Cartagena is one of Colombia’s main hubs and traveller destinations. Known as the ‘romantic city’, it’s a very touristy but nonetheless beautiful spot on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Cartagena’s Walled City
Cartagena’s main attraction is its historic Walled City, or Old Town. This is a charming part of the city, where centuries old colonial architecture is preserved inside huge stone walls that separate it from the rest of Cartagena. Setting foot inside these walls is like stepping on to a movie set. Flowers sprout from the balconies of brightly coloured buildings, horses and carts wheel down cobbled streets, musicians sit on their porches singing… yep, it’s practically a Disney film. They don’t call it the romantic city for nothing! There’s also a plaza area that centres around Cartagena’s oldest church. We witnessed a white wedding taking place on our first day here *wipes eyes*, which is apparently a common occurrence.
For me, the Walled City has a couple of setbacks. One, it is super expensive. Prices at the bars and restaurants in here are closer to those in London than they are the rest of Colombia. I was so jealous of people sitting in the sun with jugs of sangria, or dining in the fancy restaurants, but these things just weren’t compatible with my backpacking budget.
Secondly, the hawkers here are persistent. When you first enter the walls, you can expect to be immediately circled by men trying to sell you things. Shake these off, and more men will be waiting just around the corner. I totally understand that everybody needs to earn money, but the forceful nature of the salesmen here can be intimidating, especially if you’re alone.
Walk just a short way out of the Walled City to the hip Getsemani neighbourhood, and prices quickly shrink. This area has lots of bars and hostels, making it the obvious choice for backpackers, and was my favourite part of Cartagena. I loved it! The streets are just as beautiful as in the Walled City (only slightly less polished), but the atmosphere is totally different. Weekends and Wednesdays are party nights, and everyone flocks to Holy Trinity Square to drink shop bought beer, eat street food and watch performers. Later on, the party moves on to the bars – including the world famous Café Havana, where you can dance salsa ‘til the early hours.
Where to stay in Cartagena
Our hostel in Getsemani was called One Day, which was was nice, clean and in a great location. We also spent some time in Hostel Mamallena, which has a great bar where you can BYOB, and is where I’d stay if I went back!
One Day Hostel – how cute?!
We also stayed in Bocagrande for two nights, an upper class residential area full of skyscrapers and posh high rise apartments. We actually only stayed here because we found a cheap AirBNB, but plenty of people come here as it’s where the beach is located. Word of advice, don’t bother. The beach isn’t particularly nice and it’s impossible to relax on. Just wait until you get to Santa Marta or Palomino where the beaches are much much nicer!
Other points to mention about Cartagena:
- Well, it’s hotter than the sun. Exaggeration, but it is SCORCHING. We visited in February which is peak summer – temperatures get up to 35 degrees and it never rains, so it’s the perfect month for sun worshippers.
- It’s really busy on weekends, as it makes a lovely short break not only for Colombians but Americans too – it’s only a 2.5 hour flight from Miami. Crowds are smaller during the week which makes for a more pleasant experience.
- It is expensive compared to the rest of Colombia, and not only in the walled city. Expect to pay £10 minimum for a dorm bed (compared to around £6-7 elsewhere). But it’s worth it, promise.
- As you should everywhere, always keep an eye on your personal belongings and don’t go flashing your valuables. We met several people who were robbed or pickpocketed here, which I naively didn’t expect due to it being so pretty (lol). We never had any trouble though!
Have you been to the ‘romantic city’? What did you think?