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Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias, "Cartagena of the Indies" is a city on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region and capital of the Bolívar Department. The port city had a population of 892,545 as of the 2005 census. It is the fifth-largest city in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after Barranquilla. The Cartagena urban area is also the fifth-largest urban area in the country. Economic activities include maritime and petrochemicals industry, as well as tourism.
The city was founded on June 1, 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain, itself after the original Carthage in Tunisia. However, settlement in this region around Cartagena Bay by various indigenous people dates back to 4000 BC. During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys. In 1984 Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|POPULATION :||• City 895,400 (approx.) |
• Metro 1,239,430
|FOUNDED :||June 1, 1533|
|TIME ZONE :||EST (UTC-5)|
|AREA :||572 km2 (221 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||2 m (7 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||10°24′N 75°30′W|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 49.2%|
• Female: 50.8%
|AREA CODE :||5|
|POSTAL CODE :||130000|
|DIALING CODE :||+57 5|
Cartagena is a city and a world heritage site in Bolívar,Colombia. The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.
Cartagena with its almost 900.000 inhabitants is located on the northern coast at the Caribbean Sea. Founded by the Spanish in 1533, it was fortified and functioned as the center of the Inquisition in the region. The impressive buildings from the Spanish time today make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today Cartagena is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. It is also nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with recently built condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.
Being located in the tropics, the climate of the city is defined by dry and rain seasons. The dry season is from December to April and it also rains a little less in July. Nevertheless, there are still on average more sunny than rainy days per month in the rainy season. Apart from September and October, the monthly amount of rain isn't much more than 100 mm. Thanks to this, the temperature is also quite constant around the year with daytime highs of +32°C and nighttime lows of +23°C.
- Turismo Cartagena de Indias, Plaza de la Aduana, .M-Sa 9-13 & 15-19, Su 9-17. The main tourist office.
Also, there are small Tourist kiosks on Plaza de San Pedro Claver and on Plaza de los Coches.
Pre-Columbian era: 4000 BC – 1500 AD
The Puerto Hormiga Culture, found in the Caribbean coast region, particularly in the area from the Sinú River Delta to the Cartagena Bay, appears to be the first documented human community in what is now Colombia.Archaeologists estimate that around 4000 BC, the formative culture was located near the boundary between the present-day departments of Bolívar and Sucre. In this area, archaeologists have found the most ancient ceramic objects of the Americas, dating from around 4000 BC. The primary reason for the proliferation of primitive societies in this area is thought to have been the relative mildness of climate and the abundance of wildlife, which allowed the hunting inhabitants a comfortable life.
Archaeological investigations date the decline of the Puerto Hormiga culture and its related settlements to around 3000 BC. The rise of a much more developed culture, the Monsú, who lived at the end of the Dique Canal near today's Cartagena neighborhoods Pasacaballos and Ciénaga Honda at the northernmost part of Barú Island, has been hypothesized. The Monsú culture appears to have inherited the Puerto Hormiga culture's use of the art of pottery and also to have developed a mixed economy of agriculture and basic manufacture. The Monsú people's diet was based mostly on shellfish and fresh and salt-water fish.
The development of the Sinú society in what is today the departments of Córdoba and Sucre, eclipsed these first developments around the Cartagena Bay area. Until the Spanish colonization, many cultures derived from the Karib, Malibu and Arawak language families lived along the Colombian Caribbean coast. In the late pre-Columbian era, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was home to the Tayrona people, whose language was closely related to the Chibcha language family.
Around 1500 the area was inhabited by different tribes of the Karib language family, more precisely the Mocanae sub-family, including:
- In the downtown island: Kalamarí Tribe
- In the Tierrabomba island: Carex Tribe
- In the Barú island, then peninsula: Bahaire Tribe
- In the eastern coast of the exterior bay: Cospique Tribe
- In the suburban area of Turbaco: Yurbaco Tribe
Some subsidiary tribes of the Kalamari lived in today's neighborhood of Pie de la Popa, and other subsidiaries from the Cospique lived in the Membrillal and Pasacaballos areas. Among these, according to the earliest documents available, the Kalamari had preeminence. These tribes, though physically and administratively separated, shared a common architecture, such as hut structures consisting of circular rooms with tall roofs, which were surrounded by defensive wooden palisades.
First sightings by Europeans: 1500–1533
After the failed effort to find Antigua del Darién in 1506 by Alonso de Ojeda and the subsequent unsuccessful founding of San Sebastián de Urabá in 1517 by Diego de Nicuesa, the southern Caribbean coast became unattractive to colonizers. They preferred the better known Hispaniola and Cuba.
Though the Casa de Contratación gave permission to Rodrigo de Bastidas(1460–1527) to again conduct an expedition as adelantado to this area, Bastidas explored the coast and discovered the Magdalena River Delta in his first journey from Guajira to the south in 1527, a trip that ended in the Gulf of Urabá, the location of the failed first settlements. De Nicuesa and De Ojeda noted the existence of a big bay on the way from Santo Domingo to Urabá and the Panama isthmus, and that encouraged Bastidas to investigate.
Colonial era: 1533–1717
Cartagena was founded on June 1, 1533 by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia, in the former location of the indigenous Caribbean Calamarí village. The town was named after Cartagena, Spain, where most of Heredia's sailors had resided.
The city began with 200 people in 1533. During the remainder of the 16th century there was rapid growth. A major factor was the gold in the tombs of the Sinú Culture.
After those tombs were completely plundered, the inhabitants began to scatter to the countryside and to establish themselves as farmers, and the population of the city decreased.
A little later, the city had fewer than 2000 inhabitants and one church; the dramatically increasing fame and wealth of the prosperous city turned it into an attractive plunder site for pirates and corsairs–French and English privateers licensed by their king. Thirty years after its founding, the city was pillaged by the French nobleman Jean-François Roberval. The city set about strengthening its defences and surrounding itself with walled compounds and castles. Pirate Martin Cote attacked years later. A few months after the disaster of the invasion of Cote, a fire destroyed the city and forced the creation of a firefighting squad, the first in the Americas.
In 1568, Sir John Hawkins of England tried to trick Governor Martín de las Alas into violating Spanish law by opening a foreign fair in the city to sell goods, which would have allowed Hawkins to ravage the port afterwards; the governor declined. Hawkins besieged the city, but failed to level it.
