Exploring Getsemani: Cartagena’s edgy, lively, and most colorful neighborhood

I recently went on a yoga retreat in Colombia, beginning in the beautiful city of Cartagena. Anticipating the scheduled start, I arrived a few days early to explore on my own.

Touching down at Cartagena Airport was refreshingly hassle-free. No lines no immigration issues; it was a seamless transition that set the tone for the journey ahead. As I emerged from baggage claim, my ride awaited, making the airport shuffle stress-free.

My destination? The GHL Collection Armeria Hotel. Situated near the heart of Getsemani, an area pulsating with life and color, it provided the perfect location for exploring on foot.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
The beautiful and inviting GHL Collection Armeria Hotel

The hotel was lovely—with a rooftop bar and pool offering sweeping city views. My room was comfy, the staff was friendly, and the breakfasts were delicious and plentiful. My only complaint was having a room on the third floor, which was basically next to the rooftop bar, which was often quite loud during the evening hours.

Getsemani, situated right beyond the Old City walls, offers a distinct charm that might not match the glitz of other areas but has its own unique bohemian-like magic. Walk its streets, and you’ll find huge, colorful murals and brightly painted buildings—adding to the neighborhood’s lively spirit. Umbrellas, kites, and flags hang above many of the streets.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
I loved the colorful kites hung above the street adding a blast of color

Everywhere you turn, you find street vendors and sidewalk bars, adding to the laid-back, unpretentious vibe.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
One the many sidewalk bars
Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
This mural was on the outside wall of a bar located down the block from my hotel

Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are numerous.

But what makes Getsemani so special is its sense of local pride. The community seems full of joy— making it a pleasure to visit. It’s not your typical tourist spot; here, you can genuinely sense the heartbeat of the neighborhood and its residents.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
A couple of the beautiful locals

Getesmani had once been known for all its criminal activities—prostitution, violence, and drugs. But things have turned around. Gentrification transformed Getesmani into Cartagena’s trendiest area. Once frequented by drug dealers, the plazas have been reclaimed, and many rundown buildings are now boutique hotels or restaurants. I loved the neighborhood and felt perfectly safe wandering around solo.

Cartagena, Colombia
Out exploring the streets of Getesmani

Below are some of my suggestions when visiting:

1. Walk Down Umbrella Street

One of the most photographed streets in Getsemani is Calle de los Sombrillo (The Umbrella Street). The umbrella-covered street and mural-adorned walls make it clear why. The umbrellas add color to the street and provide much-needed shade from the midday sun.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
Umbrella Street

2. Visit the  Statue of Pedro Romero

The statue of Pedro Romero stands outside the Church of the Holy Trinity, symbolizing the resilience of the present community.

A blacksmith by trade, Romero played a major role in sparking Colombia’s initial bid for independence from Spanish rule. Despite facing societal challenges as a person of color, he earned the respect of politicians and the white elite, breaking barriers as Cartagena’s first non-white military officer.

In November 1811, Romero led the “Lancers of Getsemaní” in applying pressure on Cartagena’s governing council during a crucial meeting, advocating for a vote in favor of absolute independence. His efforts made Cartagena the pioneering Colombian city, establishing a fully functioning, free, and independent state.

Cartagena, Colombia
The statue of Pedro Romero

3. Enjoy a cup of coffee —or two

Coffee holds significant importance throughout Colombia, and in Getsemani, the coffee culture is thriving — with numerous cafes throughout the city.

If you are looking for a great cup of coffee, the eclectic but inviting Café del Mural is the place to go. The service is top-notch, and the atmosphere only adds to the overall experience—which is fantastic.

The staff at Café del Mural are genuinely passionate about the art of coffee-making. They also offer a Coffee Master class— which includes four to five tastings, snacks, and a 200-gram premium bag of coffee. The 2-hour class costs $75.00.

The class covers everything from distinguishing good and bad beans to preserving them and various grinding methods. However, the highlight is the coffee preparation, where endless possibilities exist. If you are a coffee lover, you must put this on your “must-do” list when visiting Cartagena.

Beiyu, a modest yet charming café, is also worth a visit. They pride themselves on organic fare, a sustainable approach, and great coffee. With a homey, artistic vibe, it’s a laid-back spot to savor a cup. My only regret was eating breakfast already, as their breakfast menu looked fantastic, with plenty of vegetarian options.

Cartagena, Colombia
The very popular Café del Mural

4. Indulge in some street food

Getsemani’s street food is a real treat. Stroll along the streets and try the local favorites sold by vendors with food carts or homeowners setting up tables outside their homes.

I tried the popular Arepa con queso—a snack made from white corn flour mixed with water and salt. The mixture is shaped into balls, flattened into patties, and grilled on both sides. Post-grilling, the patties are sliced and, in my case, generously filled with Mexican Queso Fresco, then grilled a bit longer. Despite being considered a snack, its substantial size is quite filling.

Cartagena, Colombia
On the many street vendors selling locat favorites —Arepas and Empanadas

While I opted for the cheesy version, these arepas can also be enjoyed plain or stuffed with meats. It is often eaten with a spicy green sauce, adding a nice kick.

