Cartagena was one of the places Danielle was most excited about visiting, our cruise company docked here so she had seen lots of pictures from friends who had already explored the city and it looked beautiful.
Our journey started from Medellin, because there was a big protest going on in Colombia at the time we were travelling Dani’s mum suggested we fly to Cartagena rather than get the bus like we planned. So we booked a ticket with Viva Colombia which cost £56 each including a bag. Medellin airport is an hour from the city and thinking we were being clever we book a 6am flight which meant getting up at 3am to get to the airport. Neither of us had flown with Viva Colombia before and it was an ok journey, the flight took off on time, we got our luggage but they have a couple of different ways. You board in groups depending on what you paid or your age, as we booked the cheapest ticket and don’t own a free bus pass, we were in the last group to board and with this airline you don’t get a seat number so you just get on and pick a seat a bit like getting on a bus.
So another mistake we made is landing into Cartagena at 7am when check in to the hotel was supposed to be at 3pm. Seemed like a good idea at the time arriving as early as we could so we could see as much as we could but wasn’t so fun when you have two restless grumpy girls with 8 hours to kill. Note to self - try and arrive closer to the check in time of your hotel.
Getting from the airport to the hotel was easy, there are taxis just outside the arrival terminal but a friend told us to walk a couple of blocks outside the airport to get it cheaper, the journey cost 10,000 (£2.50 or $3.70) but if we’d have been clever we could have bartered and got it for 6,000 (£1.50 or $2.22)
So we dropped our bags off at the hotel who thankfully told us we could check in at 1pm and out we went to explore, first on our list was breakfast, Dani’s hunger monster was about to make an appearance so it was essential the food came fast. This turned out harder than you would think, most shops, cafes, restaurants were closed at this time so we walked and walked and got lost and eventually found a little café. Dani always wants to try the food that is traditional from the place were visiting and in Cartagena an arepa de huevo; now arepas are so popular is Colombia they are a type of bread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour. In Cartagena they put an egg inside and fry it and that’s a apera de huevo, Dani loved it but Danielle wasn’t so keen. So we had arepas and fresh juice for breakfast which took up about 45 minutes and we still had 4 hours till check in time.
Our hotel was inside the old city walls so we thought we spend the morning wandering round the old town. The old town is surrounded by its city walls which you can walk along, we did this during the day and night and at any time the views are beautiful. At the main church tower to enter the old town you will find a lot of venders offering different kinds of tours. We didn’t book any as we wanted to explore on our own but if you like an organised tour you will find something here.
Our first stop was the Palace of Inquisition, this beautiful building was a torture palace for the Spanish Inquisition the Inquisition's main purpose was to defend and protect threats to the Catholic Church, including blasphemy, witchcraft, and heresy. The palace is now a museum displaying the torture instruments used and some of the stories from the victims, of how they met their fate in this building. Entrance was 18,000 pesos (£5.50 or $6.20) it’s really worth visiting the museum so you can understand some of the sad history Cartagena has seen.
Getting lost in the colourful streets was one of our favourite things to do here. We found so many churches, cafes or restaurants just by walking round and getting lost, this is also how we got our best photos. Cartagena has a big history which means there are lots of historical building ready to be explored and you can do this just by wandering around, we found Las Bovedas this way, it is now a row of tourist souvenir shops but previously it was 23 dungeons, you can really see the mix of old and new throughout the city. There really are so many churches, squares, pretty streets, shops, cafes and so much more ready for you to find, so make sure you take a pair of comfortable shoes.
On our first day of wandering we found a restaurant that looked amazing, Parrilla Argentina so we decided that’s where we would go for dinner that night. The place is really quirky and turns out its quite popular with tourists but we spent way too much here and we promised ourselves we would never do it again. For two steaks and two fresh juices our total bill was 165,000 pesos (£41.25 or $61.10) which doesn’t seem so much but compared to what we had been spending and for our budget it was too much. Once again Dani’s hunger monster was out and she ordered for us, the two large beef chirzo’s we ordered were huge, one was big enough for us both, don’t let the hungry eyes take over one is plenty for two.
Being unprepared and not being able to make a solid decision we missed out on visiting the Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver which is a working convent located at the highest point of the city. On our first day we were offered a tour here but declined as we thought we would be able to do it ourselves. So we booked a taxi through Uber which showed the journey would cost 8000 pesos (£2.00 or $2.75) which was a fraction of the 60,000 pesos people were advising online. We should have known it was too good to be true as when we got in the taxi he said most taxis wouldn’t take us there and if they did it would cost up to 80,000 pesos because of where it was located, he told us we should take a tour – GREAT!!! So we decided to go to the castle instead, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is located just outside the old town. We didn’t go inside but walked all the way around instead and it was hot, so so hot. You can go inside but we didn’t fancy it. You can walk to the castle in 20-30 minutes from the old town, if you get the hop on hop off bus it drops you right outside the castle.
We decided to take a walk outside the old town into an area called Getsemani. It a really nice area and there were so many hostels here, we’re sure the prices would be much cheaper to stay here rather than in the old town and it’s so close just a 10-minute walk. Here is where we found one of our favourite restaurants so far, Las Indias. We would be able to tell you how to get there as we found it when we were lost but the food was so tasty and the place is really cool. For 13,000 (£3.25 or $4.81) we had starter, main, dessert and a fresh juice. It’s worth finding if you’re in the area we’re sure the locals would be able to point you in the right direction.
Sunsets are something we both love so we made sure we watched one from the city walls. We had heard that Café del Mar was a great spot to watch the sunset but they also have the really high prices. So we found where the café was and found a spot nearby to watch the beautiful sunset. Make sure this is on your to do list it was amazing.
We stayed at the Aqualina hotel which was inside the walls, it was really nice. The rooms were big, had private bathrooms and it included a basic breakfast for only £57.00 for two nights. If its within your budget we’d definitely recommend it on comfort and location.
Leaving Cartagena was one of the easiest departures we’ve had yet. The hotel arranged a company called Marsol to collect us from the hotel and take us directly to our hotel in Santa Marta. It cost 46,000 pesos each (£11.50 or $17.03) for a two-hour journey. This worked out a lot cheaper than getting to the bus station in Cartagena, getting the bus to Santa Marta then getting to the hostel in Santa Marta. You can have a look online at their services or just ask your hotel when you arrive a lot of them offer this service.
Cartagena also has some beautiful beaches in Playa Blanca and Baru but as we were heading to Tayrona after we decided to miss the beaches and cram in as much of the city as we could.
We spent two nights in Cartagena and didn’t manage to see half of what it has to offer. It is one of the hottest but best places we have seen so far and will probably remain up there throughout our journey.
Tayrona here we come, let’s see what it has to offer.