Cartagena is a hot, colorful, lively city filled with history, creativity, and culture. Check out the 10 things you don't want to miss in this exciting city.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour of the City
Although I generally prefer the freedom of being able to explore on my own, guided tours are a nice way to get an introduction to a new city, especially when they are free! I recommend doing Cartagena's free walking tour on your first day here. You will learn some interesting history about the city and become familiar with the neighborhoods you want to further explore later on. The guides are really friendly and will answer questions you may have about specific activities or places you're hoping to find in Cartagena during your stay.
2. Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
This is a castle built by the Spanish during the colonial era, and is located on the Hill of San Lázaro. It is open daily for both guided tours or general admission. If you decided to opt out of a guide (like my friends and I did), make sure not to miss the complex tunnel system, which is lit and open to visitors.
3. Explore the Getsemani Neighborhood
As a lover of street art, I have to admit that most of my time in the Getsemani area was spent admiring the graffiiti. The streets here are colorful and host a variety of art styles. It is also a restaurant and nightlife hotspot, making it an easy place to meet new friends in my experience.
4. Take a Healing Mud Bath in 'El Totumo' Mud Volcano
Outside of the city is El Totumo Mud Volcano. Trips here can easily be arranged either online or through most hostels in Cartagena (such as El Viajero, where my friends and I stayed.) Although the pool of mud is over 10 meters deep, we floated with ease, even more than in water.
You should note that there are some unique people "working" as masseuses in the volcano, who will charge (though only a few dollars) to rub mud all over your body - pointless, considering you'll be covered head-to-toe anyways They are pushy though, so stand your ground and say "No," or you will end up paying for the massage.
After bathing in the healing mud, you will go to a nearby lake. There are local women with buckets there to help you wash off all of the mud - they aren't at all worried about nudity though, and will have you take off your swimsuit right there in the water. This was definitely a unique but memorable experience!
5. Relax at the Beach
Many tours to the mud volcano will include an afternoon at one of the nearby beaches. Cartagena is hot and humid, so a chance to cool off and relax will feel great!
6. Eat Fresh Fruit from a Palenque Woman
In the city you will find women in traditional clothing carrying fruit on their heads, which you can purchase for a refreshing snack. Make sure you ask for the price beforehand to avoid tourist-traps. It should cost only a dollar or two. I especially love the mangoes here. Fresh fruit in a colorful city - you can't help but feel upbeat!
7. Take a Salsa Class
I took a class at Crazy Salsa, a dance school in the city. My teacher, Chichi, was both energetic and patient with myself and the other students. El Viajero hostel where I stayed also offered salsa classes during the week where I was able to practice even more. Colombia is the perfect city to perfect your dance moves!
8. Attend a Service at Iglesia San Pedro Claver
Friends and I came to visit this historic cathedral and ended up arriving just as a service was beginning. Catholicism is a large part of Latin American culture, and attending a service provides an interesting perspective on the impact the church has on these countries. Also, the cathedrals throughout Latin America are always magnficiently beautiful, both inside and out.
9. Read a Book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Visit His House
This well-known Colombian author lived in and was inspired by the city of Cartagena. You can visit his home in the city, and also easily find one of his books to read for some insight. I found One Hundred Years of Solitude and No One Writes to the Colonel in an outdoor book market here.
10. Try Some Traditional Colombian Sweets
Colombia has a wide variety of traditional sweets to taste. You can find them in bakeries at small kiosks on the streets. I like the Cocadas, made of shredded coconut.
Cartagena is a perfectly bright and fun destination to add to your travel bucket-list!
I believe in God's grace through Jesus. I love to learn, in a variety of contexts - reading God's Word, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds around the world, and as a student of Linguistics and Foreign Languages at Western Washington University. Pages of My Passport is dedicated to sharing this journey of learning through written and visual content.