Cartagena is one of Colombia’s main hubs and traveller destinations. Known affectionately as the ‘romantic city’, it’s a very touristy but nonetheless beautiful metropolis ideally located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Cartagena’s main draw 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 does have 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. We looked on in envy at holidaymakers sitting in the sun with jugs of sangria, or dining in the fancy restaurants, as these things just weren’t compatible with our backpacking budget. Of course, it’s great that the number of tourists here means that Cartagena is able to generate this sort of economy, but we had to make do with just taking in the scenery! Secondly, the hawkers here are persistent and get annoying quickly. When you first enter the walls, you can expect to be swarmed by three or four men who will proceed to wave hats, sunglasses and cigarettes under your nose. Shake these off, and there’ll be a few more waiting just around the corner. Again, I understand the need to earn money, but the forceful nature of the salesmen here can be intimidating.
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 cheap accommodation, 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.
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 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 as again, someone will try to sell you something every couple of minutes. 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?