After this disaster, Spain poured millions every year into the city for its protection, beginning with Gov. Francisco de Murga's planning of the walls and forts; this practice was called Situado. The magnitude of this subsidy is shown by comparison: between 1751 and 1810, the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish reales. The city recovered quickly from Drake's attack and subsequent occupation, and continued its growth and hence its inevitable attraction for predators, including a large group of pirates who attacked in late 1683. Nonetheless, trade began to increase, continuing into the 17th century. The city reached the peak of its development in 1698 before the arrival of the Baron de Pointis.
The Raid on Cartagena in 1697 by Sir Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis and Jean Baptiste Ducassewas an all-out invasion that was politically motivated. Absent a male successor to the Spanish Habsburg throne, King Louis XIV wanted his grandson Felipe V to assert the right of succession, and conquering Cartagena could help significantly. The political purpose behind the invasion was somewhat undermined by Ducasse, the governor of Saint-Domingue (today's Haiti), who brought his soldiers with an intent on thievery, but the invasions ended with pirates and thieves destroying the city. Entry to the city was hindered by the recently finished first stage of walls and forts, and the invasion was costly. While Desjean had asked for 250,000 Spanish reales in ransom, Ducasse stayed but a few months and did not honor the baron's promise to respect the churches and holy places. Ducasse left the inhabitants with nothing.
During the 17th century, the Spanish Crown paid for the services of prominent European military engineers to construct fortresses; today these are Cartagena's most significant identifiable features. Engineering works took well over 200 years, and ended with some 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) of walls surrounding the city, including the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas named in honor of Spain's King Philip IV. The Castillo was built during the governorship of Pedro Zapata de Mendoza, Marquis of Barajas and was constructed to repel land attacks: it included buildings for food and weapons storage, and was equipped with sentry boxes and underground tunnels connecting the fortifications. The original fort was constructed between 1639 and 1657 on top of San Lazaro Hill; in 1762 extensive expansion was undertaken, and the final result is the current bastion. Numerous attempts to storm the reinforced fort were mounted, but it was never penetrated.
Cartagena was a major trading port, especially for precious metals. Gold and silver from the mines in the New Granada and Peru were loaded in Cartagena on the galleons bound for Spain via Havana. Cartagena was also a slave port; Cartagena and Veracruz, (Mexico), were the only cities authorized to trade African slaves. The first slaves were transported by Pedro de Heredia, and were used as cane cutters (allowing the new inhabitants to open roads), as laborers to destroy the tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinú, and to construct buildings and fortresses. The agents of the Portuguese company Cacheu sold slaves from Cartagena for working in mines in Venezuela, the West Indies, the Nuevo Reino de Granada and the Viceroyalty of Perú.
On February 5, 1610, the Catholic Monarchs established a Inquisition Holy Office Court in Cartagena by a royal decree issued by King Philip II; with Lima in Peru, it was one of the three seats of the Inquisition in the Americas.The Palace of Inquisition, finished in 1770, preserves its original features of colonial times.When Cartagena declared its complete independence from Spain on November 11, 1811, the inquisitors were urged to leave the city.The Inquisition operated again after the Reconquest in 1815, but it disappeared entirely when Spain surrendered six years later to the troops led by Simón Bolívar.
The census conducted by the mayor's office in 1712 reflected the damage wrought on the city by Jean Baptiste Ducasseand his forces: a major portion of the population of the city had emigrated.
Viceregal era: 1717–1811
Although the 18th century began very badly for the city, soon things began to improve. The pro-trade economic policies of the new dynasty in Madrid bolstered the economics of Cartagena, and the establishment of the Viceroyalty of the New Granada in 1717 placed the city in the position of being the greatest beneficiary of the colony. The 18th century brought the Bourbon dynasty and its pro-trade policies, and these benefited the city, returning it to prosperity again. During this period, the city passed the psychological barrier of 18,000 inhabitants, which was at the time the population cap of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
The reconstruction after the Raid on Cartagena (1697) was initially slow, but with the end of the War of the Spanish Succession around 1711 and the competent administration of Juan Díaz de Torrezar Pimienta, the walls were rebuilt, the forts reorganized and restored, and the public services and buildings reopened. By 1710, the city was fully recovered. At the same time, the slow but steady reforms of the restricted trade policies in the Spanish Empire encouraged the establishment of new trade houses and private projects. During the reign of Philip V of Spain the city had many new public works projects either begun or completed, among them the new fort of San Fernando, the Hospital of the Obra Pía and the full paving of all the streets and the opening of new roads.
1811 to the 21st century
For more than 275 years, Cartagena was under Spanish rule. On November 11, 1811, Cartagena declared its independence. It had been the biggest city of the Viceroyalty until 1811, when the Peninsular War, which became Wars of Independence and Piñeres's Revolts, marked the beginning of a dramatic decline in all aspects for what had become the virtual capital of New Granada. In 1815 the city was almost destroyed. No census information exists for that time. There are accounts of how the city became a ghost town. Around 500 impoverished freed slaves dwelt the city, whose palaces and public buildings became ruins, many with collapsed walls.
By mid-1815 a large Spanish expeditionary fleet under Pablo Morillo had arrived in New Granada and forces besieged Cartagena. After a five-month siege the fortified city fell on December 1815. By 1816, the combined efforts of Spanish and colonial forces, marching south from Cartagena and north from royalist strongholds in Quito, Pasto, and Popayán, completed the reconquest of New Granada, taking Bogotá on May 6, 1816.
In 1821 the general Mariano Montilla conducted the pivotal siege of Cartagena assisted by naval forces under José Prudencio Padilla. The city fell on October 10, 1821 after a siege lasting 159 days. Among the defenders who surrendered was Brigadier Gabriel Torres, commander of the royalist forces. The patriots captured large stores of gunpowder, lead, rifles and field pieces.
The 6th Summit of the Americas was held in Cartagena on April 14 and 15, 2012. A prostitution scandal involving U.S. President Barack Obama's security detail received international attention and overshadowed the summit.
Cartagena features a tropical wet and dry climate. Humidity averages around 90%, with rainy seasons typically in May–June and October–November. The climate tends to be hot and windy.
