It took us 31 hours, but we made it to Cartagena, Colombia!
Cartagena is a city with many faces. The part of the city we stayed in had a distinct colonial architectural style. Horse-drawn carriages bustled past us as we navigated our way around (and sometimes to) colourful fruit-vending Colombians and countless shops selling everything from the delicious bocaqueso to “ancient” pre-Colombian relics.
Once you leave the walled-city, however, you quickly begin to see the true Colombian lifestyle.
Southwards we biked through residential neighbourhoods where we saw groups of locals hanging out at the corner store, drinking cervezas and watching passersby.
Westwards we found ourselves biking on the narrow peninsula past skyscrapers growing from countless fast food restaurants and casinos.
the Heroic City, Capital of the Bolívar department is Colombia’s tourist city par excellence. The colonial architecture and the skyscrapers can be seen together in this city that offers a unique experience of festivals, historic attractions, restaurants, and hotels.
The architectural gem of South America. Definitely want to spend 2-4 days exploring the walled city. Keep in mind prices are triple or even more inside the walled city than outside. The beaches in the city are not good so you want to get on a ferry and head over to the Islas de Rosario (islands) that are about an hour away from the coast. Beautiful, unspoiled beaches.
History and “hours worth of walking”.
go to the mud volcano, walk around the old city, the fortress, have a drink on the city walls, the beach
This hostal was very cute, run by a family as part of the house they’re still building. The hostel itself is just 2 rooms of 4 bunk beds, very small and simple. The hosts were very friendly and helpful, and icy mango juice in the afternoon was a lovely treat!
If you are arriving by air: take a taxi to Calle de las Palmas in Getsemani (no more than 12,000 pesos). If you are arriving by bus: take a taxi from the terminal to Calle de las Palmas in Getsemani (no more than 15,000 pesos), or you can take a bus to ‘La India’ and a taxi from there (no more than 5,000 pesos). By foot from the clock tower: walk with the clock tower behind you away from the walled city, down the pedestrianized strip and bear right to the ‘Centro Convenciones’ (Convention centre). Take the first left (Call Larga) after the big white church. Walk all the way down to the end and the penultimate street on the left is Calle de las Palmas. Hostal 25-59 is the blue and white house next to Casa de las Palmas, with a beautifully lit tree adorning it
Driving directions from Cartagena Airport:
good coffee (espresso! Ask for a cappucino) Muesli with fruit is good, as is the huevos (eggs). Apparently you can book boat trips to Panama here. The bill for 2x breakfasts and 2x coffees came to 17.000 pesos (around $9 AUD)
Coffee is the instant kind, but that’s fairly common here. Breakfast specials are great value. We had similar food to our breakfast at Gato Negro – Muesli with a massive pile of fruit and yogurt (hers), and omelette with toast (his). 8.000 pesos each (around $4 AUD). The décor in this cafe is really cute and rather quirky. The bill comes in an old tin lunch box.
Large restaurant and fairly busy. The prices are pretty high but the food is great and the servings are MASSIVE! I had the Bandeja Paisa – a mixed plate of local food. There were 9 different types of food on the plate (Chorizo, beef mince, pork ribs, beans, rice, fried egg, fried banana, corn bread, and one more thing now slightly forgotten). Rob had the Churrasco – a massive 500g of beef, with a few side dishes. Each main was aroun 17.000-18.000 (around $9-$10 AUD)
I was incorrectly told by a few people that this was the original Cafe del Mar – it’s not (that one is in Ibiza) but that doesn’t matter at all. The setting is magnifico! It’s on top of the old city walls, facing west, right out to see. Perfect for sunsets! We missed sunset but got there whihle there was still a bit of light – watching the waves crash while sipping a cocktail, listening to the smoooooth Cafe del Mar tunes, is pretty amazing. The drinks were OK – I enjoyed the cosmopolitan more than the caprioska. Go there for the view and the atmosphere!
Diving Planet, Andres is fantastic
Bus tickets cost us $9 each to get from Sámara to Bogota.
While we were planning our travel from Costa Rica to Colombia we found Spirit Airlines on hipmunk offering incredibly cheap flights at ~$200/person compared to about $500-600/person for direct flights. The Spirit flight took us through Fort Lauderdale (FLL) before going onward to Cartagena, but at almost half the price it was an easy choice.
