Cartagena is the city with most touristic traffic -both local and outlanders in Colombia. It is hard to tell when is low season over here, as every year thousands of travelers walk the fascinating streets of this charming city.
We are pretty sure the 300 years old walls enclosing the historical center, and the surrounding caribbean beaches are the main reasons of your visit, and now that you’ve finally decided it, here is a list of important travel tips we created for you to know and consider before embarking in your new adventure to Cartagena
1. Best areas to lodging in Cartagena
Walled City: while it is truth the historic center is the most charming and captivating option, it’s also the less flexible for your pocket; being that a prominent characteristic of this area is vast variety of boutique hotels; it is ambitious to recommend a specific one, as the particular architecture of the antique city and the unbeatable location, contribute to the unique and exclusive design
Getsemani: This is an ideal area for travelers who want to being near of the historic center on a budget. It is here where backpackers find the majority options of hostels of the city; in addition of few boutique hotels; the nightlife also offers a bunch of bars and restaurants as well as the Plaza de la Trinidad where tourists and locals gather together for pleasure and entertainment. This is in general the best option for price and location.
Bocagrande and El Laguito: These are the modern touristic areas of Cartagena; both neighborhoods offer well established hotel chains as Hilton, Dann and Holiday Inn, as well as apartment rentals -which is often the first option for Colombian tourists when traveling with family or a group of friends.
We recommend avoiding lodging in other areas not mentioned as these are the safest alternatives that also offer infinite options of bars, restaurants and points of interest
2. Rosario Island and Playa Blanca in Baru.
The Rosario islands are integrated by an archipelago of 27 islands; all with white sand, narrow beaches and warm turquoise waters. Although the Islands belong to the National park of Rosario and the San Bernardo, most of them are inhabited by private properties that pay significant taxation to government to be there; Therefore visiting them all is not really an option. The best shot here, is to take a day trip excursion to one of the hotels to offer the "day pass" service, however be aware of the option you choose as if your plan is to enjoy a quiet and relaxing day at the beach, most of this hotels host hundreds of people everyday; besides, not even all of them have really a beach.
Isla Grande is the most extensive of all, with a vast offer of places to spend your day along with options of accommodation, from hotels with all the amenities to eco friendly hotels with hammocks and cabanas.
We strongly recommend you Gente de Mar Resort or the Majagua Hotel; if you could, you should stay at least overnight to truly enjoy this natural paradise. You can read more about this tour and book it right here.
A rather common tour offered by tourism agencies is the Rosario Island and Playa Blanca in a Day; This tour is more like a panoramic route made on the same boat around some of the islands, and in which they only make a stop of about an hour at the aquarium and then take you to playa blanca where you have just the time to take your lunch and enjoy a bit of the beach and the sun; you really spend more time in the boat and can not get enough of it in the island or Playa Blanca. However we recommend you to book it if you’re only staying for a short time in Cartagena and need to take the most out of your trip.
Besides being known as the best beach in Cartagena, Playa Blanca in Baru is also recognized for its high demand of beach vendors who are very persistent to sell their goods. This can be uncomfortable or unpleasant for visitors. But we recommend you to be patient and it should not be a reason to throw over the idea of visiting one of the best beaches near Cartagena
3. Weather and raining season:
There are no seasons in Colombia. In Cartagena we have two types of weather, hot and very hot :) During the whole year temperature in Cartagena average goes between 25 and 32 degrees (77 to 88 fahrenheit) and 80% humidity. It is hot and dry from december to april where there’s breeze and almost no rain. From may to november we experience raining season being october the rainiest month. You already know it, drink lots of water and protect yourself from the sun when you come over!
4. Beach vendors
Beach vendors in Cartagena have become a truly headache for many visitors, unfortunately there is not much to do about it; however we believe you can easily handle this situation with a cold expression and a simple NO, gracias ( No, thank you ). Most vendors are located at the beaches of Bocagrande, Laguito and Playa Blanca; we are very sure you gonna find different prices from each vendor and please never accept nothing for free, we can asure you it will cost you more, for that you should alway agree on price before taking or accepting any product or service from any vendor.
Colombia is the land of bargain and Cartagena is not the exception, being such a touristic city, local vendors take advantage on increasing their prices to those who seem more ‘’gringos’’ :D and even more if they don’t speak any spanish; so it is all about your attitude and ability to negotiate. You should always ask the price before you make a purchase and if you think it sounds expensive try to put the price down, the vendor will surely accept it or work the price with you. Keep in mind the rule of asking the price before taking it also applies for cabs.
6. Where to exchange dollars and which currency is more convenient
Currency exchange places in Cartagena usually take dollars, euros and some of them, Brazilian Reais. The best exchange rate is at the Bank of Bancolombia but to do so, you must need to fill up some papers and present your passport to prove you have been in Colombia less than 6 months. Avoid to exchange money at the airport as rates are the less convenient
You can pay with debit or credit card almost anywhere, most of the stores and restaurants accept cards, although if you are hanging out at the beach or want to buy something from a street vendor take cash. click here to read more about where to exchange money in Cartagena
7. Public Transport and Taxis.
Bus Ticket in Cartagena and TransCaribe ( massive state transportation system ) is 2.000COP each way (less than US$1)
You must know that Taxis in Cartagena do not have taximeter, they have specific zone rates, unfortunately most of the times taxi drivers don’t follow these rates and charge according to their convenience or passenger’s foreign face and their ability to communicate, so every time you take a cab first negotiate price before getting on.
Taxi Rates in Cartagena ( valid through December 2016)- From Airport to Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillogrande: 18.000 COP (US$6 approx)
- From Airport to Historic downtown 10.000 COP (US$4 approx)
- From Historic downtown to Bocagrande or Laguito: 7.000 (US$3 approx)
There is also UBER and Esay Taxi apps available in Cartagena
8. Beaches in Cartagena
Cartagena is worldwide well known for its history and culture, our beaches are not the best but not everyone is aware of that, so they can get a big disappointment when they come to see the sand and water are not exactly as the caribbean postals they expected. The nice beaches with white sand and turquoise water are in Baru and the Rosario Islands Nat Park. We also have Punta Arena, a closer and nicer beach on Tierra Bomba Island just 7 min away.
The most crowded beaches in Cartagena are Bocagrande and Laguito, that’s why you will see lots of vendors harassing you. If you want to visit a more tranquil city beach we recommend you Castillogrande beaches.
You do not need to present a vaccination certificate when you travel to Cartagena. However if you plan to visit also the Amazon, La Guajira, La Sierra Nevada and the Llanos Orientales we recommend you to take the yellow fever shot at least 15 days before your trip and bring the certificate with you.
10. Passport and Visa to travel to Colombia
Colombia grant 3 months to remain legally in the country with option to extend your stay for another 3 months for tourism. For more information, see this link for visa requirements to enter Colombia.
Almost done! This should be good preliminary preparation. Oh, and don't forget to carry your camera ;)
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