There isn’t a whole lot I can write about Cartagena that hasn’t already been written. Yes, the old city is beautiful — yes there is so much to do — yes you have to eat the ceviche.
So instead of a list of things (which you’ll probably forget all about) I’m going to shift the focus of my post. I don’t think you need an itinerary for Cartagena.
You heard me. I think you should have a general plan of what you want to do and play it by ear. I went with a group of girlfriends to Cartagena from from April 26- May 1 (actually May 2nd because we missed our flight back); and we had an amazing time despite not having any set plans at all. We basically looked up some places in the days before we left and departed with a general sense of the things we wanted to do.
The very short list consisted of, seeing some of the Islas del Rosario (Rosario Island) and Volcan de Lodo el Totumo (mud volcano). After that we all generally agreed to play our time in the walled city and lounging by the pool by ear.
We took at 2:00 am flight departing from JFK (in NYC) and arrived in Cartagena by 8:00 am, having had a 1 hour layover in Panama City in between. Honestly, This flight was one of the cheaper options, and highly worth it. With a couple of Z-Quil pills before the flight — I was knocked out and resting peacefully. It kind of felt like
passing out drunk and forgetting where you are falling asleep and waking up in a new city/country/continent/hemisphere, and took away a lot of the pain of traveling.
So — we had the whole day a head of us when we arrived at our hotel:
Yes — there are cheaper options in Cartagena and this was outside of the historical center (where everything is, really) but it’s only a 5-10 minute cab ride away and was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. The main lobby is on the 12th floor and gives beautiful views of an endless ocean. The hotel gives the option to add breakfast (which for the 4 of us ended up being an extra $50 per day total, not each) and I highly recommend it. Buying this option gives you a generous selection of food in the morning with endless coffee and drinks (basically being all you can eat) and offers snack time afterwards until 4 pm with drinks and food available and then a cocktail hour following also having drinks and snacks.
The first day we did nothing but hang by the pool and get lit. It was our first day on vacation! We wanted to relax. Besides… plenty of time to explore later.
We got a little more lit than we intended to (yayyy) and ended up getting up and ready for dinner super late. We got some bad directions to the restaurant we were looking for and by the time we got there, the kitchen had closed. So we were lucky enough to stumble upon this Mexican spot called Doña Frida in Bocagrande. They were also already closed … but after looking at our hungry and tired faces they reopened the kitchen for us. I enjoyed the tacos and the beer was cold and cheap. The place looked like it probably gets crowded at peak times and the decor was cool. It doesn’t have a website.
That night ended pretty early, being tired from the flight and the extensive amount of walking we accidentally did.
but it didn’t end before pictures, obviously.
Day #2 was overcast when we woke up
So we decided to skip the excursions early on. We did a second pool day which is honestly, never a bad idea.
Then we ventured into old city. We went to the well known Cafe Del Mar. Its a really nice spot with historical cannons all along the wall and a great view of the coast — perfect for watching the sunset.
Quick OOTD pic of the group before we left.
I had the ceviche — on the spicy side, but good.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with old friends at this point, so after a few
dozen rounds at cafe del mar, we set out to keep farreando!
A short distance away was Cartagena hotspot, the club Fragma.
Okay… a bottle of patron and one VIP section later … we were lit.
If you end up here, be cautious how you dress. Although I was in shorts and stilettos, people were very comfortable dancing in sandals (not flip flops) and dresses. So not like NYC meatpacking district.
Bye…. because I’m gone.
We took our time waking up on Saturday, Day #3. We were out until 5 am? 6 am? I can’t really be sure
But we took our time at breakfast and getting cute (all in vain — the sun and humidity were merciless) and head out to see The Walled City in the daylight.
OLD CITY IS BEAUTIFUL And it was amazing strolling the street, shops, churches and everything else… but, I was left a bit baffled. The Cuban influence, although very cool, was a bit strange to me. And I’m saying this from a place that doesn’t know much about the history of Colombia or any foreign influence received in Cartagena. But it felt like a culture was being peddled to tourists because it might be something that they would prefer to see. Cuban cigar street vendors strongly outweighed any
cocaine coffee sellers and bracelet weavers. Although I did enjoy everything old city had to offer, and I understand (being Latina) that our countries influence each other, I preferred the more genuine Colombian experiences of the rest of the trip.
