Cartagena is bustling and expensive. It’s a clean, walled-city with colorful buildings that carries an air of Havana, but without the broken streets, the trash and the old cars. There is good food and good smells at every turn as well as several diverting things to see and do nearby. I enjoyed Cartagena; being there made me feel romantic in the way Europe makes me feel.
1. stay near the walled city
I stayed in El Viajero Hostel, which was an amazing hostel with free breakfast, free social events in the evening and which catered to travel plans. Living in and walking around the narrow streets and colored buildings was so fun! The airport is verily close to Centro; the cab ride was less than 20,000 pesos (like $10 USD).
2. go on a free walking tour
When I first got to Cartagena, I was so impressed with the views and the colorful buildings and the layout of the city within the Spanish walls, but I really didn’t know anything about the history of the place. So, my first order of business my first morning in Cartagena was to go on the free waking tour of Cartagena.
3. visit museo del cacao
In case you don’t speak Spanish, Museo Del Cacao is Chocolate Museum. I didn’t go to the actual museum, didn’t have enough time. But I did make it to the gift shop where I was given the grand tour–and a ton of samples–of chocolate. Chocolate bars, chocolate candies, chocolate coffee, chocolate lotion, chocolate alcohol… you get the picture. I cleaned up for gift with my family.
4. mud-bath at el volcan del totumo
I didn’t manage to get to el volcan del Totumo for the mud baths. But I’m told it’s fantastic… and it’s one of my sore regrets of Colombia. There are plenty of tours that you can book to go there. It was recommended to me to take the cab there first thing in the morning and enjoy the mud baths before the tour groups get there.
5. explore nearby beaches
There isn’t a beach near the walled city, but several places (including El Viajero) help you book transport to and from the nearby beaches
Isla Grande for scuba diving certification
6. scuba dive
I went to Colombia and got my open water certification with Dive Planet. My friends did a discovery dive. They manage transport to and from Isla Grande, about an hour by boat off Cartagena. The reef was beautiful and spending time on the island was so fun, an added side of Cartagena.
7. eat at la cevicheria
La Cevicheria has very good ceviche connected to Anthony Bourdain. There are waits
8. drool over steaks at quebacha
Quebacha is where I had a delicious Argentinian steaks. Seriously. I haven’t been to Argentina, and eating here just bumped that destination up on my list.
9. be a kid at la poletteria
La Poletteria for artisan popsicles. Yum!
The colored buildings in Cartagena are gorgeous!
10. laugh at the “koffee gallery bar”
Get it? KGB? They have all these Soviet decorations in Colombia and that’s not random at all.
11. work from or simply enjoy epoca coffee shops
I loved working at Epoca. The staff was so friendly, the coffee so fine and space so comfortable.