Finally! It’s about time I got around to writing about Cartagena!
I’ve already had a bunch of people message and e-mail me asking for Colombia recommendations, so this week I forced myself to sit down and organize my thoughts into a post.
Unfortunately my trip to Colombia only allowed for 3 days in Cartagena, but I’d like to think I made the most of it! Still, I feel like I only got a small first taste for all this colorful Colombian gem has to offer and barely feel qualified to write a list of “bests” or “musts.” So today, I’ll simply be sharing my suggestions.
This post is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide to the city of Cartagena and I’m sure there are tons of things to add, but even so, these are some of my favorites from my trip!
First, I’d like to share some general Cartagena advice:
CARTAGENA IS EXTREMELY HOT & HUMID.
It’s the kind of sticky, inescapable hot humidity that I deeply loathe. For realz. I’d suggest packing your lightest, airiest clothing and mentally preparing yourself to be a bit uncomfortable. Be sure to bring sunscreen and stock up on bottled water at the grocery store to stay hydrated. Try to get up early, take a break or two midday for an afternoon siesta, and then continue to explore again at night. Also, for your own sake, if you’d like to get any sleep at all, please stay somewhere with Air conditioning.
Now that we got that out of the way …..
My Cartagena Favorites
El Viajero- Where to stay on a budget
For my three nights in Cartagena I decided to stay at El Viajero Hostel after a few different people recommended it to me and this place was awesome! El Viajero was right up my alley- a laid back, Caribbean-like atmosphere with the perfect mix of party and relaxation. Minutes after I checked in, I joined a group of people who were lying out on lounge chairs, sunbathing and chatting away. At night, almost everyone in the hostel flocked to the bar, so it was pretty easy to make new friends, meet and mingle, and then right at 12 the bar closed down and everyone was encouraged to go out and explore Cartagena’s nightlife.
I’ve said this a dozen times, and I’ll say it again- the best part of staying in hostels is who you will meet there– and you’re bound to make fast friends at El Viajero. The El Viajero hostel chain has become a pretty big deal throughout South America and El Viajero Cartagena was even named the Best Hostel in South America by HostelWorld.com in 2013. It’s made tons of lists as a great place to stay (see Matador & Backpackr) and so it’s easy to see why El Viajero attracts not only tons of people, but in my opinion, the best kinds of people!
They’re located on a colorful street smack in the middle of the historical center, have got bomb free breakfast, AC in all their rooms, an open-air bar with great music and nightly drink specials, free WIFI, outdoor patios equipped with lounge chairs and free group dance classes. Really though, what else do you need to know?
El Viajero Hostel. Calle 7 Infantes # 9 – 45
Girasol– Cheap & Delicious Vegetarian Eats
Finding accessible and affordable vegetarian and vegan options when traveling in South America is NO easy task. Traditional Colombian cuisine tends to be extremely meat heavy (and rarely health-conscious), so for visiting veggies or anyone looking for a healthy dose of green, Restaurante Girasol is a breath of fresh air. Their set lunch menu changes daily and usually includes soup, salad, a main course with veggie protein, a juice and dessert all for less than $6 USD!
Girasol is family owned, located at an awesome location within the historic center and prides itself on it’s ever-changing menu (which they won’t repeat for another 6 weeks- hey variety!). They also have an in-restaurant store that sells difficult to find veggie/vegan health-food products, gluten-free snacks and sugar-free treats to take along with you on the rest of your travels!
Restaurante Girasol. Calle de Los Puntales # 37-01
Stefano’s Bistro- Affordable & Delicious Sit-down Lunch or Dinner
I think my meal at Stefano’s Bistro was my favorite in all of Cartagena! Only a short stroll from the city center, Stefano’s is the ideal place to go for a nice sit-down lunch or dinner without breaking the bank. This place is bursting with “feel good vibes” and the staff are so friendly and helpful (not to mention really patient with Spanish learners). They recommended several dishes for us to try and even shared advice as to what else to do in Cartagena.
