Have you been thinking about traveling to Cartagena? All last year I had added Cartagena to my list of places to travel in 2016. It was newly on my list…and it wasn’t because of Netflix’s Narcos lol. I have seen an influx of people traveling all over Colombia after Narcos came out though. It’s always been a beautiful country, but with the drug history and history of violence. Well I’m here to tell you…. Cartagena is safe! Everyone questioned why I would want to go to Colombia and made drug jokes of course, but in the end, I visited a beautiful city on the coast of Colombia that offered African culture and I learned so much.
First Tip, know some Spanish. Most people don’t speak fluent English and you shouldn’t expect them to. Luckily, I speak and understand enough Spanish that we got through it without too many issues. I may have had to try to explain for an additional 5 minutes, but in the end, we figure each other out. Download a translator before you go and you should be good. Brush up on things you may need.
The Walled City or Getsemani?
My biggest issue before going was, ‘Where do I stay?’. I asked my travel peeps in my travel group and the results were inconclusive. Some swore by The Walled City and the other half swore by Getsemani. I was so torn that I didn’t book a place to stay until the evening before my 7am flight lol.
I ended up picking a Bed & Breakfast inside the Walled City (or The Old City). It was on a very quiet street within walking distance from restaurants, stores, street vendors, and the clock tower which you will hear referenced alot. Everything was in walking distance including Getsemani.
I enjoyed staying in the Walled City alot! Next time, I might stay in Getsemani. Getsemani was definitely a more vibrant neighborhood with younger people and most festive. We found this AMAZING hostel that has private rooms/bathroom that is the cutest place I have ever seen. It didn’t even look like a hostel. They gave us a tour and it was NIIICEEE. Brand new. It’s called Friends To Be. I would only get the private room versus stay in the bunk bed portion. The private room was super new and cozy and it was only $50 a night on a quiet street in Getsemani.
Wherever you decide to stay, make sure you explore both neighborhoods! Oh and you might want to stay at a place that has a pool. You’ll want a mid-day dip.
Sidenote: I flew Spirit for the first time and had an amazing experience. I let everyone and their mama tell me Spirit was the worst airline ever. I had not one issue while traveling on Spirit and the seats weren’t bad and everything was smooth with a layover in Ft. Lauderdale.
Food & Drinks
Wow! The food is amazing. We ate street meat, alcoholic drinks on a cart walking down the city, and ate at nice restaurants. We tried all of the Colombian staples just to try it out.
Some things to try:
- Limonada de coco (Coconut Lemonade)- Very refreshing, but different. Its a milky, frothy lemonade with coconut flavor. It is fresh, so it’s good. Try it out. I like coconut milk and coconut water so I liked it but my boyfriend wasn’t feeling it.
- Ceviche- They even have ceviche tours in Cartagena which takes you to several restaurants to try theirs. I am not a ceviche fan but my boyfriend loved it there. Check out La Cevicheria. It is the place that everyone told us to go to and Anthony Bourdain went there on his visit. We had a great time there. I ordered a cheesy, mango shrimp dish and it was really good.
- Arepas con queso- Not our favorite, but it’s a Colombia staple and all over the streets. They make arepas con queso in their cart and it smells amazing! It is like a cheese stuffed bread. For me, the first bite was amazing with cheesy goodness, but after that, I was like Nah!! Again, my opinion. Try it anyway. It costs like $1 USD.
- Mojitos: You can get them EVERYWHERE!! There are so many Cuban inspired spots and even if the place isn’t Cuban inspired, they sell mojitos. And alot of them will have 2 for 1 mojitos.
- Eat at Cande in the Walled City for local Colombian food. I had the pleasure of having my birthday dinner there and it was amazing. Definitely more toward fine dining, this restaurant had a great variety and we had rabbit and another meal with all types of meat. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what my meal was called. I’ll call it Goodness lol.
- Get fresh lemonade. They make it right there and I probably drank about 6 of these. They are so refreshing when it feels like it’s 100 degrees outside. It’s about $1 USD. They squeeze fresh lemon into it before they give it to you. It’s really, really good!!
