Cartagena, Colombia | Cruise port of call | CruiseBe
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Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is a city and a world heritage site in Bolívar, Colombia. The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.

Understand

Cartagena with its almost 900.000 inhabitants is located on the northern coast at the Caribbean Sea. Founded by the Spanish in 1533, it was fortified and functioned as the center of the Inquisition in the region. The impressive buildings from the Spanish time today make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Today Cartagena is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"),... Read more

Cartagena, Colombia

Destination:

Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is a city and a world heritage site in Bolívar, Colombia. The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.

Understand

Cartagena with its almost 900.000 inhabitants is located on the northern coast at the Caribbean Sea. Founded by the Spanish in 1533, it was fortified and functioned as the center of the Inquisition in the region. The impressive buildings from the Spanish time today make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Today Cartagena is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. It is also nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with recently built condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.

Being located in the tropics, the climate of the city is defined by dry and rain seasons. The dry season is from December to April and it also rains a little less in July. Nevertheless, there are still on average more sunny than rainy days per month in the rainy season. Apart of September and October, the monthly amount of rain isn't much more than 100 mm. Thanks to this, the temperature is also quite constant around the year with daytime highs of +32°C and nighttime lows of +23°C.

Tourist Offices

  •   Turismo Cartagena de Indias, Plaza de la Aduana, ☎ +57 5 660 1583. M-Sa 9-13 & 15-19, Su 9-17. The main tourist office.

Also, there are small Tourist kiosks on Plaza de San Pedro Claver and on Plaza de los Coches.


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Cartagena, Colombia: Port Information


Cruise ships dock at the pier. Free shuttle bus is available from the pier to the cruise terminal. Inside the terminal, you can find a shopping area, duty-free, cafe. From the terminal to the old city is about 4 km (2.5 miles). You can take a taxi, but we recommend to take a walk and discover interesting places on your way.

Get around Cartagena, Colombia


By foot

The old town in particular is best explored walking. Most places in Bocagrande are also within walking distance.

By bus

To reach other destinations such as the 

San Felipe fort

, there are many buses running all over the city. Ask the driver or other people who are waiting which bus goes to your destination. An urban bus ticket cost $1500, sold by the driver. On the downside, buses drive slower, stop at each corner and seldom take the direct way so expect a bus ride from A to B to take several times that of a taxi ride.

By bike

  • Velotours, Calle Don Sancho, Edif. Agua Marina Of. 100A, ☎ +57 5 6649714. Bike rental. 

By taxi

Taxis don't have meters in Cartagena, fares should be negotiated. There are printed fares, but they are more like minimum fares. Even negotiated rates are often higher, especially in high season. There are also night and air condition surcharges each of a few hundred pesos. Confirm your fare before getting in the taxi. Taxi drivers may demand ridiculous rates if not negotiated in advance.

Taxis are generally easy to find, although in the old town you may have to walk a few blocks away from the center, toward the wider road close to wall. 

A chariot is a popular way for tourists to get to know the old town. These can be flagged down in the street or there are usually some waiting at the Plaza Bolívar or close to the Santa Clara hotel. They are reminiscent of public transportation of colonial Cartagena, and essentially complete the atmosphere of the old town.

By boat

Cartagena has several harbours for Boats going out to the Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca, including the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita, Muelle Todomar. One of the easiest options (which includes a good lunch and roundtrip tickets you can come back the same day or stay as long as you'd like as long as you keep your ticket stub) is to go on one of the big ships like the Alcatraz. These come at the best price, but beware - they take around four hours to actually get to Playa Blanca because they move really slowly and stop at the aquarium at Rosario Islands first (which is rather boring).

What to see in Cartagena, Colombia


Cartagena has several faces; one of a dirty, sprawling Caribbean metropolis, in Bocagrande the one of a massive "hotel ghetto" and finally the old town with its well-polished face of a once affluent colonial city. Cartagena's main attraction is its historic old town surrounded by the city wall. Main entrance is the Clock Tower Building. The walled city includes the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna. The oldest part of Cartagena is around Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní. Cartagena's five hundred year-old coralstone forts and great parts of its walled city are admirably intact and represent some of the finest examples of civil and military architecture of the Spanish colonial times.

