Colombia es mi hogar lejos de mi hogar. This country is hands down one of my favorite places I’ve visited to date. The food was amazing, the nightlife is booming, and there is an abundance of beautiful art.
My best friend and I scored a flight deal from JFK to BAQ for $252 via The Flight Deal. Although she is from Colombia, it was her first time visiting the cities we traveled to, Cartagena and Barranquilla. Luckily for me, she was able to suggest traditional dishes and provide translation services when needed.
She also helped me compile this list of the top 5 things to know before visiting Cartagena. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well prepared for your trip.
- Learn some Spanish. A majority of the people I met in Colombia did not speak English, and they should not be expected to. Learning a few simple words and phrases will make your visit that much more enjoyable. If all else fails, download Google Translate and hope for the best. For more common sayings in Spanish click here.
- Hello, Hi = Hola
- Thank you = Gracias
- Please = Por favor
- Excuse me = Perdón, Discúlpe
- Good night = Buenas noches
- I speak a little Spanish, I am learning Spanish = Yo hablo un poco de español, Yo estoy apprendiendo español
- Do you speak English? = Tu hablas ingles?
- Yes = Sí
- No = No
- Goodbye = Ciao, Adios
- I don’t understand = No comprendo, No entiendo
- Friend, buddy, pal = parcero (m.) parcera (f.) parce (m./f.) (unique to Colombian Spanish)
- How cool, awesome, amazing = Que chévere (unique to Colombian Spanish)
- Take a puerta-a-puerta from Barranquilla if direct flights to Cartagena are high. My friend and I were initially excited to visit Barranquilla since it is the birthplace of Colombian celebrities such as Shakira, Sofía Vergara, and Nina Garcia. We intended to spend 5 days in Barranquilla and 5 days in Cartagena. However, upon our arrival to Barranquilla we realized that if you visit outside of carnival season there is not much to do there. We spoke to the concierge at our hotel about how to travel between the cities and he told us about the puerta-a-puerta service (door-to-door service). We were able to make a reservation for an air conditioned van to pick us up from our hotel in Barranquilla and take us to our hotel in Cartagena, a roughly 2.5 hour journey, for the low price of $20/each.
- Eat all you can. I had some of the best meals of my life in Colombia. Every single restaurant we ate at was amazing. It is important to note that most restaurants will not bring the check (la cuenta) to you unless you request it. Also, check your bill upon receipt to see if the tip (la propina) is included. Typically restaurants will add it on automatically. Some foods I’d recommend you try and the restaurants to try them from are below.
- Arepas – crispy fried cornmeal disc available with a variety of fillings. Try at Arepas Pues, Cra. 2 #490, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
- Empanadas– similar to an arepa except it is in the shape of a turnover. Try at La Cocina de Pepina, Cl. 25 #10B-6, Bolívar, Colombia
- Ceviche-assorted seafood cooked in a citrus juice with red onions. Try at Juan del Mar, Calle Plaza de San diego, Cl. 39 #38-18, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
- Arroz con pollo– flavorful rice with chicken and vegetables. Try at La Olla Cartagenera, San Martín #5-100, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia (Do not leave Cartagena without visiting this restaurant! )
- Pie de coco – coconut pie. Try at: La Olla Cartagenera, San Martín #5-100, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
- Limonada de coco – lemonade with coconut. Try at Restaurante La Mulata, Calle Quero 9 58 Sandiego, Cartagena De Indias (Distrito Turístico Y Cultural), Bolívar, Colombia
- Stay in the area that fits your style. Cartagena has something for everyone. The city is extremely diverse so picking an area to stay in that fits your style is important.
- Bocagrande– ideal area if you love the beach
- The Walled City – perfect if you like luxury accommodations and want to be close to the major sites, restaurants, and night clubs
- Getsemani– the place to stay if you’re on a budget, love street art, and enjoy partying
- Visit one of the beaches. The most notable beaches near Cartagena are Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario. Both require advance booking with a tour company since they are a significant distance away from the city. My friend and I visited Playa Blanca, while another group of my friends visiting Cartagena at the same time spent the day at Islas del Rosario. Either is a great choice and both beaches have crystal clear water and golden sand. However, Playa Blanca has quite a few vendors that will attempt to sell you everything from foot massages to jewelry. So if you’d like a peaceful uninterrupted beach day, Islas del Rosario is the better choice.
Bonus Tip: Score a cute swimsuit at Agua Bendita. If you have time, visit one of the Agua Bendita (Holy Water) stores. This swimwear line was created by two Colombian women, Catalina Álvarez and Mariana Hinestroza. Each piece is handmade by Colombian women and the swimsuits are way more affordable in Colombia than back in the states. Check out some of their unique pieces here. I managed to score 3 cute swimsuits for myself and 1 for my sister for less than half the price than they are online.
As always, if you have any more questions or need help planning your trip to Cartagena, feel free to send me an email here. If you’ve gotten the chance to visit this beautiful country share your tips below in the comment section.