Cartagena de Indias
The city was the first Spanish colony on the American continent and one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas. It is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia’s own variety.
Cartagena, located on Colombia’s northern coast and facing the Caribbean Sea, is the most visited city in the country by tourists.
It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city (“ciudad amurallada”), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. It is also nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with recently built condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.
How to go
Rafael Nuñez International Airport (IATA: CTG) (ICAO: SKCG) receives international flights from Panama City (COPA), Fort Lauderdale (Spirit Airlines), Miami (Avianca), Atlanta (Delta), and New York (JetBlue). There are several seasonal flights from many cities in Canada; also from Madrid, Quito and Helsinki.
There are domestic non-stop flights from Medellín, Cali, San Andrés, Bogotá, Pereira, Montería (ADA airlines), Barrancabermeja, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. The new low-cost airline VivaColombia also serves the city.
Cartagena is 1,000 km north of Bogotá (about an hour by air), or a 2.5 hour flight from Miami.
To take a taxi to your destination, pick up a taxi voucher from the official stand in the baggage area before getting into a cab which will have the price printed on it depending on where you’re headed. The price to get to the old city or anywhere in the “Centro” area Zone 1 including hotels in Getsemani should not cost more than COP$ 18,000 (Dec 2013). Beware the porters at the airport, who will press you to tip them quickly in the local currency; it’s easy for newcomers to mistake the banknotes which say “50” for being the smallest denomination, when they are in fact worth COP$ 50,000 (“50 mil” vs. “10,000” and “20,000” on all the other banknotes), and many porters make a good living on these unintentionally large tips.
There are frequent colectivos along the road fronting the airport (the fare into town is COP 1,700 (2014) as well as buses to Barranquilla.
The bus terminal is 11 km east of the old city. Frequent White and Green metrocar buses with air conditioner go to the old city and cost COP$ 1,800 (March 2015). Buses leave every hour for Barranquilla (bus ride of 2 hrs), and from there frequent buses connect to Santa Marta (2 hours further from Barranquilla).
Cartagena is not close to the Andean mountains, the closest city is Medellín with a bus ride of 12 hours. Two main bus companies take you there: Expreso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa, the latter offers online or smartphone sales. There is no discount for advance purchases or round-trips. The webpage price for buses to Medellin is COP 86,000 (USD 45), but some travelers report to barter the price down to $35.
If you are coming by sea from Panama (remember there are no roads or rail connecting Panamá and Colombia) your first bus will be from Turbo. Turbo to Monteria is COP$ 25,000, 4 hours, Monteria to Cartagena COP $ 39,000, 6 hours. (These are express services.)
Cartagena is an important port for charter boats between Colombia and Panama. There are several private boats doing that trip. Fare varies between US$375 and US$500 depending on size of the boat and on-board services. The trip usually takes 4 nights and 5 days and includes a 2 or 3 day stopover in San Blas Islands. At the Panama end, the boats either leave from the Portobelo Area or from Carti Islands Kuna Yala rather than Colón. Reliable information about departure dates and captains can be found at the hotel Casa Viena (See Sleep), at Zulys Backpackers Hostel, Mamallena Hostel or Luna’s Castle Hostel in Panama City, at Hostel Wunderbar in Puerto Lindo, Hostel Portobelo, or the Darien Gapster in panama. In San Blas Islands/Kuna Yala Panama and trip ( 4×4) to Carti Panama Expect to have to wait several days to find a boat.
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