Almost all churches in the historic center are worth visiting, especially Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, in honor of the priest St. Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with slaves; 

La Catedral

, near Plaza de Bolívar and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

The old town is divided into three parts: El Centro with the cathedral and the many palaces in Andalucian style, San Diego, which was the quarters of traders and bourgeoisie lived and Getsemaní which was the home of the lower classes. The old harbor of Getsemaní, formerly separating El Centro and San Diego has during the last century transformed into the old town's new commercial area, La Matuna. Here you can also find the pedestrian area Camellón de los Martires, a good place to start exploring the old town.

  • Plaza de los Coches. From Camellon de los Martires you pass through the historical city gate Puerto del Reloj, the gate of the clock, onto the triangular square Plaza de los Coches, the place of the carriages. Once this was one of the largest slave markets in all of Latin America, a major source of wealth to the city, aside of the gold export to Spain. Nowadays a statue of Pedro de Heredia, the founder of the city, stands on this square.
  • Plaza de la Aduana. Next to the former, there is another beautiful triangular square, Plaza de la Aduana, surrounded by impressive arcaded buildings. One of these is Casa del Premio real, the house of the Spanish viceroy. This square has a statue as well, of Christopher Columbus.
  • Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Plaza de San Pedro Claver, ☎ +57 5 664 4991. Mo-Sa 8-17, Su -16.30. Named after Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish Jesuit who worked for 40 years for the rights and the wellbeing of the slaves in the city. He was beatified in 1888, and in 1985 named the patron saint of human rights. His relics are visible in a crystal arch under the altar. Moreover, on the second floor you can visit the room where he lived the last times of his life and died. On the second floor there is also an exhibition of Afro-Caribbean art. 
  • Museo Naval del Caribe, Calle San Juan de Dios No 3-62, ☎ +57 5 664 2440. 9-19. Located in a former Jesuit college right behind the convent. It offers an informative overview of the history of the city and the naval history of the Caribbean. However the exhibits are replicas, not originals. 
  • Plaza de Bolívar. Some blocks inwards there's the Plaza de Bolívar with an equestrian statue of the liberation hero. Before the independence of Colombia this was known as Plaza de Inquisición, and next to it you can find the inquisition palace. where during two centuries the Catholic church held processes against heretics.
  • Palacio de la Inquisición 

    (Museo de la Inquisición), Plaza de Bolívar, ☎ +57 5 664 4570. Mo-Sa 9-18, Su 10-16. The museum of Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) was where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted people accused of crimes against religion.The tribunal was responsible for all of South America and sentenced almost 700 people, including Jesuits opposing slavery. Many of the accused were badly tortured. Today the museum shows some instruments of torture actually used back then. 
  • Museo del Oro y Arqueología, Plaza de Bolívar, ☎ +57 5 660 0778. Tu-Fr 10.00-13.00 & 15.00-19.00, Sa 10.00-13.00 & 14.00-17.00, Su 11.00-16.00. Also at the same square, this museum shows the religious gold artefacts of the Zenú (or Sinú) people who used to live along the coast. Not as large as the gold museum of Bógota, but still very worth seeing. However, the museum's archaeological museum is even more interesting, showcasing the native people's impressive achievements in controlling and canalling Rio Magdalena. 
  • Catedral de Santa Catalina. Tu-Su 9.30-18.30. A three-naved cathedral which is rather crude on the inside, but has an impressive tower. 
  • Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Plaza de Santo Domingo, ☎ +57 5 664 1301. Tu-Sa 9-19, Su 12-20. Not far from the cathedral is the oldest church in Cartagena. Santo Domingo on the eponymous square has been here since 1552. You can rent audio guides, available in many languages. 
  • Casa de Rafael Núñez (outside the walls, direction Marbella), ☎ +57 5 664 5305. Tu-Fr 9-17.30, Sa 10-17.30, Su 10-16. This wooden building was the home of the 19th century poet and president Rafael Núñez (1825-1894). He wrote the text to the Colombian national anthem, and also participated writing the constitution which was in force from 1886 to 1991. 
  • Monumento a la India Catalina. A landmark dedicated to and named after the city's founder Pedro de Heredia's native translator Catalina.
  • Castillo de San Felipe. 8AM-6PM. A fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. The largest fort the Spanish ever built in their colonies, this fort was conquered only once by French privateer Baron de Pointis in 1697. It's filled with an extensive maze of tunnels, which you can explore on a guided tour. 
  • La Popa. Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria, the patron saint of the city. On the 2nd of February every year, pilgrims celebrate her. Entrance to La Popa is for adults and a little less for children. Note that taking a taxi up and down the hill will cost you a shocking price. Negotiate this with the driver before going. It is advised that you do not walk up as it can be dangerous.

