The Best Things to Do in Cartagena with Young Kids
We recently had friends visit with their daughter who is a toddler and it made me contemplate how to entertain such a young kiddo in this city. It isn’t necessarily easy because many of the popular attractions in Cartagena, including all-day snorkeling or diving boat trips, eating late-night dinners at fancy restaurants in El Centro, and walking around historical sites in the blazing heat, aren’t a toddler’s idea of a great time. So, at the recommendation of my friend, I decided to share what we learned from their trip in hopes that other families with little children will be inspired to come visit Cartagena, Colombia and share their experiences with us too.
One thing that Cartagena has plenty of is beaches. The beaches line all of the areas of Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillogrande. The beach along Bocagrande is the most popular because that is where many of the hotels are located, but it is also the most packed with vendors who will constantly hound you to purchase something your entire visit.
The beach along El Laguito (where the Hilton is located) is probably most known for its waves. It’s a popular surf spot (imagine moderate waves, not large curling waves), and you can rent surfboards on the beach near the seafood restaurant named El Muelle.
However, I recommend that you venture down to Castillogrande beach. Located along the entire ocean-side of the Castillogrande peninsula, it is sometimes a little less crowded and the water is a bit calmer. You will still be approached by vendors, but the number of them is substantially less. Plus, you can buy a small inflatable pool and some buckets and shovels from one of them too.
It is the quietest on the beaches during the week. And, I recommend that you do not visit on Sundays or Colombian holidays as all of the locals swarm the beaches those days and it can be overwhelming.
Splash in a pool
Nearly every hotel here has a pool of some kind, and it can be fantastically refreshing to jump into one after a day of trekking around the city or even a day spent on the beach in the salt water. Probably the best kid-friendly pool in the city can be found at the Hilton located in the El Laguito area. And, actually, they have multiple pools, not just one. They have a shallow toddler pool area, a moderate depth pool, a pool with a swim-up bar, a pool with a waterfall, and best of all, they have a slide. If you don’t stay at the Hilton, they do offer day passes so you can lounge by their pools all day long. (And the Hilton’s front desk staff speak English too.)
Romp around on a playground
The best outdoor play area we have found for young kids is located at the Parque Espíritu del Manglar. I wrote an entire blog post about this park with photos, so be sure to read that to learn all the details of this surprisingly nice place to take your toddler.
Take a boat trip
There are seemingly unending beach clubs to visit on the nearby Tierra Bomba island and the more famous Islas del Rosarios. And traveling to one of them with a toddler in tow is completely possible, especially if you pick the right one.
We have found that Isla del Encanto, located on the very tip of the peninsula of Barú, is likely the most kid-friendly beach club. The resort has multiple pools of varying depths to enjoy, which is unique to many of the other beach clubs. They even have a toddler pool with various fountain features, but the equipment has seen better days, so it’s best to just enjoy the other pools. Also, be aware that the pools are saltwater pools.
Isla del Encanto also has a private beach (no vendors), wait staff to fulfill your every need, and a spa/massage area. You can reserve a day pass or even stay overnight at this resort. Plus, many of the staff speak English. I wrote an entire blog post about this resort with videos, so be sure to read that too. Plus, be sure to read my post on the things to know about Cartagena before you visit to learn some essential tidbits including the need for toddler-sized life jackets for these boat trips.
We have a number of shopping malls in Cartagena, so find one and go shopping. Sometimes it is nice to simply enjoy the air conditioning offered by the local shopping malls and just take a stroll. They offer nice shops, restaurants, and level ground to push your stroller. The Mall Plaza El Castillo is a two-story mall and often has some interesting rotating exhibits. Recently they had large animatronic displays of animals of the rainforest.
Go for a hike
Cartagena isn’t really known as a hiking destination, but if you want to strap your toddler into a child carrier on your back and feel like you’re hiking out in the wilderness (but in a safe setting), try the Jardín Botánico (the botanical garden) or the the Aviario (bird aviary). Click on the links to read my blogs about both locations, which provide lots of detail. Both provide a great place to get some energy out, while enjoying views of unique animals.
As I mentioned, many of the restaurants, especially in El Centro, are not necessarily little kid-friendly. But, we have found a few favorites. There is a large chain restaurant in Colombia called Crepes and Waffles that offers exactly what the name suggests and is always a crowd favorite. There are numerous locations in Cartagena including in the malls, El Centro, and on the main street in Bocagrande called San Martin. Plus, they have menus in English.
A new, locally-owned restaurant that has also become a favorite is Zona 6. Located on Calle 6 in Bocagrande, they offer four different menus including street food, Italian, Japanese, and steak house, so there is something for everyone, including your picky eater.
So, while Cartagena may not initially be thought of as a great spot to vacation with a toddler, we do have some fun activities here to keep them plenty busy for an extended stay. And please let me know if you discover any more!
Additional reading: I recently published a post titled “20 Things to Know Before You Vacation in Cartagena, Colombia” that provides some great tips, especially if you are traveling here with small children.