My first time in Colombia!!!!!!!! ❤️❤️🇨🇴❤️❤️
It’s nothing like the media portrays it to be. I’ve been to 42 countries, but never anywhere in South America, so I didn’t know what to expect. I read as much as I could and prepared myself for…everything haha. I started in Cartagena and then went to Medellin and Bogota. (I’ll write about these later, as well), but in general, it’s safe, cheap and amazing. Here’s my experience in Cartagena.
This place has a super-party atmosphere, where everyone is smiling and eating fruit and drinking beer. All the women are SO attractive and wearing next to nothing (even the women in their eighties have the confidence of 21 year old gals rockin’ it at the beach 😂😂), riding motorcycles and walking like they know how hot they are 🔥
The men aren’t bad either 😂
Cartagena feels like a small town even though it’s a main tourist destination. The “trouble makers” that I’d expected to be pickpocketing and catcalling are actually practicing break dancing and performing with their dance troops in the main plaza and singing and doing magic tricks. Only until 10pm, though, because they then “have to go home because there’s a test tomorrow.” 😂😂😂 There was a Michael Jackson impersonator who told me he loved me, and little old men wearing no shirts. The street performers are TOP NOTCH here omg! Entire professional dance groups put on massive shows every night of the week, featuring all different types of dances and costumes, all of which are usually somewhat steamy in nature 😂🔥😂
I was probably the only person in town from the States, so of course people were asking me for money, but it’s more like, “let me show you my amazing dancing/mariachi band/clarinet playing/impromptu rapping skills and if you want to tip me, cool.”
Note: I noticed that the more straightforward people will move on more quickly the nicer you are, btw…in the States, we’re usually fairly rude to people asking for money, but I wouldn’t do that here. It’s not necessary.) A dollar goes a long way here, so people are SO happy when you tip them even just a bit for their skill.
According to one article I read somewhere, (😂) Cartagena is the most popular place for South American tourists. (Who knows if this is actually true lol) So even though there are lots of tourists, everyone speaks Spanish, so def get started on Duolingo if your Spanish skills aren’t tourism-ready.
Apparently I look like an Argentinian woman, because people keep asking me where I’m from in Argentina.
Everyone’s doors are propped open and the fans are on, so if you want to go in and watch the game with whoever lives there, you can just knock and go on in. You can drink beer on the street (in little plastic cups that the corner store pours it into when you buy it), and everyone hangs out in the big plaza until the wee hours. Entire families and their children and their disabled relatives who have serious handicaps are there…they bring everyone along, because it’s not a party in Colombia without the entire extended family. 😂😂😂
Everyone is happy and laughing and the people are SO beautiful and the street food…OMG It’s like all this buttery meat wrapped in bacon and cheese and topped with fried onions 👅👅👅👅
On my first morning in Cartagena, my Airbnb host asked if I wanted breakfast in or out. When I chose out, she walked me to the restaurant down the block. She ordered for me and – with a hair flip – went on her way. They served me three rolls, oj, coffee and eggs with corn sautéed in bacon fat with pieces of bacon. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. I walked around Getsemani – the street art district of Cartagena – and loved all the colorful walls, emotional murals, overhead umbrellas, unusual plants and delicious smelling food. So many meats and fried onions 👅👅👅
I loved seeing the beautiful purses and the little men carrying stacks of hats on their heads and every door being painted a different color. Parrots (drawings AND the real, wild birds) along the walls, fruit vendors selling everything under the sun, and front doors that are actually just gates with colorful pieces of wood leaning up against said gates. The massive and exotic potted plants were constant reminders that I was basically in the (coastal) jungle haha
Such fun souvenirs here omg! Colorful masks and bright fruits, dazzling shoes, flashy paintings, twine bags and every magnet and keychain imaginable. I wanted them alllllllllll. Clay stacking dolls and ceramic bells and handbags and statues. And fruit baskets. A lot of fruit baskets.
