Going to Cartagena and just want the essentials from my blog? Cool. I won’t make you read all of that:
  • The view from the rooftop at the Movich is amazing! That is where I took the picture, above. Have a Club Colombia and enjoy the sunset at the bar. Cafe Del Mar also has a fantastic view of the water and the city.

  • La Cevicheria has delicious and fresh ceviche, as the name would imply. This place came highly recommended and lived up to the hype. I sat outside and was propositioned by a ton of people selling stuff on the street, so if you don’t want to be hassled, try to get a table inside.

  • Restaurante Donjuan and Maria (respectively) had delicious food and drinks, but make reservations as they were busy.

  • Definitely visit Getsemani (the art district) and check out the incredible street art.

  • If you have time and the weather is nice, take a boat to the Rosario Islands for a day of relaxation.

  • Plan to walk the Old City and explore the cathedrals, squares and narrow streets. The Palace of Inquisition is magnificent, as well.

  • Food and drinks are incredibly affordable! I had a multi-course meal with alcohol at a gorgeous, high-end restaurant (Maria) for around $35.

  • I was asked about safety: I felt secure as a solo-traveler, but I am also a 6’5, 250lb male. Tourism is a primary means of income for many locals, so there was a lot of engagement from people on the street selling goods, services, and promoting different stuff, but at no point did I feel uncomfortable.

Want to see more photos? Scroll down to the bottom for my gallery!

WHY?

So why Colombia? Well. Why the hell not? That is pretty much my attitude about all of the travel I’ve been doing lately. There is no place on earth I wouldn’t visit at least once, and I mean that. My challenge is finding places I can get to and explore on long weekends, as time off is at a premium for me (and most everyone I know). And, I hear it all of the time: “you’re really going THERE for four days?” Yea. And I recognize there is more to see and other places in Colombia (or wherever) to visit, but for most of my adult life I have delayed absorbing the world and just made excuses. You may have pondered the same issues in your internal dialogue to justify staying put: “I don’t have anyone to travel with,” “I won’t have enough time,” “it is too much money,” etc. While it can be expensive to travel, time and companionship would not be barriers for me. If I check out a destination and love it, I may plan to return. If it didn’t “do it” for me, how could I not have been enriched by seeing and experiencing something for the first time?

HOW FAR?

In theory, I can get to Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin most of the time with as little as one stop (there may be direct flights, but I didn’t see any that worked for my timeframe). But as I became more and more fixated on visiting the Caribbean coast of Colombia, it seemed my travel options were going to be slightly more complex. For my desired travel dates, there was no easy way to get there, but I was committed!

FLIGHTS AND PLANNING

I wound up flying from Chicago to Orlando on United, then joining up with Copa Airlines to Panama City and then over to Cartagena on the way down. On the return, it was Copa back to Panama City and then United to Chicago through Houston. Surprisingly, this only added a couple of hours of travel time vs. more direct options. And, if you haven’t flown Copa, it is practically indistinguishable from United, apart from safety announcements in Spanish and different food options. All of this was much easier than I anticipated, and customs either didn’t apply to the connections or was efficient. (I am told the immigration process in Cartagena for entry into the country is faster than in Bogota, but I also arrived late at night).
Some people I know love to join prearranged tour groups or buy packages, and I haven’t gone that route as of yet. Usually I check out online resources (travel sites, blogs, message boards) and formulate my own plan. Sometimes I will try to find a travel agency that specializes in a particular country or region. In this case, I stumbled upon Travel Colombia Direct, and they assisted with hotel recommendations. They can book tours, excursions, etc., but for my quick visit they suggested a few restaurants, set up airport transfers to and from the hotel (they included them at no charge which I was grateful for), and suggested some restaurants to try. In other situations, I have hired local guides, but for this trip it turned out to be unnecessary. I explored the Old City on foot each day and looked up anything I had questions about online.
**A side-note that I wanted to share: INTERNET has been an issue for me during my recent travel renaissance. I won’t bore you, but I use a work phone as my primary phone, so I can’t easily switch to an international data plan. So, when exploring on my own, I didn’t have access to text, email, calling, and most importantly, MAPS (with location specifics), unless I was near a café with WiFi. So, I did some research and came across Skyroam (http://www.skyroam.com). It’s a WiFi hotspot that you can purchase or rent, throw it in your daypack and log into with your mobile device, which gives you access to 3G internet in over 140 countries. There are daily unlimited and predetermined data plans available. This was my first trip with it, and I loved it. I believe it is cheaper than most international plans, seamlessly works from country to country without having to do a thing, and prevents you from incurring any unexpected fees or overages.

HOTEL

I stayed at the Movich Hotel in the Old City and found the hotel comfortable and well located. The rooftop (which I mentioned in my important points) has an incredible view. The Sofitel and Casa Pestagua were also highly recommended.

WHERE TO EAT

A traditional breakfast was included at The Movich, but in my short visit, I ate a ton of street food (arepas, as a “sandwich” or on their own, made with a ground maize dough are a MUST). Try to get a reservation at Donjuan and Maria. La Cevicheria had some of the freshest ceviche I’ve ever had.

OVERALL?

If I had it to do over again, I would have added a couple of days to my Colombian adventure and gone to Medellin as well. From what I’m told, Cartagena is where the Colombians vacation, and Medellin gives an outsider a broader, mountainous and inland, perspective of the country. That said, I loved my time in Cartagena and found it friendly, vibrant and perfect for a few days of exploration. The food was flavorful, the people were kind and accommodating, the language barrier was extremely manageable (with or without a basic knowledge of Spanish), and the history and patina of the Old City was majestic. Add this one to your travel bucket list.
The question now (and always) is…what’s next?

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