Being located in the tropics, the climate of the city is defined by dry and rain seasons. The dry season is from December to April and it also rains a little less in July. Nevertheless, there are still on average more sunny than rainy days per month in the rainy season. Apart from September and October, the monthly amount of rain isn't much more than 100 mm. Thanks to this, the temperature is also quite constant around the year with daytime highs of +32°C and nighttime lows of +23°C.
Climate data for Cartagena
|Record high °C (°F)||40.0|
|Average high °C (°F)||30.6|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||26.7|
|Average low °C (°F)||23.9|
|Record low °C (°F)||19.0|
|Source: Instituto de Hidrologia Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales|
Cartagena faces the Caribbean Sea to the west. To the south is the Cartagena Bay, which has two entrances: Bocachica (Small Mouth) in the south, and Bocagrande (Big Mouth) in the north. Cartagena is located at 10°25' North, 75°32' West (10.41667, −75.5333).
Other prominent companies include Cementos Argos SA, Kola Román, Indufrial, Amazon Pepper, National Beauty Contest, Vikings SA, Distribuidora Ltda Refrigeration, Central Ingenio Colombia, Perfumery Lemaitre, Cartagena Refinery Cellux Colombiana SA, Flour Three Castles, Polyban International SA,SABMiller, Cementos Argos, Dow Chemical, Cemex, Dole, and Abocol.
Free zones are areas within the local territory which enjoy special customs and tax rules. They are intended to promote the industrialization of goods and provision of services aimed primarily at foreign markets and also the domestic market.
- Central Park Zone SAS: Located in the municipality of Turbaco in conurbation area with the District of Cartagena de Indias, which has 64.8 hectares in the first phase and a second extension underway to complete the 128 acres (52 ha) included in the project. It has excellent design features and will have the most modern software inventory of Colombia. It has a permamente Zone (Phase 1 - Phase 2) and a Logistics and Commercial Zone for SMEs. They are currently on sale and rent their warehouses, lots, yards and offices for companies in different cluster.
- Zona Franca Industrial Goods and Services ZOFRANCA Cartagena SA:located 14 km from the city center, at the end of the industrial sector and has Mamonal private dock.
- Tourist Zone: located on the island of Baru, within the swamp Portonaito, is the only tourist zone offers lots of water in waterways, marine tourism and urban development, villas and all conveniences of a Caribbean urbanization.
Cartagena has a rising commercial vocation, to be a city of more than 900,000 people and become tourist destination, the city offers a wide range of shops where they are recognized chain stores, department stores, international franchise and specialized areas trade.
Tourism is a mainstay of the economy. The following are tourist sites within the city:
- Steps of La Popa mount
- Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
- The Walled city of Cartagena
- Cartagena Gold Museum
- Palace of the Inquisition
- Las Bóvedas
- Clock Tower
The metropolitan area of Cartagena is formed by:
In this area is the Rafael Núñez International Airport, located in the neighborhood of Crespo, ten minutes' drive from downtown or the old part of the city and fifteen minutes away from the modern area. Zona Norte, the area located immediately north of the airport contains the Hotel Las Americas, the urban development office of Barcelona de Indias, and several educational institutions.
The Downtown area of Cartagena has varied architecture, mainly a colonial style, but republican and Italian style buildings, such as the Cathedral's bell tower, can be seen.
The official entrance to downtown Puerta del Reloj (Clock Gate), which comes out onto Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages). A few steps farther is thePlaza de la Aduana (Customs Square), next to the mayor's office. Nearby is San Pedro Claver Square and the church also named for Saint Peter Claver, where the body of the Jesuit saint ('Saint of the African slaves') is kept in a casket, as well as the Museum of Modern Art.
Nearby is the Plaza de Bolívar (Bolívar's Square) and the Palace of Inquisition. Plaza de Bolívar (formerly known as Plaza de La Inquisicion) is essentially a small park with a statue of Simón Bolívarin the center. This plaza is surrounded by balconied colonial buildings. Shaded outdoor cafes line the street. The Office of Historical Archives devoted to Cartagena's history is not far away. Next to the archives is the Government Palace, the office building of the Governor of the Department of Bolivar. Across from the palace is the Cathedral of Cartagena, which dates back to the 16th century.
A 20-minute walk from downtown is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, located in el Pie de la Popa (another neighborhood), the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies. The tunnels were all constructed in such a way as to make it possible to hear footsteps of an approaching enemy. Some of the tunnels are open for viewing today.
San Diego was named after the local San Diego Convent, now known as the Beaux Arts University Building. In front of it is the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Clare, now the Hotel Santa Clara. In the surrounding area is Santo Toribio Church, the last church built in the Walled City. Next to it is Fernández de Madrid Square, honoring Cartagena's hero, José Fernández de Madrid, whose statue can be seen nearby.
Inside the Old City is found Las Bóvedas (The Vaults), a construction attached to the walls of the Santa Catalina Fortress. From the top of this construction the Caribbean Sea is visible.
The Bocagrande (Big Mouth) area contains the bulk of the city's tourist facilities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, to include El Laguito (The Little Lake) and Castillogrande (Big Castle), two neighborhoods. Bocagrande has long beaches and commercial activity found along Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin Avenue).
The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are made of volcanic sand, which is slightly greyish in colour. This makes the water appear muddy, though it is not. There are breakwaters about every 200 yards (180 m).
On the bay side of the peninsula of Bocagrande is a seawalk. In the centre of the bay is a statue of the Virgin Mary.
- Deprisa, Av Venezuela (Centro Edificio Citibank, local B1), . M-F 8-12.30 & 14-18, Sa 8-13.
- Adpostal, corner of Calle 34 and Av. Luis Carlos López (in La Matuna, Centro Comercial Galerias). Here you can buy stamps.
Sending postcards to Europe is expensive; a stamp costs $6.800.
- Contact Internet Café, Calle de la Media Luna No 10-20, . 8-21. $1000/h.
- Micronet, Calle de la Estrella No 4-47, . 9-21.$1500/h.
