Following the route through Colombia, Cartagena de Indias is another of the most visited cities, both for its historical importance and for its beautiful beaches, if you are planning your next trip, here is some information about my experience that can help you:
Airport: The airport in Cartagena de Indias is very close to the historic center, about 15 or 20 minutes by taxi or bus (called Metrocar), taxis have a flat rate of 8500 Colombian pesos, however ask before getting in to confirm information. Taxis are formed online and are coming out in order and are just outside the airport. The bus has a lower cost of 1,500 Colombian pesos per person, but if you travel very heavily it can be more uncomfortable. However, it saves a lot. The Colombians are very kind and affectionate people.
Accommodation: Whether you searched for Airbnb, Booking, Hostelworld, Couchsunfing or the search engine of your choice, there are 2 large accommodation areas. The first one within the walled city, which seems very good option if your idea is to spend only a few days, so take full advantage of the life that is in every corner. The second option is Bocagrande, which is a hotel zone about 10 minutes from the walled city, in this area there are only new (and more expensive) buildings. There is another neighborhood that has become popular that is Getsemani, but I do not know about lodging there, but it is a good area to look for places to eat.
Weather: In Cartagena de Indias, I felt hot as I have not felt in other places in the Caribbean, a heavy heat that itch and makes you feel, as you walk, that you melt against the ground. Indispensable cap (although I hate them haha), the sun block and stay hydrated. I have gone in 2 different times of the year quite different and the feeling has been the same. In the afternoons there is a bit of wind which is a relief. Mosquitoes are there, with the wind not noticed but there were quite a few in the lodges, so the repellent is another must.
What to do in Cartagena de Indias?
Knowing by yourself is always a good option and the walled city is not so big, you can walk alone if you do not want to take a tour, however there are details worthy of being appreciated through tour and these are not expensive.
Free walking tour in the walled city: This system of so-called “free walking tour” I knew it in Europe and I thought it was very good, so I wanted to try it here. The tour is not entirely free, obviously, as the guides who do it work against tips. Finishing the tour you give a collaboration according to how you like the tour. What is the advantage? That the guides try very hard to make it an excellent experience, so that you are happy and reward them well.
Well in this case the tour departs from the “Plaza Santa Teresa” and runs the 11 squares of the walled historic city. The guide with me in 2 opportunities, was Jairo, a Colombian who knows the reverse and right details of the city and will bring many interesting and entertaining data about it.
You will understand what the “palenqueras” are, you will visit outside the house of Gabriel García Márquez, you will pass by the museum of the inquisition and they will be able to take photo with the statue of “la gorda Gertrudis”, one of the sculptures icon of the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, between Many other places of interest (Clock Tower, Church of San Pedro Claver, Simon Bolivar Square with its statue and its pigeons …). The tour takes time twice a day, at 10 AM and at 4 PM and there is a version in Spanish and English with different guide, my recommendation, bring water and a hat, the heat at times seems to melt you into the floor . More information in http://freetourcartagena.com.co/
City Tour: The city tour is offered on a well-conditioned bus (with air) and takes you to see places of interest that are outside the walled city, including the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the convent Of the Stern, the monument to the old shoes and some information about the walled city but outside. With a guide that tells you about all these places, that enters castle, etc. From these places I found the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas interesting, if you want to go on your own the entrance for adults costs $ 25,000 Colombian pesos and includes a map of the place, but no guide. The last Sunday of each month entry is free, except for some exceptions. More information can be found at http://www.patrimoniodecartagena.com/es/horarios-y-tarifas/castillo-san-felipe-de-barajas
Shopping: If you want to go shopping, inside the walled city of Cartagena de Indias you will find countless luxury brands, under colonial building facades. It is very entertaining to enter and see, however the prices are somewhat high. If you want to buy handicrafts at a good price, what I recommend is to go to the sector of the Bóvedas, there you will find more than 10 handicraft shops with very competitive prices, take the time to look calmly as prices for the same product Can vary considerably from one place to another. Walking through the streets you will see colorful street vendors with beautiful colors, woven colored handbags and the typical Colombian sombrero “vueltiao”.
Beaches: along the hotel zone and the walled city of Cartagena de Indias, you will find many small beaches. I must warn you one thing: it is very difficult to be calm in them. The vendors are extremely annoying and you feel really overwhelmed. If you want to sunbathe calmly they do not even ask you and they begin to make braids or massages without even asking you, I found it very annoying. If you are going to bathe even in the water are the tour vendors with their plastic offerings to show you the options even inside the water. The option is to move to Isla Barú or Islas del Rosario, there you will find beautiful beaches, some almost virgin and you can enjoy With tranquility. Isla Baru is linked to Cartagena de Indias by land, an hour and a half or two and there are some hotels and cabanas to stay (I stayed a couple of nights and it was perfect), to get to Islas del Rosario is done by sea and Are an hour and a half away, you can also take a day tour or stay there on any of the islands.
The sunset: the sunset from the top of the wall is one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen (without exaggerating). People usually get together at the “Café del Mar” where there is a good atmosphere of lounge or electronic music, you can have a drink or a beer and enjoy the sunset framed in the cannons of the walls, it is a fascinating spectacle. The prices are not cheap, so you can see it from the outside if you do not want to spend more money.
And for eat?
Almost in every corner you will find carts that sell arepas with cheese, do not miss to try this that for me is exquisite and a must-see certainly. The palenqueras are also distributed in the streets selling fresh fruit that comes perfect for the days of intense heat. Walking back from the free walking tour I found a tiny restaurant of Caribbean food at a very good price that I loved, this is Nativo Bistró Caribe, I recommend it for the good attention and the tasty of their dishes, also they have menu every day with several Options and wifi available. For dinner in the evening, it is worth walking to the neighborhood of Getsemaní, here you will find several restaurants with very peculiar ambiences, I ate in one that on the outside looked like an abandoned house and inside was perfectly set with a very nice patio. Just walk out the door of the clock tower, keep straight a couple of blocks and you will reach this neighborhood.
And the rumba?
Well, Cartagena de Indias is a city with plenty of offer to have a good time. The Tour of “Rumba en Chiva” is very popular, where you are picked up in a colorful Chiva, with a group playing live Colombian music, you are served a few glasses of rum as you stroll through the city. There is a stop at the foot of the castle of San Felipe de Barajas to take photos and then it is directed towards the sector of the Bóvedas of the walled city. There the people of all the chivas go down and the party is armed with live music. Then you go to eat typical fried Colombian food and take you to a nightclub with a ticket valid for a consumption until 2 in the morning. If you want to stay longer, you only have to pay for your transportation back on your own. Another very good option is to go up to one of the multiple terraces within the walled city. In front of the clock tower, there are several buildings whose terraces have bars, DJs and party and at least where I walked in they did not charge entrance and the prices were reasonable, on the drinks menu and the atmosphere very nice.
Cartagena de Indias is a magical city, which certainly has everything, has history, beaches, rhythm and all the flavor of the Colombian caribbean, I invite to live this adventure and tell me what you thought, I’m sure you wont regret!