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Colombia Travel – Discover Cartagena

Colombia Travel

First View of Cartagena, Colombia from a Sailing Journey that began in Panama

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.

Colombia Travel

Port of Cartagena, Colombia

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

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The Streets of Old City Cartagena, Colombia

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.

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The Streets of Old City Cartagena, Colombia

Playa Blanca

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Playa Blanca, Baru Island, Colombia

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.

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The Main Plaza in Cartagena, Colombia

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.

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Architecture from Cartagena, Colombia

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.

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Mud Bath in Volcano Totumo, Colombia

Activities

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.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas Cartagena, Colombia

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.

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jose says:

brings a lot of memories, I spend new year eve last year in Playa Blanca. I can only imagining how nice would be to sail in that beautiful beach

Thank you finally helping me get rid of the “Romancing the Stone” visions of Cartagena I’ve had stuck in my head since the 80’s. It’s beautiful!

Jason says:

It is beautiful, but that is also an awesome movie!

Dina says:

I want to take the mud bath there! Jumped to a mud bath in St Lucia (Caribbean), but it looks like your mud bath is thicker!

Jason says:

It was incredibly thick. It’s definitely a tourist trap, but an experience in mud I have never had before. So, we really enjoyed it.

ayngelinai says:

I really wanted to do the mud bath but there was torrential rain and I had to give up and move on – so disappointing.

Jason says:

That’s okay, think about all the other things you did in Central and South America! But, it was unique. :-)

Sophie says:

Cool. Going to Cartagena in mid-January. Useful post, this.

Jason says:

It seems like so many people are on their way there. Have some great meetups and enjoy your time there Sophie.

Nancie says:

The more I read about South America the more I think I need to go there. Great post.

Jason says:

It’s a wonderful place for budget travel Nancy.

simply a great, great city to visit and a spectacular one to take photographs in … as I have enjoyed more than a few times in the last couple months.

I’ve always wanted to go to Cartagena but lately I just keep seeing photographs and images alllll over the place. And now I want to go so bad I can’t sleep at night. This just stoked the fire anew. Lovely!

Jason says:

Well I hope you get to go soon Kristen!

Audia says:

How is the water in Cartagena? Drinkable?

Andi says:

I loved Colombia, I just wish that I would have been able to visit Cartagena–especially now after reading your post. Too bad about the seasickness. Maybe try ginger next time?
.-= Andi´s last blog ..Brasil: Day 6 =-.

Jess says:

I love that first photo of the skyline — beautiful! It must have been so good to see that and know that the seasickness was almost over.
.-= Jess´s last blog ..Snapshot: Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang =-.

Aly says:

We loved Cartagena, ended up spending three months living there. We found a hostel on the other side of Calle Media Luna called Casa Valda. It’s a very homey place with private baths and a large communal kitchen. The girls who run it are generally pretty sweet and you can negotiate pretty heavily as it’s not as well known as Casa Vienna. During the off-season if you plan to stay longer than a few weeks then renting a furnished apartment might be the way to go. On off-season most of the buildings you see in town are vacant, and prices drop 60-80%. Cheers!
.-= Aly´s last blog ..Traveling Couples: Are We Insane? The Survival Guide =-.

Mankinimalph says:

Good tips re the boat, I got caught on the slow one which also has a deafening MC. You can stay in a hammock on Playa Blanca for about $5 a night too (further to the left of the beach as you look at it is cheaper and quieter).

Wouldn’t recommend Casa Viena though. It’s cramped and v hot, also usually full. I’d go to Hotel San Roque (on Calle Media Luna and offers privates for cheaper than Casa Viena with private bathroom, TV and great fans) or Media Luna Art Factory (new hostel – bit more expensive but nice).
.-= Mankinimalph´s last blog ..Borat’s Mankini Swimsuit a Hit in Japan =-.

Jason says:

Mankinimalph, thanks for the information! We had a good experience and fan at Casa Viena, but more alternatives are great for our readers. Thanks for adding them. If you do take the hammock at Playa Blanca, just be sure to bring lots of mosquito repellent. And yes, I forgot to mention the DJ and ridiculously loud music played on the big slow boats.

Mankinimalph says:

I’d say a head torch on Playa Blanca is also vital as only a couple of places have generators and they go off at 9pm!

Glad you had a good time at Casa Viena. They were nice enough and had a decent book exchange (for hostels in Colombia), but we met a few other people with similar experiences back in June last year.

Horses for courses as they say!
.-= Mankinimalph´s last blog ..Borat’s Mankini Swimsuit a Hit in Japan =-.

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