After a week being in a big inland city we made our way down to Cartagena and the surrounding coast for the last 10 days of our visit to South America. We flew this route and would highly recommend doing so. It is possible by bus but it is a long journey and it only costs around $50 NZD to fly.
In Cartagena I would recommend staying inside the old town walls. It is more touristy in this part of town but it is cute and there is more to see and do. We stayed at two places the first was El viajero which was overpriced for what it was so I would not recommend it and the second was Hostel Republica which is a new hostel that is really clean and nice and has pod like dorm beds. I would highly recommend staying here. You do not need long in Cartagena a couple of nights is enough time, it is a hot city and the beaches are not that nice. It is better to get out to the surrounding islands and coastline for a nicer beach experience.
WHERE TO EAT:
By now we were getting pretty low on money so I do not have many suggestions here. Cartagena is expensive so we cooked where possible. Barranquilla we stuck to fast food and street food as we were either hungover or drinking and in Santa Marta we ate in a food court at the nearby mall most days.
Tropical Parrilla Restaurante – Local place that is very busy lunch and dinner. They serve chicken and meats with potato, rice or fries for extremely good prices. It is 8500 Colombian peso for 1/4 of a chicken and potatoes and it is actually really delicious and not fried for once!! Calle 32 29 , Cartagena 130004 , Colombia
Mr Cool Gelato – Modern, hip gelato place that makes handmade gelato. It is a little expensive for the average backpacker but really tasty; so if you feel like a treat make a trip here for sure. Cra. 6 #3432, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
La Cevichería – On our last night before flying home we treated ourselves to a dinner here. This restaurant is highly recommended all over the place and we were not let down. It is not cheap but they specialise in seafood and in particular ceviche and everything we had was amazing and left us wanting more. Cl. 39 #7 14, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
WHAT TO DO:
Day trips – We decided to do a day trip to the rosario islands and playa blanca with a company we found just down the road from El Viajero called backpackers for you. We visited a few of the rosario islands by boat and snorkelled before heading to Playa blanca for lunch and the afternoon. Everything was beautiful but the day did feel a little rushed as tours normally do. The cost of this was 140,000 peso also so if I was to go back I would maybe separate the two days into two different trips. You can visit playa blanca for the day for about 50,000 and also stay here in hostels on the beach if you have time on your side.
Casa En El Agua – Two hours by boat from cartagena is the best hostel you will ever go to in your life. Our two nights here were highly anticipated as this place has to be booked exactly 30 days before arrival and it sells out in seconds. Make sure you do not miss out. The hostel is set on a private island that is made on top of a coral reef. My two nights here were the best two nights of my entire trip I think so that is saying enough. Everything is explained on their website so take a look and just go.
From Cartagena we got a minibus to Barranquilla for Carnival for 20,000 peso. This city would only be visited by backpackers for Carnival as there is not much happening there so hence no blog post of its own. If you plan on coming to Carnival my only advice is plan ahead of time as things book out fast and get extremely overpriced. Book into a hotel as there is only one hostel in town and the hotels are very good at looking after you. The mini bus to get there is very cheap but get there early as the lines are long. Eat the street food as it is cheap and tasty. Do not miss it! It is a great time and something you only really can see in Latin America so if you are in Colombia in February or Carnival time make sure you work around getting there.