Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beaches, bars, and avoiding military police in Cartagena...

    So I had just got back from a month in Africa and my friend Joe had contacted my about a last minute trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Finances were somewhat low, but it was the remaining continent of the 6 of the 7 I had not seen yet, and Joe is also a good friend that I had not seen in some time. Thanks to the God's of overtime and Joe's travel booking skill, the trip happened in September 2010. The final axe that drove me to book it is that Joe was staying in Miami, and nearly free of charge we turned Miami into a one day layover vacation, before we headed off to an awesome week in Cartagena. Complete thanks to my friend Joe for setting up this trip.
A stop in Miami on the way... the camera had a couple of drinks too.
Flight: from Phoenix to Miami round trip was around $200, traveling of course on weekdays to get the cheapest flight, flight from Miami to Cartagena was around $300. I don't remember the exact prices, but it all came out to under $550 USD to go to Miami for 24 crazy hours of South Beach and night clubs, then off to Cartagena for 8 days of Colombian immersion. You have to fly to Miami in most cases anyway coming to the states, so as usual for an extra $50 to $100 why not stop in at my favorite Florida city.

Hotel: Miami we stayed for free, remember what we talked about in travel tips about making friends ;-) In Cartagena, Joe set us up with a fully furnished lush pad in the Walled City from Vacation Rentals By Owner. For the same price as a hotel, or even slightly less than some hotels, we had a two bedroom place around 1,000 square feet.

    Ok so I would compare Colombia a little bit to Las Vegas, anyone who has been to Las Vegas knows that everything leads back to the casinos, whether you go to a Vegas Show, or a high end restaurant, comedy club, etc, everything will take you back to the casino. Well in Cartagena, unless you are there with children, everything will lead back to the bars. There is a lot of great history in Cartagena, you will absolutely need Spanish to go on some of the awesome tours of forts, and islands around, the beaches are crowded but easy to get to, the food is quite good even though at some point we weren't totally sure what we were eating... and I do speak Spanish, and amidst the cocaine dealers, prostitutes, pick pockets, and sleazy street peddlers, there are some of the most genuine and kind people I have ever met anywhere in the world.

Cartagena, Colombia Tips, & Where To Save
  • Spanish is a must, if you do not speak it, bring a dictionary, menus at restaurants will not be in English, if you are booking a vacation rental by owner and do not speak Spanish, confirm prior that he or she does speak English.
  • You will stick out even if you are Hispanic by wearing shorts... Yep it's 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid and people are on the beaches wearing pants and jeans.
  • Bring some white shirts... everyone wears them at the night clubs
  • Using your Spanish skills or Spanish dictionary book some island tours, they are really incredible, also check out the Convento De La Popa at the highest point in the city, and of course check out Castillo De San Felipe, don't worry it's impossible to miss it.
    You may want to bring a flash light to the San Felipe, most of the tunnels are not lit.
  •  Do everything you can to stay in the Walled City at a VRBO or a hotel/hostel, far better and more culutral immersion than staying in the high rise hotels on the beach, don't worry the beach is a walk/short cab ride from the Walled City. Walking around the walled city is also free.

  • Also free of charge, grab a workout on the walled city, I did a run around early in the morning, some calisthenics on the wall, then finished up with another routine in the waters right in front, the splashing waves hitting me was a great relief from the Colombian humidity.
  • Be ready to save money, this place is cheap! Even at the high end restaurants the meals are only around $15 USD. Souvenirs and clothing within the Walled City are great bargains and you can find some genuine South American stuff there.
  • When you go to the first bar, and you notice it is 5% men and 95% attractive women and they are all staring at you and want to chat it up with you even though in your country you haven't had a 1st date in 6 months, you are not in a bar, you are in a brothel, kindly ask the taxi drivers where the local non-brothel clubs are. STD rates in Colombia are high.
  •  It is HARD to spend money there unless you are mugged, everything is pretty cheap, including taxi's, if you are looking for a budget trip off the continent you are in, and live especially in North America this is a great start.
  • Safety! Make no mistake, as soon as you land in Colombia you will notice heavy military police presence, do not bring drugs, do not buy drugs, do not go anywhere near the jungles... this seems like common sense but I've heard to many stories not to mention this. On my way leaving I was checked by military police twice and body scanned. It was nothing forceful or violating but the country is very adamant about trying to reduce the amount of cocaine that leaves there. At night watch your back and travel by cabs, I almost got in a fight sticking up for someone that was in trouble and was completely by myself and probably would have got my butt kicked if it wasn't for the fact that I had a pretty good size advantage and they didn't have as many drinks as I did.
  • We did 8 days there, realistically, we should have stayed maybe 4 days then checked out somewhere else, it is easy to get around and if you plan well, 4 days would easily suffice.
  •  Talk with people as usual, as I said, some of the best people I ever met were in Cartagena. Can't wait for the next country I see in South America... Brazil for the world cup in 2014 anyone? Or maybe Chile/Argentina next summer? Who knows? But I can't wait!!!
Enjoy my video of this trip:

Choose the continent!!!!


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