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  • Jes Bellamy

5-Days Through the Streets of Cartagena!


A few years ago, a city I never heard about popped up on my radar. It seemed like everyone was talking about it, and my ears were constantly filled with stories about this city's beautiful mix of African and Hispanic cultures. As a result, I have always been fascinated by how they integrate both cultures and confidently showcase their rich history... And fast-forward a few years later, I finally got to see what this beautiful city, Cartagena, Columbia, is all about!



If you're unfamiliar with Cartagena, you should know that it is located off the coast of Columbia, next to the Caribbean Sea, and about an hour-and-a-half flight from the nation's capital, Bogota. There is an ancient walled city by the sea featuring cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It is also a popular beach destination due to its tropical climate. While in Cartagena, visit museums and take tours to learn more about its vibrant history.


Flight


I booked a roundtrip ticket on Jetblue from JFK Airport for $350. The flight was about five hours nonstop each way.

 

Hotel


Initially, we were going to stay in an Airbnb for $400, but the place did not work out. Luckily, we got a full refund on the spot and found the Wyndham Garden Hotel for the same price, including complimentary breakfast, and it was a little closer to the walled city.

 

Food and Drinks



The food was incredible. There was a wide variety of food options, but if you were to try anything, try their seafood dishes, coconut rice, and lemonade. These are delicious!


My favorite places were:


Dona Lola- This hotel has an elegant restaurant and a lovely rooftop terrace.

Hotel Movich - A restaurant offering beautiful views of the city.

Mirador Gastro Bar - is a delicious restaurant located near the clocktower with beautiful views of the city.

Columbitalia Arepas - Serving delicious Arepas in Getsamini.

Abaco Libros - A nice place to get coffee and read a book.

Restaurante Cafe San Pedro - Offering some great sushi with local performers.

Pezetarian Cartagena - Serving all sorts of Japanese food for a low cost.


And don't forget to try the mom-and-pop shops and fruit stands. Not only do they have great food, but they're very cheap.


As for drinks and nightlife, honestly, anywhere in the walled city or Getsemani is fun. There are many bars and clubs. If you plan to enjoy the nightlife, check out Alquimico for a good time.



Transportation



Uber is the best way to get around Cartagena. You can take taxis, but they hike the prices up for tourists.

Uber's, however, are remarkably cheap, averaging around $5 a trip, and the most we paid was $10.


Also, on one of the days, I decided to explore solo and an Uber driver gave me a set price to drive me to multiple landmarks. I've heard this happens often, and I did it after asking my friend to join me later and confirming that he was legit. All in all, be smart and trust your intuition.

 

Itinerary


Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena/Relax

Day 2: Bird Sanctuary and Isle Baru.

Day 3: Rosario Islands Sailing and Snorkeling

Day 4: Free walking tour of Walled City and Gethsemane

Day 5: Palenque Tour

Day 6: Head Home


Day 1: Airport/Money Exchange



Once I landed in Cartagena, getting through the airport was painless. Immigration lines can be long at the airport, but I was out within 30 minutes.


I also ended up withdrawing money at the airport. I took out about $150 U.S. dollars, which got me about 500,000 Colombian Pesos. You can withdraw cash at the airport, but I recommend waiting and doing it in the city for better rates.


The airport can get very busy, and many people will be outside asking if you need a ride. I decided to stay inside and call my Uber, and then once my Uber was nearby, I headed to the pickup location. As mentioned before, we would have stayed in an Airbnb, but that didn't turn out so well, so we ended up staying at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, having dinner and relaxing there.




One of my favorite tours was visiting a bird sanctuary and Baru Island. The day started with a hotel pickup in the morning and an hour-long ride through Columbia to a bird sanctuary called National Aviary. It was interesting to see all the native birds, like parrots, tuscans, peacocks, and flamingoes.


From there, we went to a beach club in Playa Blanca. We stayed there for about 3 to 4 hours and enjoyed a complimentary lunch. The water at this beach is stunning, so pack accordingly. They also provided non-alcoholic welcome drinks. In addition, there were cabanas and massages for purchase.


