A backpacking guide to Cartagena

Published on: January 02, 2019

This was my first sighting of Colombia sailing into the harbour after a 5-day crossing from Panama. I could smell the coca..oonuts.

Overview

It was also my last sighting after 8 months of backpacking South America, how cute. A backpacking guide to Cartagena. If Cartagena was a woman I’d marry her. Loved it for it’s small, old town, historic vibes and party scene. Hated it for it’s tourist traps and terrible beach.

After sailing from Panama to here on the Koala 2 with a rather lovely bunch of travellers, we continued to stay in each others company. All ten of us checked into the Mi Llave hostel for 4 days. For partying we hit the old town area, little local bars and clubs but avoided the heavy tourist trap electronic places.

The feel of Colombia

Cartagena felt more real to me than Medellin or Bogota. They both saw a boom and thus that hipster feel mixed with historic environment developed in the Barrios. Cartagena felt like it was built like this regardless, like the architecture and style is effortless and it doesn’t give a shit how hipster you think you are. It’s cooler.

The fort was good, the ceviche great and the people super friendly, especially when they wanted a “Bilando” dance. I like to walk and stick my nose in places. This was the ideal place to do it. Art, museums, graffiti and I even make myself sound cultured. Phaah.


Do’s

  • Stay at Mi Llave hostel, it’s right on the water, quiet and with roof top spaces
  • Get the boat to Casa del Agua, wrote a helpful little post here on that here
  • Get the coach along the west coast of Colombia to the Tyrona national park and Palomino. Travel east from Cartagena if you want to be in tiny isolated fishing villages
  • Enjoy the famous burger stall in the old town centre, the one with the constant huge que
  • Party at the bars and clubs near the main square on the port
  • Have a ton of coffee and cake in the many cheap, accidentally stylish cafés
  • The free city tour
  • Be careful when buying any naughty stuff as sometimes the police set traps

Don’ts

  • Go to the close-by ‘white sand’ beaches they are well trodden and just a tourist suck-up point
  • Go round to the city beach area it’s terrible stay in the old towns, save the beach for Tyrona
  • Get suckered into the many high price restaurants expensive for tourists, search out the hidden gems with the local grandmas
  • Waste your time exploring the rest of Cartagena, stay at the port and old town

A backpacking guide to Cartagena. A graffiti bird on a bright yellow wall in old town.
Old town graffiti art

There’s quite an influential Asian and Chinese food scene north of the old town. If your tastes buds are tingling for it, head there. I didn’t find that cuisine in other parts of Colombia.


Tips for healthy eats

  • In the old town you’ll find little fruitarias selling fresh produce ideal for cooking up your fancy in the hostel.
  • La cevicheria is gem of a place if you love fresh fish and does what it says on the tin with big hearty platefuls.
  • For awesome coffee all over Colombia JUAV VALDEZ is your place. Similar to Starbucks in England they’re located all over and their coffee is immense. There’s one just at the bottom of the street if you stay at HOSTEL NAME HERE on the water front
  • If you’re unsure on supplements and nutrition when travelling, you’ll find my post here on Tips on supplements, nutrition and how to use them when training whilst traveling useful.

How to get meat for that protein hit

  • For the four days I was here I ate a lot of tinned tuna (always bought the most expensive for quality) from the local shops and ate out in a big group on evenings. I always travel with the thought: spend for a few days when you’re in a gang and save i.e cook for yourself, when you’re not.
  • There’s a local pescaderia in the old town that sells the catches of the day from the port. Or failing that walk down to the port and you’ll see fish vendors.
  • The Chinese restaurants area offered good value for money and dish sizes.La Ceviche if you’re after a big fish dish.

Where to exercise

Out on the water front on the old town side there’s a quiet little area right outside Mi Llave hostel. It looks over onto the other side of the port. Early morning is best and no one goes up to the far left end of the walk way. You’ll get a great view of the opposite side of the port with the boats constantly streaming in and out whilst you exercise.

I also found an awesome little gym about a 10 min walk from Mi Llave hostel over the bridge into the Manga barrio, it’s quite close to Jamrock hostel. Google gyms in this area and you’ll find it on the map. It’s a quality little prison gym that I hit up twice.

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