Maybe you should stay away from the street meat lol. We enjoyed it but definitely got jokes from some of the local people we met…lol
Make sure you head to the beach. Everyone will tell you the good beaches are a boatride away! For about $20 you can hop on a speedboat and after about a 40 minute ride, you will be at Playa Blanca. (Note: this speedboat ride is not for the weak stomached or people that are afraid. It was pretty scary and I was holding on to dear life) It is a local beach and full of life. Don’t expect a beach experience like you are on a resort. This is the complete opposite. You will be stopped every 20 seconds and asked if you want a massage while they give you a sample before you can say “no” to the free sample. They will put food in your mouth and then ask for money. Everyone wants to sell you SOMETHING and to be honest, it wasn’t the best experience with just 2 of us. If it was more of us, It would’ve been easier. We couldn’t both swim at the same time. If one of us walked somewhere, the other was being solicited to buy something. All in all, we caved in and got massages on the beach. Again, we had to both keep our eyes open and on the other person so we could always see who was walking around us. There were officers around, but with the huge crowds, it’s not like they could do anything if someone grabbed our stuff. It was us and one other small group of Americans. Everyone else appeared to be Colombian so of course, all eyes were on us to sell us stuff. Soooo I would say, do the beach, but go during the week maybe when the crowds are down. Also, go with a group of people so you can at least enjoy it without worrying about your stuff getting stolen. The same thing applies to every beach in every country. Don’t leave your stuff around and know how to say ‘No’.
The Walled City is beautiful with it’s old charm. Alot of beautiful older buildings and street signs. No high rises over in this section. The hotels were all old houses and mansions converted into cute boutique hotels. The AirBNB that I stayed in was very cute (Here is my article on tips to finding a place on AirBNB.com) . It was clearly a nice large house that was converted into a bed & breakfast.
Our new friend Ali showed us around the Walled City and his neighborhood Getsemani!
La Gorda de Botero statue. We were told it’s good luck to rub on her breasts lol.
Here you can see the actual walls
Getsemani had the dopest street art I have seen. Everything is African-based and I loved it. You saw people of all complexions, but they really associate with their African heritage. The artists are super talented and check out the detail on these walls: There were also cool little hang outs and the cafes over here reminded me of spots you would see in NY. This is a very gentrified area that once was apparently not a great area for tourists to be in, but now with the influx of nice cafes and hostels, it is the new hot spot where you would see hipsters. Ali showed us all around the neighborhoods and it was great to walk around with someone who lived there. At the same time, it was saddening to hear him talk about everyone selling their homes that they grew up in to hotels and restaurants. Areas he once played in while he was a child, are now businesses instead of the homes of his friends.
We felt safe everywhere. We walked around and rode bikes and got lost several times and never felt unsafe. There was one time where we were a little skeptical about going down one street with alot of teens looking like they were up to no good. That was the one time where we said “Ummm, let’s go another way”. lol. Better to be safe than sorry. Other than that, I never felt like someone was going to try to rob me or anything. People there leave their doors and windows wide open (maybe moreso because of the heat lol). Alot of people’s first reaction when you are traveling to Colombia is your safety, and we felt completely safe.
Wear bugspray!! Zika is real. I got bit a couple of times but thankfully, no Zika. Be prepared
Drink a ton of water. (We brushed our teeth with faucet water and didn’t get sick. I wouldn’t necessarily advise it though) Always have bottles with you. You can go to the little bodegas and get bottled water for pretty cheap. Stay hydrated because it’s hot out there!!
Buy things! Support the local designers. I went to several stores and bought local items. I didn’t buy Pumas or go to Ferragamo and such. I wanted straight up local items. You can negotiate with them. My negotiation skills are on point! It helps that I knew some Spanish so everytime they tried me, I could come back in Spanish. I got great deals and I think it helps when you speak a little spanish.
I got some shoes made from a vendor on the street. He had amazing woven shoes that he made out of Colombian leather and he sat on the street weaving them. I gave him a deposit and came back the next night and they were done in my size. It was a gamble, but he had trusting eyes lol.
Emerald is very big there. Apparenly the majority of emeralds comes from Colombia. I didn’t purchase any but there are several stores that sell emerald.
Well, I think thats it for my guide based on my experiences in Cartagena! I can’t wait to go back! I may do a Part 2 because I forgot about some other stuff. In the meantime, if you have any questions about my experience there, let me know.