I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to visit Cartagena. I knew the weather was going to be perfect for me as I needed heat, I am originally from Arizona and love it hot hot hot! I visited Spain and Portugal during Thanksgiving and they were chilly, North Carolina was cold as well. I need to go into the new year with a tan. With that decision, I decided to go to Cartagena, Bogota, and Medellín, Colombia. I would get a taste of all the big cities Colombia has to offer. So let’s start with my adventure in Cartagena! (Pronounced Carta”hen” ah)
Side note, be prepared to be catcalled ALL THE DAMN TIME. I don’t feel scared, it is just annoying as hell. Have men in Cartagena never saw a woman before?
Cartagena’s weather did not disappoint. I stepped out of the terminal and the heat got me. It felt wonderful. It wasn’t the really dry hot heat I grew up with in Arizona. It was more of a coastal, be ready to sweat ya weave out heat. There is a nice breeze from the water that will offset the heat a little bit but bring your tank tops and shorts.
Once I arrived at the airport I had to find a way to exchange my cash. If you are like me, you wait until you get to the country to exchange money. It is great for your money but not if you need to get a taxi from the airport. Lucky for me and you, Cartagena has Uber, and they are super cheap. I mean cheappppppp. A 30 min Uber ride of about 10 miles cost me about $5.51. The train in DC is more expensive and that.
Here is a decent map of Cartagena. It gives you an idea of where the best places are to visit. It is not a city filled with numerous tourist spots. I only spent 2.5 days there and could have used another day to spend on an island or beach, not necessarily to walk around Cartagena.
The Walled City is the main tourist attraction. It is where you will find everyone hanging out, especially at night. Once inside the Walled City there is so much going on! There are shops and restaurants galore, the tough part is picking where and what to eat.One thing I love about South America is how affordable it is and my money goes a long way. I walked around the city by myself at night and felt safe. It is very walkable but be aware it has thin to no sidewalks. The sidewalks are maybe 3 feet wide, so be prepared to walk in the street.
During the day there are tourists, but the partying happens when night falls and it is cooler out. Right in front of the Walled City is the hangout spot. The street vendors are there in full effect, someone is playing music and everyone is having a great time.Everyone comes out at night and stays until early morning. Folks were still partying at 530am when I was in my taxi to go to the airport.
Castillo San Felipe: It was the only tourist attraction I paid for and it was worth it. It costs $25,000 pesos to get in and $15,000 for the audio tour. The audio tour makes it worth it because you get to learn about the very interesting history of the castle and Cartagena. This is worth doing if you are going to do a history tour.
Bocagrande: This is where you will find the oceanfront high rises and beaches. The issue I have with Bocagrande is the beach is really close to the street. As you can see in the picture below, the street is right next to where you will lay around on the sand. This makes you very susceptible to pickpockets and thieves who are walking or riding by. As a solo traveler, this is far from ideal because anytime you go into the water or attempt to nap you will have to worry about your items. I would rather have an AirBnB in the Walled City and take a few trips out to a private beach or island as I did. I just do not feel it is worth the stress constantly worrying about your items when you should be relaxing. Also, people will be trying to sell you something throughout the whole time you are there. It is pretty relentless and frustrating because you will spend most of your time at the beach saying no.
Uber is really cheap as well as taxis. If you need a taxi just stick your arm out and they will come. I stayed in Manga and the taxi cost from Manga to Bocagrande was $7,000 pesos. To the airport, it was $16,000 pesos. There was also tuk-tuks rolling around, but not as many as other countries.
I mostly walked everywhere, and if you do, please pay attention to cars because they do not stop and there’s aren’t many places to cross with a light. Also be careful of motorbikes because they will ride on the sidewalk and almost run you over.
Cartagena has several methods of large company tour companies to take you around the city if you like this method.
Hop on hop off: https://city-sightseeing.com/en/15/cartagena
Trolley tours: https://www.colombiatrolley.com/
Colombian Rum and Chocolate Tour: https://www.ticartagena.com/tours/colombian-rum-chocolate-tasting/
Below is some information on food carts/vendors as well as a few places I went to eat and had a great time, as well as felt the price and food were worth it.
The food/drink vendors and carts are always and cheap. A cup of juice can cost you $1000-$2000 pesos. A bottle of water the same price, but a bag of water is $500 pesos which is around .20 cents. Drink as much fruit juice you can find, it is everywhere, cheap and delicious. Try to buy it from the carts as it is cheaper than in restaurants.
Eat as much fresh fruit as you can from the carts it comes from the heavens.
