Time Of the Year Visited: March 2019
Put your seatbelts on as we include a lot of information for you on this guide. Cartagena is a great costal town with tons of options. When planning your visit, spend some time in the town but also spend your time island hopping as that’s where you’ll find the beautiful beaches. The length of your trip depends on how much you want to do and see but a minimum of 4 days here is ideal.
How To Get There
US citizens must have a valid passport with at least one blank page. The passport can’t be set to expire during your stay there. A tourist visa isn’t required for stays of 60 days or less. You can see more about entry requirements here.
We flew to Colombia on Avianca. The airline exceeded my expectations as they weren’t that great years back. The flight attendants were, for the most part, very pleasant. I will point out that on the way to Colombia from LAX, the Flight Attendants wouldn’t serve anyone on board drinks outside of their serving times, they made passengers get up to get their own drinks. This wasn’t the case coming back.
It’s also important to note if you’re going to have a layover make sure you give yourself at least 2 hours due to long lines in Colombia customs and having to check back in before the next flight.
When To Visit
Let’s Talk Money
Dollars are accepted in Cartagena. However, you should exchange your money to Colombian Pesos it will last you longer and you’ll get better pricing overall. If you follow our guides then you know NOT to exchange money at the airport. Do it at an exchange house once you get to town. There’s plenty so compare rates. During our visit, the peso was around $1= 3,080COP. The closer you can get to the ongoing rate, the better. You can also withdraw money from an ATM just beware of your bank’s foreign transaction fee. Lots of establishments accept debit/credit cards, use a credit card without a foreign transaction fee. Don’t rely on solely using plastic though. Again, cash is KING.
Depending on your spending choices you can do 6 days with $500 in spending money without limiting yourself. If you haven’t downloaded XE Currency app, download it now to help you convert the rates instead of doing it manually on every trip as rates change daily.
Always count the change, even if takes you longer. Pay attention to the bills, the 1,000 bill and the 10,000 at first glance can look very similar. It helps to read it not just glance at the number. Also, NEGOTIATE prices. If you’re unsure what something should cost, walk into a supermarket so you can get an idea. Example a regular size bottle of water will range between 1,500-2,000COP. Support the locals by buying them from them but don’t overpay. Keep it fair with them as well, don’t rip them off either. A ride to/from the airport to old town should be around 12,000-13,000COP. For cab rides, establish a price BEFORE getting on. Uber isn’t reliable so use the local yellow cabs.
One important note: at restaurants/bars when you get your bill it’ll show two prices: one for what you consumed plus the tax and in a bigger font a price with the service fee at 10%. When paying you can say “I’m paying without the service fee please”. It ISN’T mandatory. You can leave a different amount for the tip in cash after.
There’s a lot of places to choose from, it all depends on what area you want to stay in. Personally, we love the area of Getsemani right by Parque Centinario, surrounded by locals. You can opt to stay in Boca Grande, where it’s considered to be the “luxurious side”. However, you’ll find yourself traveling to the other side of town often as most of what you’ll want to see is located around this area but cabs are inexpensive.
Note: Convenience is king for us, so we booked lodging in town for the whole length of our trip and then island hopped so we didn’t have to carry our luggage around. Keep in mind if you’ll be island hopping you’ll be riding small boats or riding in buses, so taking all your luggage with you is not ideal and can be an issue. Look into your options and go with what’s best for you.
Tip: pay attention to check in/out times. This is important if you’ll be arriving early in the morning. If you’re going to rent an Airbnb, message the host before booking to see if they can possibly accommodate an earlier check in if you book with them. If that’s not possible, ask if they can hold your bags until check in time.
We stayed in this Airbnb, perfectly located within walking distance of everything. If you’re new to Airbnb get up to $40 off your first by signing up with this link. The apartment has two stories plus it’s own terrace with views of the town. Free breakfast is included.
The other Airbnb we stayed in can be found here. It is a 3 story apartment located in a building with security. It’s right next to Parque Centinario, around the same vicinity of the other one. It doesn’t include breakfast but it’s also a great option.
