Our stint in Cartagena felt like a holiday from the holiday – we spent time at the beach; wandered the streets to admire the architecture; took the tourist bus around town, because it was too hot to walk much; and cooled down with maybe one too many beers. If you are keen to visit, but don’t really know what to do search no more, but trust the following mini-guide for a few days in the beautiful walled city.
Where to stay
We loved our cozy little place El Genoves – everyone was super nice and the room was clean and decently sized. The rooftop offered views as well as the opportunity to drink the before mentioned too many beers. Cartagena gets really hot so we chose this place because of their pool but be ware that it is teeny tiny so don’t expect to do anything besides chilling by it or inside – no Olympic swimming training possible here!
Friends we met stayed at El Viajero – unfortunately we ALL got kicked out of the bar after 10 PM, when we each had a drink in our hands, because as it turns out you cannot bring guests to this hostel. We never came across this rule before and we are unsure if we did something wrong, but keep that in mind if you want to be able to socialise at your chosen home away from home.
Check out this link to Booking.com– there are plenty of cool places around. We would recommend to stay in the old town – it offers anything you might need and is simply beautiful.
What to eat
Let’s start with where NOT to eat – assuming you are watching your pesos – stay away from any of the restaurants located directly at or around the plazas. The markup is crazy! If you must people watch we’d recommend finding a place that offers a good happy hour and enjoy a drink or two amongst it all without paying crazy prices.
The street food looked awesome and we spoke to people who enjoyed it without any repercussions. We were not as adventurous but this might be our excuse to travel to Cartagena again?
La Molata was our personal favourite – super friendly (and beautiful) staff, delicious food and a really cool vibe. You can only pay cash which was a bit annoying but that seems to be the case in a lot of places.
Basilica Pizzeria Café makes good pizzas – excellent compared to other South American versions, but lacking compared to what you can get in Europe or North America. Lots and lots of street cats will vie for your attention, which is both cute and a bit heart breaking. Please give the little ginger one a piece of prawn and tell her we miss her if you end up going!
How to get around
Because it was so so hot when we visited, we “splashed out” and got ourselves 48-hour tickets for the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. Big Tip: Do NOT buy online but walk to one of the many tourist agents. It costs much less in person compared to the website for some reason.
The bus became our way of public transport instead of taking taxis and offered an awesome overview of the city and its history and the tour guides were ready to offer any help.
Please note – whenever the bus stops in a popular area lots and lots of people crowd it to sell you water, hats, food and random things such as hand drums. Take it as you may; water from them will cost you 3 x more than at the supermarket, but it is cold and you don’t need to carry it with you to the bus stop.
Other than the bus you can catch taxis anywhere at any time. They constantly advertise their services by beeping at you, almost running you over, winding down the windows to shout at you in Spanish etc. We walked around during the day and also at night, but do be careful as we met people who were mugged at knife point in front of their hostel.
What to do
We read lots of negative reviews about the beaches in Cartagena. Even our guide on the tour bus noted that we should stay away from them as we would get harassed and it would not be worth it. Living in Australia has lowered our expectations a bit too, because our chosen home offers the most stunning beaches ever. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our day at Bocca Grande!
We went to Bocca Chica first, thinking it would be less touristy and hence better, but the beach itself was quite dirty (think lots of algae in the water, plastic and other rubbish in the sand…). We walked to Bocca Grande and got a pair of deckchairs and an umbrella just across from the large shopping center. The beach there was clean and the ocean free of algae and the like. While there are lots and lots of people offering you drinks, ice creams, oysters, bikinis, sunglasses, beach toys, massages and whatever else you can think of they actually walk away as soon as you say “NO, Gracias”. We did not have to snap or get loud, but we kept our responses short and if necessary we interrupted them straight away to say no. It did not feel like we were hassled and nothing was stolen while we chilled on comfy deckchairs for more than 3 hours for an equivalent of $10 dollars.
I am sure there are lots more cool things to do in Cartagena than just eat, walk around more or less aimlessly and chill at the beach but we loved our stay and what felt like a mini holiday within the holiday. Do be careful with the water and food – Flo got really bad “travellers woes” if you catch our drift and it was not pleasant!