Prices in Cartagena
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.93|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$8.50|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$14.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$31.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$3.80|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$1.70|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.80|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$5.20|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$4.50|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.10|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$1.80|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$2.25|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$61.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M.)||1||$45.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$70.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.65|
32 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
155 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
The Rafael Núñez International Airport (IATA: CTG) receives international flights from New York City (JetBlue),Panama City (Copa Airlines), Quito, Fort Lauderdale (Spirit Airlines), Miami(Avianca) and Madrid (Iberia). There are several seasonal flights from many cities in Canada.
There are domestic non-stop flights from Medellín, Cali, San Andrés, Bogotá,Montería (ADA airlines), Barrancabermeja, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta. The new low-cost airline VivaColombia also serves the city.
The airport is located 3 km north-east of the old city. At the airport you can find several ATMs and an exchange bureau where you can change cash and traveler's checks. To get downtown, go to the taxi stand which will give you a receipt with the exact amount you'll have to pay to the driver, around $10-12,000 depending on your destination (2015 rate). To get into town more cheaply, walk about 50 m (150 ft) to the street and hail one of yellow cabs. You should be able to get a cab to take you into town for about $6,000. A still more affordable alternative are the "Metrocar" and "Vehitrans" minibuses going from the Calle 70 near the airport ($1,800) to the India Catalina monument at the western edge of downtown. On the way back from the downtown to the airport take the "Vehitrans" bus on the corner of the India Catalina monument to the aeroporto (ask the driver to confirm the bus goes to the airport).
The bus terminal is 11 km east of the old city. Frequent white and green air-conditioned metrocar buses go to the old city and cost $1,800 (depending on the traffic goes between 45-90 minutes). Taking a cab costs $10,000, a late night surcharge of $500 applies after 8PM. Expreso Brasilia has lines:
- to/from Medellin : $90,000 (normal)- 130,000 COP (VIP)/ 13 hour (6+ per day )
- to/from Bogota : $128,000 COP / 18 hours
Unitransco has lines:
- to/from Barranquilla : $12,000 COP / 2.5 hours (4 a day)
- to/from Santa Marta : $28,000 COP / 4 hours (4 a day)
- to/from Mompox : $40,000 COP / 6 hours (1 a day)
- to/from Tolú : $23,000 COP / 3 hours (6:30PM)
- to/from Montería : $40,000 COP / 4.5 hours (every 45min)
Rapido Ochoa has lines:
- to/from Riohacha : $30.000 / 8 hours (daily)
If you are coming overland from Panama, your first bus will be from Turbo. Turbo to Monteria is $25,000 (4 hours) and Monteria to Cartagena $35,000 (4 hours) for express services. Expreso Brasilia, Expreso Amerlujo and Unitransco have a daily connection via Barranquilla to the Venezuelan capital Caracas, the two former for $200,000 taking 20 hours. If you travel with Unitransco it's a bit cheaper but it entails and additional transfer of buses at the border.
You may be able to bargain down prices for long-distance tickets, locals do that too.
Cartagena is an important port for charter boats between Colombia and Panama. There are several private boats doing this trip, but expect to have to wait several days to find a boat. Fares vary between US $375 and US $500 depending on the size of the boat and the on-board services. The trip usually takes 4 nights and 5 days and includes a 2- or 3-day stopover in San Blas Islands. At the Panama end, the boats either leave from the Portobelo Area or from Carti Islands Kuna Yala rather than Colón. Reliable information about departure dates and captains can be found at the hotel Casa Viena.
Especially during cooler months in North America, cruise ships regularly pay day-long port calls here. Depending on their size and numbers on any day, available shore excursions can vary from visits to the city proper, to beaches and islands nearby. Very few will venture to cities elsewhere. The harbor for cruise ships is located about 3 km southeast of the old town, probably best accessible by taxi or by foot.
The city is connected to the rest of Colombia by good roads. Ruta 90 (Transversal del Caribe) goes along the coast connecting Cartagena to places line Barranquilla and Turbo and has been built out to limited-access highway. You can drive here from Bogota too, but that's a drive of more than 1000 km.
Transportation - Get Around
The old town in particular is best explored walking. Most places in Bocagrande are also within walking distance.
To reach other destinations such as the San Felipe fort, Bocagrande, Castillogrande, airport, etc there are many buses running all over the city. Ask the driver or other people who are waiting which bus goes to your destination. An urban bus ticket cost $1800, sold by the driver. On the downside, buses drive slower, stop at each corner and seldom take the direct way so expect a bus ride from A to B to take several times that of a taxi ride.
Taxis don't have meters in Cartagena, fares should be negotiated. There are printed fares, but they are more like minimum fares. Even negotiated rates are often higher, especially in high season. There are also night and air condition surcharges each of a few hundred pesos. Confirm your fare before getting in the taxi. Taxi drivers may demand ridiculous rates if not negotiated in advance.
Taxis are generally easy to find, although in the old town you may have to walk a few blocks away from the center, toward the wider road close to wall. From the old town to Boca Grande or vice versa or any transport inside Bocagrande or inside old town expect to pay $6,000; from the airport to the old town or vice versa is $10-12,000.
A chariot is a popular way for tourists to get to know the old town. These can be flagged down in the street or there are usually some waiting at the Plaza Bolívar or close to the Santa Clara hotel. They are reminiscent of public transportation of colonial Cartagena, and essentially complete the atmosphere of the old town.
Cartagena has several harbours for Boats going out to the Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca, including the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita, Muelle Todomar. One of the easiest options (which includes a good lunch and roundtrip tickets [you can come back the same day or stay as long as you'd like as long as you keep your ticket stub]) is to go on one of the big ships like the Alcatraz. These come at the best price at $25,000, but beware - they take around four hours to actually get to Playa Blanca because they move really slowly and stop at the aquarium at Rosario Islands first (which is rather boring).
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Most hotels, upscale restaurants take credit cards, but many places, especially taxis only accept Colombian pesos. Some banks may exchange money, but the rates may not be the most convenient. The easiest method for obtaining pesos is to use your debit card at an ATM machine. Another option is to use a Cambio or curreny exchange kiosk, however, your exchange rate will be a little higher than by using a debit card. Using a credit card at the ATM machine will require you to use a PIN number, so contact your financial institution before your trip.
- Citibank, Av Venezuela, Edificio Citibank (1st floor). the bank M-F 8-12 & 14-16.30. There is a large Citibank ATM location on calle Venezuela near Barrio San Diego that has a guard out front. Seemingly available 24/7.
