Cartagena, Colombia: would we go back?
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After we left Florida, we flew to Cartagena in Northwest Colombia. Although, our original plan had been to visit the Bahamas first, we had to make a change of plans after Hurricane Dorian.
Heading to Cartagena would be firmly outside of our comfort zone and our first taste of South America.
Arriving in Colombia
The flight from Orlando to Cartagena was easy. We had to take a short flight to Fort Lauderdale and then it was a couple of hours from there until we touched down in Colombia.
First impressions were that it was hot. And not hot like in Florida, this was a stormy, muggy kind of hot. The sort of hot that makes your clothes stick to your body in an instant.
But even the snapshot we got of Cartagena from the airport looked like we were in South America. It looked so different from anywhere else we had been before.
Going through border control was a breeze and was the start of a series of similar experiences throughout South America. They are very kind to families, and we were ushered into a separate queue, which meant that our passports were stamped within 10 minutes of the plane landing.
Journey to our accommodation
This is where it got a bit, erm, fun! Released into Colombia, we needed to get to the Airbnb we had booked. Suddenly our lack of Spanish was very obvious and felt rather shortsighted of us.
Getting a taxi was easy enough as there was a queue of them outside of the airport. I handed over the address and hoped that he knew where we were headed. The taxi started and we were off.
Driving in Cartagena is exhilarating. They will use any available bit of the road whether it is a lane or not. Then the beep to let you know you are there. They beep for a lot of things actually. The beeping is near constant.
I saw our driver ring the telephone number of our Airbnb hosts. There was a conversation in Spanish and then a teenage boy hopped in the taxi with us.
I had put these two events together and worked out that this boy was going to show us to our accommodation. Dan had not and was utterly bewildered by what had just happened. We laughed about this afterwards.
The remainder of the journey had us a bit worried. It was only a short stretch to the apartment, but this took us past a large pile of rubbish discarded on the pavement, and some houses made of corrugated iron that were nearly falling into a river.
It was at this point that we began to worry about what we had signed ourselves up to. Was this how the rest of South America would be? Or had we just driven down a bad bit on a bad day?
Luckily, the latter was true! Turns out that that was how rubbish collection worked around there and we had arrived the day before the tractor came to collect it all. It was gone next morning.
And yes, those were houses, but we quickly came to realise that this had no reflection on the area of the people that lived in them. It was a great to see how people in these areas lived.
Our apartment was lovely though. It had great views of the Caribbean Sea, air-conditioning and a roof-top swimming pool. All for £30 a night.
The closest beach to our accommodation was Marbella Beach. Just a short walk from our apartment we went there regularly to cool off.
Cartagena’s beaches are OK. They are black sand beaches and there’s a lot of red seaweed so they aren’t particularly pretty.
But the water is warm, non-tidal and with just enough waves to make it interesting. Emily loved swimming here because it was easy to swim in and the waves made it fun.
This is the reason that people visit Cartagena. The colourful buildings, the oozing culture and the welcoming locals are what makes it so exciting.
We spent many hours just strolling around the streets of Old Town. There were restaurants and shops playing music at all hours of the day.
We found a fab little ice cream shop that made it using liquid nitrogen called Mr Cool Gelato. The kids loved watching the ingredients turn from liquid to solid and ready to eat.
One placed that we loved was the chocolate museum. The reason we loved this place was mostly because of the near endless free samples. We even made a purchase in the shop: chocolate peanut butter. Emily’s choice!
Palenquearas can be found on most street corners in Old Town. These are the local fruit selling women who wear bright coloured clothing. For a tip, they’ll balance a pineapple on your head and let you take a photo with them.
Sitting adjacent to the walled city, Getsemani has recently moved from rough neighbourhood to hipster hangout.
With cafes, bars, hostels and street art galore, it is easy to see the attraction of this area and we visited a couple of times to soak it all up.
One of our favourite locations in Getsemani was Calle de las Sombrillas, the Umbrella Street. Here there are colourful umbrellas strung between the buildings.
Underneath you will find tourists wiggling about with cameras trying to capture a shot with umbrellas in hand. It was a laugh to watch.
Colourful is the best word to describe Getsemani. From the art to the buildings to the flags and umbrellas, the whole places in a feast for the eyes and not to be missed.
Even though the beaches around Cartagena were disappointing, this didn’t mean that our time in Colombia was a complete write off in this regard.
Less than an hour from the Old Town is a stunning beach called Playa Blanca complete with white sand and turquoise seas.
You can get a return minibus trip there from Hostel Mamallena in Old Town/Getsemani for $50,000 (Colombian Pesos) which is about £12 per person. Kids are free but they have to sit on your lap if it gets busy.
When we arrived at Playa Blanca we started to walk along the beach. It is recommended that you walk a LONG way from the drop off point. This guarantees you the best beaches and far less crowded experience.
It was definitely worth the walk. We hired a beach bed for $50,000 and spent the day enjoying a quiet beach.
We swam, we snoozed, we played in the sand, we watched the fish, the boats and the jet skis. I drank pina colada from a pineapple and had a massage. It was a great day!
We also ordered some lunch at the beach and enjoyed various meats with coconut rice, which was delicious.
The ride back in the minibus was a sleepy and satisfied one. We booked to go again almost immediately.
Weather in Cartagena
We were in Colombia in October and Cartagena is still in the Northern Hemisphere but not by much. The weather was super interesting hence why I decided to write about it.
It’s hot! Like intensely so. We found that the heat would build-up, so you’d start off feeling OK but it quickly became unbearable.
It’s also pretty moody too. Rain is common as are thunderstorms. We watched many storms overnight but never seemed to be able to fully see them, which was a shame.
Would we go back to Cartagena?
I’m not sure! As amazing as it was to visit this beautiful town, I feel like once is enough. We have seen it, enjoyed it and loved it.
Plus, it is hot (have I mentioned that yet?) and noisy and busy. My sleep and sanity were largely saved by noise-cancelling headphones. You have been warned!
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