Leave Your Shoes, Take Everything Else: Cartagena, Colombia

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Well it had been awhile since I traveled outside of the country (almost a year!) and I was certainly getting antsy for an adventure.. so off to Colombia we went!

People keep asking me – why Colombia? Honestly, Scott and I never really had a “honeymoon” so I wanted to go somewhere warm, but I was afraid we’d get too bored if we stayed at an all-inclusive place for more than 4 days. I looked at splitting up places and traveling between countries (like my usual speed travel), but ultimately we decided on spending 6 days in Cartagena, Colombia with a focus on RELAXING *gasp*!

My expectations of Cartagena truthfully came from different Instagram accounts, pictures of AirBnb places we had looked at, and a few random strangers who said, “So-and-so just loved Cartagena!” After all of this, I was like, welp, YOLO – let’s go!

I’m not gonna lie to you – it was hard at times for me to actually relax during the vacation. Whenever I’ve done my budget travels, I’m always so focused on seeing as much as I can and spending as little money as possible (Check out Singapore, Malaysia, Bali, and Thailand). This was clearly different.

Over our 6 days, Cartagena made it SO easy to enjoy AMAZING food at great prices. Seriously, I was not expecting the food to be great, but it was honestly the highlight of the trip for me.

The first day we arrived, we ate dinner on a beautiful rooftop, tried some fish soup and steak with a Colombian coffee sauce. We walked around outside to hear music playing at the square nearby to us while horse carriages passed by. Talk about a dream! It really felt like a fancy European country, all right in Colombia. We headed to bed early, knowing we had to get up and be ready for our adventure day of island hopping and snorkeling.

We were picked up at 6 AM, right on time, for our island hopping trip. To be honest, it was advertised as a snorkeling trip too, but we really were only able to do about 30 minutes of snorkeling in a guided tour, kind of a bummer. One thing I did notice here, as compared to the southeast Asian countries I’ve been to, was that the tourism industry wasn’t quite as developed yet. Likely because Colombia is still on the rise as places to visit.

We went to multiple islands in the Islas Del Rosario on our trip including Playa Blanca, Isla Baru, Cholon, and Playa Azul. As our guide told us, each one had a very different vibe.

Playa Blanca was the most accessible from Cartagena, which makes sense as to why it was so packed.

Cholon is known to be the “party island.” Since we went on a Thursday, it wasn’t quite as packed, but they did sell some awesome (and overpriced) Pina Coladas in a pineapple. Honestly, the rum was strong, local, and awesome.. but I’d recommend getting a Pina Colada back at Playa Blanca – cheaper and just as good!

Playa Azul was a very chill, relaxing beach that we hung out for about an hour. There were people selling things everywhere, but I think this beach probably had the least amount.

As a sidenote (but also main note): Nothing is free and you ALWAYS need to ask how much before you buy anything from any vendor on the street, beach, or even taxi. “Cuanto Cuesta” is the phrase to know. We actually did get a little ripped off by a person who “thought we bought another girl’s drink,” yet charged her as well AND charged us more than what it cost. Luckily, we were on a trip with a big group and the tour guide confronted him about it. It was definitely a positive to have an insider with us during the trip to give us these tips and talk directly with the locals. They WILL take advantage of you and they are VERY good liars! Just be aware and ask how much everything is before you purchase it so they verify it beforehand!!

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The next few days consisted of a lot of the same: walking, exploring, eating, and drinking. Here are a few highlights of the neighborhoods we adventured to and the places we ate at:

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We stayed inside the walled city, so just walking around the wall itself was fun! There are so many little streets you can just jump off on and walk down. Each has a bunch of little stores, restaurants, bars, whatever! And it’s all fairly self explanatory since it sits inside the wall.

Getsemani – The “hipster district.” We walked here a few times, tried a few coffee shops, found some craft beer (although we weren’t that impressed with the beer, which is understandable). There are so many murals here, even people painting them as we walked by! It was a cool little area to check out. If you are vegan, you will definitely find eats here!

 

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Las Bovedas – Just along the wall near we stayed, Las Bovedas is a series of little shops. This is a perfect area to pick up all your touristy items! Not to mention, there are tons of vendors trying to sell you coffee, snacks, and other drinks nearby if you want to grab a snack!

ALL of the plazas! – We stayed very close to San Diego plaza (did not plan that, haha). Many nights there was live music playing (for donations)… Of course there are plenty of restaurants.. and so many cool/strange statues! Each plaza had its own vibe, which was cool to check out for sure!

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This is a pretty horrible picture, but YES you can find a few wild animals in Cartagena! They are all in the Parque del Centenario – very close to Getsemani. We wandered through this area a few times but only saw the sloth once. Big tip is to look for the group of people staring up into the trees…

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And then here is just another one of us standing on a random street corner…

Our 4th night there, we decided to book an evening harbor cruise with a 3-course meal. We booked this through Viator (I book most tours through this when I travel abroad). Everything went smoothly using Viator, but I will say it is less developed in Colombia than when I used it in other countries.

The harbor cruise was awesome! The food was great (not the best we had, but definitely still good). The view of the harbor was probably not very different from your typical harbor view at night, but it was a great experience nonetheless for a very reasonable price. I’m sure if we had done something like this back home, it would have been at least double the cost. Check it out here!

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That night, we checked out a bar (Bazurto Social Club) nearby that had been featured in a few travel guides I had read. It was awesome to get a feel for the Colombian nightlife and their style of dancing! We definitely tried to fit in, but I think we’ll need some practice πŸ˜‰

The next day we spent relaxing and recovering in Bocagrande.

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Bocagrande – We spent about $100 USD for the day for use of the pool and hotel room at the Hyatt in Bocagrande. This is the more Miami-esque, downtown-kind of vibe. It was nice to just lay by the pool and feel like we were living the “rich life” .. or something like that. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. I would definitely try to eat at the more authentic restaurants in the old town area!

The next day was spent wandering around some more coffee shops and restaurants, getting our last few meals in and soaking up the warmth of the country before we headed back! Check out my post (coming soon) to read more about ALL the food and drinks we tried while we were here! – it was seriously the highlight of the trip!!

Overall, if you are looking for a place that offers so many different things (beach, city, culture, art, food, you name it).. Cartagena is an amazing place to go! You could spend a lot of money or you could spend very little. It’s a great place to go no matter what you can afford. Plus, the weather is great (especially in January) and it is still an up and coming touristy area! So most likely you’ll be the first of your friends to go πŸ˜‰ You trendsetter you!

Oh, and we did get our photographs done while we were here, and I love the few that I have posted, but I can’t necessarily recommend our photographer for the price we paid just yet. I think she needs some time to grow and a little more experience πŸ˜‰ BUT feel free to message me if you want to know who our photographer was πŸ™‚

Be sure to check out my other posts from places I have traveled to in Asia (Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Bali) if you’re looking for a different type of experience πŸ™‚

Until next time,

Jen

 

 

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