Cartagena, Colombia is a destination that (i feel) is extremely overlooked.
It’s a triple threat… The history of the city basically slaps you in the face, islands with beautiful white sand beaches & turquoise water are a speed boat ride away, and the culture/ food is worth experiencing. Obviously those are all fabulous qualities, but perhaps Cartagenas biggest selling point for me was that it’s cheap. The Dollar goes a lonnnng way down there.
Like, I did 4 full days and 3 nights for $400. That’s everything. Including a $15 coffee mug I just had to have at the airport on the way out, an unnecessary soapy water massage on the beach, and a romantic carriage ride with my bestie. Here is everything my friend Kate and I did for $400…
Keep in mind I fly for an airline. So, my roundtrip ticket was $70. I know that’s usually the biggest expense when vacationing. We stayed at a simple bed & breakfast, Casa Abril II, that was inside the walled city. The ‘walled city’ is the protected ‘city’ by a fortress built in the 1500s. If you’re not getting it, it is completely surrounded by walls. The city has obviously been restored, but maintains a very colonial charm. The colors of the buildings contrasting the flowers/balconies/streets is great! There is plenty to do inside too, and it’s also quite tourist friendly and seemly safe. People should know by now, Colombia isn’t what it used to be. But our little B&B (like most in the area) was an old colonial house turned hotel. The ones we saw typically have an open courtyard, and lots of character! I travel on a budget and don’t need any luxuries in my hotels, but for $50 a night our room was cute & clean with exposed brick and a view onto the street and courtyard, had working a/c, a fridge, and hot water. All things that aren’t guaranteed when traveling in Central and South America and not staying in hotel chains or pricey accommodations.
Our hotel also booked our excursions for us. Our 2nd day in town we wanted to go to the beach. That was the main point of Kate and I even taking the trip. These anti-winter girls needed a beach and a tan! So we loaded up on a little speedboat to take the hour ride to the island of Baru and to Playa Blanca. It was a nice peaceful ride. Along the way we made friends with a couple of Canadians & decided to all sit together so we could keep an eye on each others stuff (see mom, I am a smart traveler). The island is completely isolated from civilization. There are no hotel visible on the beach, only hostels that are literally palm branch topped huts on stilts, but when you push back your mosquito net you wake up with this view every morning.
We enjoyed our beach day immensely, not even caring that our Pina coladas we brought (just in case we couldn’t buy them there of course) were warm because ice was scarce. The Pina coladas might explain why we gave into the vendors walking up and down the beach bothering us. However, $6 for a 15 min back massage on the beach is totally worth it. I would have paid double just for witnessing Kate get her head smashed by the large masseuse ladies boobs.
The island was beautiful, and it was and amazing day in paradise! The ride home is where things took a turn. We realized the sea was much rougher when the waves were rocking the boat so badly on the shore that we had to be picked up and put in the little speedboat by the men working on it. Latin men are small, Kate and I are not. That part was scary enough, but I was pretty sure we were going to capsize on the monster waves on the ride back. My arm was hooked through Kates, she was wrapped around one of my legs, and we (mainly she) squealed everytime the nose of the boat went up really high, knowing it would have to go back down. The first row was a scary and very wet place to be seated. We would literally be lifted off of our little bench of a seat and then hit hard. No kidding, I needed a doughnut the next day to sit on. Chalk it up to a funny experience and a memory I won’t soon forget.
That evening we tried to cover up our sunburns and went to our favorite patio spot for the first time. The blue bar that had 2 for 1’s on the best mojito everrrrr, and a people watching table on the street across from San Diego Plaza. We made friends with a girl from Siberia, another who had just spent 3 months volunteering in Cusco, Peru, and most importantly the waiters of the place. We tried to find something to get into that night after dinner, but didn’t have any luck.
The mud volcano. Apparently this isn’t a well known place for locals, but I saw it online and just HAD to go. We booked a trip, boarded a big greyhound style bus, and headed to the country.
That’s where the big hill they call a volcano was. But whatever you want to call it, the setting was nice with a large lake and hills behind it. This volcano has a grey mud that runs 200 meters deep in the crater. So you climb up the volcano/hill and wait to climb down a ladder into the mud with 10 other people give or take. It’s a very strange feeling to float in something the consistency of mud. After we floated on our back and got a 10 min massage for 3000 pesos (like $1.20), you just kinda enjoy the mud and each others company for another 10 min.
They tell you to point your toes down & stand up while floating. Basically, we were rolling all over each other. We being myself, Kate, & Mak (one of our new Canadian friends). After you marinate in the warm mud for a while you have to climb out. You climb out on a ladder as well. Only this ladder is covered in slick, wet mud. So are the steps to get off the volcano. I’m happy to report there were no casualties the day we went.
I dont know the last time someone gave you a bath, but I would imagine it’s probably a fond memory. Mine, not so much. After you get down from the stairs, the middle aged women come grab your hand and take you into the lake. They have a cup and they wash off the mud that is now stuck to you. I was totally cool with her running her hands through my hair and wiping off my arms and back. You actually have to rub off the mud, it doesnt just rinse. I guess I should have been grateful when the lady stuck her hand halfway in my bikini top to make sure I was mud free? This middle age Colombian woman who was missing teeth got to 2nd base. Then she said, in english, ‘nakie.’ I look up, ‘hmmm??’ Yea, she signaled for me to take off my bikini bottoms right there in 3 ft of lake water with a bunch of strangers around. Mak had just gone through the same thing, & she had just felt me up, so i figured what the heck and handed this lady my bikini bottoms to wash out.
Kate opted to bathe herself. I would say it was definitely the best decision, except she forgot that she had untied the back of her top, stood up, and flashed a few Colombian women. Obviously, I immediately died laughing.
We got back, scrubbed in the shower, and headed out to explore the city and to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.
This is a monstrous fortress sitting up on a hill designed to protect the city from pirates and other countries. It was built in the 1500s. They gradually added onto the fort, which was under attack numerous times throughout its history. We were dorks and did the audio tour of it. I would definitely recommend anyone who visits to tour it!
Our last night! We went to have mojitos, and got 2 for 1s again since we befriended the entire restaurant the previous day. We giggled with our Canadians for a while, went to eat dinner, and then realized we only had enough pesos for 1 drink each to close out our last night. There’s a really nice bar on top of the actual wall that overlooks the water. We wanted to spend our last pesos there. That’s where we met Mr. Bogota, and then Christian & Andres again. I say again because we met them on scooters on the way and made them race each other (blame it on the mojitos), but they obliged. Apparently it was absolutely unacceptable that we hadn’t tried the drink of Colombia yet. Which is a clear liquor that tastes like liquorice that you shoot. No mixing, just shots.
After they buy a bottle of that for the table, it became absolutely unacceptable that we hadn’t gone salsa dancing while we were there. So, we walked to a spot they knew, and danced til 4 am. Let me rephrase… Kate, who was apparently made to be dance partners with Mr. Bogota, danced til 4 am. I was passed off every other song between the 2 other friends, and was soo done by 2. This white girl can booty dance, shake my rump, twerk, whatever you want to call it… but I need either a lot of alcohol or a lot of focus for Latin dancing. Kate had it tho. Those hips went to town.
That evening should have ran up the cost of the trip some, but who are we to turn down an authentic night out :). But for real, a special thanks to the nice guys for treating us poor (in pesos) ladies…
It helps if you’re a female and a flight attendant. But, see what all you can do for $400?!?!