BACKPACKING IN COLOMBIA: SOLO TRAVEL IN CARTAGENA
I lost count on the number of times I’ve said “I’m going to Cartagena for sure this year.” I must have said this to myself repeatedly since 2011, only to be sidetracked by other trips. But some years later (lo siento!), I’ve finally (!!) managed to step foot in this vibrant, charming city of Colombia.
And oh man, why did I wait to go here for so long?
I’m not really the type of traveler that goes back and forth on deciding where to go next. However, after my experience traveling to Rio de Janeiro, I became a little more cautious on choosing my destinations based on the safety record of the city and/or country.
Perhaps I was reluctant on committing 100% of going to Colombia as I frequently hear stories of safety concerns, no doubt influenced by the country’s infamous battle with the drug cartel back in the early 90’s.
But whatever worry I had was thrown out the window the moment I stepped foot outside the airport in Cartagena.
The first few minutes walking around Cartagena reminded me so much of the Philippines: the people, the street scene, the vibe, and the smell of the thick and humid air the moment you step outside. I almost didn’t feel like I was a foreigner in this country.
I felt right at home!
TRAVELING TO CARTAGENA
I found a great deal on Skyscanner on a flight from Chicago to Cartagena (via Fort Lauderdale) with JetBlue. I purchased a one-way ticket to Cartagena (my return flight was out of Medellín) for roughly $200 USD – a heck of a price for a trans-continental flight!
What sucked was the 6 a.m. flight time – which meant waking up at 3:30 a.m. in order to be at the airport on time. On the upside, the advantage of leaving before the crack of dawn was arriving in Cartagena early and not wasting a day of travel. The flight from Chicago to Cartagena took approximately seven hours, including the 1.5-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale.
I arrived in Cartagena just in time for lunch!
This was a solo trip to Colombia, which meant jugging around my overweight backpack (I sort of went overboard on the things I packed for Colombia) and staying in hostels to meet other backpackers alike.
It’s been a while since I’ve traveled solo and stayed in hostels, and it felt great being back in this type of environment again. There is something about sleeping in a room with a bunch of people you have never met before and making friends with them immediately.
Mind you, that doesn’t happen all the time. There are people who stay in hostels who aren’t very social, which for me, defeats the purpose of staying in a hostel (besides saving money, of course.)
But it’s such an amazing experience when you find your group and end up exploring together – you really create a bond out of nowhere.
And this exactly was my experience.
On my flight from Chicago, I sat next to this guy who was also traveling solo and happened to stay in the same hostel as me. I also met other solo travelers who I spent the rest of my time exploring in Cartagena.
WHERE IS CARTAGENA
Cartagena is located on the northern coast of Colombia, right on South America’s Caribbean coast. As you would expect, the city has a very coastal vibe where everything seems to be laid back and people going along in their own pace.
As it is located off the coastal part of the country, expect scorching humid weather (not my favorite part)!
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CARTAGENA
I went to Cartagena in the month of October, which apparently is the worst season in terms of humidity. It got to the point where I had to wake up at 6 a.m. to walk around the walled-city before it got too hot and humid during the day!
But it seems like the January, July, and August months bring a ton of breeze, providing relief to the hot and thick air of Cartagena.
WHAT TO DO CARTAGENA (or lack thereof…)
I felt like I didn’t do much. Here’s why:
– I was sick upon arrival in Cartagena – I barely had any energy to walk around the first two days.
– The heat didn’t help.
– Even when I started to feel better, the humidity was too unbearable for me to do anything outside during the day.
I was able to go to a private island tour that was organized by the hostel I stayed at. It was a much-needed activity after being “house arrest” for the majority of my stay!
FAVORITE FOODS TO EAT IN CARTAGENA
As you would expect from any coastal cities, you will find an abundant amount of delicious fresh seafood – and Cartagena is no exception.
La Mulata has excellent selection of Caribbean cuisine in a vibrant setting. The dishes are well presented and fair-priced.
I broke my rule of not coming back to the same restaurant twice with La Mulata!
Other favorites to eat in Cartagena: