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Back in 2016, I did a solo trip to Cartagena and although the city was beautiful and full of culture, I had mixed feelings coming back home; partly because it was my second solo trip and I didn’t make the best of my stay. Well, a little more than two years later, my cousin did her own solo trip to Cartagena and had a great time! If you’re looking for a detailed Cartagena travel guide, read more about how Krista spent 3 nights, 4 days in Cartagena along with a few things to know before traveling to Cartagena.
Things to Know before Traveling to Cartagena, Colombia
When traveling to a different country it is good to know if the destination has any visa requirements (like India) or passport validity rules. Have no worries because there is no tourist visa required for US citizens traveling to Cartagena under 90 days. You just need to have a valid passport at the time of entry and one page available for your entry stamp.
The official currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso. One thing about traveling to Cartagena or Colombia, in general, is it is VERY AFFORDABLE. If you are a budget traveler, you get more than your monies worth when it comes to buying food, drinks, and some cases, where you stay. Cash is always great to have for tips and unexpected emergencies, but you can use your credit or debit card. If you have a bank that gives no penalty for using the ATM or credit card with no foreign transaction fees, even better! Below are the current exchange rates as of December 2018.
$1 USD = 3169.00 Colombian Pesos
€1 EUR = 3602.73 Colombian Pesos
£1 GBP = 4003.08 Colombian Pesos
$1 CAD = 2373.58 Colombian Pesos
Language & Basic Phrases
As a former Spanish territory, the official language in Cartagena is Spanish. If you are not fluent, I highly recommend downloading the Google Translate app or at least learn basic phrases. Below are some basic Spanish words and phrases that may be helpful on your trip to Cartagena.
- Good morning – Buenos días – booEHN-os DEE-as
- Yes – Sí – see
- No – No – no
- Good afternoon – Buenas tardes – booEHN-as TAR-dehs
- Good evening – Buenas noches – booEHN-as NO-chehs
- Hello, my name is _____ – Hola, me llamo (your name) – OH-la meh YA-mo
- What is your name – ¿Cómo se llama? – KOH-moh seh YA-mah
- How are you – ¿Cómo está? – KOH-moh ehs-TA
- I am fine -Estoy bien – ehs-TOY bee-EHN
- Nice to meet you – Mucho gusto – MOO-choh GOOS-toh
- Goodbye – Adiós – ah-dee-OHS
- I am lost – Estoy perdido – ehs-TOY pehr-DEE-doh
- Where is the restroom? – ¿Dónde está el baño? – DOHN-deh ehs-TA el BAH-neeo
- Please – Por favor – pohr fah-VOR
- Thank you – Gracías – gra-SEE-ahs
- I’m sorry – Lo siento – low see-EHN-to
- Bless you -Salud – sah-LOOD
- You are welcome (it was nothing) – De nada – deh NA-da
- How much does it cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta? kooAN-to KWEHS-ta
- What time is it? – ¿Qué hora es? – keh OR-ah ehs
- I do not understand – Yo no comprendo – yoh no kom-PREN-doh
- Can you speak slower, please? – ¿Por favor, habla mas despacio? – pohr fah-VOR, AH-blah mahs dehs-PAHS-ee-oh
Traveling to Cartagena from NYC
Traveling from NYC, the total of the round-trip flights including personal luggage and paid assigned seating was $259 via Spirit Airlines. Remember, I like to be on a budget, so Spirit Airlines it was. As a minimalist, downgrading from carry-on only to a personal item wasn’t an issue, but if you need more luggage, you have to pay extra on Spirit
If you prefer a direct flight from NYC with options for carry-on or checked luggage, Jet Blue offers non-stop flights from JFK to CTG. You can also fly from NYC to Cartagena on American Airlines with a layover in Miami.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
There are a number of cheap places to stay in Cartagena including hostels, Airbnbs, and even the Holiday Inn Express in Bocagrande nearby. For this solo trip to Cartagena, I stayed at Allure Chocolat, a 4-star hotel that had clean rooms, offered welcome drinks and Colombian chocolates. The lobby even smelled like chocolate! The cab to the hotel was 15,000 Colombian Pesos which is around $5-$6 USD. The hotel is also an 11-minute walk from 16th-century Iglesia de San Pedro Claver and 15-minutes from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.
Due to the hotel’s location and my love for walking, there was never a real need to take a cab and I saw the Walled City from the rooftop terrace. Allure Chocolat had full amenities with infinity pool, scenic views, a rooftop bar and famous Red Knife restaurant. Dinner at Red Knife included drinks, a shot of rum, appetizer, and entree for 58,000 Pesos or $18-20 USD. The total cost for my stay at Allure Chocolat including a full breakfast was $294.
Things to do in Cartagena on a Budget
I truly believe in experiencing things to do on a budget during my travels. If you plan on visiting Cartagena on a budget, below are some free and low-cost things to do in the city.
Visit the Choco Museum
This is the Willy Wonka of Chocolates and coffee in Cartagena. Both entry and tastings are free for all visitors
Watch the Sunset at Cafe Del Mar
Cafe del Mar is one of the most popular restaurants in Cartagena and known for its views. It is located in the Walled City and you can go for happy hour drinks and dinner or just sit and watch the sunset for free.
Listen to Live Music and Dance Salsa in the Street
Who doesn’t like live music? After touring the city, find yourself in the city square at night for live music and dancing.
Do a free walking tour in the Old City
Appreciate the Artwork
Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Although the entry was 25,000 Colombian Pesos or $7-8USD, the walk around the fort is free.
Popular Cartagena Day Trips
If you’re feeling adventurous or just want to visit popular sites outside of the city, here are some day trips from Cartagena you can do.
El Totumo Mud Volcano
Did you know you can use your Expedia points for Excursions? Corona Tours picked me up from the hotel, drove myself and other tourists to El Totumo Mud Volcano (or Volcán de Lodo El Totumo in Spanish), fed us a traditional Colombian lunch and we even went for a swim at Manzanillo Del Mar. If you don’t have Expedia points, then the total of the excursion is only $27USD
San Basilio de Palenque
When visiting Cartagena, thousands of tourists love taking photos of the Afro-Colombian women selling fruits, but not many know their history. San Basilio de Palenque is located south of Cartagena and the first city within the Americas founded by escaped slaves. Many of the residents still practice customs of their ancestors and speak their own language: Palenquero which is a Spanish-based creole.
Cartagena is also known as Cartagena de indias and a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. In other words, there are BEACHES. The closest beach is in the tourist area of Bocagrande, but BEST Cartagena beaches are on the islands of Rosario, Barú and San Bernardo.
There is so much to see and do in Cartagena, but my favorite things were all free. I spent less than $80USD on food, drinks, souvenirs, cabs, excursions, and tips. If I had to do it all over again, next time I would invite you to come along.