Our travel specialist, Marcos who is located in our Buenos Aires office, recently traveled to Colombia to explore the country’s beauty further before the launch of our new travel services to Colombia. While traveling to Colombia’s highlights, his heart was stolen by the stunning colonial city of Cartagena.
A regular feature on the top places to travel to in the world, this romantic, charming, historic and lively city located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has captured the hearts of all those who visit.
Here are some of Marcos’ top tips and recommendations for getting the most out of your vacation in Cartagena.
♦ Is Cartagena easy to get to from the United States?
Direct flights to Cartagena leave from Miami (2hrs 45mins), New York (5hrs 10mins) & Fort Lauderdale (2hrs 50mins) in the United States. The rest of the main cities in the United States and around the world connect to Cartagena through Bogota, the capital of Colombia as well as via Panama.
As the most popular travel destination in Colombia, Cartagena is extremely well connected to the rest of the country and is served by a number of different airlines with non-stop flights from Bogota, Medellin, Cali, the Coffee Region and San Andres Island.
If you are already traveling though Central and South America, Cartagena can also be reached from most major cities via Bogota and the airline COPA also offers direct flights from Panama City (1hr 15mins) to Cartagena.
♦ How has your perception of Colombia changed?
When I was growing up in the ’80s I read Gabriel García Márquez’s books and watched the popular ’90s soap opera called ‘Coffee, with the scent of a woman’ which had a catchy theme tune composed by Donato & Stefano. This first impression of Colombia made my imagination run wild as I was introduced to a tropical country with incredible landscapes and a beautiful culture. While I was living in Peru and traveling throughout the world, I often met Colombians who would tell me about the beauty of their country as well as its history and politics. I began to read a lot about Colombia, following the peace process and the many positive political changes that took place and have helped Colombia turn over this new leaf.
In February 2015, I traveled to Colombia for the first time and I was happily surprised from the very first moment.
It is something that amazed me, and while traveling through Colombia I found an incredibly beautiful and diverse country which is full of potential. The Colombians I met along the way were all hard working and friendly who are all very proud and passionate about Colombia today and are willing to show every aspect of Colombia’s stunning nature and culture. As with traveling to anywhere in the world, if you are planning on visiting Colombia you should take the same precautions as you normally would in any other worldwide tourist destination. The Colombia tourism board has been working hard to change the world’s image and perception of Colombia and motivating travelers to visit. I think that as more and more travelers visit Colombia, word of mouth and the experiences people have had in Colombia will help the country reach its full potential.
♦ Why is now the best time to go to Colombia?
I have been thinking about this since I came back from Colombia and I feel that there is no better time to visit the country than now! With airlines offering incredible promotions from the United States and across the world to Colombia, you will find that traveling to Colombia is great value for the high level of services you will receive.
Exploring the beauty of Colombia now while it is not overly populated with international travelers will give you that incredible feeling and spark of visiting an ‘unexplored’ and new land.
After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a pioneer when traveling to a new destination? At Encounter Latin America we make everything easy for you so all you have to do is think about is enjoying this incredible country to its maximum.
♦ When is the best time to travel to Cartagena?
Cartagena can be visited all year round as its temperature is uniformly hot and humid. The only time the climate changes is during the rainy season which runs from May to November. Although during the rainy season it hardly ever rains all day, there is a greater chance of light drizzle. If you are looking for a more peaceful time in Cartagena, I would recommend avoiding the Christmas and New Year holiday period. During the end of year holiday season, the number of travelers and the prices are almost double the normal amount outside of these dates.
♦ What was your favorite experience in Cartagena?
As I always mention, I build my trips around food, city life, adventure and diving if I am traveling alone. There was not one but a number of favorite experiences that I had in Cartagena:
- Night Diving in the Rosario Islands. The waters of the archipelago have a distinctive color, are full of life and rich in plankton. During the night, if you turn off your flashlights while on a night diving tour and shake your arms and legs, you will see everything suddenly bursting into light due to the plankton’s bio-luminescence. The good news is that you don’t really need to be a pro-diver to have a similar experience. If you stay overnight on one of the larger islands, you will have the chance to snorkel at the Enchanted Lagoon during the night to enjoy a great sample of this natural wonder.
