Cartagena de Indias, often referred to as simply Cartagena, is a colorful and culturally rich city located on Colombia’s coast. Just a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride from Miami, the increasingly popular destination has evolved from terrorism to tourism- yes, it’s SAFE! I spent a week in Cartagena and quickly discovered the city is the perfect antidote to a typical lazy Caribbean location.
Don’t miss…Volcán de Lodo El Totumo (Mud Volcano)
This was hands down one of the most unique experiences on this trip. Yes, it is touristy, but so worth it-especially if you opt to do the experience on your own by taking a cab. I would NOT recommended going on a group tour as I’ve heard it can make the experience too crowded and not as enjoyable. The Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is about 20 minutes from the Walled City and looks like a giant ant hill. Upon arrival you climb up a rickety staircase and immerse yourself in a mud bath known to have healing powers. Hand your camera to one of the guys at top for pictures, but keep in mind you’ll have to tip them. Locals will try to massage you, but you can opt out by repeating “no gracias” a few times. Afterwards, you are led to the lake to wash up. Again, locals will be there trying to help you, but I would recommend letting them as you will be caked in mud. Don’t freak out when they make you take off your swimsuit! At the end you will need to tip anyone who helped you- the camera men, masseuse, women who washed you, etc. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. If you’re on the fence, just do it! Find humor in the uncomfortable. You’ll likely never experience anything like this again.
For the History Buffs…Castillo de San Felipe de Barajes
Cartagena is a true colonial treasure with beautiful buildings and architecture. One stop that should be on every traveler’s list is Castillo de San Felipe de Barajes. Originally built in the 1600s to protect the city, this giant fortress has been rebuilt several times and is known as the greatest fortress Spain ever built in the Americas. It stands as a proud glimpse into the city’s history and offers stunning views at the top. It’s roughly a 20 minute walk from the walled city, or a quick cab ride away. Warning: Muy caliente! I highly recommended wearing a hat, plenty of sunscreen, and bringing water or purchasing one from the vendors outside of the castle.
If You Want To Cool Down…Playa Blanca
There are a few different options for islands you can go to outside of the walled city (the beaches at Bocagrande are mediocre). You can get to them via boat, tour bus, or cab. We opted for a cab again to be on our own time. Apparently the tours going with groups can be a hassle sometimes, especially if you don’t speak Spanish that well. We left pretty early for the beach and the driver took us to different spots where you can leave your stuff all day and set up camp-all spots are negotiable-make sure not to agree on the first one, but instead walk down further to avoid the crowds that arrive later. Once you do settle on a spot, vendors will come up to you constantly trying to sell anything and everything. It’s a little annoying at first, but just say “no gracias” and they’ll leave you alone. Our driver stayed on the island and waited for us until we were red as lobsters. There are little shacks and hostels on the beach that we wished we would have known about before-it would definitely be fun to spend one night there with friends.
Also…don’t schedule every day jam-packed with activities. Make sure to take time to wander around the Walled City. Everything is so cinematic and stunning in Cartagena, especially in the Walled City. The city truly wakes up your senses.