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Cartagena, Colombia

Panache

Level 2 Member
#1
Just returned from a marvelous trip to Cartagena, Colombia a few days ago. Booked with cash way back in July before getting into the miles+points hobby. However, the flight with AV was nice, I always enjoy flying with non-US carriers as you get a (small) meal and a beer or glass of wine or two and you feel treated with some dignity. I now have enough United miles to repeat the trip again next winter.

Anyone considering a trip, it is highly recommended. Beautiful Spanish colonial old city, UNESCO world heritage site (I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, I could have added dozens more) and great restaurants and a variety of beautifully restored boutique hotels inside the colonial old city. The new part of the city has plenty of chain hotels for those who want to spend their CC points. I think in a place like that one is better off spending cash for the experience of staying in a non chain hotel, though.

Rosario Islands are a national park close by (30 miles by boat) (beaches in Cartagena proper are awful), with great snorkelling and scuba diving. Some small independently run lodges on the islands offer a lot of peace, just what the Doctor ordered! We stayed at a small hotel called Coralina Island (not actually on its own island, but a property on a bigger one) and while rustic (no hot water, electricity via generator that was turned off during the day) and somewhat spendy (all provisions, including water and fuel need to be ferried in), it was absolutely delightful. I

Anyone thinking of a trip to Cartagena or other parts in Colombia feel free to PM me with questions.
 

Matt

Administrator
Staff member
#2
Looks great! I remember going there back in the day, just the city for a day on a Panama Canal cruise.
 

kristian

Level 2 Member
#7
I love that place. The whole country, really, should be much higher on the lists of travelers. But in a way, maybe it's better that it isn't.
 

Panache

Level 2 Member
#9
Looks like I need to go to Rosario Islands
If you do go make sure to stay at a hotel on the islands, and some are quite mediocre. Many day trips are offered from Cartagena but they take you to some horrible crowded beaches, so for the best experience, go to a hotel on a private island.
 
#10
Did you fly direct to Cartegena or transfer through Bogota? Is there any reason why you went to Cartegena only? I've been to Colombia a couple of times for about 3 months in total and love the place - most other areas blew the north coast away for me...
 

Panache

Level 2 Member
#11
Did you fly direct to Cartegena or transfer through Bogota? Is there any reason why you went to Cartegena only? I've been to Colombia a couple of times for about 3 months in total and love the place - most other areas blew the north coast away for me...
I am 1/2 Colombian so I've gone a lot. We did fly via Bogotá. But, I hadn't been to Cartagena in over 20 years so it was good to see how much the place has improved. In December, we will be flying to Bahia Solano in the Pacific Coast which is still quite pristine and unspoiled (I hope). Went there long ago (early 90s) and then was too unsafe for many years...
Where have you been?
 
#12
I am 1/2 Colombian so I've gone a lot. We did fly via Bogotá. But, I hadn't been to Cartagena in over 20 years so it was good to see how much the place has improved. In December, we will be flying to Bahia Solano in the Pacific Coast which is still quite pristine and unspoiled (I hope). Went there long ago (early 90s) and then was too unsafe for many years...
Where have you been?
I love Bogota so have spent most of my time there. But I've also seen Cartegena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta, Sierra Nevada, Medellin, Teyuna, Bucaramanga, Popayan, Pasto, Ipiales, Guatape and San Agustin. I still haven't made it to the Colombian Amazon or Armenia, Pereira and Cali.

What are your other favourite places?
 

Panache

Level 2 Member
#13
I have to say the Island of Providencia is the best. It brings you back to what the Caribbean islands must have looked like 50 oyears ago. No chain hotels, fast food or the like. And, quite safe and affordable. The secret has been spilled and best go soon:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/life...0813d0-48d0-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html

I went in December of last year, need to put up some pics. There is already talk of large-scale developments and an airport runway widening to accommodate larger aircraft trying to work their way in.
 
#14
We just booked tickets for Cartagena for next winter. Booking very far ahead because my husband won flight credit that needed to be used quickly. We will be in the area for 6 days. Sounds like we should head to the Rosario Islands for at least a few days.

We need hotel recommendations for the old town, we are hoping to stay at a modest/nice place that's <$150/night and not a hostel.
 

italdesign

Level 2 Member
#15
How about the cat2 Hyatt Regency? Not exactly in old town but 20 min by walk (according to my notes).

edit - just saw OP's recommendation to stay in Old Town. Well, I stayed in an airbnb room in the historic center of Florence (Italy), and it cost $200 for 3 nights (all in). It was small but so charming, totally worth it. I hope old town Cartagena isn't more expensive.
 
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#16
How about the cat2 Hyatt Regency? Not exactly in old town but 20 min by walk (according to my notes).
We really wanted to be inside the walled old city itself but you bring up an excellent point in terms of saving money. The walk from the Hyatt is remarkably short.

I think since this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Cartagena, we will get out of miser mode and get cash rooms with character.

