After two long days of open seas sailing from Panama to Colombia, Cartagena’s skyline slowly revealed itself to us as we approached its harbor. It appeared majestic, especially for those of us (me) who spent 48 hours in bed fighting sea sickness. Land! And a beautiful land it was. We were ready for Colombia travel.
Cartagena is a city on the northern coast of Colombia and it’s the fifth largest urban area in the country. Today the city is a center of economic activity in the Caribbean region and a popular tourist destination. There are different sectors that make up the city each having its own charm.
Old City Cartagena
The downtown area is surrounded by a wall built in the 16th century to protect the city from pirates. This is where you will find the colonial influence of beautiful plazas, buildings with balconies and shady terrace cafes lining the streets. The Getsemani neighborhood provides a more local cultural experience with simple yet delicious restaurants and no frills budget lodging. Bocagrande is the most popular area with many hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west. Its particular appeal is the beaches and nightlife around Saint Martin Avenue. On the bay side of the peninsula of Boca Grande is an impressive sea walk.
While visiting Cartagena we took a boat to the Islands of Rosario, specifically Playa Blanca. It is a beautiful white sand beach where many Colombian tourists come to visit. When visiting Playa Blanca, make sure you do not take the large tourist boat. Most hostels and hotels, will book you on these tour boats, but they are incredibly slow! You will spend most of your day on the boat, which will leave you with only two hours to enjoy the beach. Instead, take the smaller speed boats with dual engines off the back early in the morning. This will allow you to enjoy the beach longer and during its less crowded hours. You will be eliminating the aquarium from your itinerary, but it’s a decision a beach lover won’t regret.
If you’re in the mood for a posh outdoor lounge, head over to Café del Mar in the old city. Even if you only buy one drink, it’s worth taking a peak. It’s a modern venue that is set up on the inner city’s giant protective wall with an amazing evening view of the city.
Cartagena is a wonderful travel location for both backpackers and vacationers. Cheap hostels and luxury beachfront hotels await all types of clients. Make sure you venture out and see the different neighborhoods of this large port city. There are beaches to visit in Cartagena, but the water isn’t clean, considering it’s a port city. As you ride the boats out to the Islands of Rosario towards Playa Blanca you will see the water clarity change before you eyes.
If you want to party and see the city at the same time, book a chiva bus where you will drink, dance and sing while the bus drives around the city with a DJ. If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, enjoying a mud bath at Volcano Totumo is a must.
- Reasons to Travel to Colombia
- Colombia Travel – Beaches of Tayrona National Park
- Colombia Travel – Mud Bath in Volcano Totumo
- Colombia Travel – Salento
For Budget Travel
For those on a shoestring budget, consider staying at Casa Viena, a $12USD backpacker hostel with a shared kitchen. They offer a double room with a private bathroom, a TV and sometimes a large window. The hostel also provides computers in the lobby. Casa Viena lies just outside the Old City walls, so finding cheap, local, non-tourist places to eat is easy. Walk around the block and don’t be afraid to step in crowded local restaurants where you will be amazed at the cheap fixed lunch prices and the amount of food that comes with it. Our readers have also recommended cheap hostels Casa Valda and Media Luna Art Factory.