Spirit is apparently the most profitable airline in the US and for good reason. They charge for practically everything. To check our backpacks, for example, we had to pay $30 per leg of the trip, not for the overall trip. This meant we ended up paying $60 each to be able to check our bags, but the tickets were still only $272.99/person in the end.
The flights themselves were totally fine and the staff were really pleasant. We didn’t have any issue checking in and our bags arrived in Colombia safely. The toughest part of the trip was waiting until 2AM for our flight from San Jose, but another small price to pay for saving $200-300 each.
|8:59AM||Boarded the bus.|
|9:05AM||On our way!|
|9:49AM||Quick stop in Nicoya.|
|11:56AM||Bathroom break in Espíritu Santo.|
|1:20PM||Arrived at SJO.|
|2:17PM||Departure tax ($29) paid and now sitting at a cafe, waiting for Spirit airlines to open.|
|9:14PM||Still waiting at the airport. Flight leaves in 5 hours…|
|11:15PM||The check-in counter finally opened!|
|11:45PM||Security came by and asked us why we were here. They thought we had snuck in to the terminal.|
|4:50AM||Landed in FLL.|
|4:57AM||Waiting in line for US customs.|
|9:29AM||Waiting for flight to Cartagena.|
|11:42AM||Boarded the delayed flight to Cartagena.|
|2:35PM||Landed in Cartagena!|
|2:56PM||Through customs, waiting for bags.|
|3:31PM||In a taxi to Hostel Mamallena.|
|Total bus time||4:15|
Where we’re staying in Cartagena for now. Nice place with A/C in the rooms at night, bar, and free pancakes in the morning for $40/night.
We stayed at Mamallena for our first two nights in Cartagena and enjoyed it overall. We booked a private room and ended up in one of the dorms with 4 beds to choose from and a private bathroom. When you leave your room you enter the courtyard which is an awesome place to hang out away from the busy streets. We’d always see and meet new people any time we walked through.
The A/C was great at night after a long day exploring the city under the hot sun. Mamallena is located within 10 minutes of the clocktower, making it a solid launching point for exploring the city. The beds and room were really clean, though the mattresses were just ok, comfort-wise. The free pancakes in the morning were great! The staff topped it off by being super friendly and allowing us to change our reservation on a whim as our plans changed.
I really like the pastries here. The bocaqueso tastes like pretzel and has a jam filling. Best part is they’re just $0.40!
Not open on weekends sadly.
About to order a ramen burger!
Holy crap was that tasty. It’s exactly what you’d think a ramen burger would taste like, but this one was a towering multi-story colossus. I ordered the one with two patties which included juicy thick layers of cheese and a ramen “bun”. This beast had to be taken down with man-made tools.
Stumbled on this literal hole in the wall restaurant while searching for lunch. Prices are really good here ($5/plate + soup and $1/lemonade). It’s got an ancient colonial vibe going on, fitting with the feel of Cartagena so far.
The food was really good! The lemonade was huge, the soup tasty, and the plate included a meat, potato wedges, rice, and a cucumber salad!
The only indication of this place’s existence.
There are three geocaches in the coastal part of Cartagena so we set off in search of them as we explored the city!
The first geocache (GC23FH8) took us through the colonial city to an area decorated with dozens of metal sculptures of people performing various actions. We attempted to find the geocache on one particular sculpture but to no avail - the cache was missing!
The second geocache (GC3P6GB) was just south of the first cache and took us to a cute park with a fountain in the centre and local couples sitting under trees eating ice cream. The cache here was also missing, but we did make a mental note to come back here at night time to see the park again.
The third geocache (GC3NTHV) took us back up through the walled city to a restaurant, where we were to order “el tesoro de Blas de Lezo”. Our waitress didn’t know that we were playing a game and started giving us actual directions to an actual treasure somewhere, before another waitress overheard and realized what we were looking for and sadly cut her off. They quickly brought out “el tesoro” and holy crap was it huge! This was the first large geocache we’d ever found and it was a perfect drop-off point for the two tagalongs we’d picked up in Costa Rica. We picked up two more critters and one of them is bound for New Zealand where we intend to drop it off.
The final geocache in Cartagena was too far to get to by foot, so we decided to call it a day and continued exploring the city.
