Last summer Rosie and I set off for Stockholm together for her first trip abroad. We’ve known each other for years, practically inseparable at times in high school, and yet there’s something about traveling together that introduces you to a person in a brand new way. I like to say, if you can find someone you can stand traveling with, keep them around.
Just a few months after returning from Stockholm, I found myself sitting on Rosie’s couch again, scouring over every travel site looking for a good deal. Rosie’s a teacher so our searches were only limited to the summer. Otherwise, we were willing to go just about anywhere in the world, especially for a roundtrip ticket under $400. With this we found our next adventure: a flight from BWI to CTG for $430 in July on JetBlue on Kayak using the explore feature.
Getting from the Cartagena Airport to the Old City
(CTG to Centro Historico)
Rosie and I arrived in Cartagena after a quick layover at FLL. Cartagena was warm and immediately felt like a tropical destination. We exchanged some money and walked outside, where a woman helped us request a taxi from the automated taxi stand. Since we knew our hostel was a few steps off Plaza Fernandez de Madrid we used that as our destination, and she had us request the taxi rate for Centro (11,000 pesos), not the taxi rate for a Centro Historico Hotel.
This seemed to get us some sort of discount—I’d imagine the taxi rate for getting dropped off at a hotel is higher or has some sort of tourist surcharge. Despite our savings trick, we ended up with a driver who said he would make no change and after some back and forth drove off with a 20,000 note, the smallest one we had from currency exchange at the airport. Welp, you live and you learn, right?
Checking into Our Hostel
We settled into our hostel, Republica Hostel. The common spaces and pool are overgrown with tropical plants, lending to a vacation feel, and the rooms, we booked a six-bed mixed dorm, were minimalistic but clean. Our roommates recommended a little tapas spot for a late lunch, so we zigzagged our way around the old town with La Taperia as our end goal.
We eventually arrived, alongside a family also eyeing the menu, to find an adorable little restaurant with enough seating for about a dozen people. The owner sat all of us at once and addressed us in Spanish, giving a rundown of the day’s selection. Thankfully as a Mexican food aficionado, I know most food terms in Spanish, but his rapid-fire presentation left us in the dust. The owner was the sweetest man and very kindly guided us through ordering once I was able to communicate that I am a vegetarian, however the language barrier quickly became a comedic theme of the lunch.
We ordered bottled water, accidentally ending up with sparkling not still. Despite our best efforts to deter his attempts to serve us the water over ice, we ended up with two tall icy glasses of sparkling water. I know bottled water is the way to go in Cartagena, but we weren’t sure about the ice situation. (Later we learned the water is okay but not the best in Cartagena from other travelers.) We figured better to be safe, and sipped on the remnants of sparkling water left in the bottle of the opened bottles.
The vegetarian tapas came out pretty well, a mushroom sautée on soft bread, an eggplant tapenade on bread as well, and a potato, egg frittata-esque thing. Rosie’s tapas were mostly cheese and meat on bread. Maybe he gave us all the safe options, but it felt a little repetitive. Overall though, we had a fun time at lunch trying our best to hold up the broken conversation with the man. At one point he even turned off the music so he could “speak” to us using Google Translate over his sound system.
Wandering the Colorful Streets of Centro Historico
We then spent the afternoon wandering the streets, stopping excited to take in each colorful building lining the streets. After mere hours I’d already collected dozens of colorful photos of walls in my camera roll! I can definitely understand why I’ve heard Cartagena likened to New Orleans. The balconies and vines create a magical facade for the old town, while the streets are abuzz all day with musicians, vendors, and horse-drawn carriages.
It was extremely hot though, so we decided to make waking up early our thing, and experience the quieter and cooler version of Cartagena’s old town before the crowds and the sun rose.
Have you been to Cartagena? What was your first impression? Planning a trip? Let me know if you have any questions!