What to do in Cartagena, Colombia


Nearby coral reefs, powdery beaches, impressive mangroves, and waterways complement the historic and urban beauty.

Tours

  • Chiva Bus. afternoons, evenings. Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you've visited Cartagena for even a day you've undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups. There are various pickup locations at mostly tourist hotels (Decameron, Caribe, Hilton etc.) or just talk your the people to make arrangements. 
  • Guided bike tours, Calle Don Sancho, Edif. Agua Marina Of. 100A, ☎ +57 5 6649714.

Learn

  • Latin Dance Lessons. Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of Latin dance classes, focusing on Salsa, Meringue and Bachata. 
  • Spanish Classes. Cartagena is an ideal city for some extended Spanish language studies — a beautiful but not too large city center, close by beaches and heaps of activities to do. Colombia is also renown for its pure Spanish which is perfect for learners. There are several Spanish language schools in Cartagena. BABEL International Language Institute is located directly in the old city in one of the picturesque streets. They offer all kinds of group and private classes and also combined Spanish and Salsa packages
  • Casa Cultural Colombo Alemana de Cartagena, Calle 38 No. 5 - 31, Calle Estanco del Aguardiente, ☎ +57 5 6602522.
  • Nueva Lengua, Calle del Pozo No 25-95, ☎ +57 5 660 1736. Located in Getsemaní, this language school offers courses from five days and longer.

Beaches southwest of Cartagena

The easiest way of going to the beach is heading to the west coast, where there are sand beaches both north of the old town and on the Bocagrande peninsula.

However, there are a couple of beach destinations one or a few hours by boat from Cartagena. Commonly boats leave Cartagena (most near Muelle de la Bodeguita) in the morning and return in the early afternoon. Trips are often available as two-way boat tickets including lunch, but to avoid disappointment don't do business with the wandering ticket touts but buy tickets from a ticket office or kiosk. Be aware that there is a port surcharge of $10.000 not included in posted ticket prices. Also, for these out-of-city destinations you may want to bring some bug spray.

Playa Blanca is widely regarded as the best beach of Cartagena, but it is not that easy to reach. With its white sand and crystal clear water it is probably one of the best beaches in Colombia. After tour boats leave in the afternoon it is also very peaceful and quiet. It is worth staying on Playa Blanca for at least one night. There are several places where you can rent hammocks, get food and drinks. For example, "Wittenbergs place".

On the beach you will be approached to buy massages, fruit platters, sea food and jewelry among other things — they can at times be rather persistent touting their products and services. Watch out for the vendors selling oysters: they will give you an oyster as a present (regalo) to taste. They will quickly crack the shells and serve you a number of oysters, after which you are told that they each cost $2.000. Avoid this $30.000 charge and the subsequent argument on the beach. If you are looking for great seafood and Coco Locos, ask around for Nelson Mandela. Sunbathers are often ushered to rent a "stall".

  • By boat - Take a bus or taxi to “Mercado Bazurto”, the big market of Cartagena about 10 minutes from the Center. From there, every day, except Sundays, small cargo-boats (lancha de carga) leave for Playa Blanca. They don´t have an exact departure time, be there before 9AM to be sure. The way back is much easier, most boats (tour boats) will bring you back. Keep in mind that the last boats from Playa Blanca to Cartagena leave around 2-3PM! More comfortable and safer is taking a round-trip from the centre at Muelle de las Pegasos. 
  • Overland by public transport (1.5 hours): take a bus to Pasacaballos from calle 30 / carrera 17 (in front of the castle - the bus will have a big Pasacaballos sign in front). The bus will leave you either in Pasacaballos or a bit before, under a highway arch; either way, you can take a taxi or mototaxi to Playa Blanca. 

Bay of Cholon. Farther down from Playa Blanca on Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru- a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach.

