Brightly painted buildings along a narrow, empty street in Cartagena, Colombia


Posted: three/12/2019 | March 12th, 2019

Throughout the narco heydays, Cartagena was deemed the only “safe” spot in Colombia for vacationers. It was exactly where foreigners vacationed, cruise ships docked, and wealthy Colombians constructed their trip houses.

Now, this colorful colonial city remains a single of the most well known destinations for vacationers and Colombians alike. Wealthy Colombians — and now foreigners — nevertheless create trip houses right here, cruise ships nevertheless dock, and the influx of vacationers has grown with an growing quantity of direct flights from North America and Europe.

Out of all the stops on my Colombian tour, Cartagena was the location I was least excited about.

As a single of the ideal-preserved and historic cities in Colombia, I knew I would really like its narrow colonial streets, ancient walls, grand plazas, and Spanish-style homes with their giant doors and wooden terraces, not to mention the restaurants whose tables spilled into busy plazas.

But I was not so eager to be in such a touristy, crowded city for 5 lengthy days. A pal was flying down for a swift trip and he was not keen to go elsewhere on a lengthy bus. I would be stuck in this tiny, tourist town.

Cartagena turned out to be all the things I believed it would be.

Brightly painted houses with hanging flower gardens lining a narrow street in Cartagena, Colombia

It had the type of heat and humidity that melted you in location, it was pretty high priced, and it was filled with throngs from cruises, tours, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and gringos attempting to score drugs (and shady streetside pushers satisfied to oblige).

Throw in packed streets and as well handful of “tourist” activities and I was prepared to get out of there as quickly as I had arrived. (Seriously. Just after a couple of museums, a walking tour, and a go to to a beach or two, you have quite significantly noticed the city.)

But, when it did come time to leave, I located myself downright crestfallen.

I had grown to seriously really like Cartagena.

In the midst of all these touts and vacationers, I located an architecturally lovely and vibrant city. A location on whose edges the crowds disperse and beautiful tiny Colombian cafés seem. A city with cutting-edge restaurants, lively music, town squares complete of life, and funky bars.

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Early in the morning, prior to the heat of the day drove me inside and the cruise ships let their armies loose, I’d wander the empty streets of the old town, taking copious images as the light dangled completely among streets. I got my tea and breakfast at the exact same shops. Waved hello to locals sitting in the parks. Busy Cartagena is a quiet tiny town at 8am.

In Getsemani, the backpacker region, I located colorful houses, squares filled with street vendors, low-priced eateries, and heaving bars. I’d sit at evening with my street meals watching bands and street performers, which includes a duo who flawlessly reenacted “Thriller.”

And, in Bocagrande, a Miami-style neighborhood for the wealthy and renowned, I saw how the effectively-to-do lived, enjoyed some of the far better beaches in the region, and strolled along its lengthy promenade.

My pal and I dove into the city’s fabulous gastronomy scene and gorged on scrumptious ceviche, empanadas, brick-oven pizza, and standard Colombian meals. The meals scene right here was a single of the ideal in Colombia. (It was seriously impressive for such a compact city. See the bottom of the post for suggestions.)

In lovely colors that need to be mandated by the government, the vibrantly painted buildings and heavy doors with shapes and styles that could be their personal weblog gave Cartagena an upbeat really feel to it.

Spending further time performing absolutely nothing permitted me to linger a bit longer, discover some hole-in-the-wall shops, sit in the squares with a beer, and head more than to the least touristy beach probable:

A sandy beach with a couple of tourists relaxing on a sunny day in Cartagena

(It was me, my pal Ryan, and some youngsters on a boogie board)

I had fallen in really like with Cartagena simply because there wasn’t significantly to do there. I couldn’t fill my days with activities. All I could was just chill and loosen up.

Positive, the crowds couldn’t be ignored considering that I often had to jostle for space, but as I drank tea, ate effectively, strolled the picturesque city walls, and created a regional pal who took me out with his household and buddies, I believed about how there’s often yet another side to a location.

Anytime you go to someplace, there often appears to be an region that most travelers never ever go previous, as if an invisible barrier keeps them from going just a single step farther.

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But it is in that further step that we uncover the “local,” non-touristy components of town, away from the crowds.

So as well is there a time barrier. As travelers, we typically swoop in, take photographs, see the attractions, consume the meals, and leave claiming some sort of deeper information. We see a snapshot of life and produce a total history from that a single image.

I heard it from a lot of people today prior to I visited:

“Cartagena is an overpriced, touristy city. It is very good for just a handful of days. See it, leave it.”

On a single level, that is correct. It is overpriced. It is touristy. And, if you are in a rush, you do not need to have a lot of time to verify off the boxes.

Colorful houses and balconies in Cartagena painted bright colors with lots of greenery

But, beneath the layers, like all cities, there was a non-touristy version of Cartagena.

Like the invisible line that keeps vacationers in their zone, all I had to do was wait out the invisible time barrier to see it. All of a sudden, the switch was flipped, the doors opened, and Cartagena revealed some of its secrets.

Cartagena is not about seeing the sights.

And, when I stopped attempting to be a tourist seeking for sights and accepted for the city as it was, Cartagena became a location I couldn’t get sufficient of.

If I had only stayed a handful of days, I in all probability would have felt about the city the way everybody else did.

But when you quit placing cities into the pre-framed pictures you have for them, they have a tendency to surprise. These further days just permitted me to take pleasure in the city for what it was: a location to loosen up, consume, and slow down.

Recomended areas to consume

  • Carmen – Extremely, pretty higher-finish gastronomy. This location not low-priced but it was the ideal meal I had in Colombia. I cannot propose it sufficient. Come for lunch when you will not need to have a reservation.
  • La Mulata – A good tiny cafe for lunch.
  • Demente – Amazing pizza and cocktails in a rustic setting.
  • Cafe Stepping Stone – Aussie style cafe. They do a very good breakfast and brunch.
  • El Punto – Across the street from Cafe Stepping Stone, this hole in the wall restaurant serves standard Colombian meals at dirt low-priced rates.
  • Don Juan – A further higher-finish dinner restaurant. If you are seeking for anything classy that serves very good, strong meals, verify this location out.
  • La Cevichería – Bourdain place this location on the map as getting the ideal ceviche in the city. I do not know if it is correct but all the things right here was best notch. Come early as it gets super busy the second they open.
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Book Your Trip to Cartagena: Logistical Guidelines and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Locate a low-priced flight by working with Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two preferred search engines simply because they search web sites and airlines about the globe so you often know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to remain someplace other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they regularly return the least expensive prices for guesthouses and low-priced hotels. I use them all the time.

Do not Neglect Travel Insurance coverage
Travel insurance coverage will shield you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It is extensive protection in case something goes incorrect. I never ever go on a trip with out it as I’ve had to use it a lot of occasions in the previous. I’ve been working with Globe Nomads for ten years. My preferred corporations that provide the ideal service and worth are:

  • Globe Nomads (for everybody under 70)
  • Insure My Trip (for these more than 70)

Searching for the ideal corporations to save income with?
Verify out my resource web page for the ideal corporations to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save income when I travel – and I feel will support you as well!

Searching for extra details on going to Colombia?
Verify out my in-depth location guide to Colombia with extra recommendations on what to see, do, charges, strategies to save, and significantly, significantly extra!