Posted in South America on February 14, 2014
If you’re thinking of visiting the Colombian city of Cartagena at some point in the future then you may be interested in my opinions of the city (which I visited in January.) Hopefully they help give you an idea of what to expect before you go to Cartagena and you can therefore plan accordingly.
Hot and humid!
Cartagena is situated on the Caribbean coastline of Colombia. The altitude is low. Both of these factors combined make this an incredibly hot and humid city, especially during the peak season when you’re most likely to be there. On the plus side though it was as a result of the incredibly hot temperatures that I discovered, and then stopped off in, the most amazing frozen yogurt outlet called Snog. I had toppings of gummy bears, fresh fruit, chopped up snickers and m&ms! Need I say more?
Colombia’s most beautiful city?
Cartagena is an incredibly picturesque city. There is no denying it. However, it is also extremely touristy in the old town as a result of this. I was there at the beginning of the peak season and seeing the hordes of foreign tourists (particular the older variety who all appeared to be herded on and off big tour buses like cattle) created a bit of a claustrophobic atmosphere at times. However, if you simply go for a wander and get lost around the back streets you can easy shake off the huge hordes of people to places where it is a bit quieter but still picturesque. I would also say it is still worth putting up with the huge numbers of tourist here for the sheer beauty that is Cartagena. The city walls, pastel buildings, pretty neon garden lights, the bluest of blue skies and coastal views kept me occupied for days here. It’s definitely one of those pretty cities that you’ll want to take your camera out in.
Colombia’s most expensive city?
With the huge number of tourists who visit Cartagena during peak season also comes the tourist price tag. Compared to all the other cities I visited in Colombia Cartagena was by far the most expensive on every level. However, compared to prices back home it was still relatively cheap or the same price for most things, so I think you have to view it in balance. For a really terrible hostel in peak season I paid $20 US per night in Cartagena for a bed in a big dorm room. Conversely, in nearby Santa Marta for an incredible hostel with a swimming pool, bar and an in house restaurant (the Drop Bear Hostel if you’re wondering) I paid just $12.30 US per night. Also, in Santa Marta I’d pay an average of $5 for a meal out (provided I didn’t eat at tourist trap restaurants along the water front), but in Cartagena it was often double this. In Cartagena I just felt that I got less bang for my buck so-to-speak.
I stayed in the area of Getsemani while I was in Cartagena and for me it was the perfect area to be based in for a backpacker on a budget who still wants to be based central and close to everything. Getsemani is situated right next to the walled Old Town of Cartagena and is also a very small neighbourhood in itself. Even based at the far end of Getsemani it should only take you around 5 minutes or so to walk to the entrance of the Old Town. However, being in Getsemani you’ll find that bars and restaurants are that little bit cheaper than the Old Town, as is accommodation. There’s also a lot of cool little plazas and bars where people go to drink and hang out at night in Getsemani, as well as some cool graffiti art that you won’t find in the more plush Old Town streets. The Plaza just outside of the Parroquia de la Santisima Trinidad is a really cool place to hang out at night and have a drink. There’s a local corner store there that many locals and travellers alike buy cheap beer from to drink in the plaza. Given how hot and humid Cartagena is (even at night) this is often preferable to sitting in a bar.
- I spent 4 days in Cartagena and honestly found the aesthetics of the city to be inspiring. Despite the hoards of tourists the simple act of walking along top of the city walls was one of the best things I did in Colombia. You can’t help but feel at peace when you’re surrounded by such bright and pretty architecture, bright blue skies and coastal views. Visually it was by far my favourite city in Colombia.
- If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading about my first impressions of Bogotá, Colombia.