4 DAYS IN CARTAGENA
It’s fun that I can fly from NYC to South America for cheaper than I can fly home to Kentucky! That is what we did for my best friend Mallory’s bachelorette party this August; we went to Cartagena, Colombia and I can’t recommend it enough. Cartagena is a coastal Colombian city, full of vibrant colonial buildings and lots of history; there’s lots of fun to be had in this city. We stayed Wednesday afternoon – Tuesday morning, but the below could easily be done in 4 full days.
- You can pay with debit or credit card almost anywhere; if you are at the beach or want to buy something from a street vendor, take cash
- Try to have cash on hand for tipping
- Cartagena has Uber!
- Download maps.me and then download the map for the city of Cartagena within the app so that you can navigate when off of WiFi
- No visa needed
- No vaccinations needed
- No converter needed if coming from the USA!
TOP 5 FOOD / DRINK MUSTS
- La Vitrola: one of Cartagena’s most popular restaurants, known for its vintage Cuban-themed interior, live jazz music and killer seafood. It’s also known for filling up fast, so call a few weeks ahead to book a reservation; you most likely will definitely need a reservation to get a table. Some of our favorites were: the BBQ chicken salad (think chopped salad with avocado, blue cheese, and lots of other yummy stuff topped with BBQ chicken), the rice with shrimp and lobster, the steak with a blue cheese sauce (honestly, amazing) and the coconut pie/cake – that I’m still drooling over when I think about it—for dessert. We had so much food and so many drinks and the total ended up being $29 per person for 10 people!
- Maria: listed by NY Times, Vogue and many more as one of the best in Cartagena. We loved everything about it; the food, the design, the atmosphere, the cocktails **ADDED BONUS: if you stay at our apartment it is RIGHT below it!** We read that this is one of the nicer restaurants in Cartagena and our total was $48 per person for 10 people!
- La Cevechiera – a variety of ceviches; perfect for sitting out on the street for a nice lunch.
- Epoca Espresso Bar – perfect for breakfast and coffee. We loved this place so much that we went back for a 2nd morning. Try the arepa de huevo (stuffed with egg, beef and cheese), served with crema and salsa, along with one of their specialty espresso drinks. You won’t be disappointed.
- EL BARÓN – really cute cocktail bar looking over Plaza San Pedro Claver. Cozy, romantic, great ambiance. Lots of outdoor seating in the square. Amazing cocktails and beautiful presentation.
WHERE WE STAYED
We rented an apartment in the Walled City and it was incredible. It made our trip so much better. This it the link to the property that we rented from Home Away. The owner, Hervé, was super accommodating. He speaks really great English and answered all of my questions very promptly. Any questions about Cartagena in general, he either answered the question or put me in touch with someone who could. There was a lady, Clara, who came every day to clean, she was COP$50,000 ($16.46 USD) a day and totally worth it. She was also the sweetest woman on the planet – didn’t speak a lick of English but always had a smile on her face. They also arranged our airport pickup and any other transportation we needed (van to take us to mud volcano, etc.) we arranged through them. There was another lady who worked as the ‘manager’ of the property and she used a translation app to communicate with us.
WHAT WE DID, BY DAY
- Most of our flights got us to our apartment in the afternoon; by the time we settled in and made a quick grocery run, the rest of the afternoon was spent sipping margaritas on our rooftop watching the sunset
- Drinks in one of the squares; I honestly don’t remember what it was called. It was a bit touristy but was nice to be outside and listen to live music.
- Dinner at La Vitrola – must have a reservation! Was so delicious.
- Explored the Walled City and Getsimini neighborhoods in the morning. Getsimini is ‘the Brooklyn of Cartagena,’ it’s up-and-coming, full of street art, cute cafes and many bars and restaurants.
- Totumo Mud Volcano: we decided to skip a ‘tour’ and had the driver from our apartment drive us to Totumo, which is a little over an hour away from Cartagena. We paid COP $350,000 ($115 USD, $12 per person to have a private van take us there and back). Nine of us piled into the van and the driver + one of his friends drove us there, stopping at a small village for beers along the way. When we arrived we were the only ones there; we had the entire place to ourselves (I highly suggest doing a private drive there, because the experience would have been totally different if the ‘bath’ was packed with bunch of strangers). Many women bombarded us; what they really want is to ‘claim’ you so that they can wash the mud off of you at the end for a tip. We were all a bit iffy about this entire experience at first, but there’s nothin’ like bathing in an active mud volcano while strange men massage your body! Apparently a priest turned the molten lava into this soup-y mud bath which is supposed to contain a lot of body-benefiting minerals? After the mud “bath,” we were guided down to a river where the women stripped us down (literally), washed the mud off of our bodies, handed us Colombian beers and took us to sit in the sun. On our way back from Totumo, we had our driver stop at a small village where we got ice cream and played with the local kids (something else you can’t do if you go on a tour).
- Dinner at Maria – trendy, chic, delicious
- Blue Apple Beach House: this wasn’t planned at all. A friend actually DM’d me on Insta and suggested that we go here; we WhatsApp’d the club on Thursday night and they confirmed that they’d have the boat pick us up from the dock on Friday morning. A small speedboat took us probably a 20 minute ride away to a small private beach club on a secluded island. We had an entire area to ourselves by the pool, drank delicious watermelon cocktails and swam in the infinity pool all day long. Other perks: a delicious lunch + a $20 massage. This was definitely the most expensive thing that we did in Cartagena; I spent $79, but that included: access to the club (with boat transportation), 3 cocktails, lunch, a tip for our waiter and a 30 minute massage.
- Chiva party bus: although touristy, everything we had read about the Chiva busses had been that they were so much fun. When we first got on our bus, it did seem touristy and we were all questioning if we had made a mistake; about 30 minutes later, we were having the time of our lives. They hand out little cups, a bucket of ice and a bottle of rum. You pour your own drinks, there’s a live band on board and you dance! People from all over the world were on the bus and Mallory won a dance off (we didn’t know she could dance like that!). The bus made a stop at a spot in the Walled City where we ate street food, made our own cocktails from a man’s little cart and danced even more; one of the funniest nights we had!
Cholon: we booked a boat through Hervé (the owner of our house) that took us to Cholon, a beautiful island just 45 minutes from Cartagena. On Saturdays, many boats (mostly locals blaring Reggaeton!) dock at this tiny little paradise of a place also known as Colombia’s “party island.” Tables are set up in the water where you can order fresh fish and lobster and have drinks in the sun. We paid $115 per person for our boat. They provided the ice, but we brought our own bottled waters and alcohol.
- Brunch at Epoca Espresso Bar – we loved this spot so much!
- Walked around the Walled City & Getsimini
- Surprise rooftop dinner: instead of doing a typical lingerie party for Mallory, we decided to do something a bit different. She’s all about experiences so I got in touch with a local company, Hi, Cartagena!, and had them set up a table on our rooftop so that when we got home from distracting Mal by ‘exploring all day,’ she would walk up to our roof and see this beautiful table set up for her. There was a private chef there that cooked 3 courses for us: fresh ceviche, paella and brownies for dessert. This was probably one of our favorite things we did. Hi, Cartagena! was amazing! They were so quick at communicating, and they went above and beyond for everything. I sent pictures of examples of table setups that I liked; they met my expectations + more. They were always on call to help with anything we needed.
- Brunch at Epoca Espresso Bar — back here for a second time!
- Explored the Walled City
- La Cevechiera for lunch
- Cocktail at El Baron Café
- Back to La Vitrola because we liked it THAT MUCH. We didn’t have a reservation and somehow got really lucky.