 

Cartagena Colombia
Enjoying an Arepa con queso

And, if you don’t want to explore on your own, numerous food tours are available. I’ve done food tours in other places, and they’re a great way to try local delicacies while learning about the local history. Plus, I’ve found that food guides are often great resources for restaurant recommendations, especially those frequented by the locals. A food tour is a straightforward way to enjoy Getsemani’s food scene and discover the area’s unique flavors.

5. Take a cooking class

If you want to take a cooking class to master some local favorites, several nearby options exist.

I took a cooking class at a little gem of a place located in Getsimani called Oh! La La Bistro —owned by a French-Colombian couple. Their mission? To introduce lighter, healthier alternatives to a region accustomed to heartier and often fried cuisine.

In the class, we crafted ceviche, mine, with a vegetarian twist. The experience was fun, and the dish— was delicious. To top it off, we enjoyed a tequila mixed with reserved vegetable juice from our cutting endeavors.

6. Allow yourself to wander

My favorite thing in Getsemani was strolling through the streets without a specific plan—taking in all the vibrant buildings, lively people, and colorful murals. It all creates such a festive and inviting atmosphere. These murals are done by both local and international artists— often depicting culturally significant images. Many of the murals depict Caribbean life—interestingly, these murals were often painted on the stucco walls of crumbling Spanish colonial buildings.

Cartagena, Colombia
One the many stunning mural in the area
Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia
One of my favorite mural in the area

While exploring the surrounding art scene, I came across a group of men sitting around a table in the street, engrossed in a game of Ludo (resembling ).

Cartagena, Colombia
A group of men playing a game of Ludo in the street

Head to Plaza de La Trinidad, a place always buzzing with activity. During my visit, I stumbled upon a traditional dance performance on the steps of the Church of the Holy Trinity. It’s common to find Palenqueras — local women strolling about in multi-colored tiered skirts, perfectly balancing fruit baskets on their heads (they will let you take their photo — but it will cost you a dollar or so). Numerous murals honoring these iconic women are painted on the sides of buildings.

Cartagena, Colombia
Pic with a group of Palenqueras
Cartagena, Colombia
Palenquera Mural

There is so much going on in Plaza Trinidad — grabbing a spot to sit and just people-watching is fun.

Cartagena, Colombia
Restaurant Palenqueras is one of the most colorful restaurants in the area

7. Enjoy the party vibe evening time brings to Getsemani

At night, Getsemani transforms into a lively scene with locals setting up makeshift bars outside their homes. You can show your support by enjoying delicious food from their straightforward menus and sipping on their potent cocktails.

During my visit, I stopped at a sidewalk bar for a mojito (okay, maybe two). The street was lively with people— music blasting, and the atmosphere was filled with general commotion. Interestingly, right behind where I sat, an older man sat undisturbed in his house, watching TV as if the chaos outside didn’t exist. He was used to this kind of thing.

Cartagena, Colombia
Party time

Although I wasn’t entirely alone in the evening, I felt comfortable and believe I would have been fine solo, at least up until 10 or 11 PM. Admittedly, as the night progresses, things can get a bit wild. If alone, I’d avoid the late-night hours on the street—a smart idea anywhere.

For solo travelers who are uncomfortable with evening strolls but are eager to experience Getsemani’s nightlife, consider joining an evening walking tour. A local guide will lead you to the best bars and clubs, offering a night of drinking games, treasure hunts, and dance lessons in salsa and merengue.

8. How To Get Around Getsemani

You will have no trouble getting a taxi in Getsemani if walking isn’t your thing or it’s late at night. Though I didn’t have to use public transportation, I understand Uber is also an option. But honestly, the best way to get around in the barrio is on foot. The streets are narrow, and some side roads are pedestrianized.

Another option for exploring the area would be by bike. I passed by one bike rental, Bike & Arts Alquiler, where even the rental bikes were works of art —with the bike’s baskets adorned with colorful flowers.

Cartagena, Colombia
Another way to exlore the city

Rent a bike and explore independently, or join a bike tour for a better city feel. There were several different bike tours available. The Bike & Art Alquiler tour looked like a safe, informative, and fun way to discover Getsemani. The tour focused on the historical and cultural side of Cartegena. They offered other ride options as well. I would have enjoyed their graffiti bike tour.

Tekkie Tours offered another kind of bike tour — focusing on “the feel and taste” of Cartagena. And apparently, a highlight of the tour is eating at a favorite spot Anthony Bourdain frequented.

9. If time allows, explore Old City

If time allows, you should visit Cartagena’s old city. It’s a beautiful example of well-preserved colonial architecture in the Americas. The area has churches, monasteries, plazas, palaces, and mansions.

And it might be a good idea to hire a guide or join a walking tour. Cartagena’s Walled City is filled with history —from its tales of piracy and wars to its enduring legacy of slavery. Every house and street holds stories —down to the intricacies of door handles that once symbolized social status. These daily tours begin from the Clock Tower or Plaza Santa Teresa.

And, if you’re into souvenirs (which I am not), check out Bovedas Market, a yellow building that was once a prison. Each cell is now a tiny shop offering everything from shot glasses to hammocks to emeralds. But the most exciting thing about the market was its history.

Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia
Celebration we stumbled upon in the Old City

Seriously, this city has so much to see and do. I regret not spending a few days here post-yoga retreat. So, if you ever find yourself in Cartegena, don’t skip over this gem of a place. You’ll love it.