Cartagena, Cartagena, Cartagena. The quickest I ever fell in love with a travel destination. I want to say this is mainly because the people there are so remarkable. Despite getting my passport stolen (which is a whole other blog post), I honestly & truly didn’t have 1 bad experience in Cartagena. I see Cartagena as a Juxtaposition though because there is a clear distinction between The Walled City or Old City & The Outer City or New City.
I originally wasn’t suppose to go to Cartagena. I basked in all the media posts about Colombia and how it is a drug-ridden, incredibly unsafe place. However, I kept seeing Cartagena pop up in my travel groups & Instagram Explore Pages & thought God was sending me a sign. Then Lo & Behold, I got an alert for a cheap flight to Cartagena for a mere $300. I immediately texted my travel squad and see if they wanted to join me, my sands Shardae was easily convinced. We booked our flights, arranged lodging and then I told my parents. They were anything but happy. In fact, it took a month for me & my dad to get back on good terms after returning. He was beyond scared, he didn’t think Colombia was a safe place to travel to at all, of course due to the media manifesting this false image in his head. I assured them that I would be fine and took that leap of faith.
We arrived in Cartagena and the atmosphere was so welcoming. As soon as we landed, everyone started cheering “Cartagena, Cartagena, We made it home!” The energy was everything! We arrived at our Airbnb where we met our host Alex & his amazing family. He was a lawyer who lived with his mom, his aunt and his nephews. I thought that was so amazing. They spoke absolutely no English so I had to hone in on the broken Spanish I could remember from years ago. I would always tell his mother and aunt that I didn’t speak Spanish but we would sit on the porch after a long day and they would just tell me stories and I just listened, picking up on words and phrases here and there. They were just happy we were there, you could tell. If you are ever in Cartagena, I would highly recommend staying with a host family who can authentically show you the true jewels of the city.
Our first day we visited the shopping mall which is where my passport got stolen. We also spent way more money than we intended to at this small boutique only because we didn’t fully understand the currency exchange rate there.
Pro-Tip: Download XE Currency app before arriving so you know exactly what the currency exchange rate is. Also never exchange money at the currency exchange counters at the airports, they charge you a high, unnecessary fee. Instead, go to an ATM and use your debit card or ATM card to get out money in the local currency. Much cheaper!
Although my passport was missing, I didn’t panic, I resumed our trip as normal and decided to deal with it the last day. Our next day we spent at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas which is a fortress built in the 1500s by Spaniards during the colonial era. At this fortress is where we met our friend Sergio who was a tour guide and recently moved there from Detroit, which he called home for 16 whole years! His reason for leaving: Detroit didn’t embrace him like Cartagena did. He always felt on guard and not welcomed, whereas in Cartagena people exude happiness and acceptance. He said it’s just different. While I love my city & do not have any intentions on leaving anytime soon, there is many many truths in his statement unfortunately. We then spent the rest of the day exploring where we ate some amazing Colombian cuisine, engaged with the locals at Plaza de La Trinidad, and even met the Beautiful Palenquera women who were dressed in vibrant colors & carrying fruit baskets on their heads. Originally from the village of San Basilio de Palenque, they represent slave resistance and a survival of African Culture in Latin America which to me, made me honored to be in their presence.
The next day I had to gauge a plan to get a new passport to get back into the US. Luckily I had amazing friends from college who resided in Cartagena. We met up with them, went to the police station and I booked my flight to Bogota, the state capitol, to get another passport. Forever grateful for you Cyntoya, Ivory & Dani.
The next morning I got up early to take my flight to Bogota. I wasn’t a fan of Bogota at all. It gave me too many “Big City” vibes which were unfortunately not welcoming. Nothing like Cartagena at all! I went to the passport place, did the process and went on a Street Art tour while I waited for my passport. I am a sucka for quality street art and Bogota had it! On top of that, it was a free tour! If ever in Bogota, I would recommend going on a street art tour. Probably one of the best things the city has to offer. Before the evening I was back in Cartagena like I never left with a new passport I kept clutched. The last night we went back to Plaza de La Trinidad which is a popular meet up place for locals and tourists. You can find food and free entertainment there. Such an amazing space. We met some amazing locals who took us to a dance bar and we danced our last night away.
People will tell you all the time that the Walled City is a prettier, safer, more affluent part of the city than the other parts. Which may be true but it doesn’t make it a better place. The Walled City is surrounded by Las Murallas, the thick walls built to protect it against enemies. It also has a lot of colors and beautiful architecture equipped with plazas, churches, mansions & horse drawn carriages, I was happy I stayed outside the Walled City to get a feel of the real Cartagena. However, whenever I was outside the Walled City, everyone warned me to be safe and not to be out too late. Crime is not as prevalent in the Walled City as it is patrolled more and the people are so close that if they found out who did it then they would basically be disowned. I found this whole juxtaposition interesting but would say that all of Cartagena is safe for the most part, if you use your common sense of course. It was hard to leave this amazing city and I got super emotional saying goodbye to Alex and his family. I don’t ever make plans to return to a country I’ve been to before but this city most likely will be seen by me again in the near future. Thank you Cartagena.
- Try some of their amazing street food. My favorite is Arepa con Queso. Mouth-Watering & also mouth-drying. Get something to drink with these as well, Coco Frio is always a good choice.
- There is no such things as seasons in Cartagena. It is hot, I mean very hot all the time & can get a little chilly at night.
- Cartagena is a coastal city with not many beaches, except in Bocagrande. Go to Playa Blanca if you want to experience paradise.
- Visit the Getsemani neighborhood to experience good food and amazing street art in protest of gentrification. This is also were Plaza de La Trinidad is located.
- If you want to experience the Real Cartagena, visit La Boquilla Beach. A fishermen’s town that has kite-surfing classes and the best fried fish and coconut rice in the entire Caribbean coast.
- Visit Parque de Simon Bolivar: At about 5:00pm every night there are dancers performing cumbia, mapale, and other Afro-Colombian dances.
- Bargain, Bargain, Bargain in Cartagena. If they say 10, you say 8. Always!