The Real Heroes of Cartagena

Posted: 10 Jun, 2019

Within the beautiful fortress walls of the Old Town, world-class restaurants, glamorous cocktail bars, and bougainvillea-covered boutique hotels give the impression that Cartagena – the Northern Queen of Colombia – is thriving. In many ways, she is. The tourism boom here has helped entrepreneurs grow Cartagena de Indias into a vibrant city that attracts couples, families, and backpackers in search of colonial grandeur, great food, and a happening nightlife.  

But like any growing city, there are always communities that struggle more than others to get a slice of the pie. From prison-cum-gourmet-restaurants to animal rescue centers and youth education programmes, Cartagena is teeming with unsung heroes –  each who, by working closely with underrepresented and undervalued communities, strive to make our beautiful city an even better place, for everyone. Here are just some of our favorites, and how you, as a visitor, can get involved.

Fundacion CoraJeM

Despite the growing tourism industry and increased funding and development in Cartagena, there are still many families in the city that are living below the poverty line. With very limited access to education, healthcare, and professional jobs, children and young people are left with little hope for the future. But when Fundacion CoraJem opened its doors in 2015, some hope was injected back into the poorer communities of Cartagena. The foundation – relying solely on volunteers and donations to operate – gives underprivileged children and young people who might not otherwise have access to education the opportunity to learn English, as well as other subjects like sustainability, personal health, and entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal is that these skills will enable the children to one day apply for professional jobs or continue with further education.

How can I get involved?

The foundation is always grateful for volunteers, who are usually put to work teaching the children English, as well as leading workshops on anything from entrepreneurship to recycling. Fundacion CoraJeM also welcomes visits and donations. Your donation can be made here
To volunteer, you can write to WhatsApp +573163247487
Follow us on social networks: Facebook and Instagram.

  • Your donation can be made here
  • To volunteer, you can write to WhatsApp: +573163247487
  • Follow them on social networks: Facebook and Instagram

Cafe Stepping Stone

Another superhero working to help the youth of Cartagena break the cycle of poverty are the guys at Cafe Stepping Stone. Owned and run by three expat Australians, Stepping Stone offers paid internships to disadvantaged young people in their fully operational cafe in the heart of the city, where they’ll receive English lessons, hospitality training and, perhaps most vital to their future, practical work experience in a fast-paced, tourist-facing environment.

How can I get involved?

Go along and have a coffee – and maybe even one of their delicious breakfasts! Located in the up-and-coming Getsemani neighborhood, this hip, laid-back cafe is the perfect place to start your day – and you can rest easy knowing that every penny you spend is going to a pretty awesome cause. Win-win, right?  


Visitors from all over the globe are flocking to Colombia to get a taste of Cartagena’s colonial charm, world-class restaurants, and glamorous cocktail bars. But few imagine themselves paying a visit to the local prison. Set up to help the rehabilitation of 180 female prisoners, INTERNO is the world’s first restaurant inside a fully operating women’s prison – and, thanks to its stand-out dishes like Posta Cartagenera and Caribbean style ceviches, is set to be a top contender in Cartagena’s ever-growing fine dining scene.  

Since the restaurant’s opening in 2016, all proceeds have gone directly towards improving prison facilities, such as providing new beds, mattresses, sewing machines, cooking utensils and computers, as well as building a new kitchen, dining room, library, and bakery for the women to continue their professional training. INTERNO says that these new facilities will not only improve the living conditions of hundreds of women in the San Diego prison, but will also give them the adequate “training and productive spaces to prepare for their freedom”.

How can I get involved?  

The restaurant offers a set meal for $80,000 pesos per person, which includes three courses and a glass of wine. All of the proceeds will go directly to improving facilities and helping the women in their rehabilitation. Be sure to book ahead, and you’ll need your passport for security.

Cartagena Insider

A fundraising strategy by FEM (Cartagena’s biggest non-profit organization dedicated to helping the afro and indigenous communities of Colombia), Cartagena Insider is a tour company that encourages visitors to explore the city beyond the Old Town, and instead get a taste for everyday Colombian life through local activities like weaving workshops, alternative market tours, and indigenous village visits. The money generated from the tours not only goes directly towards funding community projects in Cartagena, but – thanks to the fact that all tours are run by local guides – Insider Tours also generates more jobs for passionate Cartageneros wanting to contribute to the tourism industry.

How can I get involved?

You can book one of Cartagena Insider’s alternative tours here.  

Cartagena Paws

You won’t have to be in Colombia long to notice a large number of stray cats and dogs roaming the streets; some in serious need of veterinary care and almost all without a home to go to. Cartagena Paws takes abandoned animals off the street and gives them the rehabilitation they need, from vaccinations to operations, in order for them to be fit and healthy enough to be put up for adoption as far afield as the US and Canada. But that’s not all. With the aim of reducing the number of badly treated animals in the city and beyond, Cartagena Paws also run a series of workshops in local schools and youth centers to educate the future generation on animal welfare.

How can I get involved?

Cartagena Paws are always looking for sponsors and families to adopt their animals. Check out their website for current opportunities.  

Want to get under the skin of Cartagena while helping the local community? Check out our Real Cartagena Tour, where you’ll get to explore the city like a local and learn about the community projects making a difference to everyday Cartageneros.

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