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Cartagena is Colombia’s Vibrant City on the Caribbean Coast

Cartagena is one of the best colonial cities that I have seen in Latin America, with history of the Spanish Empire. Discovering the history of this place makes you realise it was an important place for the Spanish Empire. Cartagena is also on the coast of the Caribbean so it has a lot of Caribbean influence.

There are also beaches around the city and you can take the ferry to some islands. Sadly I did not have the time to explore these islands as I only gave myself 10 days for my trip to Colombia.

How I got to Cartagena?

I flew in from San José on a flight from Avianca which wasn’t too expensive. I have to say I enjoyed my experience with Avianca as the in-flight food and drink was completely free. It was a two hour flight and once I arrived at the airport in Cartagena, I had to wait about an hour in the immigration line. I got in without any problems as before going to Colombia you must do an online form which is pretty straightforward. Furthermore, you show the email you get and evidence of vaccination and you’ll be stamped in.

I couldn’t exchange a 500 Mexican peso note I had at the airport. Uber doesn’t seem to work in Cartagena so I opted to walk from the airport to my hostel. This took about an hour and I don’t recommend doing this as Cartagena is extremely humid.

Where did I Stay?

I stayed in Viajero Hostel which is right in the centre of Cartagena. The price was decent, it had a courtyard to relax in the sun and had a bar with local beer for 80p. I do recommend staying here and can’t say I had any problems staying here. The staff were very chill and professional. I recommend this place if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Cartagena with a good location.

Where to Eat in Cartagena?

I have to say that I didn’t have a bad meal in Cartagena and not only that, you can get a good meal for under £5. A place I highly recommend is Sabor Mulato. The people there helped me when some lowlife was troubling me. This place has decent, affordable and authentic food. The food served here is very much true to the flavours of Cartagena and they also serve very good natural juices.

A good place for a morning coffee is Epoca, this place looks very fancy, but that doesn’t mean the prices are too high. The place has a relaxed atmosphere and it’s also a good place to have breakfast.

From Quero Arepa

Of course, you can’t go to Colombia without having arepas, I enjoyed my first arepa in Colombia at Quero Arepa. I recommend this place as the prices are extremely good with arepas from £1-3. This place has a range of fillings such as chorizo and chicken topped up with cheese.

Things to do in Cartagena – Walk on the Walls

As Cartagena is formerly a city of the Spanish Empire, the Spanish built a wall around it in order to defend it from invaders. By looking at it, the wall feels massive and you can spend up to an hour walking on the walls. The views around the walls of the colonial architecture are great to look at and you can also get a good view of the ocean. I’d like to mention that this is completely free. In contrast to walking on the walls of Dubrovnik they make you pay more than 20 quid.

Walk Around and Admire the Colonial Architecture

Cartagena is mostly an old town located within the walls with narrow streets, its size means it’s a very walkable place. Much of the colonial architecture is more than 200 years old such as the Clock Tower and the many churches around the city. Even though these buildings date back as early as the 16th century. They still look like they’re in good condition with the different colours.

Walk up to The Castillo San Felipe Barajas

Just outside of the walls is a massive fortress which was once a place of the Spanish to defend Cartagena. This city had been in countless battles and dates back to 1536. The entrance fee is around £5 and you can spend about an hour looking around the place. The heat makes it tough to walk up the steep walkways of the fort and from the top, you can see the whole of Cartagena.

Take a Look Into Las Bovedas

This place is within the walls of Cartagena and was originally a storage place. Nowadays, it is a place with a few souvenir shops, if you want to buy something, I recommend looking for a souvenir here.

Walking Around Getsemani

This place is the most bustling part of the city and it is probably also the most vibrant. There is loads of street art and there is a street which is roofed by umbrellas. There’s a small square called Plaza de la Trinidad which is full of life and very colourful surrounding buildings. This is also the place where I was threatened, so take some caution about who approaches you.

Plaza de la Trinidad
A mural of Gabriel García Márquez, the most famous Colombian after Shakira

Enjoy the Beach at Bocagrande

Bocagrande is the nearest beach to the old town of Cartagena and it takes about 30 minutes to get there on foot. What I will say is that I wasn’t hugely impressed by this beach, I’m sure there are better beaches to get to around Cartagena. The beach isn’t too dirty, but it is very busy and the water doesn’t exactly look too inviting. If you’re wanting to enjoy the beach here, expect to have to pay to rent a deckchair and some people there may try to rip you off.

Pay a Visit to the Caribbean Naval Museum

This small museum is all about the Colombian navy and its entire history, entry costs about £3. What I would say is that almost nothing is translated into English, so give it a miss if you can’t read Spanish. The first floor is about Cartagena’s history as a naval port. The second floor is more interesting as it’s all about Colombia’s navy. There are recreations of a submarine, ship and speedboat which feel quite immersive. You can discover a lot about the history of Colombia’s battles at sea, such as Colombia’s involvement in the Korean War.

Final Thoughts

I have to say that I can give a mixed opinion of Cartagena. I got a good impression of this place in 3 days. What I did like was how it’s a city near the sea with well-kept colonial architecture. However, in my opinion, it felt a little bit too touristy. It felt like a lot of people there just want to get money from tourists which kills the authenticity. Furthermore, there is an overwhelming amount of people who annoy tourists as a way of getting money from them.

A common thing I saw was groups of men with mics and speakers and they’d start rapping to people. Even following tourists to try get money. This is something I had never seen before and although it sounds amusing. You would not want to be on the receiving end. Not to mention loads of aggressive street vendors who will have you saying ‘no gracias’ every two minutes. I definitely felt much more comfortable in Bogotá and San Salvador.

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