Islas del Rosario. Several agents arrange boat tours to Islas del Rosario. A set of small islands out of the coast. Usually the tour include lunch, a visit to an aquarium and a few hours at Playa Blanca. Not included in the price is harbor tax and park entrance and the entrance fee to the aquarium. If you buy your tour at one of the street vendors, don't pay in advance, preferably pay part or all at return in Cartagena. At least one of these tours is to a resort "Coco Liso" which is something like a Colombian butlins. You will be promised a beach, pay a high fee, then disembark a boat after an hour and a half to be greeted with a fairly basic hotel, gimmicky pool, and a tiny slice of beach. Buying a piece of "coral" jewellery from one of the many hawkers, engage them in conversation, and they might lead you to their private beach - quite beautiful, and all the more interesting for having its existence totally denied by the tour operators. The tourist offices in the centre of the old town and a good place to compare the many possible trips to the islands.

Events

Major events take place during the dry season, coinciding with the Northern Hemisphere winter.

  • Fiesta Taurina. 2-6 Jan. Bull fighting festival with fights on Plaza de Toros on Av. Pedro de Heredia outside downtown.
  • Festival lnternacional de Música. early Jan. Classical music festival with concerts in Teatro Heredia, the convents of Santa Teresa and Santa Clara and public places in the old town.
  • Hay Festival. late Jan. Literary festival with public readings by authors.
  • Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria. late Jan-early Feb. The patron saint of Cartagena is celebrated during several days, the highlight being a massive procession up to the convent on the hill Cerro La Popa each 2nd of February.
  • o'Festival lnternacional del Cine. late Feb-early Mar. Traditional film festival featuring Latin American movies and documentaries.
  • Festival de Música del Caribe. late Mar. As the name reveals, a whole lot of reggae, calypso, salsa and merengue performances.
  • Carnaval de Cartagena. 11 Nov. The party of the city, a large street festival in Getsemani.
  • Festival de Jazz Bajo la Luna. Dec. Jazz festival with performances all over the city.

What to eat and drink in Cartagena, Colombia


Eat

Cartagena features a rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian and other legacies of its inhabitants. Eating set menu lunches and dinners in local restaurants called 'corrientes'. A typical dish consists of fried fish (if you are by the beach), chicken or meat, served with coconut rice (arroz de coco), fried plantains (patacones) and salad. There are many places that sell fruit juices. Colombia boasts a very good range of exotic fruits that can be mixed with water or milk.

In the old town, dozens of good restaurants can be found dotted around the streets particularly concentrated close to the Plaza Santo Domingo. Beware that many of the city's restaurants are not open on Sundays.

Budget

  • Pan de Bono (corner of Calle del Porvenir and Calle San Agustin). A bakery where you can get a fresh and inexpensive snack in the form of sandwiches. Try the local cassava bread! Budget.
  • Café Juan Valdez (corner of Cl. San Agustin und Cl. de la Universidad, also other locations). Coffee chain with a large variety of coffees and different cakes. Free WLAN. Budget.
  • Crepes & Waffles (Several locations). Very nice Colombian franchise restaurant which offers very good dishes to excellent prices.
  • El Corral (One is located on Plaza San Pedro, 4 others further out.). Very nice Colombian franchise hamburger chain. 
  • Gelateria Paradiso. Has unreal ice cream, with a large assortment of different exotic fruit flavors. Fans of coffee ice cream must stop by for a scoop.. Corner of Calle del Cuartel and Calle de la Estrella.
  • Abaco, Calle de la Mantilla. Cafe & Book Store is a great place to relax and get some peace and quiet. Local books on Cartagena in addition to great coffee. 
  • Atahualpa, Carrera 7 (At end of Calle de Tablada at the Plaza de Managua.). Peruvian place with fresh fish. 