Thanks for pointing out the Hyatt though!
 
#17
I have to say the Island of Providencia is the best. It brings you back to what the Caribbean islands must have looked like 50 oyears ago. No chain hotels, fast food or the like. And, quite safe and affordable. The secret has been spilled and best go soon:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/life...0813d0-48d0-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html

I went in December of last year, need to put up some pics. There is already talk of large-scale developments and an airport runway widening to accommodate larger aircraft trying to work their way in.
Wow! The route required to get here is complicated. This could never be a weekend getaway.
 
#19
We can afford to splurge. It just that we travel so much (2x/month) lately that I don't want to deplete our "travel fund".

When we started this hobby in 2013, the goal was to travel for not much more than the cost of staying home. Cover airfare and lodging through points, keep the cost of eating out to within our weekly grocery budget, and all that remains to cover with spending are destination activities and airport parking. It's worked well for a many years now.
 

Panache

Level 2 Member
#20
SO and I stayed in the historic downtown district. I would, by all means, recommend staying there if you can spring it. The chain hotels are all out by the beaches which are crowded, full of hawkers, and ugly, especially in the holiday season when all Colombians go vacation there. The walk to the historic walled city is not far (1 mile give or take) but is in the full hot sun during the day (it is HOT there!) and at night a bit sketchy, IMO. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, though (they will only take you to the entrance of the walled city, as most of the streets are pedestrian only), so you still have to walk to the various plazas and churches.

Many boutique hotels in the downtown district were built out of refurbished Spanish colonial mansions (do a quick search on booking and you'll see plenty). And, excellent restaurants and bars all within walking distance and mostly safe to walk around at night. We stayed at Hotel Santo Toribio (which was quite nice) and right in the old town. Two years ago it was around $140 USD a night with full, excellent breakfast (they have a good restaurant onsite too), looks about similar rates this year. Some rooms may be a little dark (ours just looked to an interior corridor) but there is a fine rooftop terrace to enjoy in the evening with a bottle of wine...

The Rosario Islands can be more miss than hit. A lot of properties get day trippers during the day so there is less enjoyment. The hotel I mention above (http://www.coralinaisland.com/) was spendy ($250-300/night with full board) so we only stayed 4 nights, but full room and board is included and I used some Barclay Arrival miles for that. You can see most of Cartagena in 2-4 days and then spend 2-3 days at a place like Coralina.

Providencia is a lot nicer if you want the quiet beach vacation, but there is no historic city. Getting there is a challenge (fly to PTY or BOG and then to ADZ (San Andres), then connect with small puddle jumper to PVA. Probably need to plan an overnight in PTY or BOG to make the jump ADZ-PVA. In Providencia, most hotels there are quite simple and affordable and owned by locals (stayed at a place last year for $600 USD for an entire week for two, with breakfast. The rooms were simple with no hot water but A/C and steps away from the beach. Will try to post some pics this weekend :)
 
#21
Thanks for this info-stuffed post. Hotel Santo Toribio is still priced around $140 per night. We only have 5 day Cartagena in total so if we explore outside of town, it will probably be day trips.

Can you expand on the concept of "mostly safe"? We'd love to be able to walk around the old city at night but need to know if its safe.

Also you referred to Islas del Rosarios as more miss than hit. Does that mean you do not recommend the Coralina Island Hotel?
 
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Panache

Level 2 Member
#22
Mostly safe = it's a latin American city, not Iceland, there is poverty and beggars. I would not walk around sporting a fancy DSLR, especially at night. During the day probably fine, and plenty of upscale establishments have security guards and there is police all over. Otherwise we walked to bars/restaurants at night with no issues, several a few blocks from Toribio.

Coralina is delightful. The owner is 1/2 french and did some cooking classes in France so the meals are quite good and plentiful (mostly fish, all caught locally!). The rooms are a bit spartan (no hot water, as all fuel and fresh water has to be ferried in) so it can rub some the wrong way paying that much and not even having hot water or electricity all day. But, you get full board, no day trippers crowding the grounds during the day (it's just 5 or 6 rooms total so book soon if you plan to go over NYE), no vendors or hawkers and complete peace as it is such a small hotel. Not many islands in the Rosario group (it's part of a national park) have lodging facilities, the few that do tend to also allow day trippers from the city, but not Coralina.

The pace is kind of slow (island time) so, for example, our rooms were not ready by the time we got there (2 hour wait without seeing anyone go into our assigned room), or the staff are mostly locals with limited literacy, so they may forget your order or bring you the wrong thing if they didn't understand (speaking a bit of Spanish will go a long way). Also, getting there is a bit involved (they give you instructions on who to call to catch the right boat and such). You may want to pay for the express boat that does not stop all over the place (we were glad we did), but it still involved waiting for 1 hour in the hot sun at the Cartagena tourist port for the boat to come. So one has to take these third world quirks in stride (another American couple staying there were mad as hell about all this...). I do heartily recommend it, but be prepared to put up with some annoyances. But, I think we all in this forum know about that well. Given that getting to Coralina is a bit of a hassle, I'd spend 2 nights to get the most out of it. A few people just came for 1 night while we were there and they seemed to leave wanting more.