- Exploring the cuisine. In terms of food, Cartagena (as Colombia in general) was a great center of discovery. Located by the Caribbean, the city has access to great quality seafood and fish. At the same time, the country has blessed soils and different climates allowing a diverse range of fruit and vegetables to be produced. As the main tourist destination in Colombia, Cartagena is home to some amazing international restaurants serving the highest quality of food.
- The Caribbean atmosphere. In Cartagena the captivating Caribbean atmosphere can be felt in the air, the historic cobblestone streets and with the locals. The city’s dynamic is interesting and there are several places to enjoy both during the day and night. One of my best memories from Cartagena was experiencing the lively salsa bars in the bohemian Getsemani area and in the more classic salsa bars in the old town like Donde Fidel. There are a wide range of places to soak up this unique atmosphere at night whether that is from the small bars serving cold refreshing Colombian beers or the chic rooftop bars of the main boutique hotels in Cartagena’s historic center.
♦ Marcos’ top tips & recommendations for visiting Cartagena?
- Book a hotel located in the old town to feel like you are living in the colonial times.
- Make sure your hotel has a swimming pool; you will love it on hot afternoons.
- Cartagena is not a beach destination, if you are looking for a purely beach vacation, try Playa Blanca, Islas del Rosario, Tayrona or other destination along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline.
- Pack well with light, comfortable clothes and shoes as Cartagena is a hot and humid destination. Trust me, you will thank me for this!
- Move like a local. Get up early to enjoy the fresh morning air, relax by the pool after lunch and explore the cobblestone streets again after 5PM when the sun is not as strong and there is a pleasant Caribbean breeze.
- You must read Gabriel García Márquez’s book ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ before visiting Cartagena.
- Do not miss the Getsemani walking tour after 5PM or 6PM, where all the houses open their doors and windows when the temperature is lower, allowing you to enjoy a lovely and authentic display of daily life in Cartagena.
- For families with young children and babies, I don’t recommend the boat ride to Islas del Rosario as it can be quite rough for kids, to the point of scaring them to cry. I would recommend it for children aged 8 and above.
- Temperature can be a factor to consider when planning a visit to Cartagena with children. Plan activities carefully and consciously, allowing them to rest and not exposing the little ones to any risks like sunstroke.
- Despite Cartagena not being a pure beach destination, you might want to think of staying in the quieter resorts towards the east of Cartagena that are outside of the old town and next to Caribbean Sea.
- Stay in the old town, in a hotel with a nice swimming pool and rooftop bar to watch the sunset.
- Cartagena is one of the most romantic colonial destinations I have ever visited. It is great for walking through the cobblestone streets at night, watching the sunset in a bar on top of the fortified walls and enjoying the cuisine and refreshing cocktails.
- Think about spending a few nights on a remote island hotel in the Rosario Islands.
- Cartagena is great for diving especially for beginners with its warm Caribbean waters and plenty of marine life to see. I recommend a guided diving tour at night in the Rosario Islands, as it is a very unique experience.
- Do allow yourself time to make a side trip to Tayrona National Park for a few days for some nice, long walks along the beach and hiking in the tropical mountains.
- You must try arepas and fruit juices as well as local specialties such as Colombian ceviche and fried freshly caught fish with coconut rice and plantains.
- La Cevicheria Restaurant: World renowned restaurant with great quality food and mojitos.
- Ostreria del Mar Rojo: Local, rustic street food in La Matura, between the old town and Getsemani.
- Laguna Azul Cevicheria: This is another very authentic and hidden gem in Getsemani.
- La Cocina de Pepina: Located in Getsemani, it offers traditional Colombian coastal food.
- DonJuan Restaurant: Gourmet option within the old town.
- Donde Fidel Bar: Have fun in this popular salsa bar while enjoying a refreshing beer or cocktail.
- Cafe del Mar: An expensive restaurant but highly recommendable for watching the sunset in style.
- La Paletteria: Amazing homemade ice-creams located in the old town!