My mom and I spent our last few days in Colombia in Cartagena, but man, I wish I’d had more than two and a half days in this incredible city. Despite the face melting heat and humidity, I couldn't have been more infatuated with the colorful buildings and charm of Cartagena.
This post details my experience in Cartagena - where I stayed, what we ate, and some of the best thing we did while we were there - along with some happy travel tips to keep you smiling as you explore.
How To Pronounce “Cartagena”
First things first - you’re going to want to learn how to pronounce the name of the city that you’re visiting, and Cartagena is one of the tougher ones if you’re not a Spanish speaker. Phonetically, it sounds like cart-ah-hey-nah, with a slight roll of the “R” and a soft “G” that sounds more like an “H.” Listen below for the exact audio pronunciation:
Getting There: Santa Marta to Cartagena
We got to Cartagena by plane initially. We flew in from Medellin on LAN for $51 each. I would highly recommend flying around the country, rather than taking buses. The experience is so painless and cheap!
However, once we touched down at Rafael Núñez International Airport (CTG), we actually got on a bus to Santa Marta/Tayrona (which you can read about here!). Three days later, we were back on our way into Cartagena again.
To get from Tayrona to Santa Marta, we took a shuttle bus with some other travelers who were also headed back to Santa Marta, which was $3.50. The owner of the ecohab was able to arrange this for us.
To go from Santa Marta to Cartagena, we took a larger, much nicer, air conditioned bus for about $17. I believe we were able to arrange this once we got into Santa Marta pretty easily.
Total cost from Santa Marta to Cartagena: $17
To & From The Airport in Cartagena
If you’re headed straight into Cartagena from the airport, the best option is to take a taxi. Rates are fixed, but you can negotiate. The cost should be around $12-20,000 pesos or $4-7 USD and only takes about 15-30 minutes door to door.
Best Hostel in Cartagena
My mom and I stayed at El Viajero Hostel while in Cartagena and had a nice experience for what was a budget hostel. The word “el viajero” translates to “traveler,” which is exactly who this hostel is suited to. There’s a fun, young backpacker community coming through, with communal showers and hammocks lining the outdoor bar area for lots of laid back chillin.
Our only complaint was the fact that the AC in your room shuts off during the day. It makes perfect sense, as it’s about 90 degrees outside, and it would be a huge waste of power to leave it on. But for us wearied travelers, it was hard not to have the option to go hang out in our room for a few hours.
If you choose not to stay at El Viajero, I would highly suggest you stay in either Old Town or Getsemani. These are the areas you’ll want to be as a tourist. I wouldn't recommend you stay in downtown Cartagena, as it’s mostly businesses.
Total cost for a hostel in Cartagena: $116 for three nights; $39 per night
Best Food in Cartagena, Colombia
So although we didn't do a whole lot during our time in CTG, we made up for it by eating our way through the little city.
Places we went and loved:
- Breakfast: Street fruits
- So this is obviously not a place, but it’s definitely some of the best food in Cartagena. And so cheap! I dared myself to be adventurous and try a new fruit every day.
- Lunch: Green House Coffee Bar
- Cute little spot in Old Town. The inside is all green, and it’s delightfully kitschy.
- Lunch: Cevicheria
- The revered Colombian spot for super fresh ceviche. We got their coconut lime milkshake...and then we got another because it was truly so incredible.
- Dinner: El Burlador De Sevilla
- Not only did we have a delicious steak and salad dinner here, but we got a free flamenco show! Note: It's a little on the spendier side.
- Drinks: Cafe Havana
- The famous Cuban-style salsa bar! Unfortunately, we went here on the last night of our trip so we were both pooped, but it was so fun to be surrounded by all the Colombian couples swinging and salsaing on the dance floor. There was a live Cuban band and a very robust cocktail bar.
- Note: There is a cash cover and the line to get in starts early!
Places I didn’t go personally but were recommended to me by friends:
- Don Juan: Hailed as “the best value meal we had in all of South America” by a friend
- Alma: I walked past this spot and it looked very fancy/spendy.
- Demente: Can't comment but maybe one of you will and report back on how it is!?
- Cafe Abacoba: Just another cool cafe you should consider checking out on my behalf :)
Top Things To Do In Cartagena, Colombia
As previously noted, we didn't have a ton of time here, so we spent most of that time exploring within the walls of the Old City and briefly venturing into Getsemani (another soft “G” to pronounce).
I’d highly recommend the Free Walking Tour to start. This will take you a couple of hours in the morning. Definitely stop by the ChocoMuseo to see chocolate being made and learn more about the craft. You’ll only need about 30 minutes here - it’s more of a shop than a museum. The live cuban music and salsa dancing at Cafe Havana is a great evening activity that should not be missed.
Some things we heard others doing:
- Visit Castle San Felipe
- Visit Castle Federale
- Tour or stay a few nights at the nearby islands: Playa Blanca & Rosaria Beach
- Take a volcano mud bath
Happy Travel Tips For Cartagena, Colombia
Weather in Cartagena
This is definitely something you’ll want to be prepared for. If you’re like me, heat and humidity has the potential to make you very grumpy. The sticky sweat and smothering temperature don't necessarily make for an enjoyable experience walking, so make your time a little happier by:
- Wearing loose fitting and breathable clothes. My dress was perfect for the weather.
- Get a water bottle that doubles as a mister. You’ll thank me when you’re on your walking tour and shade is not available.
- Buy a hat. Even a cheap little straw one when you get there will be endlessly helpful as you walk around.
- Sunscreen. Slather it on 20 minutes before you leave AC, or it will just melt right off.
Although our stay here was brief, I just cant recommend Cartagena enough. It's a sleepy, romantic little place with enough exploration opportunity to last you a good couple of days. Definitely make sure it's part of your Colombian itinerary.
Other Cartagena Travel Guides
- For more things to do in CTG, Cartagena: Travel to Colombia's Caribbean Old Town
- For the fashionista, Chic Street Cartagena Travel Guide
- For solo travelers, A Solo Traveler's Guide To Cartagena, Colombia
Traveling Around Colombia?
For more on Colombia, check out some of my other posts:
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