The dark tourism made Colombia worldwide famous and is attracting millions of foreigners every year. Curious to discover the real treasures of the country and leave aside the narco stories promoted by Netflix? Start with Cartagena.
The vibrant Cartagena is undoubtedly the queen of the Caribbean coast, a colorful gem shining under the torrid afternoon sun. If nowadays Cartagena represent an important tourist hotspot, in the past the beautiful town was under a constant pirate’s siege, reason why a series of fortifications can be observed throughout the historical center.
Cartagena can be easly describe as two different cities sharing the same name.. the historical walled city; an explosion of color and culture the perfect place to stay if you are looking for an authentic Caribbean experience and the new area, “Bocagrande” which features modern skyscrapers, luxurious resorts and fancy restaurants. Which type of traveler are you?
The bad of Cartagena
Learn your money
We arrived in Cartagena after one hour flight from Medellin and even thought we were advised by the locals to pay attentions to the notorious scams involving naive tourists we became victims since we first stepped out of the airport taxi, paying 10 times more for the ride (instead of 4$ we offered the driver 40$). A genuine mistake from our side, not used yet with the multiple zeros of the local currency, a mistake that rewarded the taxi driver with what was probably the biggest tip of his life.
Be alert in crowded areas
Our hotel was located in the historical city center, the best area to stay during your holiday and even though we were exempt of using taxi (and get fooled again) as everything was just walking distance, there were few disadvantages as well… the area is populated not only with tourists but also with lot of street vendors, beggers and pickpockets and you can easily get distracted. Be mindful of your belongings at all time!
Have money for tips
Carry with you always small amount of money and make sure to have coins available to tip the beautifully dressed ladies that will pose for what has become the most emblematic souvenir of Cartagena. If you do not wish for picture and they became insistent, just walk away and don’t engage in conversation.
Use your bargaining skills
Keep in mind that most of the shops do not have fixed prices and you must use your skills in order to obtain a good deal. Try to leave the shopping for the last days of your holiday when you will be more confident with the currency and the local prices. There are plenty of talented artists that will try to sell you their artwork and I definitely recommend to pay a visit to Nekros Cartagena shop, located just outside of the walled city.
Don’t have high expectations when it comes to the beach
When you think about Carribe, first thing that comes to your mind are the pristine beaches and turquoise waters.. well, forget about that in Cartagena. The beach surrounding Cartagena is quite dirty while the sea is totally unpleasant with its dark grey color. I’ve been told that but I didn’t believed until I saw it with my own eyes. If you are carrying a new swimming suit or you have worked hard for that beach body then you can try the islands near by…much more clean and with blue waters.
The good about Cartagena
Do not start your visit in Cartagena thinking that everyone will try to take advantage of you. During our one week holiday we had the pleasure to meet amazing people in some of the most unexpected situations. Just open your heart and your mind as the language barrier is a real issue… in Cartagena you must feel people with your heart as communication won’t be always easy. My basic Spanish learned as a child from the soap operas was really handy during my holiday in Colombia, try to practice yours as well or carry a small translating device with you.
Tip: Stop by Cafe de la Trinidad in Getsemani area and say hi to Ronald, one of the most funny and positive person that I met during my trip. I promise you will have lot of fun and maybe even a free salsa class.
Delicious food and drinks
In Cartagena you will come across a large variety of restaurants and bars and it’s impossible not to find your favorite cuisine. Most of them are exquisite places, with live music and sofisticated menu that might require reservation in advance. I was very happy to discover Gran Inka, a peruvian restaurant that became my favorite dinning place during my stay.
For the other type of travelers, looking for a more authentic experience or traveling on a budget, you can try the street food or do some grocery shopping in one of the supermarkets near by. Regardles of where you choose to dine, you can’t leave Cartagena before trying “arepas“, the local corn bread.
Watch a sunset
You have to watch at least one sunset in Cartagena. There are plenty of roof tops bars with amazing view over the city or over the ocean itself. The most famous is Cafe del Mar, but it’s always overbooked and impossible to find a table without reservation. Make sure to book it in advance or find alternative options. Regardles of the place you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
The best of Cartagena
Photoshoot in Getsemani
Visiting Cartagena would not be complete without exploring the most colorful and animated area of the city, the Getsemani. A mind blowing explosion of art with creative murals and hanging umbrellas. Getsemani, has passed through a radical change from what used to be in the past a infamous neighborhood for drugs and prostitution to the most admired spot of the city.
If you are passionate about photography that’s the place to be. I would suggest wearing a traditional head band and a colorful dress to blend easily in the picture. Expect not to pass unnoticed as most of the locals will throw you admitative looks.
You will notice that most of the streets are creatively decorated and painted in bright colors, some of them being fitted with small donations boxes meant to help the artist in creating new art works. If you admire their talent please bring your own contribution.
The night life
Do yourself a favor and don’t skip the salsa night in Cafe Havana, Getsemani. This is the most popular salsa bar that features a live band, strong cocktails and an amazing atmosphere.
Follow me on Instagram @fly_with_ida for more colorful travel picture from Colombia and not only.