Mid-range

  • El Bistro, Calle Ayos 4-46 (2 blocks from Plaza Santo Domingo), ☎ +57 5 664 1799. German-owned restaurant with excellent European kitchen, especially the steak is good. Also, they have home-made German bread and you can have German beer here too.
  • La Cevicheria, Calle Stuart 7 (opposite Hotel Santa Clara), ☎ +57 5 664-2760. 
  • La Vitrola, Calle Baloco no. 33-201. Considered the best restaurant in town. Cuban ambiance, good food - high prices. It is located Calle Baloco on the corner front to the historical walls. 
  • Sol de la India, Calle Tumbamuertos 38-43, ☎ +57 5 660-9476. 11:30AM-10PM. Excellent vegetarian Indian food in the old town. For lunch they offer an all-inclusive (also drinks) buffet. They also offer yoga classes (around US $8) and massages. Super nice and enthusiastic restaurant owners. 
  • Restaurante Bar El Muelle (El Laguisto Beach Club), Carrere 1 ra. No. 1A - 23. There are many good restaurants in the Bocagrande area on the beach. The food is of decent quality, but the delight is the water coming up to the restaurant. The host speaks English, Spanish, French, some Portuguese and Turkish! 
  • La Mulata, Calle Quero 9-58, ☎ +57 5 66 46 222. A choice of a few set lunch options. Different menu every day of the week. Delicious and unpretentious. 
  • Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria), Calle San Agustin 6-68, ☎ +57 5 6602314. 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria it is located in Centro Historico de Cartagena de Indias, Calle San Agustin 6-68, close Universita de Cartagena (Cartagena University). There you can eat excellent Croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is rustically tip, very clean with excellent service. The price of dishes and pizza is very good. In the local you can use gratis WiFi internet connection. They do also pizza delivery. 
  • El Balkoon, Calle Tumbamuertos No. 28-85 2do. Piso Esquina. 2nd floor restaurant that overlooks the Plaza San Diego. Small balcony for seating, but great food, both fish and meat. Good set menus and 2-for-1 specials on cocktails every day from 6PM-9PM. About $26.000 with drink.
  • Restaurante La Casa de Socorro, Cl. Larga No. 8B-112, ☎ +57 5 6644 658. Traditional restaurant serving typical Caribbean fare: langoustines, crabs, ceviche, fish, all very tasty and well prepared. Popular among locals, especially for lunch. 
  • Teriyaki, Plaza San Diego No. 8-28. Sushi and Thai restaurant. 
  • Restaurante Zebra, Plaza San Diego No.8-34, ☎ +57 5 6642 177. African-Caribbean fusion, pasta. 

Splurge

  • Club de Pesca, Avenida Miramar. Fine dining restaurant specializing in the "fruits of the sea". Great seafood and great atmosphere. Located in Manga with view to the bay and marinas of Cartagena. 
  • Donde Olano (Olano´s), Calle Santo Domingo #33 - 81 (Near Plaza de Santo Domingo). Great sea food with fusion style, don´t miss the shrimps in passion fruit and coconut rice! 
  • Quebracho, Calle Baloco 2-69. Argentinian restaurant at its best. Good meat, good ambiance. 
  • Cafe El Santisimo, Calle del Torno 39 - 76. One of the must see restaurants of Cartagena. 

Drink

Coffee

The most common type of coffee in Colombia is the sweet tinto. This can be bought from street vendors all over Cartagena.

Nightlife

Most bars and clubs are found in the old town or at Avenida del Arsenal near the Convention Center. Plaza San Diego is a square with a lot of bars and restaurants, very lively in the weekends.

  • La Avenida del Arsenal. La Avenida del Arsenal is located along the bay near the Centro de Convenciones. In its heyday it was the place to be. Now much of the nightlife in Cartagena has moved to the Ciudad Vieja, but this strip of about 10 discotecas is still a raging place to experience on weekends. 
  • Mister Babilla. One of the most popular watering holes for local Cartageneros is Mister Babilla, located on the Avenida del Arsenal, near the Centro de Convenciones. This place is great on the weekends and is notorious for having people dancing on the tables and the bar late into the night! A great time!
  • Cafe del Mar, Baluarte de Santo Domingo. Located atop the western wall providing sunset views and cocktails.
  • Salsa Donde Fidel, Plaza de la Aduana (Right by the clock gate). Great place to sit and people watch as the night gets going. Indoor and outdoor seating, according to one visitor the indoor is better. Good prices on drinks (beer $2500) and the place to meet Cartageneros and tourists alike.
  • Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar.Pizzeria), Calle San Agustin 6-68, ☎ +57 5 6602314. 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria is situated in Centro Historico de Cartagena, Calle San Agustin 6-68 and is near Universita de Cartagena. There you can eat excellent croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is very clean and service is excellent. The price and quality of the dishes and pizza are very good. Every day you can listen good music and taste also good drinks, like beer, coctails, juice and natural juice, all this with very good price and hospitable service.
  • Zorba Wiskeria, Plaza Fernandez de Madrid. A great little corner bar that offers bottle service and a decent street scene. Very local. Right next door to a Pizzeria and up the street a few doors from a Lebanese Falafel house. Calle de la Tableda.

