Cartagena is the jewel in the crown of Colombia’s precious Spanish architecture. The main tourist attraction is the suburb called Centro, where you can easily spend your days wandering around, admiring some incredible buildings and their numerous flower boxes!
I arrived in Cartagena after catching a bus from Santa Marta (I don’t think you’ll find a direct bus as they all stop in Barranquilla). Don’t be tempted to book the first bus you see either, they vary in price and we ultimately bought a ticket on Berlinas for COP36,000.
Upon arrival in Cartagena, we attempted to catch the local Metro Car (the green and white buses) from the bus terminal through to Manga, the neighbourhood of our first hostel. This turned out to be a nightmare as all the drivers are motivated to fill their buses so they’ll tell you the bus is going wherever you want it to go. Naturally, the bus we got onto wasn’t going to Manga and the driver deposited us at some intersection and pointed in the direction of where we needed to go. Prick.
Fingers burnt, we decided to walk the 3 kms to the hostel instead of trying to get onto another Metro Car and being ripped off again. The walk entailed passing through a toll road (my life has come to walking through toll roads… I mean, would I have to pay if I weren’t in a car?)
Fortunately, as we were about to find out, a kind local chap stopped and offered us a ride to our hostel. My South African instincts kicked in and I was expecting to be drugged and sold as a sex worker into the black market (maybe optimistic on my part) but it turned out the guy was a real gentleman and dropped us off right outside our hostel!
Our first hostel, in which we spent only a night, was utterly dismal. It’s sold as a hostel but it’s more of a spare bedroom in someone’s house (but far from a homestay). It was so awkward. The cherry on the cake for me was wandering downstairs late one night and encountering the family that actually lived in the house sitting quietly around a table listening to LOUD trance music. I’m sorry, but no. No no no! Time to move on!
The next hostel we stayed in was in the prime tourist zone and was fantastic! Sadly, I had come down with flu (I could have sworn it was Dengue Fever as my symptoms were an identical match to those listed on Web MD) so I spent the better part of 2 days bedridden with the occasional run around for food and medicine. My personal highlight was having to act out what dying might look like to a pharmacist in order to get flu medicine. I should have paid better attention in Drama classes at school as the first batch of tablets did bugger all!
Once I had recovered sufficiently, I got to exploring the town, which is nothing short of awesome! All these ancient Spanish-styled buildings, whitewashed or painted in festive colours – it is really beautiful! Flower boxes hanging from street signs and verandahs are big business too and you almost get the feeling that neighbouring houses are competing with each other for who has the most impressive display.
I found myself getting lost in the town, wandering down whichever narrow cobbled street caught my attention. All the little streets have something to show off and I’d encourage you to get as lost as possible in the labyrinth of tiny streets!
Cartagena has certainly earned it’s reputation as one of Colombia’s major tourist attractions and I can totally understand why. Yes, I’d say it’s a bit more expensive than other parts of Colombia but it really is a place you need to visit – nothing will disappoint you!
A few more photos from Cartagena, below: