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Cartagena


Cartagena de Indias is quite possibly South America's most beautiful colonial city. The coastal city is Colombia's top travel attraction. The old town of Cartegena de Indias is immaculately preserved, with numerous beautiful plazas, churches and old buildings to marvel at. There are also many boutique shops and emerald stores. A great destination for honeymoons in Colombia, Cartegena is a very romantic city to stroll around and explore - allow two whole days for city tours to take in the main travel attractions.  So three nights is ideal, unless you want to add an extra day to visit some nearby beaches (none of which are amazing - you're better off finding some better Colombian beaches). The city can get extremely hot and humid during the day, which might put off certain visitors.

Cartagena's Beaches

Cartegena's city beaches are generally quite murky and overcrowded, and visitors will be hassled by numerous hawks and vendors. Avoid them at all costs! The beaches are particularly un-relaxing during Colombia's peak tourism season.

Baru, Playa Blanca & Other Attractions around Cartegena

Head out of town to find the better beaches - the beaches at nearby Playa Blanca are much cleaner and more pleasant, but they are also full of pushy hawkers trying to sell goods and generally spoiling an otherwise relaxing beach. There are a few basic places to stay on Playa Blanca beach, such as Campamento Wittenberg (email: wittenberg2000@hotmail.com). Bocachica beach, on nearby Tierrabomba island is another good option - you can arrange a day tour quite easily which should also visit the nearby ruined fort.  Alternatively, consider taking a boat tour to the beautiful nearby Rosario islands, where you might even consider spending a couple of nights. If you're looking for a beach resort in Baru (about 1 to 2 hours West of Cartagena), consider the new Hotel Agua, Sport Baru or Playa Scondida. Also in Baru you'll find Baru Sports Fishing Lodge, who organize deep sea fishing packages.

Just outside of the city itself, there are numerous tourism attractions to appeal to the visitor. The small nearby village of La Boquilla has a good beach and the nearby mangrove swamps are good for birdwatching tours. There's also a few golf courses nearby.

Another travel highlight are the volcanic mud baths at Volcan del Totumo, which are two hours (50km) away from the city of Cartagena. Your hotel can easily arrange a day tour for you.

Sailing Tours from Cartagena to Panama

From Cartagena it's increasingly popular to travel by sailboat through the San Blas Islands to Panama. See the section on Colombia to Panama routes for advice.

Do's and Don't-s

There's a way to "do" Cartagena that will greatly increase your enjoyment of this amazing historic city. Here follows some travel advice - some do's and don't(s) when in Cartagena on vacation:

Do:

  • Stay in the old colonial quarter, also known as "El Centro". This is where all the interesting tourist attractions are, as well as the best restaurants and all the action.
  • Take a break in the middle of the day. From noon until 4pm have a siesta as it's too hot to stroll the streets at this time. The best time to stroll around is in the late afternoon/early evening. Explore at this time (everything is open) and eat dinner late. Avoid that midday heat, which can get unbareable!
  • Book a good hotel. Cartagena is a great place to splash out a little on a lovely colonial hotel. A hotel with a pool is a great place to retreat to to avoid that middle of the day heat.
  • Take an early evening stroll along the city walls, perhaps stopping for a drink at the bar Cafe del Mar (not related to Ibiza's understand).
  • Take a horse and cart tour of the old town - it may look cheesy, but many of the guides are very knowledgeable and you'll visit places you otherwise might not know existed.
  • Don't

  • Stay in Bocagrande or any other modern part of Cartagena. Big mistake. Wrong district.
  • Visit the city's beaches. It's a complete waste of a day. See the above section for an explanation.
  • Show the slightest bit of interest in any of the hawkers selling goods on the streets because they'll just follow you. If you're at a table on a plaza, they'll happily invite themselves to take a seat on your table while you consider their goods if you look vaguely interested in them. Likewise with those nice looking guys who wander around with the guitars - a simple glance and a smile at them will lead ten minute long private concert, after which you'll feel obliged to pay them something. Instead, you should avoid eye contact and be very firm when you tell everyone that you're not at all interested. You'll get much less hassle this way - the hawkers of Cartagena are unfortunately becoming a problem.
  • Cartagena's Boutique Hotels

    If you plan on choosing a top end hotel, read the article about luxury hotels in Cartagena that I wrote following various hotel inspections in November 2010. You might also want to read the section on the best boutique hotels in Colombia.

    There's two distinct hotel zones in Cartegena: the old town and the more modern Bocagrande. The old town is a far more beautiful area to book a hotel in, with many delightful old colonial buildings that have been converted into boutique hotels. Details of various hotels in the old town and links to their websites follow:

    Hotel Cartagena de Indias - following various hotel inspections in November 2010, in my opinion this SLH branded hotel is the best in Cartagena.

    Santa Clara - Cartagena's most famous luxury hotel, this is where the famous stay (eg. Bill Clinton) in Cartagena (from $400).

    Casa Del Arzobispado Hotel -an excellent, top of the range small hotel.

    Charleston Santa Teresa - another top end option, similar in size (larger) to the Santa Clara (from $270).

    Casa El Caratero - a hip, boutique option with lots of press mentions (from $200). Located in Getsemani, which isn't as beautiful as the centre of the historic town which is where everything happens.

    Casa de Pestagua - a luxurious restored historic home with spa, swimming pool and roof-top jacuzzi ($? - expensive).

    La Pasion Hotel - Stylish & funky, with a beautiful roof top swimming pool (from $200).

    Casa del Curato - mid range, a safe bet with stylish rooms in a 18 century mansion (from $110).

    Casa Quero - another boutique hotel.

    Alfiz - 17 century colonial house converted into a boutique hotel, it gets very good hotel reviews (from $150).

    Bantu - another boutique (from $120).

    Casa la Fe - small bed and breakfast with just 14 rooms and a swimming pool (from $160).

    Casa India Catalina -16 room boutique hotel.

    Casa Veranera - "stylish, uber chic and intimate" boutique hotel (from $190).

    Casa de la Chicheria - a great value boutique, colonial hostel found in the old town. Dorms or private rooms available (from USD $70).

    Hotel 3 Banderas - great value and with a good location too (from $75).

    Casa Viena Hostel in Getesemani (a part of the colonial old town), a good hostel for backpackers.

    Hotel Marlin - another decent backpackers choice.

    Cartegena's Bocagrande district, overlooking the sea, has a range of more modern hotels. Most are high rise luxury hotels with swimming pools and a range of amenities. The Cartegena Hilton hotel, Capilla del Mar and Caribe Hotel are just a few suggestions for your vacation. In my opinion, there is under almost no circumstance a reason to stay in this modern part of town.


    Cartagena, Colombia:
    Cartegena
    Cartegena de Indias....

    Cartagena City, Colombia
    Shakira in Cartagena.

    Cartagena by Moonlight
    Cartagena is beautiful, and cooler, at night.

    Cartegena's Old Town
    Cartegena, Colombia.

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