It’s impossible to see the entirety of old city in one day. Unfortunately 2 out of 4 friends got a little sick and had to head back to the hotel room early. If you have a sensitive stomach, I suggest only drinking bottled water and avoiding ice, if possible. The impenetrable fortress of my stomach was fine — others, not so much. So my one friend and I were left to wander the city as a pair. As the sun set, the street lights came on and a beautifully lit city laid before us — the balconies, plant life and street vendors all illuminated in a glowy light that really accentuated the historical feel of the city. We sat outside at Cafe San Pedro and had some drinks and small food. It really was lovely.
I confess. Through my bitchy shell, I can get lost in the romanticism of things.
And then the rain started. It was a miserable drizzle — not enough to go running inside, and yet not slow enough to sit outside comfortably.
We stuck it out.
And eventually the wine and rain were done. We paid the bill and headed over to the trendy neighborhood of Getsemani. Cafe Havana was recommended to me by numerous people and I was excited to go. Although there was a 30,000 peso cover… I didn’t care. The salsa vibe put me in an instantly WEPA mood. The wine had mellowed me out … but nothing that a few mojitos, tequila shots, and nice chat with friendly New Yorkers couldn’t fix. Not to mention the live band.
I love Cartagena from it’s head down to its moji-toes.
the empty spot we had just entered quickly became PACKED. I think we got there around 8:30 pm (right at opening) and we had our pick of any seat while they set up. I felt kind of stupid for getting there so early by accident — but after I saw how packed it gets — I don’t regret it. Just like everyone before me — I highly recommend this spot.
We stayed until about midnight, at which point we went back to the hotel room and it was basically lights out.
The concierge at the Hyatt arranged all of our excursions for us. So day #4 was dedicated to El Volcan de Lodo el Totumo. We paid 66,000 pesos ($22) for a bus ride that would pick us up in front of the hotel, take us to the volcano and then drive to a nearby beach and serve us lunch (included in the price). This was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. Not only did I quietly sip aguardiente from a bottle I pre-filled before leaving… this was a whole new experience for me. OKAY… a few tips.
This is communal. You wait on a line at the bottom of rickety wooden steps until there is space for you to merge into the mud. On a positive — it’s sooo dense that it is impossible to sink. On a negative — the line moves forward as people climb back down. There are inconsiderate people all over the world — and self entitled tourists are definitely the worst of them.
No, you’re not allowed to wear accessories in the mud.
There are people that will help you climb into the mud and then offer you a back rub. If you do not want a massage THEN TELL THEM NO. For the Love of God. This is how these people make there living — in tips. If you force someone to massage you and don’t tip them, then you are a scumbag. Also, don’t give them 1,000 pesos. That is 35 cents you cheap fuck. If you’re were in the line ahead of me, and this was you (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE LADY) then go fuck yourself. How dare you make these people spend 20 minutes of their time on you just for a measly 35 cents.
That being said, I gave 5,000 to everyone that helped me. The guy that took my picture, the one that massaged me, the lady that washed me in the lagoon (no lie, the women strip you down, but its very liberating) and the kid that was helping us out the whole time.
After the mud bath and the washing, we went off to a small local beach called La Boquilla, where we were served either fried chicken or fresh fried fish. This was freaking delicious. Add the fresh coco-loco and it was absolutely perfect. After getting to bask in the sun and enjoy the ocean for a while longer, we were back on the bus and back at the hotel around 4 pm. Basically, just enough time to hang out by the pool and catch the last remaining bits of sun.
We made dinner reservations at Restaurante Cande , which was simply stunning inside. And as if we weren’t already in love with the interior, they add a live show.
After our fabulous dinner we walked around Old City some more, before turning back for the hotel. We booked a boat to take us to the island the next day, so it would be another early start.
I have to take a moment and applaud our maturity. Usually, I feel like any of us would have just stayed up drinking all night and then changed and headed for the boat beat and drunk as hell. We were back in time to have a restful sleep. We packed facemasks for goodness sake! This is called
getting oldmaturity people…. get some.
We were up nice and early to get to the boat. After getting nearly left by the bus the day before, we weren’t playing any time games (lol … this, ladies and gentlemen, is called foreshadowing) We thought we were gonna get crammed with 50 + people on this skinny little uncomfortable boat with upright seating. Pfffffftttt… we got taken to this private speed boat that we shared with one couple. They bumped music for us and we had the best ride there.
Nooooooot my best Idea. But i’d do it again.
We didn’t do any of the activities on the island. Because snorkeling would get in the way of my slight alcoholism. So after hanging out all day in the sun and turquois water, we were served another fresh fish lunch. I swear on a tropical vacation i’m all about this, but ask me if I eat fish like this when I go back home. #nothanks.
The rest of the afternoon was beautiful and pleasant. I bought some souvenirs and had a few more coco loco’s (fuertesito … como me gusta).
The islands are beautiful and definitely worth the trip. I wish we could have seen more islands or maybe had some more time to explore them, but I enjoyed the day nevertheless.
We got back to the hotel around 4:00 pm and went out to sit by the pool (for yes, more sun …. but as soon as my skin is done peeling its over for you hoes). This time we stayed until dark and then hurriedly got ready for dinner.
We had intended to eat at Carmen, but we didn’t make a reservation and the table was taking to long. So we agreed to be seat in what I assume was it’s sister restaurant next door, Moshi . Amazing food — with a lot of comped dishes. The best way I can describe it is Japanese cuisine with Colombian influence. I wasn’t really on board for the idea of sushi in Colombia, but after this, I had zero regrets.
But this was supposed to be our last night. So we walked down the road afterwards and sat in a quaint little plaza. A waitress was serving drinks (from the bar across the street i’m pretty sure) and we decided to settle in.
Then a man with a guitar showed up. At the same time that our tequila shots did. And I kid you not I swear to God, I get aaaaaaall types of
weird romantica when I hear old school rancheras or boleros. If you want to see me get weird then feel free to click over to my instagram and view my stories. I’ll stick to the nice pictures on here.
So we wake up the next morning, grab a quick breakfast and get ready to head to the airport. To make a long story short — we arrived 57 minutes before our plane was supposed to take off. No big deal, right? Its the tiniest airport! Wellllllll…..
First off, it was a Colombian Holiday (kinda like their Labor Day). So right off the bat they refused to help us. Great. When I finally got someone’s attention, they informed us that it was out of their hands and that Narcotics control was the reason that they didn’t allow checked bags on a flight within an hour of departure (high fives to my fellow carry-on people).
After the sinking feeling of realizing that there were ZERO other outbound flights, we conformed to the fact that we were staying one more night. We didn’t want to pay Hyatt prices again, so we settled for a motel type place also in Bocagrande.
Well… we got kinda lit. We hung out by the pool one more afternoon before heading next door for dinner to La Diva.
After which we went into Old City one more time to Alquimico to try some of their famous cocktails. This was a huge plus. I had really wanted to go there at some point, but we didn’t find the time. The drinks (although pricier than other places) are delicious. The vibe is very cool and everything in the whole place is insta-worthy. Apparently they have a rooftop that we unfortunately didn’t get to see. Next time.
We made it to the airport with hours to spare the next day. #lessonlearned.
A few things to know:
- Credit card is accepted basically everywhere
- People are not too shy to ask you for a tip
- Most people speak English
- Arrive with pesos. Don’t wait to exchange at the airport
- Colombian Pesos are confusing as hell. Why are the increments soooo high?
- Most dishes are seafood
- Anything that is Lulo flavored is delicious
- There are street vendors EVERYWHERE. don’t be afraid to haggle.
- Arrive to the airport TWO HOURS BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT AT LEASTTT
- Apparently if your passport is within 6 months of expiring you won’t be let into the country
- Narcotics control is crazyyyy at the airport. They ask you an insane amount of questions about your bags.
- You attract more flies with honey than vinegar
- The Colombian people are all very warm and friendly . I honestly did not meet a single person that wasn’t absolutely delightful. If anything, other tourists are annoying as shit.
- If you have a baby, maybe skip the mud bath. Apparently babies hate those. Not one of them was chill. Every. single. baby. scream. hysterically.
- PLEASE tip well.
- Cartagena should really be a long weekend trip. If you are time efficient and not lazy, you can get to everything you want.
- The beaches are kinda ugly in Cartagena. They are just a few feet from the main road and the sand is grey and super sticky. The water looks muddy. That’s not to say that they can’t be a good time, though.
All in all — I had a wonderful time. Would I go again? Absolutely.
ps — Ecuadorian Ceviche is infinitely better than anything you can get in Colombia. #fax. Any ñaños agree?