- Banco de Bogotá, Av Venezuela (Centro Comercial Uno # 105-107). M-F 8-11.30 & 14-16, Sa -16.30, Su.
- Giros y Finanzas (several locations around town). M-F 8-17, Sa 8-14. Western Union affiliated exchange office.
Handcrafts are fashionable and sophisticated. Emeralds are available for sale all over Cartagena, including polished and uncut loose emeralds and beautiful jewelry. The prices can be reasonable and the variety available is extensive in the old walled city. The stores that sell emeralds and emerald jewelry use various names such as "Taller y Fabrica de Joyas" (workshop and manufactuer of jewelry), "Museo de Artesanias y Esmeraldas" (museum of crafts and emeralds) or simply "Joyeria" (jewelry). Store owners will negotiate and provide a certificate of "authenticity".
- La Bemba Galería, Calle Tumbamuertos #38-65 (Near Plaza San Diego, in the Historic Center), , e-mail: [email protected]. M-W 9:30AM-8PM, T-Sat 9:30AM-9PM. A cultural giftshop and gallery. Urban and pop art, to wear, to use, to play, to see, to give or just to remember. The perfect place to find sustainable gifts from Cartagena. The articles in the store are made, painted or designed by local or national (Colombian) artists. La Bemba Gallería soports local artists foundations.
- Bóvedas (next to the city wall, near the Santa Catalina bastion). Various artesanal goods of good quality.
- Q Design, Calle de la Iglesia, 4-16. Design objects.
- Portal de los Dulces (near Puerto del Reloj). Local sweets.
- Ábaco (corner of Calles de la Iglesia & de la Mantilla No 3-86), . Mo-Sa 9-20.30, Su 16-20.30. Bookstore and café. Has a good assortment of books in Spanish about Cartagena, and some English books as well
- Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi, Cl. 34 No. 3-37 Edificio lnurbe. Specializing in maps.
Take some care. Street hawkers are everywhere, ready to lead you to stores that pay them considerable "commissions"; you actually pay them...through higher prices. And many reliable sources report that, without in-depth knowledge of emeralds and ability to recognize 14K and 18K gold, you risk buying fake or "enhanced" stones or gold-plated metalwork at some stores, or paying more for quality items here than you would in reputable stores elsewhere in the Caribbean or at home.
When approached by a street vendor, your best bet is to smile and say "no, thank you", and they will more likely leave you alone. If you do it in a harsh way, they are likely going to follow you around for longer.
Cartagena features a rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian and other legacies of its inhabitants. Eating set menu lunches and dinners in local restaurants called 'corrientes' costs around $6.000 (US $3). A typical dish consists of fried fish (if you are by the beach), chicken or meat, served with coconut rice (arroz de coco), fried plantains (patacones) and salad. There are many places that sell $2.000 fruit juices. Colombia boasts a very good range of exotic fruits that can be mixed with water or milk.
In the old town, dozens of good restaurants can be found dotted around the streetsm particularly concentrated close to the Plaza Santo Domingo. Beware that many of the city's restaurants are not open on Sundays.
- Pan de Bono (corner of Calle del Porvenir and Calle San Agustin). A bakery where you can get a fresh and inexpensive snack in the form of sandwiches. Try the local cassava bread! Budget.
- Café Juan Valdez (corner of Cl. San Agustin and Cl. de la Universidad, also other locations). Coffee chain with a large variety of coffees and different cakes. Free WLAN.Budget.
- Crepes & Waffles (Several locations). Very nice Colombian franchise restaurant which offers very good dishes to excellent prices (dishes around US $5). dishes around $15000.
- El Corral (One is located on Plaza San Pedro, 4 others further out.). Very nice Colombian franchise hamburger chain. Good quality hamburgers for $10.000-15.000 pesos for a combo.
- Gelateria Paradiso. Has unreal ice cream, with a large assortment of different exotic fruit flavors. Fans of coffee ice cream must stop by for a scoop.. Corner of Calle del Cuartel and Calle de la Estrella. $4.000 for small cup, $6.000 for medium.
- Abaco, Calle de la Mantilla. Cafe & Book Store is a great place to relax and get some peace and quiet. Local books on Cartagena in addition to great coffee. Hot beverage and cake around $9000.
- Atahualpa, Carrera 7 (At end of Calle de Tablada at the Plaza de Managua.). Peruvian place with fresh fish. The menu of the day is great value Set dinner soup, main and juice for only $12.000.
- El Bistro, Calle Ayos 4-46 (2 blocks from Plaza Santo Domingo), . German-owned restaurant with excellent European kitchen, especially the steak is good. Also, they have home-made German bread and you can have German beer here too. Breakfast for around $10000, mains around $25000.
- La Cevicheria, Calle Stuart 7 (opposite Hotel Santa Clara), . A great selection of hot and cold ceviches. around $25000 a dish.
- La Vitrola, Calle Baloco no. 33-201. Considered the best restaurant in town. Cuban ambiance, good food - high prices. It is located Calle Baloco on the corner front to the historical walls. Mid-range.
- Sol de la India, Calle Tumbamuertos 38-43, . 11:30AM-10PM. Excellent vegetarian Indian food in the old town. For lunch they offer an all-inclusive (also drinks) buffet for $15,000 pesos that varies every day. They also offer yoga classes (around US $8) and massages. Super nice and enthusiastic restaurant owners. dishes around $25000-30000, also pizza and pasta for around of that.
- Restaurante Bar El Muelle (El Laguisto Beach Club), Carrere 1 ra. No. 1A - 23. There are many good restaurants in the Bocagrande area on the beach. The food is of decent quality, but the delight is the water coming up to the restaurant. The host speaks English, Spanish, French, some Portuguese and Turkish! Mid-range.
- La Mulata, Calle Quero 9-58, . A choice of a few set lunch options. Different menu every day of the week. Delicious and unpretentious. mains $20000-30000.
- Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria), Calle San Agustin 6-68, . 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria it is located in Centro Historico de Cartagena de Indias, Calle San Agustin 6-68, close Universita de Cartagena (Cartagena University). There you can eat excellent Croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is rustically tip, very clean with excellent service. The price of dishes and pizza is very good. In the local you can use gratis WiFi internet connection. They do also pizza delivery. Croatian Cevapcici $18.000 (US $10), Pasta frutos del mar $20.000 (US $11), Pizza small from $12.000 (US $7), Pizza medium $25.000 (US $14), until Pizza large $35.000 ($20).
