Believe it or not, Cartagena with kids is a vibe. It’s also a vibe without them, but for the purpose of this article, let’s talk about how we explored Cartagena with kids.
Cartagena Day 1: Totum Volcano
We spent four unbelievable days exploring Colombia on a great itinerary. We flew into Cartagena on an amazing flight deal that was delivered to my inbox via Scott’s Cheap Flights. $200 per roundtrip ticket!
As soon as we arrived, our driver, Luis, drove us for an hour to the volcano. When you arrive, you may wonder if you’re in the right place, as it doesn’t necessarily look like you’re at a volcano. Yes, there is a tall and wide, dirt structure, but it doesn’t necessarily look like the pictures or what I envisioned. It dawned on me that we were in the right place as soon as our car parked, as a group of locals eagerly approached our car to serve as our tour guides. Normally, I would shy away from folks who are too eager to help, but Luis nodded his head in approval to proceed with the individuals.
And I’m glad we did.
The tall, wide, dirt structure is in fact the location of the mud bath. The guides patiently escorted us up about fifty mud-covered, slippery stairs. I was a bit concerned about the boys, but they took their time and did an amazing job.
The Mud Bath Experience
The mud bath is there as soon as you make it up the stairs. It isn’t big at all, but it has a decent view of the muddy water. The bath itself is warm. It contains so many minerals that it causes you to float. I attempted to defy nature and sink under the mud, to no avail.
If you’re into massages, then you’re in luck. Maybe.
I barely could get my foot into the mud, before a “masseuse” started rubbing my back to massage the mud into my skin. Let’s just say it was awkward. I didn’t get a chance to get acclimated to the mud before a stranger started touching me. I did, however, love the feel of the warm, thick, mineral-filled mud on my skin, minus the men massaging me.
Here’s where the difference between twins comes in. Jameson hated it. He generally hates getting dirty. Initially, he obliged and let me hold him in the mud. That lasted all of one minute. The ledge quickly became his resting spot. Marley, on the other hand, absolutely loved it. He was so proud that he could “float” on his own like a big boy. Let’s just say he was pissed when it was time to leave. So much he tried to get back in by himself.
This most definitely should be on your Cartagena with kids itinerary. Seeing your kiddo’s reaction to the mud is worth the trip.
The descent down was even more slippery than going up, as our bodies were covered with mud. Luckily, the guides were so helpful that they scooped the boys up and carried them down the stairs. There was so much mud that it kept pushing my feet out of my pool slip-ons that I eventually took them off. When you’re done walking down the stairs, they escort you to the water where you feel as if you’re going to get baptized.
Upon arrival, there is a group of ladies waiting to take your hand and usher you to the middle of the water. Before you know it, you’re on your knees and they are taking bowls full of water and splashing it on you to get rid of the mud. They’re very detailed and attempt to get the mud from every area of your body- including your private areas. So be aware. Jam wasn’t having it yet again. The lady had to bring the water back and forth to him to clean him.
Upon returning to the car, all of the individuals who helped us waited eagerly for their tips. For the four of us, there were about 8 individuals. In total, we spent around $55 on tips.
Cartagena Day 2: Palenque
On day 2 we headed to Palenque which is the first city of the formerly enslaved in the Americas. Palenque was founded by those who fled slavery and has been preserved.
Our driver, Luis, picked us up from our hotel and we drove to Palenque. It is a two-hour drive each way from Cartagena. Luis was so amazing that he’d stop along the route for us to try the various local fruits that vendors were selling. This made our Cartagena with kids trip so authentic.
As soon as our feet hit the Palenque soil, the heat of the sun clearly made its presence known. But we were determined to learn about the rich history and culture despite the heat.
The majority of the tour took place outside, with our local tour guide, Alberto. We walked around the village submersing ourselves into the culture, from meeting las pateras (midwives) to singing and playing drums with Kombilesa Mi, a native rap group. We were amazed by the innovativeness of the formerly enslaved. A typical house is built with manure mix to keep it cool inside because there’s no air, even to this day. And their technique works. We had the privilege of going inside one, where we learned and tried our hand at some of their traditional cooking methods. And indeed, it was much cooler inside.
Afterward, we took pictures in front of the famous “I love being black sign” and danced with the palenqueras. The palenqueras are black women in colorful dresses that balance baskets of fruits on their heads. They’re perhaps some of the most famous Colombians, as most people travel just to take photos of them. A little-known fact is that although they’re mostly seen in Cartagena, they’re not from Cartagena. They travel there from Palenque daily to make a living. At first, they did it to sell fruit, the one thing that is abundant in their city. But they make more money by taking photos with tourists.
When we were done with them, we met the doctor of the village who proudly informed us that no one had covid in their town because of his remedies. Who knew!?
The Palenque experience was filled with so much love and culture. And to witness my kids learning this rich history, was the highlight of our Cartagena with kids vacation.
Cartagena Day 3: Rosario Islands
On Day 3, we gathered the boys up and took them on a private boat and beach day to the Rosario Islands.
