March 2016 Trip Report: Cartagena, Colombia

South America is a place I've only skimmed the surface of. Whenever I travel, I usually prefer to go to Europe or Asia but lately I've asked myself while I haven't spent more time down there.  

 Graffiti art in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

Graffiti art in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

Given that I have a full time job in finance, it's hard for me to take too much time off every year (I am allotted 15 days of vacation time a year) so I try to take trips around holiday weekends to maximize time off. I was a bit hesitant to go to Colombia alone, but I was craving to go somewhere culturally different and easy to get to from NYC and easy to get around once I was there. Cartagena definitely met my expectations!

Is it safe traveling there alone as a woman? It is. Of course you should keep your wits about you and do some research so you know what to expect. Be sensible of your surroundings and have a basic understanding of the culture and rules. For example, one thing I read about Colombia before I left is that everyone, including tourists, need to have some sort of identification with them at all times.

It's also very helpful if you know some Spanish. Mine is terrible and I tried to brush up on it by watching the Netflix series Narcos. Narcos is an amazing show about Colombia's most notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Whether you know or don't know anything about him, the show (which has only 1 season out so far) is entertaining and you will definitely learn quite a bit about Colombia's history, politics, and drug trade. Knowing Spanish or not won't make or break your trip, though it would be helpful.

So! 

Why I Went to Cartagena, Colombia

  • It's easy to get to. JetBlue flies there direct from JFK and you will get there in under 5 hours. While Cartagena is in the same time zone as NY, they don't observe daylight savings time so there might be a time difference based on when you go. I went over Easter weekend, which was after daylight savings time in NY, and gained an hour when I arrived (since they don't spring forward).
  • Met my criteria of being out of comfort zone (meaning, not being in the U.S or a developed country)
  • Met my criteria of being easy to get around. Cartagena is a really small city, but there is lots to do in the outer areas. I stuck mostly to staying in and around the Old City because I just didn't have the time to research and go further out.
  • It's super cheap there! When I went, the exchange rate was $100 USD = $300,000 pesos. A taxi ride from the airport to the city, which is about 15 minutes, cost around $8,000 pesos, which is like $3 USD.

Overall Impressions

  • Go if you're also looking for a quick/easy trip and you can fly there direct. However, be warned that you don't really need more than two days in Cartagena itself. You can see the whole city in a day and a half. If you want to do more and go for 5 days, then definitely do a day and/or overnight trip out to the Rosario Islands. I didn't do this but wish I had. I just didn't have time to plan it.
  • Don't expect a lot when it comes to food. Food wasn't terrible, but nothing was memorable either.
  • People are generally friendly, but again, you do have to be careful where you go. The Walled City and Getsemani were generally safe, but can't speak to any area outside of this.
  • Five days is more than enough if you're just doing Cartagena. I'll discuss my itinerary in upcoming posts!