Timezone: GMT (One hour behind Boston/EST)
Avg. Temp: Hot, 84 and Cold, 81
** It’s safer than you think – and definitely safer than your grandma (or mom) thinks too. You’ll never not hear stories about robbery and mugging but it’s good to remember that that’s the case everywhere else. As with almost anywhere else you go, it pays to have your “wits about you.” Do you want to brazenly flaunt your brand new $1000 camera or stuffed-to-the-brim-wallet here in the States? Nope, didn’t think so and the same applies in Cartagena. Long story short, be smart enough not to wander down dark allies at night. Anthony Bourdain said summed it up much more eloquently than this girl:
“If you want to find bad people in Colombia, you can surely find them, as you could in New York or Los Angeles. But nowhere have my crew and I been treated better or with more kindness and generosity. I’d bring my family on vacation there in a heartbeat. And hope to soon.”
** Speaking of safety, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a strong police presence throughout the streets of Cartagena.
** If you’re anything like me you’re pretty paranoid about water quality almost everywhere you go – what can I say, I drink multiple liters a day so if something doesn’t agree with me then I’m definitely going to know about it! Throughout Colombia’s biggest cities (Cartagena included) tap water is generally fine but I and many other tourists would still recommend opting for bottled. If you ask me, there’s no sense in risking it and particularly not in my case since I already had very little time to explore the area. It’s nice to know you needn’t worry about adding a little ice to your drink or question how that salad’s been prepared.
** On that note, the food in Cartagena is delicious. Want a really authentic experience? Treat yourself to a little something from a street vendor. Personally, I’d highly recommend a grabbing a fresh coconut plus a straw but a few of the foodie bloggers (also lucky enough to be traveling with the Princess team) went the more adventurous route and would highly recommend it – particularly the arepas.
** Since it’s one of the larger cities in Colombia (not to mention one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations) it’s not all that hard to find people speaking english. That being said, it would certainly be convenient to have some knowledge of Spanish (which I do not – growing up in rural Ireland, French was the only foreign language class available in my small countryside school) and especially if you happen to be traveling on a budget/in search of a more local experience a little further outside of the city.
** Cartagena is hot, hot, hot! When deciding what to wear I’d highly suggest not only prioritizing summery pieces like dresses, shorts and sandals but light, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen. The little red dress I wore? I absolutely love it but not for this location. I realize this is TMI but . . . polyester leads to all the boob sweat.
** I hadn’t realized this until I got chatting with an avid-traveler mid cruise but we were visiting during some of the more ideal months. Apparently Colombia is an absolute nightmare during the last week of December, the first two weeks of January and over the Semana Santa (Holy Week – AKA the entire week before Easter Sunday) celebrations. You’ll need to book ahead, expect to pay more then double the usual rate for a room and, of course, battle huge crowds.
** Looking for a stiff ass drink? Aguardiente (“fiery water”) is for you! Much more potent than it is expensive (think 60% alc.) this Colombian spirit is for you. The crystal clear liquid is almost always drunk straight out of a shot glass with a flared mouth and typically served with sliced limes. FYI: it’s actually legal to drink on the streets in Cartagena – just sayin’!
** I was pretty shocked to find that most Colombians like their coffee, black, watery and sweet AF. Actually referred to as “Tinto” most local connoisseurs would think it blasphemous to have it any other way. It’s worth trying but a specialty store is much more likely to have what you want.
** If it’s color you’re looking for then you’ve come to the right place. Bright, bold beautiful and beautiful Cartagena is perfect for the insta-addicted among us A.K.A. this gal – who’ll do just about anything for a pink wall.
** Street vendors are persistent, very persistent in fact and particularly throughout more touristy areas like El Centro A.K.A. the Old or Walled Town. As irritating as it can be, you’re just going to have to be firm. If you know you don’t want something then I’d recommend not browsing stalls and/or offerings at all. That being said, vendors are no more intimidating and bargain hunting is no more dangerous than it would be in most destinations. FYI: Haggling is common place here.
** Like I said, the Old Town (El Centro) primarily caters to tourists. Looking for a slightly more “authentic” experience Madeline and I split our time between it and those areas beyond it’s impressive walls. Touristy or not, El Centro is still a wonderful place to explore but for a more well rounded experience it’s best to divide and conquer – if you’re spending quite a bit of time in the country then I’d recommend taking a trip to areas such as Bogota.
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