South America Tips of the Trade

Things To Know Before You Go – Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is a beautiful colorful city. While visiting I leaned some things that I wanted to share. So here are some things to know before you visit Cartagena, Colombia from my personal experience.

Things To Know Before You Go - Cartagena, Colombia www.hollydayz.com ©2016 HollyDayz

Learn Spanish. If Spanish is not your first language then I highly encourage you to learn or brush up on it because you will certainly need it. Many people in Cartagena don’t speak any English or very little. Many will use Google Translate on their computer to try to communicate which is what a couple of gentleman did with me. I got by pretty well although I am not fluent.

Don’t Drive. I personally wouldn’t recommend renting a car. They drive a little crazy in Cartagena. That is saying a lot since I am from New York, but this is an entire different level. People will drive in the middle instead of a lane just to pass and swerve all over. Don’t let the street get backed up because those on motor bikes will either weave between the close-knit cars or jump on the sidewalk to get by!

Take a Taxi. Since I don’t recommend driving, take a taxi. The taxis are yellow and have no meters. Don’t even bother asking them how much from one location to another. Especially if you don’t speak much Spanish or they realize you are not from there. They will hustle you hard. Your best bet is to ask a local how much it will cost to go from one place to another and not your driver.

A few examples: the airport to the Bocagrande area should be no more than $15,000 pesos. The first driver hustled us and said it was $40,000, we learned from that quick! Bocagrande to the Walled City is no more than $8,000 pesos. Also don’t be nervous if the car shuts off. The cars are old, you may even have to physically roll the window down for air.

Bocagrande Beach in Cartagena ©2016 HollyDayz
Bocagrande Beach in Cartagena ©2016 HollyDayz

Beaches. The beach isn’t too pretty. You best bet is to go out to Playa Blanca or Isla Del Rosario. I am not a big beach person so I didn’t really care, but if you want some good beach time then those are the best suggestions.

No Converter or Adapter Needed. If you are coming from the United States you don’t need this to charge your electronics. Cartagena has the same outlets. If you are coming from Europe or another country you will need this.

Currency. Make sure you call your bank before leaving the country. Some banks don’t recognize Colombia as a place to put your card on notice for being in another country. If you use it and they put a freeze on it there isn’t much you can do, but try to call otherwise. So make sure they cover this. If not make sure you take out enough money before going.

Clearly changing your money into pesos is better, but in a worst case scenario they will happily take your U.S Dollar when paying for things. I also found that the exchange rate in the States was better than the rate in Cartagena, by about $1,000 pesos.

Wear Comfortable Shoes. For the most part, Cartagena is a city that you will walk around quite a bit. The sidewalks are tiny and you will find yourself drifting into the street to walk only to jump back up when a car comes. Some of the streets and sidewalks are messed up too so be careful while walking.

Comfy shoes and breathable clothes. ©2016 HollyDayz
Comfy shoes and breathable clothes. ©2016 HollyDayz

Wear Breathable Clothes. Cartagena is pretty hot and humid! One day I noticed it was 97 degrees with a 100% humidity. Make sure you are wearing breathable and comfortable clothes because you will sweat.

Go Out in the Late Morning/Early Afternoon. For some reason the early morning is hot. Really hot. As it gets later into the morning and early afternoon it begins to cool off. I thought it was just me, but I overheard several other people say they felt the same while I was there. So if you want to avoid disgusting heat, wait till around 10am-11am before going out.

Hopefully these tips will help you when visiting Cartagena!

Have you ever been to Cartagena? Do you have any tips?

70 Comments

  • kemkem

    Sounds a lot like Malta with the heat and the humidity. Definitely the sidewalks too..horrible 🙂 . These are great points, especially the cab. I swear it seems in every country, the drivers can’t wait to stick it to you. Definitely pays to do some homework 🙂 .

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I have heard great things about Malta.

      Reply
  • SocaMom® (@SocaMomDC)

    Great info about the cab! I am hoping to brush up on my Spanish this summer so that I can go to the less touristy places when I get the time to travel.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Even in “touristy” places English isn’t too common so brush up on it either way.

      Reply
  • MakeTime2SeeTheWorld (@VickiLouise86)

    I’d love to go to Cartagena (I’ve been to it’s namesake in Spain but it’s not quite the same! lol) and Colombia looks like a great place to explore. I’m not a beach person either, but I will keep a note of not going out early morning to avoid the heat – which is the perfect excuse for a sleep in! Thanks for sharing your tips!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Cartagena is a very colorful city. It is the perfect excuse to sleep in or just relax and really make it into a vacation.

      Reply
  • majestazea

    This place is on my list to visit and when I finally go I will be sure to keep these tips in mind!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I think you will enjoy yourself.

      Reply
  • Alina Popescu

    Your guide is very comprehensive! The cabbie part might sound funny, but getting hustled definitely isn’t. And the weather seems ideal for everyone who enjoys sleeping in 🙂

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thanks. The funny thing is in US Dollars it wasn’t a lot, but finding out how much it really costs lol makes you go wwwwwwww.

      Reply
  • Akid Zolkifli

    These are great tips, but I’m not sure if you’ve sold me on coming to visit to be honest haha! Bad beaches, getting hustled and I have to learn spanish… may be a while till I make my way there!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      haha I don’t blame you. It is all true though, but it is a beautiful city to explore.

      Reply
  • LeAnna

    How did you feel safety wise? I know Columbia gets a bad rep and it’s probably like most places that have similar reputations (be a vigilant traveler, etc) but just wondering your take on that aspect.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I felt safe. There were a few areas that seemed a bit sketchy, but we had a tour guide. Colombia does get a bad rep, but it isn’t what everyone thinks it was and they are trying to shed that.

      Reply
  • Tia @ financiallyfitandfab

    Greg tips! Some of the tips translate to Panama. We would always ask the driver how much it was cost to travel to certain destinations and haggle from there. Our hotel/Airbnb hosts gave us the heads up in terms of costs to ensure we didn’t overpay.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thanks. I think it is that way everywhere. I always here of someone getting hustled by a cab all over the world even in the United States. There is no haggling with taxi drivers though there is a known price that the locals know. They were happy to tell us so we wouldn’t have any other issues.

      Reply
  • Andi Fisher (@andi_fisher)

    My family lived in Panama a LONG time ago and visited every country in central and south America. I have fond memories of Colombia. But I can’t remember too much specifically about Cartagena – so thanks for the tips as I know they would come in handy for a visit. Funny about the early morning being hot, that’s my favorite part of the day, but I hate the heat! usually it is cooler, so that is weird!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is weird, but so true lol. That is great I hope you go and make some new memories.

      Reply
  • hcura

    Nice tips. I would like to visit Colombia and Cartagena certainly looks like a good place to visit. I’m fluent in Spanish so I believe I could get around easily.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Then you should be good! That will certainly help. I wish I was fluent.

      Reply
  • Dana Carmel

    I was in Cartagena last fall and agree with these tips – especially regarding the heat. It’s relentless. We’d get back to the hotel each day, drenched. I agree that Playa Blanca is beautiful – I’m definitely a beach person. Fortunately, we didn’t have any ATM issues which was a huge relief.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I didn’t have any ATM issues either. Never had to use one. The heat is certainly no joke.

      Reply
  • wanderingwagarschristina

    We loved our trip to Cartagena. I know what you mean about the beach, definitely not as breathtaking as a lot of places. However, we joined a boat tour to one of the islands and the beach was fantastic!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I was going to do a boat tour, but I ended up cancelling it.

      Reply
  • Bernard Tan

    Cartagena is a beautiful, vibrant place. Thanks for sharing with us! It makes planning to Cartagena easier!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is beautiful and colorful.

      Reply
  • Erica

    The driving sounds exactly like here in the Philippines. Which is exactly why I don’t do it! They say if you know how to drive here, you can handle how to drive anywhere else in the world. Which explains why I probably wouldn’t be driving there either!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t either if that is the case.

      Reply
  • Karla (Karla Around The World)

    I haven’t been to Cartagena but it looks like quite an interesting place to visit. The tips would really be helpful for me if ever I come here. Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is a nice place to visit. I enjoyed my time there.

      Reply
  • Nathan

    So colorful! I would love to visit one day– your pics make it look amazing.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is a very colorful place, especially in the Walled City or Centro as it is also called.

      Reply
  • Matthias

    Hey Hey, a great guide!! Thanks for all the tips! Looking forward to your next articles 🙂

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thank you.

      Reply
  • Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

    Thanks for sharing such practical tips. These are the kinds of questions I normally have and sometimes it can be so hard to find answers. Cartagena is on my list for sure. The photos are always so colorful and the city looks quite charming. With the advent of low-cost airlines like Viva Colombia flying direct flights from Miami for cheap, Cartagena will only get more popular.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It can be hard to find answers to stuff. The city is very vibrant with color. There are plenty of affordable flights there.

      Reply
  • Carol Colborn

    That’s interesting…it is so opposite of the northern temperate zone! And I am used to heat…from way back in the Philippines!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I am not a fan of heat like that.