If you prefer a bed and breakfast that is budget friendly, look into Casa Española
What To Do & See
For transportation and tours you can contact our local guy Miguel. Let him know Suzzstravels referred you so he can provide you with the best pricing. PLEASE respect his time as we share his information with you to help you facilitate booking with a local. You can reach him via WhatsApp: +57 310 4118805
Note: we provide average pricing for your reference. Prices can vary about 10,000-20,000 more due to the demand/season ($3-$5).
Castillo de San Felipe (go early to avoid large crowds)
Take a ride on “La chiva” (cost 25,000COP/$7 USD) Think of it as a party bus with local music that takes you around the area. Such a blast!
Palacio de la Inquisición (Museum)
Day trip Volcán Totumo (mud bath anyone? Go early it’s an hour away) You can do a tour to also include The Pink Sea
Deny Gold Museum (free)
Stroll through Old Town (Aka Walled City)
Plaza de La Aduana
Tayrona National Park (Suggested to book accommodations near there and stay for a day or two since it’s further away)
Buritaca (fly to Santa Marta from Cartagena. Once you get to Santa Marta it is 20 mins away. Stay here a couple days. This is where the river meets the Pacific, you will find crystal clear waters.
Day trip to Bomba Beach (30mins Away by boat. Set it up directly though Bomba Beach Hostel. Cost includes transportation there and a 25,000 food+drink credit for 80,000COP/ $25USD)
Day trip to Pirate island (50mins away in Rosario islands)
Day trip to Bora Bora Beach club (50mins away by boat. Note: the trip there can be really choppy due to the waves so please expect that. I’d recommend making accommodations to stay in Islas Del Rosario if you want to hop around the different beaches here vs making a day trip for each one. Cost 160,000COP/$50 USD includes transportation, day bed, welcome drink and lunch. You’ll have to pay boat taxes at the port before boarding of 17,000COP/$5.
San Bernardo Islands (It’s a 3 hour drive and 1 hour boat ride so I highly recommend you make arrangements to stay there a couple of days, the islands are worth the journey. If you’re looking for accommodations Casa En El Agua Hostel will arrange transportation from Cartagena. If you just want to do a day trip contact Miguel, expect to do 5am-9pm).
Day trip to Playa Baru (about 45mins away Via Car. Lots of vendors here so expect to them to ask you if you want to buy something every 3-5 minutes. Don’t leave your items unattended. Negotiate pricing for beach chairs and/or any other items/services you want to purchase. Transportation there with lunch included should be about 35,000-45,000COP/$11-15USD)
Overnight trip to Isla Gigi
Where To Eat+Drink
Movich hotel (rooftop restaurant and bar)
Juan del Mar Restaurant (thank you Toro.Yaiza for these 3 suggestions)
Café Del Mar (Go to catch the sunset while having some drinks)
Demente Pizza Beer & Laundry (for Pizza and Beers)
La Paleteria– so many delicious flavors such as Limonada de Coco, Maracuyá and Tres Leches (Kimmie came across this spot and lived there all trip LOL)
La casa de Socorro
Oshedi Cocktail Stand
Fritos La Mona ( located near Parque Jose De Madrid, in front of “Townhouse”. These were the BEST Arepas I had! The crunchy to soft ratio is just perfect. They are about 60 cents (2,000COP). My favorite were the papa con huevo.
Café del Mural (for coffee)
La cervicheria (I wanted to visit because it was recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain. Unfortunately, i had high expectations that were not met. The portions are small, the food was good but not mind blowing and it was pretty expensive considering we are in Colombia. Expect at least a 1 hour wait if you do visit).
<Cebiches & Seviches (didn’t get to try this one but it’s supposed to be a top spot for ceviches. Visit and let us know!)
El Balcón (come here for drinks in their balcony seats)
Café Stepping Stone
Hijas Bar (the Aguachiles here are nice and spicy. You can also visit them for good drinks & live music)
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