Seven days in Cartagena, Colombia

Sunday, August 02, 2015

So I admittedly did the absolute most with travel this summer: three locales over the span of one and a half months; and, I still have to share South Africa and Tobago. *woot*
Afro Colombian women in the Centro Square.

I am a flight deal fiend: if you're not certain what that is, it's probably for the best. But for those that are intrigued, we fiends plan our trips based on airfare deals to locales that we may or may not be familiar with. The life of a traveler!

I am not a baller nor am I being "financed" (someone seriously asked me this). Nearly all of the trips I take come with an excellent flight deal from one of the many "pusher" sites: The Flight Deal, Airfare Watchdog and FlyerTalk are a few.

I scored a roundtrip deal to Cartagena for $200RT out of MIA airport. A flight from ATL to MIA cost me a little over $100; factor in travel insurance (a must) and my total flight was around $340 round trip. Cartagena is beautiful and did not disappoint:

There is a hop on/hop off bus here, but it only runs every 90 mins so there is basically only 5 routes per day. 

On the way to the square on the HOHO, beautiful Afro Colombiana building art

Views of the shoreline and cityscape, pic doesn't do it justice!

Bridge connecting Centro to Getsemani; the marina is nearby

The mid-afternoon route includes a complimentary walking tour of the historic city center (Centro). This was more helpful to me than the bus ride itself. I paid for a one day pass and somehow got a 2-day pass back (score). The 90 mins gives you enough time to explore each stop. You will find that most are in walking distance from another: Centro is walking distance to San Felipe and vise versa. You would still need the bus to go from Centro/San Felipe to Bocagrande and San Martin Ave shopping district, though. There are some amazing photo ops just before and right after you pass thru Bocagrande, of the Cartagena skyline near the ocean. Take advantage!

HOHO tour guide taking us through Centro

Fernando Botero has left his mark (and various buns) all over the planet.

Street art in the Getsemani area of Cartagena.

The best way to describe Cartagena: colorful!

Art for sale 

Old century architecture

Centro Square entrance, and view of San Juan Castle

The square is reminiscent of Bourbon Street in NOLA, especially at night.

Old century architecture

Horse and carriage rides available in Centro

San Pedro cathedral: where slave auctions were held, and where those
who refused to convert to Christianity were killed in front of the townspeople.

Wedding crashers

San Felipe de Barajas Castle is the most popular tourist attraction in the city. It is really a fort, but it is massive. It is in your best interest to go early or late (sunset) to avoid the crowds and the disrespectful HEAT. Tours are optional but helpful if you want to learn the history of the fort (for a fee). There are several tunnels and passage ways as well, you will need light (flashlight on cell should be okay) as it is dark and narrow. Def not for claustrophobes. The incline to the top of the castle is steep and not for the faint of heart. Take good shoes, water, and umbrella/hat and lots of pictures when you get up there. You will have optimal views of the city at all angles. A must do.

Street view of the fort, hence the name "Walled City".

More views of the wall

Selfies at San Felipe Fort.

The food! I ate my way through this city!


El  Bar del Sur- there will be lots of travelers here along with locals as it is near the hostel area in Getsemani. Think small scale sports bar. Try their arepas de pollo. Fun little place, especially at night. Accepts credit cards.

La Cocina de Pepina- authentic Colombian fare, a local favorite. Menu is posted on a cute chalkboard inside the restaurant. The menu is in Spanish, the waiter may translate for you.Accepts credit cards.

Demente- hidden gem near Iglesia de Trinidad plaza. It is tapas, and has limited outdoor seating but is an excellent people-watching venue if you can grab one of the outdoor seats. Inside is open air. Cash.

La Casa de Socorro- menu is mostly seafood and it is pricey, but portions are large so you will have leftovers. It is a local and tourist fav. The drinks leave a lot to be desired. Accepts credit cards.

IBIS Marbella-hotel restaurant- random I know. I did not stay here but I ate here and it was one of my best meals in Cartagena. The chicken breast topped with champignon, served with coconut rice (not your average coconut rice!!) and perfectly steamed vegetables were orgasmic. You get to pick your sides, those were mine. And listen-the fresh lemonades were LIFE! The Yerbabuena was my absolute fav! Seriously could have lived in fresh juices and lemonades the whole time.

Street food- do not sleep. The street food is EXCELLENT. Whatchu need? empandas? fresh fruit? some drank? They got it for the low low! GOOD, cheap and filling!

This is the Yerbabuena limonada,  I drank them daily!

Champignon Chicken plate from the IBIS hotel restaurant 
The food and drinks were among the BEST I've had anywhere I've been!
All the fruit comes with a scoop of ice cream. How cute :)

The beaches in Cartagena city proper are not that great (think Gulf of Mexico, near Panama City Beach or Galveston, no shade). For ice blue waters you will need a day trip to one of the nearby islands. Speedboats depart from the marina around 9am each morning and return around 4pm for the day trips. You will have to negotiate your price and your success will depend on the amount of people that also want to go (usually 3-4 boats per day). Prices range from 45,000-115,000 COP. If you book through a company you can pay cash or charge. There is a $13 COP marina tax that must be paid in order to enter the marina. The tax should be included in your fee if you reserved a ride in advance, and you will get a ticket to enter; be prepared to pay in cash at the gate if not. 
**Make motion sickness pills/patches your friend**
Read Trip Advisor posts and Google thoroughly for each area before making your decision.

Tierra Bomba- closest island. 20 minute boat ride. 

Playa Blanca- most popular island. 45 min by boat or bus

Islas del Rosario- 1 hr by covered speedboat. I went to the Isla del Pirata in the Rosarios. We embarked at the Pirata property, and had a fish lunch, unlimited fruit and drinks (coffee, tea, water). Cash bar and small cafe also on site.