Shopping in Cartagena, Colombia


Getting money

Most hotels, upscale restaurants take credit cards, but many places, especially taxis only accept Colombian pesos. Some banks may exchange money, but the rates may not be the most convenient. The easiest method for obtaining pesos is to use your debit card at an ATM machine. Another option is to use a Cambio or curreny exchange kiosk, however, your exchange rate will be a little higher than by using a debit card. Using a credit card at the ATM machine will require you to use a PIN number, so contact your financial institution before your trip.

Banks

  • Citibank, Av Venezuela, Edificio Citibank (1st floor). the bank M-F 8-12 & 14-16.30. There is a large Citibank ATM location on calle Venezuela near Barrio San Diego that has a guard out front. Seemingly available 24/7.
  • Banco de Bogotá, Av Venezuela (Centro Comercial Uno # 105-107). M-F 8-11.30 & 14-16, Sa -16.30, Su.
  • Giros y Finanzas (several locations around town). M-F 8-17, Sa 8-14. Western Union affiliated exchange office.

Handicrafts

Handcrafts are fashionable and sophisticated. Emeralds are available for sale all over Cartagena, including polished and uncut loose emeralds and beautiful jewelry. The prices can be reasonable and the variety available is extensive in the old walled city. The stores that sell emeralds and emerald jewelry use various names such as "Taller y Fabrica de Joyas" (workshop and manufactuer of jewelry), "Museo de Artesanias y Esmeraldas" (museum of crafts and emeralds) or simply "Joyeria" (jewelry). Store owners will negotiate and provide a certificate of "authenticity".

  • La Bemba Galería, Calle Tumbamuertos #38-65 (Near Plaza San Diego, in the Historic Center), ☎ +57 3006780486, e-mail: info@labembagaleria.com. M-W 9:30AM-8PM, T-Sat 9:30AM-9PM. A cultural giftshop and gallery. Urban and pop art, to wear, to use, to play, to see, to give or just to remember. The perfect place to find sustainable gifts from Cartagena. The articles in the store are made, painted or designed by local or national (Colombian) artists. La Bemba Gallería soports local artists foundations.
  • Bóvedas (next to the city wall, near the Santa Catalina bastion). Various artesanal goods of good quality.
  • Q Design, Calle de la Iglesia, 4-16. Design objects.
  • Portal de los Dulces (near Puerto del Reloj). Local sweets.

Books

  • Ábaco (corner of Calles de la Iglesia & de la Mantilla No 3-86), ☎ +57 5 664 8338. Mo-Sa 9-20.30, Su 16-20.30. Bookstore and café. Has a good assortment of books in Spanish about Cartagena, and some English books as well
  • Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi, Cl. 34 No. 3-37 Edificio lnurbe. Specializing in maps.

Touts

Take some care. Street hawkers are everywhere, ready to lead you to stores that pay them considerable "commissions"; you actually pay them...through higher prices. And many reliable sources report that, without in-depth knowledge of emeralds and ability to recognize 14K and 18K gold, you risk buying fake or "enhanced" stones or gold-plated metalwork at some stores, or paying more for quality items here than you would in reputable stores elsewhere in the Caribbean or at home.

When approached by a street vendor, your best bet is to smile and say "no, thank you", and they will more likely leave you alone. If you do it in a harsh way, they are likely going to follow you around for longer.

Safety in Cartagena, Colombia


The touristed old town is not more dangerous than a city in the first world, but going off the beaten path to the periphery of the city there is a real risk of getting robbed. Be very careful when walking at night specially around lonely parts of the city. Locals are in general helpful and kind. The street vendors can be very annoying, but a simple "No quiero nada" in Spanish will keep them away.

There is a scam going on where tourists are lured into buying drugs. Firstly, save for small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, drugs are illegal in Colombia. But if you do this, "police" (the rest of the con gang) will emerge in a minute, drag you off to the nearest ATM and demand that you withdraw astronomical sums to pay "fines" or even kidnap you.