      Reply
  • Heather Cole

    We’re considering Colombia next year, so thanks for these great tips! Especially the early morning heat thing, that’s so strange, usually we’re up early to make the most of the cool, so this is really good to know!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      You should go it is beautiful. Yea it is strange, but very true.

      Reply
  • Wanderlust Marriage (@WndlustMarriage)

    Would love to explore Colombia! Thanks for the tips! We’re very used to taxi situation, as long as they are up for negotiation that is ok though, and its ok that they make a bit more from Western tourists in my humble opinion! The problem we had in Romania was that the un-metered cabs would not negotiate a rate with you and they we’re just asking a few dollars more, it was just out right extortion 🙂

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is a great place to explore. There really isn’t even a need to negotiate because it should cost no more than a certain amount to go to certain places. But I am sure you can negotiate with them.

      Reply
  • Takoyacki

    Good tips, I better remember them if I ever go to Colombia! 🙂

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thank you. They will come in handy if you do.

      Reply
  • Fiona Maclean

    I have to say my impression is I wouldn’t want to go – too many negatives. I’m from the UK too, so I wouldn’t even have the advantages of the us VISITORS

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Every place has pros and cons. Such is life.

      Reply
  • Christine Maguire (@thetraveloguer)

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I’d love to visit Columbia. Shame about the beach though!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      There are other beaches you can visit if you want.

      Reply
  • The.Restless.Worker

    Great advice! Cartagena has been on my list for quite some time as I’ve heard amazing things about the area. Good to know about the taxi’s as well – thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      It is a beautiful city. You should enjoy.

      Reply
  • Jay | relaxedthairapy.com

    I took Spanish so long ago that I would be lost at sea to visit there. I really do want to learn Spanish again though because it’s such a beautiful language. Plus here where I live, it’s spoken a lot in some areas.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Spanish is important to learn. I mean you have to press 1 to hear automated systems in English.

      Reply
  • Mimi "MimiCuteLips" Green

    Ha, I know my Spanish is real basic. I can ask questions but I can’t translate their respone. #Fail. Its very humid in the DC area so I might be okay on that front.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Basic is still better than none at all. There humidity is worse, I have lived in Silver Spring, MD..it isn’t the same.

      Reply
  • Camesha | Mama Motivator

    I love that the first tip is learn Spanish! LOL Mine is so rusty! Great advice.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thanks. Well knowing some is better than none.

      Reply
  • Valerie Robinson

    Great info in this post! Reminds me to stay on top of my Spanish before I lose what little I do know lol! Nice to know they use the same US outlets- that has been one of the biggest pains for me.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      You would be surprised how much you know or remember when your forced to use it. Yes they do so one less thing to pack or worry about.

      Reply
  • The Roaming Renegades.com

    Great advice! I’m attempting to learn Spanish but it’s not going great! Just not got the time at the moment! We’ve also had similar issues with taxi’s in different countries.

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Aww I hope it goes better. I think every country has a taxi hustle.

      Reply
  • Tom

    Learning Spanish is a great tip, I’m slowly getting there living in Barcelona! It looks like an interesting place from the photos, I will have to visit when I head to South America

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      That is great although Spain is going to be a bit different. It is an interesting place with a lot of history.

      Reply
  • sheenatatum

    As a beach bum, it breaks my heart to hear that the beach isn’t all that, lol. Pinning this post for later!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thanks. Aww sorry, but there are others you can go to a bit out.

      Reply
  • thestyleperk

    Great tips! I have heard Cartagena is a good place to visit, so it’s on my list!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      Thank you. You will enjoy when you visit.

      Reply
  • Thirty By 30 With Courtney!

    Cartagena is one of my favorite cities ever. I completely agree with your notes about the taxis. Thankfully, I know enough Spanish so I was able to secure cheap rides while my friends just let me do the talking. And yes, yes, YES, to Playa Blanca! I didn’t intend on going originally, but I’m thankful to have splurged and decide to take a chance. So worth it!

    Reply
    • Holly Dayz

      I have heard a few people say that about Cartagena, being their fave. It was nice I enjoyed my time there.

      Reply
  • saifulislamkhanopu

    Thanks for writing such an informative post! Some travelers always get stuck hearing a bit bad reputes about any country but it should not be. Everywhere is good or bad things are being happened and that is very nominal case. Alike, In Asia few countries are highlighting as lack of safe or secured destinations but who traveled they experienced nothing about but become pleased.

    Reply
  • LaShawn

    I keep hearing that Cartagena is a place I need to visit. There are a lot of places like this that I want to visit, but I completely agree about learning the language first! My Spanish is so basic I know I need to brush up before I go somewhere like Cartagena!

    Reply

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