- El Balkoon, Calle Tumbamuertos No. 28-85 2do. Piso Esquina. 2nd floor restaurant that overlooks the Plaza San Diego. Small balcony for seating, but great food, both fish and meat. Good set menus and 2-for-1 specials on cocktails every day from 6PM-9PM. About $26.000 with drink.
- Restaurante La Casa de Socorro, Cl. Larga No. 8B-112, . Traditional restaurant serving typical Caribbean fare: langoustines, crabs, ceviche, fish, all very tasty and well prepared. Popular among locals, especially for lunch. $20000-40000.
- Teriyaki, Plaza San Diego No. 8-28. Sushi and Thai restaurant. $10000-30000.
- Restaurante Zebra, Plaza San Diego No.8-34, . African-Caribbean fusion, pasta. Mid-range.
- Club de Pesca, Avenida Miramar. Fine dining restaurant specializing in the "fruits of the sea". Great seafood and great atmosphere. Located in Manga with view to the bay and marinas of Cartagena. mains around $40000-60000.
- Donde Olano (Olano´s), Calle Santo Domingo #33 - 81 (Near Plaza de Santo Domingo). Great sea food with fusion style, don´t miss the shrimps in passion fruit and coconut rice! Mains $30000-70000, but does have some more affordable alternatives.
- Quebracho, Calle Baloco 2-69. Argentinian restaurant at its best. Good meat, good ambiance. Dishes around $55000.
- Cafe El Santisimo, Calle del Torno 39 - 76. One of the must see restaurants of Cartagena. Dishes around $50000.
Sights & Landmarks
Cartagena has several faces; one of a dirty, sprawling Caribbean metropolis, in Bocagrande the one of a massive "hotel ghetto" and finally the old town with its well-polished face of a once affluent colonial city. Cartagena's main attraction is its historic old town surrounded by the city wall. Main entrance is the Clock Tower Building. The walled city includes the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna. The oldest part of Cartagena is around Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní. Cartagena's five hundred year-old coralstone fortsand great parts of its walled city are admirably intact and represent some of the finest examples of civil and military architecture of the Spanish colonial times.
Almost all churches in the historic center are worth visiting, especially Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, in honor of the priest St. Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with slaves; La Catedral, near Plaza de Bolívar and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The old town is divided into three parts: El Centro with the cathedral and the many palaces in Andalucian style, San Diego, which was the quarters of traders and bourgeoisie lived and Getsemaní which was the home of the lower classes. The old harbor of Getsemaní, formerly separating El Centro and San Diego has during the last century transformed into the old town's new commercial area, La Matuna. Here you can also find the pedestrian area Camellón de los Martires, a good place to start exploring the old town.
- Plaza de los Coches. From Camellon de los Martires you pass through the historical city gate Puerto del Reloj, the gate of the clock, onto the triangular square Plaza de los Coches, the place of the carriages. Once this was one of the largest slave markets in all of Latin America, a major source of wealth to the city, aside of the gold export to Spain. Nowadays a statue of Pedro de Heredia, the founder of the city, stands on this square.
- Plaza de la Aduana. Next to the former, there is another beautiful triangular square, Plaza de la Aduana, surrounded by impressive arcaded buildings.One of these is Casa del Premio real, the house of the Spanish viceroy. This square has a statue as well, of Christopher Columbus.
- Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Plaza de San Pedro Claver, . Mo-Sa 8-17, Su -16.30. Named after Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish Jesuit who worked for 40 years for the rights and the wellbeing of the slaves in the city. He was beatified in 1888, and in 1985 named the patron saint of human rights. His relics are visible in a crystal arch under the altar. Moreover, on the second floor you can visit the room where he lived the last times of his life and died. On the second floor there is also an exhibition of Afro-Caribbean art. COP$6.000.
- Calle San Juan de Dios No 3-62, . 9-19. Located in a former Jesuit college right behind the convent. It offers an informative overview of the history of the city and the naval history of the Caribbean. However the exhibits are replicas, not originals. COP$6.000.,
- Plaza de Bolívar. Some blocks inwards there's the Plaza de Bolívar with an equestrian statue of the liberation hero. Before the independence of Colombia this was known as Plaza de Inquisición, and next to it you can find the inquisition palace. where during two centuries the Catholic church held processes against heretics.
- Palacio de la Inquisición (Museo de la Inquisición), Plaza de Bolívar, . Mo-Sa 9-18, Su 10-16. The museum of Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) was where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted people accused of crimes against religion.The tribunal was responsible for all of South America and sentenced almost 700 people, including Jesuits opposing slavery. Many of the accused were badly tortured. Today the museum shows some instruments of torture actually used back then.COP$17.000. A tourist guide, in English, can be purchased for $15,000.
- Museo del Oro y Arqueología, Plaza de Bolívar, . Tu-Fr 10.00-13.00 & 15.00-19.00, Sa 10.00-13.00 & 14.00-17.00, Su 11.00-16.00. Also at the same square, this museum shows the religious gold artefacts of the Zenú (or Sinú) people who used to live along the coast. Not as large as the gold museum of Bógota, but still very worth seeing. However, the museum's archaeological museum is even more interesting, showcasing the native people's impressive achievements in controlling and canalling Rio Magdalena.Free.
- Catedral de Santa Catalina. Tu-Su 9.30-18.30. A three-naved cathedral which is rather crude on the inside, but has an impressive tower. COP$10.000.
- Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Plaza de Santo Domingo, . Tu-Sa 9-19, Su 12-20. Not far from the cathedral is the oldest church in Cartagena. Santo Domingo on the eponymous square has been here since 1552. You can rent audio guides, available in many languages. COP$10.000.
- Casa de Rafael Núñez (outside the walls, direction Marbella), . Tu-Fr 9-17.30, Sa 10-17.30, Su 10-16. This wooden building was the home of the 19th century poet and president Rafael Núñez (1825-1894). He wrote the text to the Colombian national anthem, and also participated writing the constitution which was in force from 1886 to 1991.COP$4.000.
