We had been told how beautiful and enchanting Cartagena, Colombia was by a lot of people, especially our friends from Santa Marta, whom we were meeting there to celebrate one of their birthdays. Andres, a native Colombian, had been there before and had never understood why everyone falls in love with the place. I decided not to be influenced by anyone and remain objective. I was sold on the first day.
The colonial walls of the old city have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so. Walking through the old city has a very magical feeling. Pounding drums beat in the distance as street performers prepare to entertain the crowds; an abundance of bright flowers hang from the colonial balconies that have been a part of the old cities’ architecture for centuries, and the sound of horses’ trotting hooves echo on the stone paved streets as they pull a carriage of visiting tourists behind them.
The city feels old but fresh. The buildings inside the walled city are kept in excellent condition, and are repainted frequently. People relax in the many parks and squares and enjoy the hot sun. ‘Palenqueras’, Afro-Colombian women in traditional dress selling fresh tropical fruits on the street, add to the traditional Caribbean feel of Cartagena.
What to do in Cartagena, Colombia
In Cartagena city itself, there is also a lot to do, however most of the time we spent there revolved around walking the streets and eating delicious ice cream from Gelateria Paradiso or amazing pizza from Pizza en el Parque beside Park Fernandezde Madrid.
We decided to go to Cartagena Castle (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) while we were there. The entrance is so over-priced for what is really a very boring and underwhelming castle (I’m from Ireland so I have seen some pretty impressive castles in my day). The grounds are very big and the narrow passageways underground are cool however I wouldn’t recommend it. If you are really interested in history or architecture, you might find it interesting but the views of the castle from the outside are much more beautiful than the views from the inside looking out. Personally I would save the $17,000 COP ($10 USD) per person and spend it on the ice cream!
The Ripped Jeans…An Epic Journey of Survival
While we were in Cartagena Castle, Andres inadvertently ripped his jeans right up the middle while jumping up onto a wall. In any other scenario, this would be easily solved….just wear another pair. Traveling as light as possible has its downsides however, meaning no back-up jeans! While its also fine to wear shorts all the time, we usually tried to wear jeans while traveling from one city to the next to avoid unwanted attention (all part of traveling safe in Colombia). So the ripped jeans lived on, despite the rip getting bigger and bigger each day. Those infamous jeans made it many more miles since their downfall in Cartagena to Mompox, Medellin, and Guatapé, until they finally found their eternal resting place in Cali, their original home. Gone but not forgotten. :'(
Where to Stay in Cartagena, Colombia
We were very surprised how cheap we got our accommodation in Cartagena. $20,000 COP ($11 USD/8 euro) a night between 2 people! We originally arrived with a friend we met in Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, so we paid $30,000 that night for a room for 3 people. The owners were very relaxed and said we could stay in the same room for $20,000 after our friend left. The rooms were very basic with a shared bathroom in the hallway. The location, in Getsemani however, was amazing with the famous backpacker hostel Media Luna Hostel right opposite us as well as many other hostels, so occasionally huge street parties would break out with all the backpackers and travelers dancing and drinking on the street. Although there were some dangerous areas nearby and an occasional crazy person walking by, there was always a police presence in the area to put you at ease.
While, like any other large city, it has its dangerous areas, it feels like a relatively safe city to walk. It’s hard to feel intimidated anyway when there is a horse and carriage passing you by with candlelit lanterns on the back. In the end I was definitely enchanted by Cartagena. Andres is still not convinced.
Have you been to Cartagena, Colombia? Were you enchanted by the city?
New Video From Cartagena, Colombia:
For more travel photos from Cartagena, Colombia, check out our Flickr set here.