I went into the big church that was drenched with big fans to control the temperature, little old ladies and blown out candles (from the fans haha). It was sooo pretty.
Also, I made friends! This lovely gal Jesse showed me and my buddy Ryan (whom I’d met on the plane coming here) this amazing food place in Cartegena filled with little old men nomming on giant plates of food (always a good sign). I had the chicken, which came with a huge portion of beans and rice and fried plantains and coleslaw and an enormous bowl of salty chicken soup with potatoes and corn and plantains and root veggies (all of this for 2.70$ by the way) and then a tall but super sweet lulo smoothie for $1.25. Crayyyyy!
There was a big gate leading into the walled city, which is supposedly the safest area, but I felt like that is where I would be targeted as a tourist, so I looked around, bought food and took pictures here, but I’m glad I stayed in the artsy district with street food and locals and cheaper prices haha. There is a park between these two districts that supposedly has wild sloths (I didn’t see any, but I didn’t look too hard). Has anyone seen them?
The town is absolutely gorgeous, but my favorite part was all these little kids! They were SO cute! Riding around on bikes, kicking balls, siblings slapping at each other and small ones eating dirt, much to the dismay of their wildly pretty mothers. One little boy had a pet lizard that he kept on a ribbon-leash. I felt so bad for it, but then he was explaining to us how he feeds it all the time and gives him water and how he has a nice little bed. hahhaha. 😭❤️😂There were cats hopping around the rooftops with their kittens trailing behind them and colorful motorbikes parked in front ornate hostels.
I had some amaze-balls street food in the Getsemani plaza. Everything was sautéed with onions and garlic and veggies with a giant chunk of gooey cheese and put on top of sticky bread and lettuce and tomatoes and pickles and three types of sauces and then entirely covered in mini, crunchy, deep-fried french fries. 😱😻❤️
There were these beautiful views off of the rooftop of my hostel! There was a swing and a patio set and these lovely colorful paintings. Down the block, this little lady hung out with her seven miniature dogs that she dressed up in various outfits and let them roam around the streets. They would bark and fight and parade around the neighborhood 😂😂😂
What a funny place 🇨🇴 ❤️
In the evenings, all of Cartagena headed to the main church in Getsemani and had a massive party with dancers and singers and magicians and fruit sellers and sooooo much food. The juices were amazing and the nice little lady made it right in front of me! Delicioussssss.
I took a free Walking Tour! The guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained that most people in Cartagena have African roots due to the slave trade, so the food and the sweets (and the accents) reflect those found in Africa.
I learned all about the history and the sweet fruits and how they make delicious sugary candies and how dragon fruits look like aliens. There was also a candy called Happiness. Cartagena is the only city in the world where you can literally eat happiness 😂😂
The tour guide took us to a chocolate museum, where we tried dozens of samples of hot chocolate and bits of chocolates with fruits and delicious flavors. Coffee, berries, cinnamon, salt, alcohol. All kinds of yummy things. I ate a bunch of mamoncillos (ma-mõ-see-joes), “spanish limes,” but grape-sized fruits that taste like a mix between lychees, peaches and cherries. They’re super sour, but absolutely delicious.
We found the Botero statue! It’s good luck to touch her on certain…areas. Haha Touch her boobs and you’ll have a wonderful love life. Touch her booty? You’ll come back to Cartagena. I definitely touched both. 😂😂❤️
I saw intricately beaded necklaces, colorful chessboards, incredibly bright and sturdy bags and hoards of pressed juices from fruits that I’d never heard of. This place radiated color haha 🌈
All the beautiful masks! I wanted to buy them all.
On my last evening in Cartagena, I had dinner at this small restaurant in the walled city, where I asked the owner if he had ropa vieja (“old clothes”) – Aka pulled beef. He shook his head and yelled out the door “ROPA VIEJA!” and three other shop owners appeared out of their shops and said “Si! Ropa vieja!” The little man pointed to this shop with a lovely window display and pink curtains. (Sierva Maria: Cra. 7 ##34-34, Cartagena, Colombia) I went there, and sure enough, the ropa vieja was delicious and and came with chicken soup, fried plantains, coconut rice and a salad. All for $7USD.
