Reconocido por su buena rumba, sus mujeres hermosas, su comida riquíiiiisima, y su Español fácil de entender (pues en algunas ciudades ja, ja) Who wouldn’t want to visit the beautiful country of Colombia?! After seeing tons of pictures, reading countless blog posts,and chatting with numerous Colombian@s (folks from Colombia) I figured I had no other choice but to check things out for myself. Recognizing the vast differences between the various cities, my main task was to determine which city I wanted to visit first! After comparing flight costs, accessibility, activities, the # of friends in each city (haha), and potential weather conditions, I ultimately decided that Cartagena de Indias would be my best bet!
How did I get there?
So I’m sure some will look at this in utter disgust, while others will scratch their heads with confusion and others will understand completely..*Drumroll please*. I flew with Spirit Airlines! I know, I know….How could you? Well for the flight times offered, and the super cheap price I felt like I couldn’t pass it up! I had flown with Spirit in the past, and had a decent experience so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. After comparing prices, Spirit beat the other competitors by $100-150 easily. Round trip tickets from Chicago to Cartagena registered in at about $250 (team carry-on, so checking baggage isn’t an issue), while most other major airlines started around the upper 300’s. So for a starting price of $250, plus Spirit’s hefty discount (always check out for the 99 percent discount flash sales), the price came to around $170 (the 99% is taken off the price of the ticket, but you still have to pay taxes which is why the difference doesn’t seem like that much). Discount codes in addition to READING THE DETAILS are the key to flying with spirit.
- Read their baggage guidelines, and you won’t have to pay for a carry on. Spirit allows for a “free bag” as long as it fits the size guidelines. Do a quick YouTube or Google search and you’ll see that the bag size is actually pretty decent.
- Print your tickets at home before arriving. Having Spirit print your boarding pass at the airport will cost you about $10, so save yourself the headache and print it before you head to the airport.
- Bring your own snacks. Yes, Spirit charges for all snacks including a cup of water haha. It’s better to bring your own snacks anyway, because you know what you like, and at least you know it will be fresh!
- Know that the seats are smaller. So I’m pretty tall (6’5″ to be exact), and simply put,…there was no leg room. I knew this ahead of time though, so I tried to make everything else as comfortable as possible (Clothes, neck pillow, shoes etc). Spirit is a budget airline, so making sure you have leg space isn’t a priority for them. They’re literally just here to get you where you need to go.
Where did I stay?
If you’ve already started researching your trip to Cartagena, you’ve probably realized that most turistas stay in 3 main areas; The Walled City, Getsemaní, and Bocagrande. Just so you have a brief description of each one, I’ll start with that..
- The Walled City: Pretty much the heart of Cartagena. Here you’ll find most of the tourist attractions like museums, street performers, Palenqueras (Afro-Colombian women in colorful dresses normally selling fruits and posing for pictures), and all of the other touristy stuff haha.
- Getsemaní: Literally right outside of the walled city. Getsemaní is seen to many as the “up and coming” part of Cartagena. Previously with a bad reputation, things have turned around in Getsemaní, and lots of tourists are staying there. Getsemaní offers an “at home” feel as the area is mostly residential, and locals are going about their everyday routines. Getsemaní is no more than a 5 minute walk from the main entrance of the Walled City, and offers slightly lower cost housing options.
- Bocagrande: Really simple….Think Miami. Bocagrande is where you’ll find lots of fancy buildings, casinos, cafes, and resorts.
Always opting for the most “authentic experience” I chose to spend half of my time in Getsemaní, and the other half in the Walled City. I used Airbnb to find rooms in both cities, and both accommodations were even better than I expected. Because I was only in Barranquilla for a day and a half, I decided to make things easy and reserve a room at a hotel.
What kinds of things can you do there?
First things first. Cartagena and Barranquilla are both coastal Caribbean cities, so you can expect lots of sun and lots of heat. Whether you prefer to spend most of your time soaking up the sun at the beach, taking a day trip to one of the islands off the coast of Cartagena, or just wandering around the streets of the walled city…at some point you’ll find yourself baking in the sun haha. The sun/heat in Cartagena is intense, and you should DEFINITELY be prepared for it before going. Every morning before I left out for the day i would check the weather, and by 9am the temperature was already around 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Colombians told me that the heat in Barranquilla surpasses that of Cartagena, but from my experience I would say Cartagena was the winner! But on to the activities!
1. Take a day trip to Playa Blanca, Isla Grande or any of the other nearby islands. The collage you saw at the top of this post was taken in Playa Blanca, so if you liked it JUST GOOOOOOOOOO!!! haha. Just outside of the walled city, there is a terminal where you’ll see tons of vendedores (Folks trying to sell you packages to get to various tourist sites). I’ve learned the art of negotiating, and I believe you should as well! I know it may be kind of overwhelming with the vendedores constantly trying to explain to you why their price is “the best”, but I recommend that you search until the price feels right. I paid 40,000 Colombian pesos (yeah I know sounds/looks like a lot, but $1 US=3000 Colombian Pesos), so it ended up being around $13-14 US. This included roundtrip bus transportation, free drinks and lunch! When we first started asking about prices, most folks quoted between 50-60,000 pesos, but then as time went on (about 2-3 minutes) we were able to find an option for 40,000. We were told by the vendedores that taking the lancha (small boat) would be around the same price,but they charged a tax to enter to island, so we figured getting there by bus would be the better option. On our way there I decided to be curious and ask the other folks on the bus how much they paid for the trip. Everyone on the bus told me that they paid 50,000 pesos, so it turns out we did get a good deal after all! The bus ride itself was painless. It took around an hour to get to the beach, and our driver was funny and made the ride more tolerable. Once there we were told what time and where to meet for lunch, and of course what time we would be leaving, and then we were free to explore the beach.
