Cartagena was our first stop in our trip to Colombia and one city that I still have mixed feelings on. I was extremely excited for our trip to Colombia after hearing so many great things from other hostel backpackers while in Peru. But I had heard a lot mixed reviews on Cartagena with some backpackers loving this old city while others hating every second they where there.
After an extremely early flight out of Dallas we connected through Miami and landed in Cartagena before we knew it. The Cartagena Rafael Nunez International Airport is one of the smallest airport that I have landed in, especially at the international level. While the Bogota El Dorado International Airport is much bigger and felt like an actual international airport, I must say this was one of my favorite airports around. I am not sure how many gates there are at the Cartagena airport but we disembarked on the tarmac and shuffled by shockingly clear directions inside the airport and through immigration. I still don’t think I have ever been through immigration faster at any other airport across the globe.
Now this is where the culture shock and reality of Cartagena set it, once you exit those baggage claim doors you are in CARTAGENA. Walking out the doors we where smack in the middle of the taxi line that would take us into the walled city where our first few nights would be spent in the old city of Cartagena. The taxi line would be a great prep for what would await us inside the walled city and the amount of bargaining you would have to do to survive in Colombia.
Before we get into the different parts of Cartagena I need to make a big warning of just how HOT it is. Coming from Texas and growing up in Puerto Rico, I thought I knew what heat and humidity where but I was wrong. I am pretty confident I was dripping sweat every minute of every day that we spent in Cartagena and all of northern Colombia.
Walled City vs New City
Cartagena is split into two sections or at least that’s the easiest way I can explain it. There is the walled city which is the old colonial city of Cartagena and its a pretty spectacular view as your taxi drives you in through the massive fort walls that where built by the Spaniards in the 16th century.
The new city as locals call it, is outside the walled city and is much newer and modern as the name implies. This is where most of the new commercial real estate is being built and where most major hotel chains have a presence.
Both parts of Cartagena have there own positives and negatives depending on what you are looking for. If you are feeling towards living inside a Spanish fort and walking down old colonial streets everyday then the walled city is a must. If time permits I highly recommend to dip your toes and stay in both areas of town. Since this was our airport back to the United States, we stayed in the walled city to begin the trip and in the new city to close out the trip.
Walled City Charm
The walled city of Cartagena does have its charm with some of the most beautiful streets I have walked through and just a sense actually being inside a giant fort. The buildings are brightly colored, the streets have an old charm to them and the entire place is quite walkable.
This is about all the walled city has going for itself though. The charm and beauty of the walled city becomes very bleak once you are surrounded by what seems an nonstop wave of street vendors and beggars. This isn’t the first place I have been hounded to buy random local trinkets at every corner but Cartagena has a way to take it to a new level. We became quite the experts fast and just waving our hands and almost completely ignoring anyone that came up to us.
While these are distractions, I must say it isn’t all bad. Some of the restaurants we went too where some of the best meals I have ever had. Some of the bars had some of the best views I have drank at it before. Imagine having some ceviche and a cold local beer while sitting next to a cannon at the edge of a fort looking at a sunset.
Things are not all bad in Cartagena, while I wont say it was my favorite city in Colombia, I have definitely been to worse places. Cartagena in my opinion is one of the best entries into Colombia if you are coming from the US especially if you are able to get into Miami for cheap.
Stay tuned for more on where to stay in Cartagena and what activities to do!
If you haven’t read my original post about Colombia and my overall thoughts on it head over HERE. I also cover my personal thoughts on safety and how I felt overall the entire trip.
CLICK HERE! If this is your first time in Colombia to check out my other posts and hopefully help plan your first trip!
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