El Bistro: great place to have dinner and drinks. 4-7 is happy hour and drinks are $8,000 pesos. Food is reasonably priced. My meal, the chorizo was $27,000 pesos. Located in the walled city.
Sierva Maria: great for breakfast or lunch. They close early so please don’t try to go for dinner. Located in the walled city.
El Baron: Bar with great tapas in the walled city. It is right next to an amazing church. Drinks are well made. It is on the more expensive side than other places in Cartagena, but worth going for a drink. They make great drinks, have great food (lamb sliders are the bomb), and when sitting outside you get a gorgeous view of a church. Take a look at the El Baron expected etiquette to the left!
Crepes and waffles: They hire a lot of single mothers which is one of the reasons I wanted to eat here. The food here is great, they have an array of food but are known for the crepes and waffles which are delicious. The crepes are thin so if you are hungry you will need to grab at least two, maybe three, but they are $3-6 each so will not kill your wallet if you do order a few. Located in the Bocagrande area.
Calle 25 Food TruckRodeo: they have about 10 food trucks. It is cute and they have great options. It is worth going over the bridge to the Manga area. Very kid friendly.
Arepas El Jefe: This is a food truck at the above-mentioned food truck rodeo. They have real Colombian arepas and the arepas are stuff to the max. You will not need more than two if you are very hungry.
El Arsenal aka The Rum Box: This place is known for their rum selection and service. The owner is a bearded dude who really takes his time to get to know customers and chat with them. He brings around samples of rum and goes into detail about them. It was an enjoyable experience.
Beach Side Trips:
If you are like me, you want your time to be quiet and peaceful when you are on vacation or at the beach. Bocagrande was not going to cut it for me. I want to relax as well as be able to roam freely without worrying that my things would be stolen. Here are some options I investigated so you wouldn’t have to:
- Bendita Beach: It is $160,000 pesos + a port charge of $14,500 pesos. Leaving at 9 am and returning by 4 pm. You will take a boat about an hour away to a private island. It is small, there will only be your boat and possibly anyone who comes by private boat to enjoy the water. It is very spartan, I do not think there was a bathroom with running water. I am not even sure if there was even electricity. I believe everything they cooked was brought that day by boat. It is a great experience to literally have your own island. I wasn’t worried about my things being stolen when I went for a swim, wandered around the island, or slept. The food was pretty decent. You only get one welcome drink and the rest you have to buy. It was the most expensive but I am not sure if it was the best. The reason I bought it was because I was told snorkeling was free as opposed to costing $20,000-$40,000 pesos. That was a lie.
- Boro Boro Resort: It is $150,000 pesos, no port charge. Leaving at 9 am and returning by 4 pm. This looked gorgeous, but you would have more people around as it is a beach resort with people staying there and more boats going. You will have to pay $40,000 pesos for snorkeling if you are interested.
- Rosario Islands: Please note that the Rosario Islands have about 27 islands total, so when it says Rosario Islands it means you will be going to maybe one or two of the islands. Most of the tours go to Cholon and Playa Azul. This is good if you want cheap, island hoppings, and a lot of people.
- Mud Volcano Tour: Leaving at 9 am and returning by 4 pm. It costs between $103,000-$123,000 pesos, depending on if you want the half day or whole day tour.
- Backpackers Full-Day Tour Rosario Islands Including Barú, Cholon and Playa Blanca: Leaves at 615am and returns by 6 pm. Will cost around $236,000 pesos.
- Of course, there are a variety of other tours to different islands and beaches but this is to give you an idea of what is available.
- I was worried about getting a good exchange rate for my money and the airport was giving me $2700 pesos per dollar. I was able to find a place in the walled city that gave me $2800 pesos per dollar. I used www.juanbellena.com to get an idea of where to exchange my American money. It allowed me to know where the best place was and how to find it. The place he mentions in the Walled City is right below the clock tower when you enter. Once you enter, go directly straight, you will see it easily.
- Colombia uses the same wall prong adapter and voltage as the US and Canada!! Hip-hip-hooray! No blowing out transformers or hoping you can use a straightener in other countries. We have all been there before when our straighteners or blowdryers do not work so we have to rock the ponytail or scarf. If you are interested in some dual voltage straighteners or blow dryer please check out my blog on How to be a Backpack Traveler, I give some options on what to buy for countries with different voltage.
- Cartagena has some cool art and graffiti. Check out these tree planters:
Also, shout out to John Timothy Conroy who spent time writing up the places I need to eat and go to! I appreciate it.
Well, that is all I have for you for Cartagena! Please check out my blogs on Bogota, Medellin, Lisbon, Portugal, and Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. Travel safe!
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