The ritzy beach town on the northeast coast of Colombia is a great place to shop, dine out, and head out to nearby beaches. The colourful, narrow streets and Spanish influence almost transport you to somewhere in Europe. The area is definitely catered more to luxury travellers than anywhere else in Colombia, and in turn the prices are higher. We only stayed two nights, and explored the town for a day before heading over to Taganga and Minca, which was more our style. That being said, we enjoyed our time exploring the Old Town and city walls. If you’re looking to lay out on a beach, we’d recommend heading to nearby islands instead of dealing with solicitors packing the beaches on the mainland.
How to Get There
From what we’ve heard, the bus ride from Medellín to Cartagena is a nightmare 14 hour drive through a mountain range and will run you about 100,000 COP Instead, we opted for the 166,500 COP VivaColombia plane tickets, and our trip took 50 minutes.
The José Maria Córdova International Airport is a 50 minute taxi ride from the Medellín, and all taxis charge a flat rate of 65,000 COP for the trip. If you are flying VivaColombia, make sure to read the fine print when you purchase your tickets online. This may have changed, but we had to print them out and have a paper copy in order to board. We were charged 30,000 COP at the airport for them to print us out a piece of paper. The José Maria Córdova International Airport is pretty nice, there are a lot of food options around after you go through security, and there’s also free wifi.
When you arrive at the Cartagena Airport you can taxi to Getsemani (the backpacker area) for 13,300 COP. The official taxi stand here is actually official; you will get a ticket with your price and that’s what you’ll pay your driver.
We also travelled from Cartagena to Santa Marta, where we accessed Taganga, Minca and Tayrona National Park. Most hostels and travel agencies will try to convince you that the mini (shuttle) buses with pickup from Cartagena is the only way to go, but it’s cheap and easy to head to the main terminal de transportes. It’s a 45 minute taxi ride which will set you back 20,000 COP. We went with Berlinas company on a smaller bus (not quite a minibus) which had a washroom, and it cost 24,000 COP to get to Santa Marta. Most shuttle buses will cost you at least 50,000 COP. The trip took 5 hours, with a short 25 minute stop in Barranquilla. From the Santa Marta bus terminal it was a 8,000 COP, 15 minute taxi ride to the hostel area near Carrera 3.
Where to Stay
The main backpacker area is Getsemani.
- Volunteer Hostel – This room was fine, but we felt we paid a little too much for what it was. A double room with AC and a comfy bed was 99,000 COP. We had included breakfast and it was average. The wifi only worked in the main area, and we had a shared bathroom. The blinds in our room were also brutal, and our window opened right onto a courtyard where everyone gathered at night for drinks, and they could see right into our room if our lights were on. We could also hear them all night. You can book online here.
- Luna Neuva – This was a great find for our second night. It was a big room with a private bathroom, although the shower was a bit hit or miss. The AC was decent, and the wifi worked really well. It also cost 70,000 COP, so it was a much better deal than our first night, although we did get a walk in deal. You can book online here.
What to Do
- Old Town – We enjoyed most of our time just walking around the Old Town. The narrow streets had lots of restaurants and shops to explore.
- City Walls at Sunset – Head to the city walls for a great sunset view! A walk along the walls is a fun way to spend an hour or so. Vendors selling cheap beers can be found to enjoy a few drinks on your walk!
- Plaza de la Trinidad – This square comes alive at night, with restaurants, lights and music. We definitely recommend coming by to check it the spirit of the city!
- Castillo San Felipe – This is a fortress just across the bridge from Getsemani, and is worth a visit if you have the time. This fortress was built by the Spanish strategically to defend from attacks from the land or sea. It also provides a cool view of the city and ocean, while exploring small the passageways and rooms of the fortress. Entry is 25,000 COP.
- Beaches – Travellers often envision picturesque beaches in Cartagena, as it borders the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately the vendors wandering the beach are plentiful and persistent and really ruin the experience. We recommend heading to the Rosario Islands or Playa Blanca instead.
Where to Eat
- Café Stepping Stone – This café serves a great brunch, but most importantly works to improve the lives of locals in the area by providing jobs to the less fortunate and those lacking education. Come for the great food, come back to support the local Colombian community!