After a somewhat bumpy two and a half hour flight from Ft. Lauderdale we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia ready to begin our adventure. The 15-minute taxi ride from the airport was not only quick but also incredibly scenic. We were surrounded on either side by the Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada) and the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea. Our hotel Azuan Suites was modest but very clean and centrally located. Just two blocks from the beach and within walking distance to shops, restaurants we couldn’t have found a better hotel for the price.
Since Cartagena is somewhat small and narrow geographically it was a walkable city and access to public transportation was easy. In the interest of staying on budget we decided to forego the more expensive taxi fees and ride the local bus to get around. From our hotel a ride to the Walled City or the center of town cost the following with good bartering skills = Taxi 6,000 COP/$ 2.08 Vs. Bus 1,800 COP/.63 cents (July, 2015). However, the rate could be 10,000 COP or more depending on what the taxi driver feels like charging. One of the most stunning sites in Cartagena is the Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada) and it cannot be missed. Towering stone walls that have been well-preserved surround the colonial city. Many structures inside the walls have been restored and a serve as picturesque backdrop. Our bus dropped us off at one of the entrances and we began to stroll around the narrow streets and easily lost ourselves in the beauty. We walked around for a good four hours in no particular direction just stopping now and again to refresh with some natural juices and delicious cut mangoes. To escape the extreme heat we ducked into free museums and shops in between walking on the shaded side of the street.
I have to admit that the beach in Cartagena was not one of the best I have experienced but I still found beauty in the laid back attitude of the people around. I’ll share the good, the bad and the ugly in this blog in order to keep things honest and true since not every experience will be perfect. The beach itself was a bit littered with garbage and this is something that was visible throughout. There were also numerous vendors trying to sell us everything from crabs in a cooler to massages on the beach. Although a simple “no, gracias” would suffice there were some vendors who are persistent and persuasive (hence, we had a lovely but out of budget foot massage from some sweet ladies). Once we were able to look past these things and relax we had a fresh and delicious fish dinner accompanied by some cold beers right on the beach (by fresh I mean the guy plopped the uncooked fish we were to eat before us (all my fellow health inspectors can commence cringing now). It was probably one of the best meals we had!
Another amazing site we visited in Cartagena was the Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress from the 1600’s with beautiful panoramic views of the city. The entrance fee was a mere 17,000 COP/ $5.90 (July, 2015) and the fort was easily accessible by bus from our hotel. The heat in Cartagena during our trip was to say the least, suffocating. The high altitude of the fort provided some magnificent sea breezes at different points, which came as a total relief from the scorching sun. Dark tunnels and passageways inside the fort were not only scary and exciting to navigate but also provided a reprieve from the weather.
That same day we visited the Getsemani neighborhood where many of the hostels are concentrated. The vibe was bohemian and here we found a great little restaurant called 30-40 Creperie. The owner Celine was welcoming and sweet and made a mean Nutella crepe. So good that we ordered another one immediately upon finishing the first! We had all of this and 2 delicious natural fruit juices all for COP 13,000/$4.51 (July, 2015).
On our final day we took a 15-minute stroll from the area of Bocagrande to Castillo Grande where we found an even more relaxed beach atmosphere. Vendors on this beach were less insistent and the vibe seemed less “touristy”. The area was very beautiful and from what we read was somewhat more pricey. There were many upscale condos around although we did not see any restaurants or bars nearby. Even so, I would definitely recommend this area for a relaxing walk, jog or bike ride as there are fewer cars along the main street.
Cartagena was an amazing experience overall. The people were very helpful and welcoming and the food was fantastic. Every meal was fresh, plentiful and served with a generous hospitality. Although the heat was unbearable at times we found many tricks to staying cool, including taking a dip in the refreshing and bountiful Caribbean Sea.