Stefano’s menu is both extensive and affordable, with everything from salads and samplers to burgers, pastas, fish and meat, so you’ll have no problem finding something for everyone- they even have a bunch of veggie options! My vegetarian friend got a veggie burger made with grilled lentil “meat,” and topped with motz cheese and guacamole and I ordered the Posta Cartagena, an arepa stuffed with sweet beef, light cheese, baked plantains and topped with guacamole- and both were so GOOD. The dishes are flavorful, inventive and really filling! They also serve fresh squeezed juices and homemade flavored lemonade, which are super refreshing after a day of melting in Cartagena’s heat.
La Paletteria- Stay Cool While Exploring
I think I visited La Paletteria a minimum of 8 times in my 3 days in Cartagena. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was hot.. I usually didn’t make it more than 10 minutes without craving another one of these babies, but thankfully they had a ton of healthy options, so I didn’t even have to feel bad about it! My popsicle of choice quickly became the “Paraíso Tropical” a mix of fresh kiwi, strawberry and mango frozen in water.
Eating the popsicles from Paletteria was pretty much a race against the heat, (I often ended up with fruit juice all over my hands), but every bite was more than worth it. With so many flavors, varieties and fruits to choose from, these delicious artisanal pops were the perfect treat to help beat the heat while exploring Cartagena!
La Paletteria. Diagonal from Plaza Santo Domingo at Calle de Ayos Number 03-86
Molvich Hotel- Cartagena’s Best View
I discovered the rooftop at the Molvich Hotel on a bit of a whim, AKA I read a really great review of the view and figured I’d try to sneak in, act like I was staying there, and check it out. Noooo, of course I’ve never done that before……
Well, turns out you don’t have to sneak in! You are very welcome to go right on up to the rooftop bar and have a drink even if you’re not staying there, as long as there are no special events going on. This hotel is seriously luxurious and pretty out of my league, but surprisingly the prices were pretty reasonable!
The stunning panoramic view gives you an awesome look at Cartagena from above- the old city, new city, city beaches and everything in between. This place must be a hidden gem too, as on a Saturday evening, there were only two other groups at the bar- we pretty much had the place to ourselves! My friend and I ordered Passion Fruit Mojitos (a suggestion from our waiter) and watched in awe as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
Molvich Hotel. Calle de Vélez Danies No. 4 39
Backpackers Cartagena- Awesome Day trips
After two days of wandering around in the suffocating Cartagena humidity, I decided it was time to head to the beach. Because my time in Cartagena was limited, I wanted to do a planned beach day trip without all of the hassle of figuring out where to go, transportation options and so on, but the tour offered by my hostel and the companies I read about online really weren’t that impressive. Most of the “tours” consisted of transportation to and from a beach, with nothing else in between. Luckily, I stumbled across Backpacker’s Cartagena by accident while walking around and decided to pop into their office to ask about their trips.
There are plenty of choices for beaches around Cartagena to escape to, but if you’re looking for the good stuff you’ll have to venture a little bit further away. Backpacker’s Cartagena offers tons of options for trips to different beaches, but unfortunately, with only a day to spare, I really only had one option- Playa Blanca. Backpacker’s Playa Blanca tour seemed to be very comparable in price to the rest, but instead of simply transport, it included round trip door to door transportation in an air-conditioned van, use of the facilities at a beach hostel including showers, bathrooms, lockers and beach chairs, optional snorkel equipment and lunch with choice of meat, fish or veggies, all for a whopping $25 USD! Talk about a deal. I was a little hesitant to go with Backpacker’s at first as it seemed a bit too good to be true, but their tour really delivered and was a great way to park my butt on the beach for the day, soak up some rays and relax.
Have you ever been to Cartagena? If so, what were some of your favorites?
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Disclosure: Some of the above links in this post are affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase, Lauren on Location will receive a small percentage of the profits at no added cost to you.
I received a free stay at Viajero Hostel for purposes of this post. Still, as always, all opinions expressed are my own. I would only recommend something that I genuinely felt would benefit my readers.
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This week I’m highlighting On Traveling Europe Together by Ava at My Meena Life! I’m such a believer that a couple that can travel together can weather any storm. These two are doing much better than weathering and actually falling in love with each other all over again. This post is so sweet and put the biggest smile on my face. If you haven’t already, be sure to go check out her post and spread the love! Thanks for linking up with us Ava! 😀
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