The soundtrack to Colombia is vibrant, loud, and catchy – there is music blaring from every shop, restaurant and around every corner. Fruit vendors selling mangos and pineapples litter the city. Seafood is abundant and you can buy ceviche almost anywhere. The vibe here is a mix of Caribbean and Latino. There was more poverty than I expected. To be honest, I am not sure if it was my favorite place in the world. I struggled to find the food scene past ceviche, arepas and fresh fish. Perhaps we didn’t dig deep enough into Colombia, as it is a big country and we really only spent time in Cartagena. The glimpses we did see were incredible and Colombian culture is animated and so dynamic. If I could redo our time in Colombia I would go to some other cities to try and get a better feel for this country.
Bogota (just in passing on an overnight layover) and Cartagena
Things We Liked
Ceviche, limonada de coco (holy crap these are good), and beaches
Things We Disliked
Hot weather, overall food scene, and expensive accommodations
The Colors of Cartagena
The city of Cartagena is full of vibrant colors and beautiful architecture. The streets are really stunning and every corner you turn seems to be more and more beautiful. There was one problem though…the streets were complete chaos during the middle of the day with a lot of people, tourists and Colombians alike, street vendors, and cars. We much preferred the mornings and later at night when the streets clear out and the beauty of Cartagena can be seen more fully.
Street Food, Dancing, and Trampoline Hopping
On Saturday night in Gemsmani, a neighborhood close to the center of the city, comes to life. The square was packed full of locals waiting for food at one of the street vendors, musicians, dancers, and kids playing on a giant trampoline that was brought to the square. We sat there for hours watching all of the action and eating all of the food. We ate hot dogs (perros calientes in Colombia are out of this world), arepas, meat on sticks, and ice cream popsicles. We loved this evening and it was our favorite thing we did in Colombia. Sometimes the Old City in Cartagena felt very touristy — we struggled to really get to the heart of the culture and people because of this. This night in Gemsmani felt almost completely opposite of the tourist center and you could feel the culture and life of the people in Cartagena.
Beer & Laundry
We have really come to appreciate having access to a laundry machine. We have a very limited amount of clothing and clean laundry is sometimes hard to come by. When we arrived in Cartagena we knew that finding a place to do our laundry was a priority so we set out to do just that. There is a little place in Cartagena called Beer and Laundry — it is magical!
This is how it works: you bring your laundry and the lady who runs the store will wash, dry, and fold your laundry while you hang out and have a few beers. You can also order some food while you wait – pizza, beer, and laundry are a match made in heaven for a long-term traveler. You can also just drop of your clothes and pick them up later, but where is the fun in that? While we were waiting on our clothes to be finished we met a ton of people and loved swapping travel stories with them. Most of the people we met had been backpacking around South America for the past couple of months – it was particularly awesome to hear all about their experiences since we had to skip most of South America this time around. Sometimes it is the experiences that you least expect (like doing our laundry) to be the ones to create our favorite memories.
Ceviche & Coconuts
The food scene in Cartagena was hard for us to figure out. What we did figure out pretty quickly is that ceviche is big in Cartagena and we LOVE it. If you aren’t familiar ceviche it is ……..When we order ceviche in the US it is $15 and served in a shot glass. It was wonderful to pay $10 and get a bowl of ceviche big enough for us to split at lunch. Our favorite ceviche was a fish, conch, and calamari mix in coconut milk from La Ceverceria, a place that Anthony Bourdain visited and put on our radar.
Coconuts and coconut flavored everything are all over this city. My favorite is the limonada de coco and I think I sampled this delicious drink at almost every restaurant we visited. This coconut flavored lemonade tastes as good, or dare I say even better, than a pina colada. I love me a good pina colada, but damn…these things were incredible. You could say that I am obsessed and I am on a quest to make the perfect limonada de coco once I get back home.
There are beaches closer to Cartagena than Playa Blanca, but they are not nearly as nice. We took a shuttle to Playa Blanca to spend the day sitting along the crystal blue waters that make you have been transported to an island in the Caribbean. We spent the entire day lounging on beach chairs saying no to vendors trying to sell us massages, bracelets, hats, and sunglasses. We wish we would have spent a night or two staying here, but we already had a place in Cartagena.
It was a fabulous day…until we went to walk back to the shuttle. We could not find where we had entered the beach to get back to the last shuttle of the day. After asking around we found the way to the parking lot. There was no shuttle in the parking lot even though it was supposed to be leaving in 10 minutes! As we are panicking a bit a “helpful” taxi driver asked what we were looking for…and one conversation in broken Spanish later he told us that our shuttle had just left. Since we don’t trust anyone and something about the parking lot felt different we decided to run down the road a bit further. We found an identical parking lot with our shuttle about to leave in the parking lot! Whew.
Total Number of Nights: 7
Currency: $1 USD = 2,957 Colombian Pesos
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,350 miles (including our flight from Argentina)
Number of Miles Walked: 36 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 76,387 steps (average of about 12,700 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, mini-bus (shuttle), Uber, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2)
Number of Beds: 2