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A Recent Traveler Drops 20 Helpful Tips For Visiting Cartagena, Colombia

By Rachel George

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Cartagena, Colombia isn’t your usual beach destination, but it should definitely be on your travel bucket list.

Immerse yourself into the history, art, and culture of this colorful Caribbean city. Ready to baila? At night, the city comes alive with live salsa bands, high-spirited outdoor Zumba class, and squares that become a dance floor. Whether it’s the 16th-century mansions or cobbled streets, there’s so much to see outside of the resorts.

Headed to Cartagena soon? Here are 20 tips from a recent traveler to help you have the ultimate experience in Colombia.

1.Use the ATM machine at the airport, it’s a lot cheaper! 300,000 peso is equivalent to $96 USD. TIP: A lot of vendors don’t have enough change.

2. The humidity is real. The mosquitoes are out of control!! Bring repellent.

3. Stay in the walled city of Old Cartagena or stay in Getsemani, one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Cartagena. Outside the wall, it’s full of bars, live music, and beautiful street art. You won’t regret it. Everything was about a 10 min walk. In the wall, you’ll find the more high-end restaurants and in Getsemani you’ll find the same quality at a better price.

Traditional fruits street vendor in Cartagena | Getty Images

4. Don’t be alarmed if you hear someone say “Hey Blackie” or “You’re my color.” It’s just darker skinned Colombians trying to get you to buy something.

5. The different beaches are a must-see. NOTE: Wear water shoes so the coral doesn’t tear up the bottom of your feet like it did mine. Also, don’t pack what you don’t need. It’s hard trying to watch a bag and swim.

6. If you visit Cholon (party island), bring your own alcohol. It’s so expensive to purchase alcohol there, and the quantity is small for what you pay. Also, while there, swim with the plankton. It’s the most beautiful sight ever!

7. Go to San Basilio de Palenque, the first free black town in Cartagena. I went through Alex Rocha, a highly knowledgeable tour guide. It was 250,000 Colombian peso about 78 US$ so worth it.

8. Go visit Cafe Del Mar Cartagena. The view is off the chain! It has one of the most beautiful sunsets, fascinating music, food, drinks, and exotic nightlife.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, food
Cafe del Mar Cartagena – Oficial Facebook

9. Do a free walking tour to learn the history of this magical city. Yes, it’s free, but tips are preferred. Listen to stories of past European battles and the Afro-Colombian culture.

10. Do the El Totumo Mud Volcano, its sort of like a rite of passage in Colombia. It was an experience I paid $20 for, but remember nothing is free and everything is a hustle. The ladies waiting at the river will wash you and expect payment after. 5-10,000 Colombia peso ($5-$10) is recommended, although you can decline. There are people in the square selling tours, don’t settle for the first price, haggle or go to the next one.

11. I spent six days, five nights, but four days is more than enough time to spend here. If you have more time, go to Medellin or Bogota.

12. Please remember, you’re in a Spanish speaking country, so be patient. Download Google Translate for offline use.

13. Sip a Piña colada, while gazing into the Caribbean ocean from atop of the of Cartagena’s rooftop bars. Enjoy amazing views surrounded by graffiti murals, essential to Cartagena fashion and culture.

14. “La Paletaria had the best popsicles I’ve ever had in my damn life!” These handcrafted popsicles are the perfect combination of sugar, fruit, and snow. They were first handcrafted by Italian Francesco Procope in 1660.


@lapaletteria

15. Water isn’t free. Locals and the hotel lobby recommended not drinking the water unless it’s filtered or bottled. Bring a portable water bottle to refill it.

16. NOTHING IS FREE! They will charge you for any and everything–carrying your bags from the airport to the car, or a quick personal massage. Don’t let them touch you!

17. You will be followed by small children selling candy or women with their children begging for change. If you can help, do so, otherwise, simply say “no, thank you” and keep walking.

18. Always carry Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand Wipes or hand sanitizer. Most places don’t have running water if you leave the city.

19. Colombia is known for its booming food and cocktail scene, but Cartagena has some banging ass lemonade, ‘Limonada De Coco. It’s made with coconut milk, limes, agave nectar, and ice. It’s so simple you can make it at home.

20. Let’s Chiva! Explore the city with drinks, music and lots of fun aboard a Chivas Party Bus for a party on wheels.

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Rachel George

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