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Cartagena, Colombia

Discussion in 'South America and Antarctica' started by Panache, Jan 5, 2015.

  1. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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.
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  2. Matt

    Matt Administrator Staff Member

    Looks great! I remember going there back in the day, just the city for a day on a Panama Canal cruise.
  3. Air Land and Sea

    Air Land and Sea Level 2 Member

    Was just there on 1/18 - great city and would love to go back and do more exploring. Thanks for sharing your pics.
  4. smittytabb

    smittytabb Moderator Staff Member

    Like Matt, I was there on my way through the Panama Canal and would like to go back and see more of the country.
  5. inflightmeal

    inflightmeal Level 2 Member

    I wanna go!
  6. swknutson

    swknutson Level 2 Member Premium Supporter

    going here for 5 days early August. Looks like I need to go to Rosario Islands
  7. kristian

    kristian Level 2 Member

    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.
  8. Suzie

    Suzie Level 2 Member

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
  9. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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. DornierDo28

    DornierDo28 New Member

    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...
  11. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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. DornierDo28

    DornierDo28 New Member

    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?
  13. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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:


    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. heavenlyjane

    heavenlyjane Level 2 Member

    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.
  15. italdesign

    italdesign Level 2 Member

    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.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2017
  16. heavenlyjane

    heavenlyjane Level 2 Member

    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. heavenlyjane

    heavenlyjane Level 2 Member

    Wow! The route required to get here is complicated. This could never be a weekend getaway.
  18. italdesign

    italdesign Level 2 Member

    This is always the right decision, assuming $$ isn't an issue. I have never regretted it. Kudos!
  19. heavenlyjane

    heavenlyjane Level 2 Member

    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.
  20. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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. heavenlyjane

    heavenlyjane Level 2 Member

    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?
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2017
  22. Panache

    Panache Level 2 Member

    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.
  23. currid7

    currid7 Level 2 Member

    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

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