The Rosario Islands is an archipelago island on the Caribbean coast of Cartagena. It’s a 45-minute – 1-hour ride from Cartagena. And it’s beautiful. Mainly because the islands are a part of Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Park, so the water surrounding them is preserved and protected.
Jaime, the co-owner of Cartagena Unique, a travel & transportation company, picked us up from our hotel. Before heading to the private deck, he took us to the grocery store to pick up snacks and drinks for the boat. We paid $500 for our private boat tour. There were both cheaper and more expensive options. But this was the cheapest option that included a bathroom, which we wanted for the boys. They didn’t touch the bathroom btw. The name of our boat was Pink and our kids had a wonderful time on it. When we got on, there were two employees, the captain and assistant. Everyone was extremely kind and helpful. The boat itself was very spacious, probably fitting around 8-10 people.
Oceanarium- Cartagena with Kids
At our first stop, we visited the Oceanarium. It was super cool because you could only get there by boat. It was a pretty unique scene to see all of these boats pulling up and docking to go to an ocenarium. So, somehow I didn’t know the difference between an aquarium and an ocenarium until we visited. But I quickly found out. To be able to witness sea life living and exploring the ocean, with only a rope separating us, is an experience like none other. Also, how close you can get to the animals is amazing. Plus the shark and dolphin shows are second to none. Spectacular shows!.
The highlight of this Cartagena with kids day was swimming with the dolphins, which Marley and I did. Again, Jam wasn’t having it. I couldn’t believe that it was only $50 per person. Which is super cheap considering what you pay in the US to swim with the dolphins. What an amazing experience! Being able to touch and interact with dolphins, along with my toddler, is a memory of a lifetime.
Next, we took a short stent to see Pablo Escobar’s former house. In front of it were people swimming to see Escobar’s plane that was sunk by the Colombian government. The house is dilapidated, but it’s on a private island and that island is located right next to a nice hotel.
What I liked about Rosario Islands as mentioned, is that it’s an archipelago of islands, so there are many islands to choose from and each represents its own vibes. We went to Isla Grande and visited San Pedro Majagua for the day. The resort was quaint and beautiful. Plus the views were amazing. Despite the beach being relatively small, the clarity of the water made up for it. Plus the boys didn’t seem to mind the size. They ran around and enjoyed every inch the beach had to offer. While there, we had lunch, which was okay- not nasty but nothing worth bragging about.
Overall, it was such a memorable way to spend the day. Unfortunately, we had to end our day soon after lunch as it’s recommended you leave by at least 3 p.m to get back to Cartagena. Around that time the water starts to get choppy. And the later you leave, the rougher the seas. Although we left at 3, it was still choppy for me as we all got wet. I can only imagine how rough the water would’ve been if we left later. So word to the wise, go early so you can enjoy as much of Rosario Islands before the water forces you to return.
Accommodations in Cartagena
We chose to stay at the Hilton Cartagena which is outside of the walled city. If you’ve never been to Cartagena, the walled city was constructed to defend the city from the pirate attacks that it suffered. It was built at the end of the XVI century and is known as one of the most preserved fortifications in South America. It’s also a World Cultural Heritage site, which makes it a great tourist attraction.
But regardless, the Hilton was a great Cartagena hotel with kids. But even if I visited by myself, I would probably stay again.
Hilton Cartagena Amenities for The Win!
The amenities make this hotel perfect. The pool is beautiful and right on the beach, there are little cabanas, and people offering to give you $50 massages on the beach. And the pool. Actually, there were multiple pools, and slides, including ones for the smallest kiddos. Likewise, the activities for the kids were amazing. They had a kid’s club filled with games, activities, and even a movie area. Each evening they would offer free treats like cotton candy and popcorn. I think my kids loved interacting with other little people the most, despite the majority of them speaking Spanish. My boys had so much fun each day that they did not want to leave. The convenience of the amenities made our Cartagena with kids experience so easy.
A bonus was because I have Diamond Status at Hilton, which includes free breakfast and access to the lounge which includes enough tasty free food that could suffice as dinner, plus free wine and beer. For breakfast, they had kid height tables filled with kid’s favorite breakfast items. The boys felt like big boys, indeed.
The hotel itself had all the amenities, but as far as rooms go, it was dated and a little old, and not the best kept. But it was right on the beach and the pool was amazing, so it made up for what the rooms lacked.
Should You Add Cartagena to Your List?
Hell yes! Cartagena gets a bad reputation for not being safe, but based on our personal experience, it isn’t true. I felt just as safe with my kids in Cartagena as in any other destination.
It’s a wonderful and affordable destination filled with a beautiful culture, delicious food, and the kindest people.
We didn’t get to do a number of the things I wanted to do, such as the arepa cooking class, the dancing class, and a walking tour, but I need a reason to go back.
There are so many wonderful countries to visit in South America. Similar to Cartagena, Colombia, Peru should be on your list. Check out this post to learn the must-do activities in Peru.