6 things to know before you go to Cartagena

Everyone seems to be going nuts for Cartagena at the moment. I had heard a lot about it before I’d even arrived. But a lot of this proved to be wrong. So after living in this beautiful city for 3 months, here’s my experience & a few tips on Cartagena.

Myth 1: It’s too hot.


Reality? Yes it’s hot! But it’s not a real-life oven.

The amount of times I have heard “Oh my god, how can you live there?” is stoopid. It’s not too hot to live here. Yes it’s hot, it’s a city on the Caribbean sea. But if you’re on holiday and want some sun, is this a problem? (Just make sure your accommodation has air con!)

I love the heat here, and relish absorbing the Vitamin C which comes with it. People go slower, because it’s hotter – but for me, this made a refreshing break from a big, cosmopolitan city.

The temperature is so dreamy in the early evening, I often soaked it in, watching the sunset on the port.

Tips on Cartagena Manga


Myth 2: You won’t survive if you don’t speak any Spanish.

Reality? Cartagena is becoming a real hot spot for tourists. With Miami so close, there’s heaps of Americans milling around. I often wanted to speak more Spanish, but couldn’t as there were too many English-speaking people there!

It’s also a great place to learn Spanish. Home to loads of language schools, there’s a big expat community of students. I learnt with Gustavo at Letra Caribe, who teaches on the 15th floor of a building located bang in the middle of the Old Town.

RELATED POST: 7 tips for how to learn Spanish

Learning spanish in Colombia - Tips on cartagena
Lessons, accompanied by this panoramic, rooftop view.

Myth 3: The beaches are pretty.

In reality? Honestly, the beaches in Cartagena are pretty…rank.

The sand is dirty, sea is brown, and there are hustlers everywhere – selling anything & everything, offering massages to your head, hands, pinky toes, ANYTHING! If you are desperate for the sea in the city itself, Bocagrande beach is the quietest and cleanest – but still not particularly quiet or clean.

If you’ve got a few hours, hop on a bus or boat and go to Playa Blanca. Just one hour away, and the water is beautifully clear, the sand is white, and it’s on another league to any beach in the city.

Tips on Cartagena

Myth 4: It’s expensive.

Reality? In my travels around Colombia, Cartagena was the most expensive city. I found the cheapest dorm room to be $30,000 COP (around 10 USD), double the prices of Medellin. And meals out are quite expensive, compared to the rest of the country.

Crepes & Waffles is one of the cheaper restaurants (with mains starting around 7 USD), although my favourite restaurant was Caffe Lunatico, where mains were around 12 USD.

That being said – it’s still, generally, much cheaper than Europe.

Cafe Lunatico - tips on cartagena
Caffe Lunatico serving their ‘tribute to the arepa’ – an arepa crammed full of octopus, avocado, pancetta, and drizzled with pesto… mmmm so delish.


If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, that’s a bit nicer than a hostel but isn’t super expensive, there are often some good deals through Booking.com. You can check the deals below.



Myth 5: Tap water is drinkable.

In reality? Tap water is NOT drinkable.

Some people say it’s ok, others say it’s absolutely not. I have a strong stomach & rarely get ill, so chose to believe the guys who told me it’s OK. I then ended up in hospital, on a drip, with a parasite.

But the hospital was clean, and the doctors spoke English – so try not to worry if you do get ill. Stomach bugs are common, especially with different foods you’re not used to, but don’t put yourself more at risk by drinking the tap water.

It’s just not worth potentially being like this guy…


Myth 6. It’s beautiful, colourful, vibrant, and fun….

Reality? Yep, there’s no denying the wonderful, vibrant colours of the streets.

Tips on cartagena colours

And there’s heaps of stuff going on at night too – including free Sunday night Zumba (where hundreds of Colombians take part, dancing every week), random capoeira in the street & whatever else. Have a look on Facebook, Couchsurfing or in hostels to hear about the current events.



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