I drank the recommended lulo juice (basically a sour kiwi that looks like an orange and is part of the tomato family), came home, accidentally ripped a giant hole in my resale-shop shorts, found a cricket in my bathroom and saw a cat lounging on the street wearing a sweater. 😂
On my final morning in Cartagena, l made a farewell toast to this beautiful city and its lovely people with guava juice and a tasty breakfast, courtesy of my hostel!
As a solo female traveler, I never felt in danger or like I was a target. However, I used a lot of common sense and caution with respect to where I went and when, and I didn’t go to the dance clubs or hang out in bars or accept the numerous (but friendly) offers of cocaine, weed or prostitutes haha. Spanish will help you A LOT in Cartagena, but even without it, a lot of hand gestures, smiles and Google Translate will help you manage with the locals just fine. I used my phone quite a bit in public, but never put it in a pocket or loose in my bag. It was either securely being used in my hands (while watching for motorcyclists who might come by and swipe out of my grasp) or tucked away under my clothes. I used it but with caution. Basically, look around. Use your phone with the same habits that the locals are using their phones. If you don’t see any, don’t take yours out. But 70% of the time, you’ll see a bunch of people with their phones out. More so in Medellin and Bogota, but also in Cartagena.
Colombian pesos are about $3000 pesos to $1 USD, so the conversion rate can be a bit confusing (basically, take away three zeros and divide by 3 to get the USD equivalent). Locals sometimes charge you the “gringa price” (Aka the tourist price), but if you smile and say too expensive, many times they will lower it for you. But if you can afford it and they’re being kind, just pay it, because it’s often the difference of maybe 10 or 20 cents in USD.
Here’s the hostel I stayed in (address below). A private room was a bit pricy (for Colombia) at about $30 USD/night, but there was air conditioning, free breakfast, great WiFi (20 download and 9 upload…I’m a digital nomad so I always check haha), a fab rooftop view and great security. It’s a family that owns it, so the front door is always locked and someone is always in the house to supervise. The mom and young son speak great English and the rest of the family was always smiling and helpful. l was super nervous about housing, so I figured I’d include where I stayed, because this place made me feel all warm and fuzzy and comfortable and relieved haha
Barrio Getsemaní, Calle de las Chancletas # 10B 30 B, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
Have you been to Cartagena? If not, put it (and Medellin!!!) on your list. It’s not dangerous, you’re not going to be kidnapped, I wasn’t harassed at ALL and I was so touched by the kindness of literally everyone there. Colombia is one of my fav countries I’ve ever been to. 🇨🇴💋🇨🇴
Highly recommended ❤️❤️❤️
-If coming from the airport, make sure to find the OFFICIAL taxi stand. You get a receipt with the price on it before you get in the taxi at the taxi office. If you don’t have the price receipt, don’t get in the taxi bc it’s not official and might not be safe. Uber is illegal in Colombia (but still widely used, so make sure to sit in the front if you order one), but the official taxis are the safest from the airport. There are also ATMs at the airport past baggage claim and the money conversion place. Super close to the taxis actually. A taxi to the walled city took about 25 mins and cost $15,000 pesos (Aka $5). There are shops to buy a SIM card and google maps works there.
-Have fun, eat everything and DON’T drink the water on the coast or brush your teeth with it (the water Medellin and Bogota is fine though…I drank it for 2 weeks and didn’t have any problems).
-Bring sunscreen, earplugs, and bug repellent.
-I didn’t get any extra vaccinations, but if you’re only going to Cartagena, Medellin and/or Bogota, apparently you don’t need them…but always ask your doctor.
-Bring your camera and an extra battery for it, because I took over 6,000 pictures in 2 weeks…the sights are to die for.
Pack your bags, guys and gals. 🇨🇴❤️💋
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