Cartagena is probably most well known as either a stop for backpackers trekking through South America or for the posh crowd staying in the boutique hotels in former colonial mansions and convents. However, an increase in security around Colombia and growth of tourism has put Colombia and Cartagena more on the average traveler’s map than ever. The city is incredibly safe, and there are so many things to do in Cartagena with kids.
Things to do in Cartagena with Kids
So if you’re considering coming to Cartagena with children, don’t hesitate. Read on here to learn about some of the best activities to do with children in Cartagena, Colombia to help you plan your trip.
Visit the San Felipe Fortress
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is the largest colonial era fortification built by the Spanish on the South American mainland. It was meant to prevent Spain’s enemies from being able to land forces and lay siege to the city, and it played a crucial role in defeating the invasion force of Edward Vernon in 1741.
The fort is also a unique example of colonial era fortifications. Most forts built at the time followed a square or rectangular perpendicular shape. However, since the Castillo San Felipe was built atop a hill and its subsequent expansion meant encasing the hill in stone and following its shape, it is one of the very few fortifications built in the 18th century that did not follow the perpendicular pattern.
Children will love exploring the narrow tunnels and passageways between sections of the fort as well as imagining they are firing cannons off the ramparts. Don’t miss the animated video about the history of the fort or snapping a picture with the giant flag at the top of the fort. The views of the colonial city from the top of the fort are also terrific.
A few important tips to keep in mind are that it is best to go early in the morning to beat both the crowds and the heat. Also, be sure to take along water, sunscreen, and a good hat. There is an admission fee and hiring a tour guide or participating in a group-guided tour is optional.
Around the corner from the fort you’ll find a statue to Blas de Lezo, the commander against Vernon’s forces and known as the half man due to his peg leg, peg arm, and eye patch. A bit further, you’ll find the Old Shoes Monument, a statue of 2 old shoes that gets its name from a famous poem and is a great photo op for the kiddos to climb around on.
A visit to the Castillo San Felipe is undoubtedly a must include in your activities to do with children in Cartagena.
Read More: A City tour of Medellin
Learn More About the City’s History at the Naval Museum
The Museo Naval del Caribe, located behind the San Pedro Claver Church, is also among the best things to do with children in Cartagena. The museum has a number of interesting exhibits about the city’s entire history.
On the bottom floor, you’ll find exhibits about the colonial era. These range from exhibits on the city’s founding to neat models of all the city’s fortifications. The dioramas showing the different attacks on the city are a highlight.
Upstairs, you’ll find exhibits on the wars for independence and the modern Colombia navy. Kids will especially like the interactive models of the inside of a submarine and the bridge of a warship.
Most of the exhibits here are in Spanish only, so it is worth keeping that in mind. However, even if they can’t understand much of the explanations, kids will still find the exhibits interesting, and if you do have someone bilingual with you, the exhibits have a ton of information about the city’s history. So, I would consider it to be a must include on a list of what to do with children in Cartagena.
Visit the Inquisition Museum
Next up is a visit to the Palacio de la Inquisición. In a gorgeous colonial building, the museum has both exhibits on the city’s history and on the Spanish Inquisition.
Upstairs, you’ll learn more about the city’s history, and downstairs, you’ll get to see some examples of torture devices and learn more about the Inquisition both in Cartagena and across the New World.
Outside in the courtyard, there are life size replicas of a guillotine and a gallows. Both make for a funny photo!
The last Sunday of the month often has free admission, so if you happen to be in Cartagena at the end of the month, this is a free activity for kids in Cartagena!
Visit the Gold Museum
This museum, just across from the Palacio de la Inquisición, is always free. While it pales in size to the more famous Gold Museum in Bogotá, the Museo del Oro Zenú in Cartagena is still neat and worth the visit.
You’ll get to see a number of examples of the neat gold work from Colombia’s pre-colonial Zenú people. They are well known for their unique gold weave pattern, and the robbing of their gold funded the early colonial prosperity of Cartagena.
Make Your Own Chocolate at the Choco Museo
The Choco Museo is primarily a gift shop (same as the one in Cusco), and they have some truly unique and tasty gifts. In addition to terrific chocolate, there is just about every product including chocolate you could imagine. There is even chocolate pasta and chocolate chapstick!
The kids will certainly enjoy the chocolate, and can learn more about chocolate, its history, and its production in the small exhibit rooms. However, they are sure to really enjoy the make your own chocolate workshops.
We did one with our young niece. She got to choose her mold, as well as add in ingredients like peanuts and sprinkles. A few hours later, we came back and she got her chocolates. The most difficult part was stopping her from eating them before she could take some home to her mom and dad.
There is both a shorter workshop like the one we did, and a longer one that goes more in depth about the chocolate production process, that is probably more suitable for older children and teens. It’s one of the best things to do in Cartagena with kids that not only lets your kids learn more about one of their favorite treats and have a hands on experience, but also makes for a neat gift to take back to aunts and uncles and grandparents (at least if you can keep the kids from eating them all themselves!).
Rent Bicycles and Explore the Old Town
Exploring the Walled City and the adjacent neighborhood of Getsemaní are undoubtedly among the best things to do in Cartagena for all ages. Exploring the wall itself is also a must.
However, kids will enjoy it even more if you rent bicycles. There are a number of bike rental companies. Some offer guided tours, while some offer just rentals by the hour. Regardless, it makes for a great thing to do with kids in Cartagena.
It is best to stick to the Walled City and Getsemaní to avoid traffic. Given the heat, it is also best to do this early in the day or in the late afternoon as it starts to cool down.
Take a Dip in a Mud Volcano
This is likely to be very appealing to some children and not appealing at all to others. But if you’re kids don’t mind getting a little dirty, the Volcán de Totumo is an interesting experience for kids in Cartagena. It is a mud volcano located about an hour outside of Cartagena.
It is an interesting and unique experience. The mud has a consistency where you won’t sink below about your upper chest, and you can snap some funny pictures floating and playing in the mud. It is supposedly very moisturizing and good for your skin, an added bonus for mom.
Depending on the time of year, some tours to the mud volcano often include a stop at the Pink Sea of Galerazamba, a salt mine where during periods of the year an algae turns the water pink.
Visit the Colombia National Aviary
When I was a kid, I loved going to the zoo. While Cartagena doesn’t have a zoo, the Colombia National Aviary is located outside the city on Barú Island. It is very well done.
You can see a number of bird species in replicas of their natural habitats. Highlights include the harpy eagle, the condor, and the flamingoes. The kids will also surely love all the macaws and parrots hanging out. You also will not want to miss the twice-daily Birds in Flight show.
The Aviary is most easily visited as part of a tour, although taxis can be hired to take you and wait for you while you visit.
Enjoy the Beach
Finally, how can you come to a Caribbean destination and not enjoy the beach? You will undoubtedly want to include at least a half-day at the beach on your list of things to do with your kids in Cartagena.
The prettiest beaches are located outside the city, like at Playa Blanca or in the Rosario Islands. There you will find crystal clear waters and idyllic Caribbean scenery. Many tours to the Aviary include lunch and the afternoon at Playa Blanca.
However, if your kids are younger, you may want to stick closer to the city. Just across the bay on Tierra Bomba is a nice beach just a 5 minute boat ride away. Playa Azul near the airport is also decent. Finally, the beaches in Bocagrande are fine but can get crowded.