This trip to Colombia was a very special adventure, one that I booked a long time ago and was lightly planning for a few months. This post can act as a mini-itinerary for what to do and see Cartagena’s Walled City and then of course, there are a few other Colombian basics.
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The Colombian basics
Customs: Canada charges Colombians a fee upon entry so in response we too pay a fee of COP $201.000 upon landing (cash or credit). I was the first Canadian in line so the agent, without any explanation, left the booth and hoarded all of us Canadians into a separate line.
Language: Yes, Spanish is the main language, average English is quite poor (even in hotels) so you become dependent on Google translate if your Spanish is minimal. I had taken some classes a few months prior but needless to say, they were not enough to sustain, or understand, the fast-talking locals. Brush up on the basics ahead of time with a tutor on italki* or your language app of choice.
Money: US dollars are of no use here and while many places take major credit cards there are a lot of instances in which you’d need local money so it’s good to be prepared. I bank with Simplii/CIBC and they do home deliveries for foreign cash which I’m a huge fan of.
Sunset: The country is located on the equator so the sun sets early and quickly. By 5 pm it’s already fairly dark and you end up exploring in the dark half of the time. The temperatures remain quite high through the night.
Getting around: There are a lot of public transit options but being alone most of the time I opted for taxis and Uber. Uber is available but takes a while and on more than one occasion the driver canceled on me and I ended up waiting for up to 20min instead of the promised 5 or not getting a ride at all. Taxis are everywhere and are actually cheaper than Uber but they only take cash, so there’s your first reason to bring some Colombian pesos.
Traveling alone as a woman: I was meeting friends in most places and most of my time was spent in good company but as a general rule, it’s good to keep a low profile and make sure to be smart. It is not a scary place to be in but the political situation is unstable so being aware of who you are, as a tourist is very important. Depending on your background you may be approached less, being a blonde I was out of luck on that front, everyone wanted to sell me something.
The amazing Walled City of Cartagena
Now that the more common questions are out of the way let’s talk about the amazing Walled City of Cartagena! The walls are not very tall and can be easily accessed using stairs and ramps around the city. The view from the top is outstanding and a great spot for some shameless picture-taking. The colours, architecture, plants, and flowers, are all simply stunning. A few streets are bare but for the most part, the Walled City is well taken care of. Many stores and restaurants are open-air allowing passersby to take a peek inside. Colombia is also a place for some fantastic street art. A range of it can be spotted every few blocks as intentional decor or rebellious graffiti.
Street artists and other vendors are scattered throughout. The city square turns into a night market where you can try to bargain down a little. Though if you look like me they won’t budge much. There are also a lot of beautiful boutique shops selling all sorts of fashionable pieces, accessories, and beautiful bathing suits.
Staying in the walled city is a bit more expensive than outside. Generally speaking, properties are smaller but Cartagena as a whole is not very large. I wanted to stay in a place that offered a sunny poolside to start the day with and after a lot of research ended up in Hotel Caribe By Faranda* on the beachside.
Food & drinks, a few of my favourite places
First of all, street food is amazing! Fresh fruit, handmade arepas, and all sorts of fantastic goodies. And yes, it is safe to eat it all but don’t drink the tap water.
Restaurant Alma: lovely on the inside but even better on the outside Alma has a great courtyard patio with a little pool, trendy decor, and an abandonment of greenery. The menu is a good selection of dishes and fantastic cocktails, artfully made in carefully selected glassware and dishes.
Townhouse Cartagena*: small boutique hotel with a rooftop bar. The top floor here offers a 360 view of the city and the quick Colombian sunset. The bar is a few shallow levels and a pool that people were sitting in late into the night. There are craft cocktails at their best served by local hipsters to the sounds of top 40 hip hop.
Alquimico Bar: super trendy nightspot is in the middle of a popular club and bar area. A spot commonly frequented by tourists and locals looking to celebrate the weekend in stilettos. Here we had some strong old fashions, and zesty craft cocktails, and met other Canadians in similar white t-shirt uniforms. Apparently, it’s a thing.
Inferno Cartagena: the restaurant is located on the side of a women’s prison that run its kitchen. The menu is small but quite wonderful, rich with fresh seafood and tropical juices. The space is small and narrow, painted with large tropical plant motives. Reservations here need to be made ahead of time as it does book up quickly.
Cafe De La Mañana: a great coffee shop with a modern art gallery feel. The restaurant is very clean and structured compared to most places in the neighborhood. De La Mañana also serves a promising lunch that I’m looking forward to trying during my next visit.
3 Cordilleras Brewery: a multilevel Colombian brewery with a nice selection of cold local beers. The balconies on the 3rd floor offer a view of the city square. Beer is not the only thing they serve though so don’t be afraid to stroll in there for a few cold cocktails.
Fresh sausages are sold everywhere but there was one particular spot the name of which I cannot recall. This small, simple restaurant opens onto the street. The sausages are smoked out front drawing you in with the smell of BBQ. We ordered a sampler which came with a couple of different types of sausages. All this was served over a plain arepa with boiled potatoes and lime on a wooden board. This wonderful place is located to the right of Pezetarian on Carrera 7 and it is hard to miss.
Esquina Sandiegana: a tiny, old rum bar located on a street corner not too far from Inferno. This place drew us in with music and a promise of a local dive bar vibe. This vibe is exactly what we found there: cheap rum, cheap beer, and lots of locals. Upon entry, a cheerful older man in a fedora promises us we’ll want to dance after a couple of Cuba Libres.
In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens. and occasionally iPhone X. To see the trip on Instagram look up #xoColombia18.