Cartagena was already a love at first sight last year. Although I only spent a day and a half here in 2017, before boarding the ship for the two-week cruise across the ocean, I have many positive memories. The people are nice (which is true for the whole of Colombia), the prices are low, the climate is warm all year around and the old town is stunning.
We arrived on Monday evening, it was barely an hour flight from Bogota. While in the capital we were short of breath due to the smog and the high altitude, here it was because of the high level of humidity. But you can get used to it after a few days. Uber works here as well, so we caught one and were on our way to the accommodation. It was just like we expected it to be, barely 10 minutes from the old town and yet in a peaceful, quiet district of the city called Manga.
It turned out our host Andrew was a pro AirBNB host, who came from Australia to Colombia as a tourist and became so enamoured by the country that he never left. He operates about 180 flats in Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Cartagena, so has plenty of experience. We received every necessary information upon checking in, the receptionist spoke English well, the room design was modern and had everything we needed. The building had 7-8 rooms, all quite similar to each other, linked together by a common garden where we could find laundry machines free of charge, and bikes for rent.
We spent about a day and a half in Cartagena, just enough to see the old town. The size is about 1,5km x 1,5 km, full of colourful, picturesque streets, where life never stops for a minute. We continued to use Tripadvisor to find recommendations for breakfast (Epoca), lunch (the Italian Di Silva Trattoria) and dinner (Chachara) in the Getsemani district of the town, which was suggested by our host.
Cartagena is the fifth biggest city in the country with 1 million inhabitants. The old town is surrounded by a 11km long wall, originally built to protect the town from Spanish, English and French pirates. It is one of the biggest ports in South America, in the era of colonization this was where they used to put the silver onto ships towards Spain and where the slaves from Africa arrived as well, which explains the colourful ethnical composition of the city.
Getsemani used to be a dangerous part of the town, nowadays it’s a hippie district, full of hostels, bars and restaurants. Instead of drug addicts the squares are full of people dancing and singing with the locals.
Bocagrande, the modern part of the city full of hotels and plazas, lies on a foothill and shares none of the welcoming features of the old town. Therefore, we did not spend much time here, only to grab a coffee and an ice cream in an air-conditioned café then we quickly turned back to catch the sunset.
All in all, Cartagena is a Caribbean gem with its artistic streets, accessible old town, it is the touristic capital of the country: all cruisers crossing the ocean stop here, this is where most of the international flights arrive as well, so it’s the most expensive city of the country (it’s still cheap compared to European prices). On the last day we met up with Evelin, the daughter of my host from last year for brunch, who speaks perfect English. She talked a bit about the history of the city and answered all our questions.
We took a small coach for 10-12 persons on Wednesday afternoon to Santa Marta. We were surprised to realize that our bus ticket was basically a scrap of paper with the number of the passengers on it.
Naturally, nobody spoke English, but with a bit of universal non-verbal communication we were on the bus as 2 PM. The journey was long (5 hours!) and boring, we only stopped a few times for a few minutes when local vendors came onto the bus to sell their goods. The only bigger stop was in Barranqueilla, the birth city of Shakira. We arrived at Santa Marta at 7, and we’ll continue from here next time…
- Berlinastur minibus from Cartagena to Santa Marta: 40 000 COP/person
5-hour trip, best solution
- must see: Old Town, Getsemani
- tip for accommodation: district Manga
- UBER 2500 HUF credit for first drive
- AirBNB 28 EUR credit
1 of 16