Yes, people will be selling you things, Buy, or tell them no, and be polite about it. You can negotiate water activities and massage prices. Chairs and umbrellas should be plentiful. Bring your own towel.

Begrudgingly taking a boat ride to Islas del Rosario, a private secluded island.

Islas del Pirata on approach. Legit private island!

Islas del Pirata: Worth the ride.

As always, I pay almost next to nothing for lodging, thanks to sites like Airbnb. I have tagged the wonderful accommodations I lucked up on while in Cartagena. I really loved what both properties had to offer. They are both Superhosts with beautiful, comfortable spaces and I highly recommended each of them:

Oceanfront Marbella

Balcony at the Marbella property (See what I meant about the water).
Chillin' during the complimentary breakfast at the Getsemani property.
This property was my favorite Airbnb stay to date!

The kitten that came to see about me every morning, at Getsemani property. Also a turtle on site. :)

The highlight of my trip was a visit to the Afro Colombian town of Palenque. Palenque was established by runaway slaves who successfully fought off Spanish inquisition after being forced to the country. Much of the African customs and traditions have been preserved over the years. They are very wary of visitors; in order to receive a tour, you must have a resident show you around and you cannot take photos of the locals without their expressed permission. The residents speak a combination of Bantu, Spanish and Palenquero.

Ride to Palenque: a sign of the changing times on the street.
Put put on one side, big rig on another.

Palenque woman. She's a hustler. She snapped the selfie then tried to charge me for it,

Alex Rocha is an amazing brother who is doing wonderful things for the underserved Afro-Colombian community in Cartagena. He was my connect for the Palenque tour, and also provides other services around CTG, so definitely hit him up if you'd like to have this experience, and consider a donation to his youth center.

Statue in Palenque square honoring the ancestors who fought for freedom.

Easing on down the road

Palenque style housing

Ode to famous boxer Antonio Cervantes, a Palenque native.

More housing: this one looks like some of the mud huts in the Caribbean and Africa. Connected.

Palenque Cultural center entry

Our Palenque guide giving us the run down on the history and customs.

African art in the cultural center

Worry free in Palenque

Worry free in Palenque. Whenever you're ready, Black America. We can do this.

Shops in Palenque

Picked up a little friend on the way :)

There are remnants of Africa all over Palenque and I LOVED it. 
I also have a detailed photo story of the experience on my Instagram page.

I would return to Cartagena in a heartbeat, and intend to do so next summer. I went as a solo woman and never felt unsafe. I moved around the city with ease in spite of my rusty Spanish. The people were among the friendliest I've encountered anywhere. If my Spanish were better, I'd consider living there.  I felt right at home among people that looked like me. I look forward to returning and plan to do so soon!

Night view of San Francisco, Cartagena. Be back soon. <3

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  1. These pictures make me want to hop on a plane there! You shared great information for when I do get there. Palenque sounds very interesting! I love the colorful houses and that island looked serene.

  2. I love flashback photos! You are so lucky to have yours :-). The trip looks amazing. Funny when you get the same old question about being rich in order to afford the travel lifestyle :-). That drink looks awesome and refreshing. This is one place that is still on my list.

  3. Wow!!' I am astounded that you got such a great deal and it truly looks like a colorful and beautiful place. The food looks delicious too.


  4. Love this! Right on time too as I am looking to go soon. I love the colors of the city. I can see why you took a boat to see better water. The different is extremely noticeable. The food looks delicious. I want to try that seafood spot out. Leftovers and seafood sounds up my alley.

  5. Cartegena is definitely on my list. I keep hearing so many great things about it! Your pics are lovely.

  6. I keep hearing such wonderful things about this city! It's definitely a place I want to visit.

  7. Travel bloggers really know how to do it big. I love it! The city is very pretty.

    Jay of

  8. ....hit send too soon. I love's natural beauty. I grew up in sand and dirt so I can find beauty in just about any circumstance. The worry free photo is much like my childhood.

    Jay of

  9. I Love looking at pictures and hearing about your experiences from your travels, thanks for traveling.

  10. Amazing all around- the food, architecture....beautiful!

  11. OMG I wanna travel with you! I do flight deals too like Skyscanner and Google Flights work good too! Im loling because someone said you were being financed...I wish but I think because we are now the new age generation who is taking traveling and our time more seriously...some people just dont get it. I got my Panama ticket for April round trip for $142 leaving from MIA! woowhoo I would love to be your travel friend!

  12. he architect, the colors, the people, the landscape, the art, the paintings, the water EVERYTHING makes me want to go to Cartegena!!!!

  13. Coloumbia looks so beautiful!!! I would love to go there.

  14. I am a flight deal fiend as well. Cartegena has been on my list and your post has just reinforced my desire to get there the first half of this year. I am excited to experience the food and the culture. Ill be sure to keep your recommendations in mind when planning my trip.

  15. So you provided some SERIOUS info right here! I've basically bookmarked this post for my next trip! I'm still blown by your 340 trip cost!

    1. YASSSS hunny! Def one of the cheapest trips I've done to date! :-)

  16. REALLY wish I saw this post before I went. I Loved the architecture, and culture of Cartagena, but OMG the FOOD in Bocagrande sucked. I was searching on trip advisor and everywhere I went was burgers and fries. -_-. The only decent Colombian food I got was on the beach. I guess I need to go back. lol

    1. Oh yes hunny. Bocagrande was def more upscale touristy, while Getsemani and Marbella were a good blend of local and action. Very authentic.

  17. Thanks to your blog, I connected with Alex Rocha and got to visit Palenque. It was the absolute highlight of my trip to Cartagena. Thanks for the tip! I highly recommend him to anyone who wants an off the beaten path experience.