At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel around 6 pm and ate dinner at Dona Lola, a delicious restaurant near Getsemani.




We wanted to do a Rosario Island tour, however, it didn't go as well as I thought it would. When purchasing our $90 tickets for this tour, I thought we would be doing so much more, but it ended up being just a boat ride for 9 hours with 50-70 people, which we were not prepared for.


On this tour, we sailed for about 2 hours from Cartagena and then docked near the Rosario Islands. Here, we got to jump into the ocean and snorkel, which was fun. After that, we sailed for another 1 hour, docked, and then they served lunch and let us swim some more. After that, we sailed another 2 hours back to Cartagena.


Overall, there was a huge lack of communication from the tour workers. Most passengers expected to shop on the islands and visit a beach club or a beach in general, which did not happen. All in all, this tour was a total letdown.



However, I tried to make the most of the situation. I've never swam in the deep ocean, and I did for the first time. The sun was shining, and I made new friends from Philadelphia and Australia!


After the tour, we ate and had drinks at Mirador Gastro Bar. This place served the best seafood, had a charming atmosphere, and had a beautiful city view!


Note: If you want to do a Rosario Island beach day that includes a beach club, shopping, and a plankton tour, do something more like this here.




We went to the Letras de Cartagena, and then I went solo to tour the walled city. I learned more about the city and why it was built, which has much to do with slavery and war.



I then took an Uber to the San Felipe de Barajas Fort, and from there, the Uber driver offered me a deal to drive me to Convento de La Popa, a "church" on the top of the hill that overlooked the city. We then visited the Museum of Cartagena de Indias, a library cafe, and a tiny hole-in-the-wall for lunch.



We also booked an afternoon tour on Guru Walks for a free Tour of the Historical Center and Gethsemane (Walled City). This was a fun tour, and I learned a lot about the walled city and Getsemani. The people running these tours are gems, and I highly recommend you support them! You are with other people, walking and learning about this amazing city.


After the tour, we walked around Getsemini, ate at Columbitalia Arepas, shopped for souvenirs, and ate sushi at Cafe San Pedro! We had a lot going on this day, but it was worth it!





My favorite day of this trip was visiting the small town of Palenque. Palenque is the first free African town in the Americas. They call it the Africa away from Africa, and it lives up to that name.



On this tour, we were picked up at our hotels and driven for an hour to the town. We saw a beautiful traditional dance and even got to dance with them. We then went to a healing seminar and saw how they use herbs as medicine to heal. Fun fact, not one person in their community died from COVID-19. After that, we were fed a made-from-scratch lunch, and the food was delicious.



After the tour, we returned to the city. I then met up with my friend, and we ate at Pezetarian, which had some of the cheapest and best sushi I've ever tried. We then enjoyed the drinks and music at Alquimico.


On this day, significant floods were all over the city due to the ocean and rain the previous night; the roads were filled with water up to my knees! You can tell this was a problem for the town, but it definitely didn't stop people from living their lives and having fun.



Day 6: Airport


Getting through the airport in Cartagena was very easy. The airport is tiny, and there are limited gates. There aren't many places to eat in the airport, and my food was cheap but not good, so I recommend eating something beforehand and bringing stuff to do while waiting.



 Other Tips


  • Read the reviews in depth about Airbnb amenities, such as: AC, carbon monoxide, and cleanliness matters.

  • You can buy tours in Cartagena; almost every Uber driver offers legit tours or has tour guides listed. Hotels and hostels also provide tours.

  • In general, every day of this trip involved panhandling or people asking for money for different services. I'm used to it, but if you're not, don't be afraid to say no, or just be prepared to tip a lot.

  • Brush up on your Spanish. It'll be hard to get around if you don't know Spanish.

  • Stay in a hostel while there; I've heard they are actually really great, and you can meet some friendly people.

  • Bring a travel towel, a lot of bug spray, and some sunscreen.

  • Don’t be afraid to dress up and show some skin, you wont be the only one.


Overall, enjoy Cartagena's beautiful beaches, people, and rich history with nothing but good vibes; you won't regret it!




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