Colombia has always had a lot of attention from travelers all around the world. Some attention is positive, some negative. Nonetheless, it is a country that holds beauty beyond measure and deserves a space on your bucket list. Cartagena is one of the most popular cities in Colombia for many reasons; it is conveniently located right on Caribbean Sea coast leaving you endless options for activities while in this wondrous city. Cartagena is also one of the cities in Colombia with the highest traffic from tourists and ex-pats.
Colombia’s peso is currently not so strong so if you wanted to head down to the land of Emeralds and amazing coffee, now is the time to do it. 1 U.S. dollar is roughly 3,000 pesos. Depending on the length of your trip, a few hundred dollars (USD) can go a LONG way. You should only need about 10-15 USD per meal and some extra for miscellaneous spending. Excursions and taxi rides are cheap but it also depends how far you want to go.
There is only about a 20 foot separation from the shore to the sidewalk where the buildings begin so the Ocean water that is the easiest to access in downtown Cartagena is not exactly the cleanest to swim in. For roughly 50 USD, you can book a day tour through your hotel or local taxi company that can take you to Playa Blanca and the Volcan Tutumo. These are two great destinations while vacationing In Cartagena, you can enjoy the crystal clear waters at the beach and get a full body massage right on the sand for $20 USD or jet ski for a hour with friends for maybe $25 USD.
At the Volcano, you’ll get the experience of a lifetime climbing down into the 50 foot mountain via one very thrilling ladder (guts required for this activity). You’ll bathe in mud, feel light as a feather as you float and exfoliate all while enjoying a lovely massage from staff members. Don’t forget to tip! The massages aren’t included with admission to the Volcano and the locals appreciate anything extra. If you’re planning on doing the beach and volcano excursion, I suggest leaving one full day open for these activities. Playa Blanca and the Rosario Islands are a distance from downtown Cartagena.
Mostly all the casinos, stores and restaurants you need can be found on the same street in Cartagena, Avenida San Martin. You can find anything from Colombian empanadas to Italian gelato on this street. In between all the delicious eats are boutiques and shops where you’re sure to find a lot of goods for cheap. My all time favorite Colombian dish is Bandeja Paisa! On Avenida San Martin, there’s a restaurant called “La Fonda Antioquena”, with a festive patio, friendly staff and great food, you want to have at least one meal at this local staple.
There is an older part of Cartagena called La Vieja Ciudad (the old city). For a short taxi ride and maybe a few thousand pesos, you can explore the beauty of the vintage buildings and classic Colombian architecture and get a sense of the country before it began to modernize. There are a few famous landmarks nearby such as the fort Castillo San Felipe used by the Colombian military, Las Zapatos Viejos (Old shoes) and my personal favorite, la Coventa Popa De La Galera that offers the best view of the entire city. All of these landmarks can be visited within the same taxi ride for a little extra and a nice tip! Most of these popular stops can be seen within a day.
WARNING- The hike up to the top of Covento Popa de la Galera can be very hot! Hence the umbrella, which just so happened to match me. Carry at least 1 bottle of water with you on the way up and something to shield you from the rays.
If you’re coming from anywhere in the states that isn’t South Florida, chances are your airfare will be a lot higher. Why not fly to Miami first, spend the day and night and take off to Colombia the next day? This could save you hundreds on airfare and you get to see another great city on the way to paradise. See my post “How To Spend A Weekend in Miami” for things to do with less than 48 hours in Miami!