- Monumento a la India Catalina. A landmark dedicated to and named after the city's founder Pedro de Heredia's native translator Catalina.
- Castillo de San Felipe. 8AM-6PM. A fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. The largest fort the Spanish ever built in their colonies, this fort was conquered only once by French privateer Baron de Pointis in 1697. It's filled with an extensive maze of tunnels, which you can explore on a guided tour. $17,000 COP (half price on Wednesdays). Great audio guide $10,000 COP.
- La Popa. Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria, the patron saint of the city. On the 2nd of February every year, pilgrims celebrate her. Entrance to La Popa is $8,000 for adults and a little less for children. Note that taking a taxi up and down the hill will cost you a shocking $50,000. Negotiate this with the driver before going. It is advised that you do not walk up as it can be dangerous.
Things to do
Nearby coral reefs, powdery beaches, impressive mangroves, and waterways complement the historic and urban beauty.
- Chiva Bus. afternoons, evenings. Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you've visited Cartagena for even a day you've undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups. There are various pickup locations at mostly tourist hotels (Decameron, Caribe, Hilton etc.) or just talk your the people to make arrangements. Prices range from $18.000-25.000 depending on tour.
You can also take a horse and carriage tour
- Guided bike tours, Calle Don Sancho, Edif. Agua Marina Of. 100A, . historical tour USD 45, night tour USD 60.
- Latin Dance Lessons. Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of Latin dance classes, focusing on Salsa, Meringue and Bachata. There are introductory classes every Friday and Saturday at 5PM for just $10.000—for advanced and intensive classes, workshops or other questions visit crazysalasa.net.
- Spanish Classes. Cartagena is an ideal city for some extended Spanish language studies—a beautiful but not too large city center, close by beaches and heaps of activities to do. Colombia is also renown for its pure Spanish which is perfect for learners. There are several Spanish language schools in Cartagena. BABEL International Language Institute is located directly in the old city in one of the picturesque streets. They offer all kinds of group and private classes and also combined Spanish and Salsa packages
- Casa Cultural Colombo Alemana de Cartagena, Calle 38 No. 5 - 31, Calle Estanco del Aguardiente, .
- Nueva Lengua, Calle del Pozo No 25-95,. Located in Getsemaní, this language school offers courses from five days and longer.
- Raíces: Spanish & Culture, Getsemaní. Del Pozo Street. N° 28-24 Oficna 102.(Diagonal the Plaza de la Trinidad.), , e-mail: [email protected]. 09:00-18:00. The main focus of this Spanish school is immersion courses: their philosophy is that it's more interesting and better for students to learn in a cultural environment that shows the richness of the Spanish language. Flexible schedule, good prices, nice and friendly teachers committed with the learning of their students.
Beaches southwest of Cartagena
The easiest way of going to the beach is heading to the west coast, where there are sand beaches both north of the old town and on the Bocagrande peninsula.
However, there are a couple of beach destinations one or a few hours by boat from Cartagena. Commonly boats leave Cartagena (most near Muelle de la Bodeguita) in the morning and return in the early afternoon. Trips are often available as two-way boat tickets including lunch, but to avoid disappointment don't do business with the wandering ticket touts but buy tickets from a ticket office or kiosk. Be aware that there is a port surcharge of $10.000 not included in posted ticket prices. Also, for these out-of-city destinations you may want to bring some bug spray.
Playa Blanca is widely regarded as the best beach of Cartagena, but it is not that easy to reach. With its white sand and crystal clear water it is probably one of the best beaches in Colombia. After tour boats leave in the afternoon it is also very peaceful and quiet. It is worth staying on Playa Blanca for at least one night. There are several places where you can rent hammocks, get food and drinks. For example, "Wittenbergs place".
On the beach you will be approached to buy massages, fruit platters, sea food and jewelry among other things — they can at times be rather persistent touting their products and services. Watch out for the vendors selling oysters: they will give you an oyster as a present (regalo) to taste. They will quickly crack the shells and serve you a number of oysters, after which you are told that they each cost $2.000. Avoid this $30.000 charge and the subsequent argument on the beach. If you are looking for great seafood and Coco Locos, ask around for Nelson Mandela. Sunbathers are often ushered to rent a "stall" for $5,000.
- By boat Take a bus or taxi to “Mercado Bazurto”, the big market of Cartagena about 10 minutes from the Center. From there, every day, except Sundays, small cargo-boats (lancha de carga) leave for Playa Blanca. They don´t have an exact departure time, be there before 9AM to be sure. You will have to pay about $20.000 each way (December 2008) and the trip takes more or less 1 hour to reach the beach. The way back is much easier, most boats (tour boats) will bring you back for around $15.000. Keep in mind that the last boats from Playa Blanca to Cartagena leave around 2-3PM! More comfortable and safer is taking a round-trip from the centre at Muelle de las Pegasos. You can bargain down a one-way-trip without lunch to about 25.000 Pesos plus 8.300 port tax. The tour takes you to Rosario Islands first until it reaches Playa Blanca in the late morning. You can leave the tour there to stay overnight.
- Overland by public transport (1.5 hours): take a bus to Pasacaballos from calle 30 / carrera 17 (in front of the castle - the bus will have a big Pasacaballos sign in front). The bus will leave you either in Pasacaballos or a bit before, under a highway arch; either way, you can take a taxi or mototaxi to Playa Blanca. The bus is 1,900 COP and the taxi is 10,000 COP per person (the mototaxi should be a bit less). The whole trip takes about 1.5 hours.
Bay of Cholon. Farther down from Playa Blanca on Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru- a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach.
Islas del Rosario. Several agents arrange boat tours to Islas del Rosario. A set of small islands out of the coast. Usually the tour include lunch, a visit to an aquarium and a few hours at Playa Blanca. Not included in the price is harbor tax and park entrance ($12.000 total) and the entrance fee to the aquarium ($15.000). If you buy your tour at one of the street vendors, don't pay in advance, preferably pay part or all at return in Cartagena. At least one of these tours is to a resort "Coco Liso" which is something like a Colombian butlins. You will be promised a beach, pay a high fee, then disembark a boat after an hour and a half to be greeted with a fairly basic hotel, gimmicky pool, and a tiny slice of beach. Buying a piece of "coral" jewellery from one of the many hawkers, engage them in conversation, and they might lead you to their private beach - quite beautiful, and all the more interesting for having its existence totally denied by the tour operators. The tourist offices in the centre of the old town and a good place to compare the many possible trips to the islands.
