Since I posted my first photo from Cartagena, I’ve gotten a number of questions that focused heavily on how I navigated the vacation. What activities I did, how I dealt with safety issues, the language barrier, visa info + more. Although I answered each person individually, I penned this post to consolidate answers to all the questions. This way, you can see answers to questions you might not have thought to ask.
I’ve only been to Cartagena once, so by no means am I an expert on the city, but I know that sharing personal experiences can be helpful for others.
So if you’re thinking of planning a trip to Cartagena, this one is for you. If you’ve been to Cartagena please feel free to share anything you think might be useful.
Weather Patterns – Google is a great resource for checking weather patterns, use it. According to Google, the rainy season in Colombia comes to an end in November, so we booked our trip for the first week of the month- we were clearly impatient. Although the weather forecast app on iPhone promised thunderstorms for the duration of our stay, it only rained once – a light drizzle that lasted about an hour, thankfully, because it was on a beach day.
So pay attention to weather patterns before you plan your trip, and as for the forecast app, I just stopped looking at it altogether. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life.Language – I read somewhere that Colombia was one of the South American countries with the least English-speaking people. While I can’t speak for the entire country, Cartagena seemed to offer some degree of proof to that statement. This is to be expected since the national language is Spanish, so please don’t be that tourist that’s exasperated at the locals because they don’t speak English. You may not be able to have profound conversations but learning greetings, common questions and numbers in Spanish will be helpful for simple daily interactions.If you’re like me and looking for an opportunity to practice your spoken Spanish, then Cartagena is your classroom!
Duolingo is my go-to choice for language practice. You can download the app on your phone and it’s free to use. Google Translate is also downloadable as a free app and is great for looking up meanings. Save Spanish offline for quick reference.
Transportation – Similar to New York, there are yellow taxis all over Cartagena whose drivers will stop if you flag them down. They’re also relatively affordable – ~10 min ride cost 8,000 pesos / $4 one way. You’re welcome to negotiate your cab fare if you want but try to be fair. The cab driver doesn’t need to rip you off, but he or she does need to make a living.
Activities – It wasn’t hard to find an activity to fill every day of our 4-day vacation, but how you choose to spend your days will be dependent on preference. I covered how we spent our first days here and will cover the rest of our days in next week’s post. We didn’t book any activity in advance which was smart because we were able to save money on all our excursions. For example, our city tour through Free Tour Cartagena was, in fact, free, but booking through Trip Advisor would have cost $32. It’s a no-brainer that I would advise you to book while in-country. Save your coin for an arepa or two.Currency – The money is a bit difficult to get used to at first but we quickly got the hang of it and stopped wasting it. We exchanged USD at $1 to 2700 pesos. I’m almost certain this is not the best rate because we made our daily exchanges at the airport. This was purely out of convenience since our hotel was a 2-minute walk away. Under normal circumstances, I would try to find a money exchange location in the city.
Visa Requirements + Issues – Country visa requirements change all the time, so I always check to make sure I’m in compliance before I get on a plane.
As U.S passport holders, my sister and I were granted visa-free entry to Colombia.
As a Nigerian passport holder with both U.S and Canadian visas, our friend Mofi was required to get a visa prior to arrival so I asked her to share some tips + useful info.
The Colombian Visa is only given for the duration of your trip and can cost anywhere from $150 to $200.
The website can be confusing, so you’ll need the patience to navigate it.
Depending on what city you reside in Canada, you may need to take 1 or 2 days off for the visa appointment. Ask questions at the embassy to ensure you’re taking the right steps.
Safety – No thanks to drug issues and the overwhelming media coverage on said issues, Colombia was infamous for being a dangerous country to visit. However, that reputation is changing and several tourists flock to the South American nation every year. In cities like Cartagena, tourism fuels the economy.
Although we didn’t feel unsafe, even walking around at night, I did notice a few policemen patrolling the streets in the center of town. I’m not sure if this is normal or it was due to the festive period. Regardless, it’s only smart to stay alert, walk on lit streets and not in alleys and if traveling in a group, try to stay together or aware of each person’s whereabouts.
Writing travel-guide posts is difficult for me for a number of reasons, most of all being that I fear I can’t be thorough enough. However, I tried my best to be thorough with this one and I hope it helps you.
thank you for reading.
All photos shot and edited on iPhone 8+
same footprints, different sands
Cartagena seems so remarkable and after reading your post, I have to add it to my bucket list, Tiese. When’s the best time of the year to explore it?
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You definitely should, Agness! It’s a beautiful city. I’m not sure about year-round times but November (when we went) was a pretty decent time. The weather was great and it didn’t seem overly crowded. As for pricing, I’m not sure what time of year the best prices show up but I’d keep an eye on Scott’s cheap flights (if you live in the U.S), he’s sent out a couple great deals to Cartagena recently.