Cartagena de Indias, Colombia was the first stop on our trip, and it was a great place to start. Before arriving in Colombia, we didn’t know too much about the country (unfortunately most of our “knowledge” of Colombia was informed by Netflix’s Narcos). After spending a few days in Cartagena, though, we realized that Colombia is a beautiful country with a rich culture.
Cartagena is a Caribbean city, so it differs quite a bit from the rest of the country. The city’s history is very interesting. It was a major slave port for the Spanish, and many measures were taken to protect it from other colonial powers. As a result, the older part of the city is completely walled in–and it even has canons to fend off invaders. Although the history of the slave trade is horrifying, it provided Cartagena with a beautiful, diverse population and culture.
Our stay in Cartagena was short, but we were able to experience quite a bit during our stay. We stayed in an Airbnb in Getsemaní–an up-and-coming, hipster neighborhood, which was within walking distance of all of the places we wanted to visit. The Airbnb was actually a lofted room in a film school, which made for an interesting stay. Our hosts were all very nice, and we had no issues with our accommodations–except for one thing: mosquitos!
Before leaving Indiana, we made sure to buy good insect repellent, but it only works if you remember to put it on… The mosquitos didn’t really show themselves when we arrived in Cartagena, so we made the mistake of not putting on insect repellent before going to bed the first night. When we woke up, Linda had over 70 bites on her legs. I only had one or two bites (I think Linda served as my repellent…). Linda has some kind of skin condition that makes her extremely sensitive to bites, so her legs looked really bad for a few days, but we didn’t get any additional bites after the first night. (see Instagram for pictures)
All of the people with whom we interacted in Cartagena were beyond kind.Before arriving, we were contacted by a guy on Couchsurfing who offered to show us around the city. Juan Carlos met us near the city center, and proceeded to show us the city on foot for nearly four hours–even as it was raining. He was an extremely nice and knowledgeable person who was happy to share all that he knew about the city. The next day, we were walking the city walls when we were approached by a tour guide. César was an extremely interesting man who had lived in Mexico, Spain, and the U.S.–and was deported from them all. After talking with us/taking dozens of pictures of us, we told him that we weren’t interested in taking a tour. We were pretty hungry, so we gave him about 3,000 pesos (about $1) for his time. I thought he might be bitter that he spent so much time with us without any real financial gain, but the opposite was true.
He proceeded to walk us to one of his favorite restaurants (which we would have never found, was good, and cheap). He gave us his tour as we walked to the restaurant–including the restaurant where Obama was eating while the Secret Service was getting into trouble with local prostitutes. He grabbed a beer at the restaurant and then parted ways. We ran into César the next day in a different part of town. I was initially very suspicious since Cartagena is a pretty large city. He greeted us, asked us what our plans were, gave us travel tips, and then bought us bolis before saying goodbye. I was amazed by his generosity.
Our last day in Cartagena, we took an Uber to the port and boarded the cruise ship. The boarding process was pretty simple. It was nice to get to our room with a nice shower and strong air conditioning. Next stop Sint Maarten.