Cartagena de Indias, that received this name to differentiate it from the Spanish city of Cartagena, is a really beautiful place for many different reasons.
Inside the historic center, the beauty comes from all the colors that surround you when you get lost in its colonial streets, enjoying every single building and all the little details they have. It’s just so easy to be amazed, you simply need to randomly pick a street, follow it, and let all the colors shine in front of you.
The city is full of history, and there are still present many details from the moment the city was the fortress where the Spanish colonizers kept all the stolen wealth, to the presence of the inquisition and all the symbols evoking Simon Bolivar and other figures of the fight for the independence, which Cartagena had to undergo twice.
Regardless of the incredible heat, all life takes place outside, where the streets are buzzing with street sellers. All sorts of incredibly delicious tropical fruits, fresh juices and refreshments, flowers, sunglasses, the incredibly delicious arepa de huevo and other typical fried snacks, bracelets, tourist agents and many many more get all mixed in the streets of Cartagena, all combined with the unstoppable music of the horns from buses, cars and bikes. It seems that in this city, and in the whole country, it is much more common to use the horn than the breaks.
Red lights seem to be a matter of free choice. Most of the drivers do stop at them, but the exceptions to this rule do amount to a pretty big number.
Another curiosity that happens on the roads is that while walking on the street, all taxis horn at you, and to make sure you didn’t miss them, some slow down and while being right next to you, and for some meters, they follow you constantly hitting the horn. It’s like i didn’t need a taxi for any reason, but due to the fact that a guy would horn at me 3,000 times while staring at me instead of looking at the road, I’d go like “all right then, you got me, all i want is to get myself in a taxi, who am i kidding”.
The beach in Cartagena, called Boca Grandes, is not really nice. Full of skyscrapers that are just 10 meters away from the water, it’s rather an ugly beach, but it does come in handy to cool you down from the heat.
If you go to Cartagena, make sure to take the free walking tour (Free Tour Cartagena), it takes around 2 hours and it really shows all the main spots and comes with a great deal of information about the city’s history. Here’s a pic of our group.
But Cartagena is not all colorful houses, outside from the historic center, that is there basically for tourists to enjoy it, the city grows tremendously, and the houses there are not colonial with beautiful balconies, but barracks made of pallets. The misery is very present outside the center, showing a different reality of what Cartagena actually is. Also, while walking within the old walls, you can see that people don’t live there. Mostly they are hostels, restaurants, tourist agencies, bank offices, Spanish schools and all sort of businesses focused mainly on tourists. The old town is very beautiful indeed, but i guess to fully visit Cartagena, it’s worth to take a walk outside and see how most of the people there live, and be able to put the “fantasy” created inside the old town in its right place, enjoying it, but also knowing you don’t get the full truth inside its walls.
When it comes to the accommodation, here we stayed at a room we found in air bnb, 30 minutes walking away from the center (10$/night per both). Marta, the mother of the apartment owner was a great discovery. She came to pick us up at the airport, took us to the city to change cash, get a SIM card for the phone and told us where to go exploring and what prices should we get for a bunch of different things. When we left to Playa Blanca she kept our big bags, and when we came back, sweating like crazy, she let us take a shower and rest in one of the rooms before we left to Santa Marta. This woman was an angel!! Here she is:
Despite the heat, oh boy how hot that city was!! We really liked Cartagena, the crazy life at the streets provides a nice contrast with the people’s character, very chill and calm. Highly recommended! If you go there, don’t miss the mangos, probably this happens all over the country but as this was our first contact with the fruit in South America, we ate sooooo many mangos!
After 3 days here it was time for us to keep moving, the beach was waiting for us!