Feel free to ask more specific questions via PM.
 

currid7

Level 2 Member
#23
We're heading there for my birthday in August. My wife is from Barranquilla and has not stopped talking about how beautiful Cartagena is for the last 5 years (we HAVE to go!). Finally, we're making it happen. The flight routes suck. We're in MSY, so we are doing AA to MIA, then Avianca (with miles from Vuela), then probably AA back from MIA. We'll be in Hampton Inn, apparently, it's in a better area. We're pumped. Thanks for the info
 
#24
We just got back from our 5-day trip to Cartagena. The town really delivers everything it promises: historic architecture galore, delicious seafood, fun shopping for stuff actually made in Colombia, fascinating multifaceted history.

We flew direct from Miami on Avianca. Must do a shout-out out to The Points Guy, who made the trip possible. My husband won the talent contest at a TPG meetup last March. First prize was a $1000 voucher for airline tickets anywhere.

Highlights for us was dinner at Restsurant Interno, a job-training project at the women’s jail inside the Centro Historico. It was just like “Orange is the Bew Black” but with better food. Also enjoyed our jaunt into the countryside to see the new National Aviary of Colombia, a conservation center for native birds. Thrilling to a harpy eagle and a pair of Andean Condors. It’s near Playa Blanca so it’s easy to combine in a single trip.
 
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#27
Sweet! What was his talent?
The event was St Patrick’s Day. His talent is using adrenaline to block all reason. He is tone deaf but sang an Irish ballad at the top of his lungs, beating out some other more talented step dancers. Winner was decided by audience response. It was quite hysterical.
 

Suzie

Level 2 Member
#28
The event was St Patrick’s Day. His talent is using adrenaline to block all reason. He is tone deaf but sang an Irish ballad at the top of his lungs, beating out some other more talented step dancers. Winner was decided by audience response. It was quite hysterical.
Bravo!!!!
 

DavidNJ

Level 2 Member
#29
Looking forward to our trip to Cartagena March, 2018 for 9 days. Staying @ Hyatt Regency Club room for 12K pts. per night. Can't believe how cheap compared to other Caribbean locations. Hoping Explorist gives us a decent upgrade. Had booked Hyatt Zilara Cancun for same date but cancelled due to 30 murders in 30 days past January. Saved 104K Hyatt pts. going to Cartagena. Travelling w/ Cuban friends which will be very helpful w/ the language barrier. Jetting out of JFK via JetBlue non-stop w/ extra leg room & Mosaic status from CC spend. The walled city looks extraordinary!
 

DavidNJ

Level 2 Member
#31
All they had available on pts. was Club for 12K. Standard award is 8K and would have booked that if available. Not complaining because the rate is so cheap.
 

heavenlyjane

Level 2 Member
#33
Here's a somewhat negative review: http://www.youwentwhere.com/?p=7407

Thoughts?
I can see why this person had a bad experience. The cruise day trippers are annoying. However ships don't stop in Cartagena every day and they are gone within a few hours. I wouldn't ever stay in Bocagrande, it's too far from the historic city and it's in an unshaded part of town. We went because of the great preservation of the colonial town. We have better beaches than Cartagena just a short hop from where I live.

We had a whole strategy with how to deal with the heat. We planned ahead to get up early and out by 7:00A, then back at 1:00P for a siesta and a soak in the dipping pool in our guest house. We specifically picked lodging that had a pool. The temps dropped quickly around 4:30P and we headed back out. Up on the walls, there's a wide walkable rampart and the offshore breezes were steady, strong and cooling. Our guesthouse was in a residential area of San Diego, so when we took a break from the central area, we walked into a quiet neighborhood.

Also the streets are so narrow, that except for a few hours in the afternoon, there was always shade on one side of the street.

Cartagena is a hot place year round but it's more manageable than the Yucatan.
 

Cmonman76

Level 2 Member
#34
Looking forward to our trip to Cartagena March, 2018 for 9 days. Staying @ Hyatt Regency Club room for 12K pts. per night. Can't believe how cheap compared to other Caribbean locations. Hoping Explorist gives us a decent upgrade. Had booked Hyatt Zilara Cancun for same date but cancelled due to 30 murders in 30 days past January. Saved 104K Hyatt pts. going to Cartagena. Travelling w/ Cuban friends which will be very helpful w/ the language barrier. Jetting out of JFK via JetBlue non-stop w/ extra leg room & Mosaic status from CC spend. The walled city looks extraordinary!
That's a pretty good murder per day ratio. Sounds like Chicago. We did Cancun Zilara about 5 months ago and loved it but never left the resort as we only did a quick weekend. Cartagena does look like a place I would enjoy too.