Festivals and events
Major events take place during the dry season, coinciding with the Northern Hemisphere winter.
- Fiesta Taurina. 2-6 Jan. Bull fighting festival with fights on Plaza de Toros on Av. Pedro de Heredia outside downtown.
- Festival lnternacional de Música. early Jan. Classical music festival with concerts in Teatro Heredia, the convents of Santa Teresa and Santa Clara and public places in the old town.
- Hay Festival. late Jan. Literary festival with public readings by authors.
- Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria. late Jan-early Feb. The patron saint of Cartagena is celebrated during several days, the highlight being a massive procession up to the convent on the hill Cerro La Popa each 2nd of February.
- o'Festival lnternacional del Cine. late Feb-early Mar. Traditional film festival featuring Latin American movies and documentaries.
- Festival de Música del Caribe. late Mar. As the name reveals, a whole lot of reggae, calypso, salsa and merengue performances.
- Festival de Jazz Bajo la Luna. Dec. Jazz festival with performances all over the city.
Most bars and clubs are found in the old town or at Avenida del Arsenal near the Convention Center. Plaza San Diego is a square with a lot of bars and restaurants, very lively in the weekends.
- La Avenida del Arsenal. La Avenida del Arsenal is located along the bay near the Centro de Convenciones. In its heyday it was the place to be. Now much of the nightlife in Cartagena has moved to the Ciudad Vieja, but this strip of about 10 discotecas is still a raging place to experience on weekends. Entry to most of the discos is $10.000-20.000.
- Mister Babilla. One of the most popular watering holes for local Cartageneros is Mister Babilla, located on the Avenida del Arsenal, near the Centro de Convenciones. This place is great on the weekends and is notorious for having people dancing on the tables and the bar late into the night! A great time!
- Cafe del Mar, Baluarte de Santo Domingo. Located atop the western wall providing sunset views and cocktails.
- Salsa Donde Fidel, Plaza de la Aduana (Right by the clock gate). Great place to sit and people watch as the night gets going. Indoor and outdoor seating, according to one visitor the indoor is better. Good prices on drinks (beer $2500) and the place to meet Cartageneros and tourists alike.
- Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar.Pizzeria), Calle San Agustin 6-68, . 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria is situated in Centro Historico de Cartagena, Calle San Agustin 6-68 and is near Universita de Cartagena. There you can eat excellent croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is very clean and service is excellent. The price and quality of the dishes and pizza are very good. Every day you can listen good music and taste also good drinks, like beer, coctails, juice and natural juice, all this with very good price and hospitable service.
- Zorba Wiskeria, Plaza Fernandez de Madrid. A great little corner bar that offers bottle service and a decent street scene. Very local. Beers are COP$3000 and a bottle of rum will set you back $27.000, which is pretty good. Right next door to a Pizzeria and up the street a few doors from a Lebanese Falafel house. Calle de la Tableda.
Safety in Cartagena
The touristed old town is not more dangerous than a city in the first world, but going off the beaten path to the periphery of the city there is a real risk of getting robbed. Be very careful when walking at night specially around lonely parts of the city. Locals are in general helpful and kind. The street vendors can be very annoying, but a simple "No quiero nada" in Spanish will keep them away.
Possession of illegal drugs in Colombia can lead to criminal charges. There is a scam going on where tourists are lured into buying illegal drugs. If you try to buy, "police" (the rest of the con gang) will emerge in a minute, drag you off to the nearest ATM and demand that you withdraw astronomical sums to pay "fines" or even kidnap you.
Watch out for the "money-changing-magicians"
Those street vendors offer you a very good exchange rate. After you have counted the money you will recognize that a small amount is missing, and after complaining he will put exactly that amount on top again. In the same move they will take some big notes from the bottom. Most people won't count their money a second time, and first think they made a good deal but in fact got ripped off.
Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca
The tours offered to visit Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be quite a let down. You'll be offered a price for a tour which "includes" either snorkeling or entrance to the aquarium and a meal at Playa Blanca for about $50.000. Once on the trip you find out that you have to pay extra for the aquarium or the snorkeling - $15.000. Make sure the tour guides on the boat are told by the person who sold the tour what is included in order to avoid disagreements.
The best way to book a tour is going inside the marina and avoiding the "sales" people outside. They are getting a cut for the sales and have no responsibility to you. Once inside ask for Elizabeth (known lovingly as La negra Liz"). She owns several boats, will give you the best price, and most importantly her word. You can rent your own small boat for $700.000 or secure a seat for $75.000. Ask them before hand about the itinerary. Her company in particular has its own "resort" in the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean, nice and has good food for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, their beach access is limited and less than spectacular. Her boats will insist on taking you there, but you have a choice. Playa blanca is by far the best beach, but it can be overwhelming with the locals trying to sell you their products.
More upscale destinations include the Baru Island and private resorts owned by the big hotels (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). In most, you are allowed to spend the day at the beach. Every tour boat has their own agenda.
Taking a long distance bus
If you plan to take a bus to Santa Marta from bus terminal, it is advised to approach ticket counters and buy tickets directly there. Otherwise be aware: normally there is a bus service with connection in Barranquilla, where you will have to change a bus and pay a new fare to Santa Marta again, even if you have already paid it in a previous bus and even if you were promised that this was an absolutely direct bus to Santa Marta. If you happen to have this kind of connection in Barranquilla, make sure that you keep your tickets with you (even though they are being collected shortly after departure) and make sure that the guy, who will meet you in a bus and guide to another bus during a connection was clearly notified by a bus driver that you have already paid your fare to Santa Marta.
Colombia has an outbreak of the Zika virus, which is hazardous for pregnant women since it can severely damage the baby in the womb. The Colombian government is advising its residents to avoid pregnancy and various other governments advise women who are or might become pregnant to avoid travel to the area. Here is the travel advisory from the US government Center for Disease Control.
- Hospital Bocagrande (corner of Carrera 6 and Calle 5), .
- Carrera 2 No. 14-210, Base Naval, . Also has a decompression chamber for diving accidents.,