Ábaco Libros y Café (Ábaco Bookstore and Café), Cartagena

The interior space of Ábaco Libros y Café

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time: minutes

Dominated by a climate more akin to a dim sum steamer coupled with an army of tenacious touts patrolling the streets, Cartagena de Indias can be a bit overwhelming at first. Luckily though, the city is also home to a couple of charming shops where anyone can have a much-needed respite. Tucked away in a busy intersection within the historic quarter is Ábaco Libros y Café, a hidden bookstore that offers books, coffee drinks, pastries and plenty of AC-induced breezes.

In an era where nearly all bookstores are part of large chains, independent shops are increasingly difficult to come by. Defying this very trend, though, is Cartagena’s walled town. It is here that visitors and locals can find a series of small bookstores whose cozy atmosphere and exclusive selection of reads offers an alternative experience to mainstream establishments.


Chief among them is Ábaco Libros y Café (Ábaco Bookstore and Café), situated in a colonial-style, orange-hued edifice at the corner of Calle de la Iglesia and Calle 36. Once inside, visitors are greeted by refreshing gusts of chilled air and a quaint décor featuring bookcases that extend from floor to ceiling, bearing hundreds of books in Spanish and other languages too. If you pick a random book, odds are it will be either a piece penned by a local novelist or an album showcasing vintage photographs of the city.


Somewhat unexpectedly, alongside the nonpareil plethora of reading materials is also a full-fledge café, in which one can find various types of cold and hot coffee drinks to sip while reading, cakes and cookies, several appetizers, and even a long list of Colombian rums and cocktails.


Opened in May 2002, the place was the brainchild of Cartagena native María Elsa Gutiérrez. Following a long career as an industrial engineer, she opted to embark on a new chapter in life, giving rise to one of the city’s most exceptional cultural spaces.