This was the destination for one of the geocaches we were hunting for. The cache itself was a giant tupperware container filled with a treasure map and various geocoin drops. We left the two we found in Sámara here and picked up two more. One’s goal is to head to New Zealand, which is perfect given our plans!
The staff were amazingly friendly and really excited to tell us about their electric lunch, so we’ll have to come back!
Moved hostels today to a much cheaper (only $19/night in total) simpler place called Hotel Familiar down the street from Hostel Mamallena. This hotel is an old mansion that was turned into a hotel by building walls out of thin drawer-board sheeting. It’s definitely basic!
The room thankfully keeps fairly cool with the help of a fan mounted to a two-by-four that crosses above our heads from room to room.
We went back here after New Years and were told the rooms were 30,000 COP this time. Sadly we only found out that this was per person the following morning. This place is absolutely not worth $15+ per night.
This was one of three soda-style restaurants that were back-to-back in Cartagena near a park plaza. We only tried the outer sodas and neither impressed. Didn’t try the middle one as a result.
Had casado plates here for 6500 COP with soup. Had the bistek and liked it!
Saw this while biking south of the walled city.
Just down the street from our hostel is an open plaza where people hang out at night. On this night there were over a hundred people gathered around as a small group led a larger group through the intensity of a Zumba work out. We tried jumping in for a song and holy crap is it hard!
Splurging a bit and had tasty sushi and salmon plates. Cool interior and we walked in to an Elli Goulding remix of Crave in Ibiza lounge jazz form playing softly over the sound system.
Hopped over here after Peru Fusion for the second half of our dinner. They have really tasty sweet bread starters that tasted like pandequeso bread.
Fish doesn’t taste very good and the rice is dry. For cheaper we’ve had way tastier similar plates, so we were pretty disappointed. Tasty chicken soup though.
Dropped in here to grab a coffee and take a break from our long walk. I ordered a white chocolate mocha that tasted pretty gross and Laurence’s mandarin juice tasted like they hadn’t cleaned the blender between drinks.
Hell yes to good food and great cocktails.
There are two Tabetai locations, one in the colonial part of Cartagena and another, newer one, built in a shipping container out by the beaches on the peninsula. We went to the latter one and damn was it a good idea because it turned out the shipping container Tabetai had just opened within the last thirty days. The staff were all incredibly eager to please.
The restaurant is built inside and on top of a shipping container. They have a DJ playing a mix of indie and dance music all night, adding to the cool beach-front ambience. They’re primarily a sushi house so we ordered five plates of sushi and a seaweed salad accompanied by two drinks.
The food was ok overall - we’ve definitely had better sushi elsewhere - but the friendliness of the staff and the genuine way in which they sought our opinions made the experience memorable. At the end of the night the head chef came by and offered us free drinks (“whatever you like”) and asked us how we were enjoying the place before sitting down and mingling with the other clientele.
By the time we got the bill we had a slight buzz and were really enjoying sitting on the roof of the container listening to the music. It felt almost like we were back home on the playa; if only the shipping container had wheels and was moving through the city. For the price we had an amazing time and a lot of sushi, making Tabetai one of our favourite restaurant experiences of Cartagena.
We’ll be taking an Avianca flight ($86.63) to Medellin this afternoon at 2PM.
|11:30AM||Shopping while we wait for Restaurante 1595 to open.|
|11:39AM||And we’re in!|
|12:01PM||Sounds like it’s raining outside?|
|12:20PM||Aaaaand Cartagena’s flooding.|
|12:43PM||In a cab on the way to the airport.|
|1:18PM||Checked in and bags checked!|
|1:23PM||Got a Vanicanela at Juan Valdez.|
|3:47PM||In the air.|
|5:40PM||Ate some crappy airport food.|
|5:57PM||On a shuttle to Medellin ($8000 COP each).|
|7:20PM||Cabbed to our hotel ($8000 COP).|
|7:43PM||Waiting for our AirBnB host.|
|7:56PM||And we’re in! All settled.|
Had a Vanicanella latte for $5000 COP at the airport’s Juan Valdez and it was delicious. Juan Valdez is similar to Starbucks in that it’s a large national chain of coffee stores. They’ve got pastries and branded swag and plenty of tables to sit and sip at while you work or socialize.
Forgot how simple and pleasant airport experiences used to be before 9/11. Didn’t have to take our shoes off at security or take my laptop out of my backpack. No freaking out over liquids.