With warm Caribbean beaches, a lively nightlife scene, and historic Colonial charm, Cartagena has something for everyone!
When I began to plan a much-needed tropical vacation, I did as most Americans do and considered the Caribbean. After visiting Jamaica, the Caymen Islands, Haiti, and Mexico (three times!), I was looking for something a little… different.
With more and more airline carriers introducing flights from the U.S. to Cartagena, Colombia, I figured there must be something to all the fuss. After doing a little research, I made the snap decision to book a flight and figure the rest out when I got there.
My mom nearly had a heart attack when I told her I was going to Colombia, but I assured her that Cartagena is quite safe and was, for the most part, exempt from the Escobar issues seen in Bogota and Medellin. I reminded her that I survived Bangkok (39 Things you Need to Know Before Traveling to Thailand), Rio (12 Life Lessons I Learned in Brazil), and Nairobi (What You Need to Know Before Your First African Safari), which I think helped my case. A little.
Needless to say, I had an incredible experience in Cartagena de Indias; in fact, I think it is safe to say that it earned a Top 3 position in my list of all-time favorite travel destinations (the other two being Kenya (Top 25 African Safari Pictures), and Greece How to See Athens in 48 Hours).
With all the comforts of a modern city, and enough historic and Colonial charm to rival even Antigua, Guatemala, this seaside city has everything you need for an amazing vacation.
If you’re still not convinced, keep reading for my top 5 reasons why you need to drop everything and go to Cartagena!
1. The Food.
Food is always at the top of my list. Most of the time when I look into booking a trip, I make my final decision based on how much I want to eat the food of that particular region.
Let me tell you, the food in Cartagena was incredible. I was there for a week, and even after 3 solid meals per day there was only one that I thought wasn’t very good.
As with most coastal towns, you’ll find a surplus of fresh fish and seafood just about anywhere you go.
This whole platter cost about 40,000 Colombian Pesos, which (as of November 2015) equates to about $13. I’d say that’s not bad!
In fact, all of the food and drink I had was very reasonably priced.
Breakfast usually ran anywhere from $3-$8, lunch from $5-$10, and dinner was usually between $10-$15. More importantly, beer cost anywhere from $1-$4 per bottle.
There are also a TON of beautiful places to enjoy a meal. Ambiance is everything.
2. The Beaches.
Not only are there beautiful beaches just outside of Cartagena, there are lots of options to take day trips to tropical islands in the area. I took a high-speed boat to and from Playa Blanca ($40), then took yet another boat from there to go snorkeling in the reef ($20).
There’s not much better than white sand, warm water, and cold beer.
3. The Historic Charm
The colonization of Cartagena de Indias dates back to 1533 with just 200 settlers from Spain. There are enough historical sites in the city to keep you busy for several days.
Be sure to visit the Palace of the Inquisition (which also houses a museum), the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (which has sweeping views of the city), and take the time to walk the historic wall which surrounds Old Town.
4. The Culture
It just so happened that I was in town for their Independence Day, which was basically a huge party. I watched the parade from the wall surrounding the city, was sprayed (in the face, repeatedly) with something similar to shaving cream, and had blue paint smeared all over my hair, arms, and face. It was awesome.
After the parade, many of the participants hung out in the town squares in full costume, which made for some epic pictures.
5. The Nightlife
I’m not as young as I once was (hooray 9pm bedtimes!), so I really only “went out” in Cartagena on one of the nights I was there, and, alas, I didn’t take any pictures.
However, I can tell you that it’s a VERY happening scene. For those that prefer nightlife to be more of a spectator sport, there’s no shortage of outdoor tables where you can watch the shenanigans from the comfort of a wooden chair.
Tip: Go ahead and order the whole bottle of wine. Most are priced between $10-$25, and it saves you the trouble of waiting 20 minutes every time you order a drink. In many ways Cartagena is on “island time,” so enjoy yourself and don’t be in a hurry!