Cartagena on a Budget

The Basics
We flew direct from Medellín on Viva Colombia. Round trip flight were about $200,000 COP each. If you haven’t flown it before, this airline is the Spirit airlines of Colombia, meaning they will charge for every. thing. We did our research and planned to bring one small bag each to avoid a carry-on luggage fee. However, we also forgot to print our boarding passes ahead of time and ended up paying for that (#amateurs).

Upon arrival, we took a taxi into the city center for about $13,000 COP. The driver dropped us off at our hostel, Mystic House. This was the smallest hostel room I’ve had before, but couldn’t complain with the self-controlled A.C., location in Getsemani, and decent breakfast options.

Although we didn’t experience it, pick-pocketing and petty theft are prevalent in Cartagena. We kept all important documents in our hostel room safe and used caution when taking out money from our wallets. In my experience, these are some of the best things you can do to prevent anything going wrong. We also stayed in well-lit areas at night.

Get Your Adventure On
The Walled City: Inside the historical walls of Cartagena, lies the Old City. We enjoyed spending time during the day and evenings wandering around, catching views of historical buildings, cathedrals, and windy backstreets.

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Mud Volcano de Totumo: (with lunch at Manzanillo beach) This was on the top of our list for the Cartagena area. We booked a private tour which picked us up at our hostel and drove us to the site a couple hours away. The convenience was nice, but we wasted a lot of time making stops to pick up all the passengers at separate hotels. I would recommend looking into other forms of transportation. The experience at the volcano was weird, awesome, and unforgettable. We waited in line for our time in the vat of sloppy mud, watching other tourists get rub-downs from the local guys (‘massages’ for tips). Every service here is charged on tips. Mud massages, photos, and wash-downs..they will hunt you down if you don’t pay! My advice is to enjoy the ride: let some local women pour buckets of water down your swimsuit and don’t be afraid to get messy.

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Getting weird in the mud volcano

Castillo de San Felipe: We were able to walk to this historical fortress from our hostel. Entrance was $17,000 COP each, though I had a heated discussion with the ticket vendor and eventually got a teacher’s discount. Walking around the fortress is enough of an experience, but you can pay extra for a guided tour in English. We loved the underground tunnels where you can easily get lost and/or severely claustrophobic. We visited around sunset time, which allowed for incredible views of the city glowing as the sun lowered.

Eats and Drinks
La Cocina de Pepina: We ate Thanksgiving dinner in style at this hidden gem. We stumbled upon it and showed up before the crowds when it opens at 7:00pm each night. The menu is written in chalk on the wall, and the owner is friendly, happy to make suggestions for your order. We enjoyed every appetizer and dish we ordered.

Laguna Azul: This three-table restaurant serves piles of ceviche, fresh with flavor. I preferred it over the popular, tourist-recommended La Cevichería. You won’t pay for atmosphere here, but it makes up for it in quality!

Mila: A brunch spot in the heart of the Old City which lured us in with baked goods and blasting A.C. We sipped mimosas and snacked on their picturesque platters.

Movich Hotel Bar: This beautiful hotel has a rooftop pool and bar that are available to the public. You can pay for a day-pass to spend at the pool, or just come and relax on their sofa lounge chairs with a beverage. The pricey drinks are worth the view!

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Sunset from Movich Hotel Bar

Havana Club: Live music just around the corner from our hostel. Not much room to dance here, but the $20,000 entrance was worth the band, atmosphere, and mojitos.

Plazas Trinidad and San Diego: Local plazas are packed in the evenings with friends, families, tourists, and a chill vibe. We loved bringing beers and sitting in these spots to people watch and mingle. Both of these plazas have great restaurants and bars you can dip into as well.

What Next?
Although it was on our list, we didn’t make it over to Las Islas Rosarios. Since the only option that fit into our itinerary was a day stop, we opted out this time. We plan to come back next time and stay overnight on these islands, maybe in a small hut with a hammock. Why not?

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