We spent five nights in Cartagena visiting a language school. Probably, I will not surprise you by claiming that Cartagena is gorgeous. Our impression was that in the city center, literally each house was colorful, clean and decorated with flowers. Later, we realized that it was not allowed to hang your laundry on the balcony in the historical part of the city, so the houses look pure and representative.
However, the first days at school we were so exhausted in the evening that we didn’t manage to intensively explore it – after checking our photos, we realized that all photos of Cartagena were taken solely with our mobiles (but thanks to modern technologies, their quality is decent).
When you are in Cartagena, choose your accommodation carefully. We lived in the Getsemani area, which is famous for its night life. We had an absolutely beautiful room in the Mi Llave hostel with the stunning view to the water and to the modern part of the city…but there is big fat but. The street our hostel was situated on the street Calle 24, which was a part of the route of the party buses called chiva rumba. For some buses, the Taboo Disco Club, three houses away from our hostel, was even the last stop on the route. So you can imagine, how loud it was there between 10 pm and 1 am… Nevertheless, we managed to fall asleep every night thanks to the eight hours heavy workload at the school (we were talking almost only in Spanish).
Already on our first day in Cartagena, we were astonished with the amount of street sellers in the city. They sell basically everything for little money. Some of these sellers come from Venezuela and try to make their way through poverty and homelessness. Many refugees also beg for money on the streets. Usually, when we travel, we do not give money to the child beggars, but this situation was extraordinary and these poor people just didn’t have other choice, so we helped a bit now and then…
Where to eat
During the school, we had a lunch break and usually went to the cheaper and quicker restaurant options. Usually, these restaurants are open only during the lunch time.
- Donde Magola
- Done Alci
If you have more time in the evening, visit those two:
- La mulata
Where to grab a drink
Here I would offer you three opposite options:
- If you are searching for a party, loud music and merry company, head to the Plaza Trinidad where in the evening relatively cheap (10 peso) cocktails are served from the street stands.
- If you strive for tranquility and great view, visit the Townhouse, a rooftop bar with a view to the heart of Cartagena and higher prices for drinks and food.
- Café del Mar on the city wall is famous for a sunset view to the sea
What to see
- Las Bovedas
- Castillo de San Filipe de Barajas (xx peso entrance fee)
- Parque del Centenario
- Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower)
- Plaza Santo Domingo
- Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria
- Walk the city wall
The aldabas of Cartagena
- In the city center, the numbers on the houses used to designate the number of employees working for a company seating in the house. Besides, you have to pay attention to the shape and the size of the doorknockers (“aldabas” in Spanish). In the medieval times, the size of the aldaba was an immediate indication of your social status, wealth and place in the Cartagenian society. The shape of the aldaba corresponded with the house owner’s profession:
- A lizard represented royalty, either members of the royal family, or some legitimate connection to them.
- A lion is a universal sign of strength, power and pride. An aldaba in this shape represents the army, the protectors of the city.
- A sea creature (e.g., a mermaid, a fish, a starfish) spoke for a working class, especially the sea merchants.
- The last shape is a very rare one, a cross or a hand (I didn’t find one, unfortunately), which used to represent a member of the clergy or the religious sect living in the house.
Cartagena is not big in size; you can easily walk all around its center. However, if you are in a hurry or tired from sightseeing, you can take a bus (fix price 2,3 peso for a ride) or a taxi (minimum 7 peso, but not more than 10 peso in the city).
From Cartagena, we decided to travel to the east, direction Tayrona National Park. Logically, we went to Santa Marta first and spent there one night. The bus of the bus company Marsol costs 42 peso. The last minibus departs at 6 PM and the ride takes about 4-5 hours.
Santa Marta is a relatively small haven city where you will probably spend only one night on your way from Cartagena to Minca or Tayrona. Still, there are a couple of places worth a visit:
- Museo de oro is a tranquil spacious place to learn more about the history of the coast and a visit is free of charge.
- On the seashore there is a big artisan market selling all types of souvenirs and local clothes.
In Santa Marta, the taxi costs 7000-8000 peso wherever you go.