2. Visit Palenque (the first settlement of freed and escaped slaves in “the Americas”) Prior to making my arrangements to come to Cartagena I had heard and read a lot about the village of Palenque (also note that this is where the term “Palenquera” comes from. Palenqueras are the women you may see in the walled city with colorful dresses and many times posing for pictures or selling items such as fruit). While you are free wander the streets of Palenque on your own, it may be worth it to get a guided tour just to learn a more in depth history of the town and to support the local economy! Also take the time to ask a little about “Champeta” music while you’re here! Palenque is fairly easy to get to. All you have to do is go to the bus terminal in Cartagena and ask for the bus to San Basilio de Palenque. Once you’re there, in order to get to the actual village you will have to take a “moto taxi”. There will most likely be a group of guys there on their motorcycles waiting to take you into town, so it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what to do once the bus drops you off haha. The cost is very minimal, so it’s definitely a budget friendly trip.
3. Wander around the Walled City. So the Walled City, or “Ciudad Amurallada” in Spanish, is one of the main tourist sites in Cartagena. Here you’ll find lots of colorful buildings, Palenqueras, tons of artwork, street performers, museums, lots and lots of tourist shops and even more tourists haha. The area is quite large, so it’s easy to spend a day or two here just wandering the streets and taking in all of the sites. Within the walled city you’ll also find one of Cartagena’s universities, so if you’re lucky you may be able to sit in on one of the classes, or just simply get a tour of the campus. If neither of those interest you, then you could always just chat with some of the students there to learn about what they’re studying, some of their aspirations, help them practice their English or maybe they’ll even walk you around the ciudad amurallada to show you the most interesting parts!
4. Take a trip to Barranquilla. The city of Barranquilla is maybe an hour and a half-2 hours away from Cartagena, and just costs a few dollars to get to (I went by motorcycle with a friend, so that’s always an option too haha). Although it isn’t as touristy as Cartagena, it is a nice escape and offers a different experience! Shakira and Sofia Vergara are from this city too, so you could always say you visited their hometown haha. Here are some of the things you can do if you decide to visit:
- Dance at “La Troja”
If you like, love, or even if you think you hate salsa music I still say that you should make a trip to La Troja. La Troja is essentially like an outdoor bar where lots of locals come to watch soccer games, socialize, drink a few beers, and of course dance salsa!!!!!! The great thing about La Troja is that people are literally dancing everywhere! Although there are tables around the establishment, you’ll quickly realize that at any given point, people will get up and start dancing; even if it’s right next to their table. Now I will warn you that Barranquilla style salsa is a little different than what you may have learned elsewhere; particularly if you’re familiar with Cuban or Puerto Rican style. I’ll try to attach a video so you all can get a taste of it!
- Catch some free music in the park
If you’re lucky you may be able to catch some live music at “El Sagrado Corazón” park! I had the chance to attend a concert while I was there, and it was a fun experience! The band played some local favorites like Joe Arroyo’s “En Barranquilla Me Quedo” and everyone started dancing at the sound of the first few notes haha. At the end of the show it’s a tradition to take a picture with the performers!
- Visit “El Buenavista” Shopping center
El Buenavista is essentially a huge mall comprised of two locations. No real need for an explanation here. Shop, eat and meet up with people. The end haha
- Check out the statue of Joe Arroyo (En Barranquilla me quedooooo)
So I know I’ve referenced his name and song several times throughout this post, so it’s only right to include his statue in the list of things to see in Barranquilla haha. Joe Arroyo is a Colombian Salsero (Salsa singer), and his hit songs “En Barranquilla Me Quedo” and “La Rebelión”(No le pegue la negra) can still be heard in salsa/Latin music clubs across the world!
5. Eat EVERYTHING! Well not literally, but almost haha. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m basically obsessed with food (hence the name “El Viajero Comelon” haha), and my travels basically involve eating everything in sight. Colombia was no different! From arepa con huevo, to pataconazos (plantains with loads of goodness stacked on top), to patacones rellenos (Stuffed fried plantains), to pescado frito w/ arroz de coco (Fried fish with coconut rice), Colombia did not let me down! And the prices were verrrrrrrrrrrry affordable!
6. Go to the Beach in Bocagrande. So if you’re short on time, or if you don’t feel like going too far outside of Cartagena, you can opt to take a trip to the beach in Bocagrande. Now I will say that this beach is NOWHERE near as nice as the Isla Grande or Playa Blanca, but it’s close, and will get the job done haha.
7. Practice Your E’pañol (remember you’ll be hearing Caribbean/Coastal Spanish haha) Como muchos dicen, Colombia en general es un buen lugar para practicar/aprender español! Folks from Cartagena (Barranquilla and Santa Marta too) have what’s considered a coastal or “costeño” accent. This entails slightly faster speech, “cut off” words, seemingly silent letters and lots of contractions haha. For example…”Para allá” becomes “Pallá”, “Pescado” becomes “Pesca’o (pes-cow)” and “Mujeres” becomes “mujere'” (kind of like with a silent H at the end). For a better idea, just search for some videos of Cartagena on Youtube, or even better take a trip there and experience it en vivo!!!! haha
Cartagena, in my opinion, has lots and lots to offer and it’s a great way to experience Colombia! The people are friendly, the weather is perfect (I enjoy heat, so if you don’t maybe it won’t be perfect haha), the beaches are great, and the food is addicting!!! If you have more questions, or want more tips about what to do feel free to ask! A special thanks to Ivan, Bernardo, Freddy, Arley, Andrea, Maryelis, Nelsy, Mafe and Faiber for making my trip so awesome! Los quiero mucho!