to Colombia because you're seeking your own moment of magical realism, or because you simply want a taste of some of the best ceviche, Cartagena has something for everyone.


Join us in Cartagena!

Jennifer DeSimone
Currently based in Austin, Jennifer is the Chief of Community for U30X. She has a passion for creating connections, community, and opportunities for more empathy. In her spare time you can find her on her yoga mat, whipping up something yummy in the kitchen, or reading a good book.


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