Cartagena de Indias, or as we’ve affectionately dubbed it “the town of ultra harassment” is a city of very distinct barrios. From its answer to Miami in Boca Grande, to it’s absolutely stunning colonial architecture in Old Town (El Centro), Cartagena is extremely diverse in its “lay of the land”. In this love affair between old and new, Cartagena and Panama City are soul sisters. There are some major differences between the two however. Cartagena has a very dense population and can be a bit overwhelming if you aren’t used to crowds. Naturally, there is also a big Caribbean influence in Cartagena due to its proximity to it.
The town of ultra harassment is in reference to the sheer number of vendors asking you if you want to buy something. It’s a long list and usually includes lollipops, chicles (gum), water, beer, streetfood, sunglasses, hats, paintings, cigarettes, mini sculptures...annnd if you say no to all of those, it eventually winds down to weed and cocaine, cause why not?! Do be prepared to answer where you are from about every 2 minutes. It went from amusing, to annoying, back to amusing in our time there, but we did try to support them when possible and or necessary; you gotta respect the hustle.
Cartagena was in one sense our major entry into hostel life. Though we’ve done the hostel thing before, they were always quite small or very empty. On this occasion we plunged right into Getsemani, Cartagena’s hostel barrio aka party central. It’s wild and loud, and full of young people who are looking to score in more ways than one. So it can be a breath of fresh air, or it can be a rude awakening depending on your stance. For boutique hotels, El Centro is your go to. For massive resort and chain hotels, Boca Grande is your calling. For beachfront huts and hostels Baru has you covered. There are also a ton of little islands off the coast where you can nestle for a much more mellow vibe where camping and sleeping in hammocks is king. Islas de Rosario is an archipelago located 100km off the coast and is one of 46 Natural National Parks in Colombia.
As for things to do and see, other than partying and beach bumming of course... Sightseeing really boils down to a few major attractions; El Centro being number one. Just a stroll down the Old Town streets or on the fortress wall provides an intangible amount of photo ops in this Unesco World Heritage Site. What once guarded the city from pirates and storms, now attracts tourists likes flies on honey. Then there is Castillo San Felipe yet another Unesco World Heritage Site, and if you’re up for a nice long uphill walk, the Convento La Popa (Convent La Popa...my translations skills are super, yes?) which sits on a hilltop, and provides views upon views. There is a marina, so boat tours are always available as are bus tours. There is also a volcano near by, Totumo is your bag if you are into mud baths. We toyed with the idea, but after seeing pictures of a bunch of strangers all rolling around in mud together, we crinkled our noses and closed the google window; thanks, but no thanks. There are of course several museums as there are in most places, but I’ll likely write to you about those when I’m in my 50s and 60s; rude I know.
Though I liked Panama City more than I did Cartagena (I am a big city girl no matter how hard I try) I did think Cartagena had a lot to offer that Panama did not. In Panama you had to do major day trips to get to a nice beach or a National Park and all the activities that come with that. Scuba Diving, snorkelling, hiking, rafting, bird watching, etc are all readily available in Cartagena, giving it a major leg up on its "sister" city. Do go if you want a little bit of everything; with such variety, there really isn’t much one could still want. Don’t go if you hate congestion and crowds, major humidity, or loads of street vendors. Because Thomas’ fresh tattoo was still healing we definitely were not able to take advantage of all the city had to offer, and so we shall return some day….maybe by then museums will seem interesting too. ;)
#Cartagena #BocaGrande #Getsemani #IslasdeRosario #Baru #NationalPark #Volcano #OldTown #Port #CastilloSanFelipe #ConventoLaPopa #ElCentro #Unesco #Totumo #MudBath #ScubaDiving #Snorkelling #Rafting #Hiking #BirdWatching