Watch out for the "money-changing-magicians"

Those street vendors offer you a very good exchange rate. After you have counted the money you will recognize that a small amount is missing, and after complaining he will put exactly that amount on top again. In the same move they will take some big notes from the bottom. Most people won't count their money a second time, and first think they made a good deal but in fact got ripped off.

Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca

The tours offered to visit Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be quite a let down. You'll be offered a price for a tour which "includes" either snorkeling or entrance to the aquarium and a meal at Playa Blanca. Once on the trip you find out that you have to pay extra for the aquarium or the snorkeling. Make sure the tour guides on the boat are told by the person who sold the tour what is included in order to avoid disagreements.

The best way to book a tour is going inside the marina and avoiding the "sales" people outside. They are getting a cut for the sales and have no responsibility to you. Once inside ask for Elizabeth (known lovingly as La negra Liz"). She owns several boats, will give you the best price, and most importantly her word. You can rent your own small boat or secure a seat. Ask them before hand about the itinerary. Her company in particular has its own "resort" in the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean, nice and has good food for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, their beach access is limited and less than spectacular. Her boats will insist on taking you there, but you have a choice. Playa Blanca is by far the best beach, but it can be overwhelming with the locals trying to sell you their products.

More upscale destinations include the Baru Island and private resorts owned by the big hotels (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). In most, you are allowed to spend the day at the beach. Every tour boat has their own agenda.

Taking a long distance bus

If you plan to take a bus to Santa Marta from bus terminal, it is advised to approach ticket counters and buy tickets directly there. Otherwise be aware: normally there is a bus service with connection in Barranquilla, where you will have to change a bus and pay a new fare to Santa Marta again, even if you have already paid it in a previous bus and even if you were promised that this was an absolutely direct bus to Santa Marta. If you happen to have this kind of connection in Barranquilla, make sure that you keep your tickets with you (even though they are being collected shortly after departure) and make sure that the guy, who will meet you in a bus and guide to another bus during a connection was clearly notified by a bus driver that you have already paid your fare to Santa Marta.

Stay healthy

Colombia has an outbreak of the Zika virus, which is hazardous for pregnant women since it can severely damage the baby in the womb. The Colombian government is advising its residents to avoid pregnancy and various other governments advise women who are or might become pregnant to avoid travel to the area. Here is the travel advisory from the US government Center for Disease Control.

Hospitals

  • Hospital Bocagrande (corner of Carrera 6 and Calle 5), ☎ +57 5 6655 270.
  • Hospital Naval de Bocagrande, Carrera 2 No. 14-210, Base Naval, ☎ +57 5 6655 361. Also has a decompression chamber for diving accidents.

 

Language spoken in Cartagena, Colombia


The official language of Colombia is Spanish. Some indigenous tribes in rural areas continue to speak their own languages, though almost all people from those tribes will be bilingual in their own language and Spanish.

If you've recently learned Spanish, its a relief to know that the Bogotá dialect is clear and easy to understand. The Spanish does vary, however, from Cartagena to Bogotá to Cali. Generally the Spanish on the coasts is spoken more rapidly, and Spanish from Medellín has its own idiosyncrasies. Note that in cities like Medellín and Cali, the dialect of Spanish is the voseo form. Meaning that instead of the second person familiar pronoun tú, vos is used instead. Though tú is also understood by everybody, vos is a more friendly voice while tú is reserved for intimate circles. The Spanish spoken along the Caribbean coast is similar to the dialects spoken in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Quite a few Colombians know at least a few basic phrases in English, because English is taught at school, and Hollywood movies tend to be in English with Spanish subtitles. For the most part however you should definitely invest in learning the basics of Spanish since you will encounter plenty of situations where no-one will speak any English.

Colombians from more affluent backgrounds will be more likely to have learned English, and the majority of high ranking professionals, executives and government workers in Colombia speak an acceptable level of English.

LOCAL TIME

12:58 am
June 25, 2019
America/Bogota

CURRENT WEATHER

26 °C / 78.8 °F
light rain
Tue

28.25 °C/83 °F
light rain
Wed

28.58 °C/83 °F
overcast clouds
Thu

28.94 °C/84 °F
broken clouds
Fri

28.29 °C/83 °F
broken clouds

LOCAL CURRENCY

COP

1 USD = 0 COP
1 EUR = 0 COP
1 GBP = 0 COP
1 AUD = 0 COP
1 CAD = 0 COP

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