During high-season (Nov-Jan) EVERYWHERE is good.. but the rest of the time Cartagena's diminutive population means it can be a bit difficult to find a place that's pumping. And if it's Monday or Tuesday, pretty much impossible.
If you want to get your party on.. these are the most reliable picks.
BAZURTO SOCIAL CLUB
Cool and colourful decor reminiscent of the boisterous Mercado Bazurto, playing equally colourful coastal champeta music live Wednesday to Saturday. And the crab empanadas are exceptional.
If you like this you'll also like Awa Coco and Central Antillana.
The really expensive drinks end up seeming like good value considering the quality of the people, the music and party you'll encounter here. On Friday and Saturday nights everyone invariably ends up at La Movida from midnight onwards. It's playground for Colombia's rich and beautiful but without pretension. Open 7 days [pictured above] .
If you like this you'll also like Milagrosa La Guerrera.
This place is cooooool. It's a tapas bar in a restored shell of an ancient building with the bustling Plaza Trinidad on its doorstep. The music is always spot on, the vibe is chilled but chevere and the tapas is really really good. They also have beer on tap for 2mil. A great pre and post dinner locale. Oh! And can I be sexist and mention the fact that owner Nico is extremely easy on the eye?
If you like this you'll also like Via Tapia.
I have my issues with Havana (I feel they deliberately try to rip off foreigners) but there's no denying the awesome salsa ambiance and amazing live music of this chunk of Cuba in Cartagena.
If you like this, you'll also like Cachao and Casa de Habana.
The best option if you're looking for a proper "club". It has 3 rooms with different music styles in each - crossover, house/electro, indie.
If you like this you'll also like Mister Babilla and Tu Candela and Babar.
You'll feel right at home at Malagana almost immediately thanks to the warm energy of the Ordosgoitia women (Diana, Maria Caro and their mother, Magaly) and the rest of their family. It's like my "Cheers".. where everybody knows my naaaaame. The stylish but welcoming resto-bar is decked out in beautiful artworks and photos from the talented sisters and the mosaic-tiled rooftop terrace is perfect for soaking up the romantic night-time ondas of Getsemani.
If you like this you'll also like El Balcon.
Want to flirt with foreigners? This is the place to mingle with the host of backpackers that call Getsemani home for 3-4 nights. Wednesday nights are busiest with the outside street filled to capacity with tanned travellers warming up pre-Media Luna hostel. Often the street party is so good they'll never leave. Oh! And DJ Cheff sure knows how to work a crowd.
If you like this you'll also like Mama LLena, Media Luna Hostel, The Roof.
I just love rooftop terrazas and Cartagena is sorely lacking in them. El Cielo is the venue I've chosen to host my monthly parties on the last 6 occasions. The views are incredible and the breezes are delicious.
If you like this, you'll also like Terraza del Quartel Fijo
Always a reliable bet for a fun night. The live bands rock out Latin and world rock classics, the staff get everybody animated and the crowd is happy and enjoyable. Ignore the fact that they play THE EXACT SAME SONGS every night and get caught up in the crazy fun.
If you like this you'll also like Leon de Bavaria, HardRock Cafe, Cafe San Diego FM
Ok.. so it's not exactly a bar, but in a town that encourages public drinking, Plaza Trinidad may as well be one. Buy your booze (rum, aguardiente, beers etc) in the corner store, find a spot on the concrete benches or stone steps of the church and people-watch to your heart's content. There's also live musical performances and fire-twirling from travelling hippies, public zumba, kids playing futbol and men playing chess to keep you amused. There's also the largest array of food-carts selling food to soak up all the imbibing: hamburgers and hotdogs that will redefine your concepts of fast food, patacones, burritos, juices, arepas etc etc
If you like this, you'll also like Plaza San Diego
.. and because I am incapable of sticking to 10 in any of these lists..
For afternoon beers or a cheeky vino, I love Donde Pacho's relaxed space. It's also one of my favourite spots to watch the futbol. Donde Pacho is actually an imported food, wine, liquor store with an outside paved terrace. You can buy wine, american candies (baby ruth? butterfingers?) and imported asian sauces etc.
If you like this you'll also like Esquina del Orchidea, Los Ultimos Mojicos
This should actually be a lot higher up on the list because it is really one of my most favourite places. It's open every night til very late so is sometimes the only option for schoolnight shenanigans. The prices are cheap, the decor is kitschy cool and they play all the best salsa songs to get you dancing. It's also great for people watching folk on their way to and from the old town.
If you like this you'll also like Quiebra-canto and Donde Fidel
CASA DE CERVEZA
The big drawcard for this place is the location -- sitting on top one of the baluartes of the historic wall that encircles the city, looking onto the twinkling lights of the Bay. They do a novelty thing where you get this big cylinder of beer with multiple taps so you can all share it at the table. But for me, this gimmick just makes for warm beer.
If you like this you'll also like Cafe del Mar