Cartagena, the hidden gem on Colombia's Caribbean coast

Cartagena is a relatively large city situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and its year round tropical climate makes it an ideal place to visit any time of the year.

The city is steeped with history and combines the old with the new in an incredible way. Throughout history the city was a major port in the Caribbean for imports and exports coming to and from Colombia, which provided its own share of problems as well as benefits. Cartagena needed protecting from not only invaders but pirates too, they built a stone wall all the way around the city to protect the people of Cartagena. In the centre of the city stands a castle built on a hill to look out over the city and warn the city’s people of incoming trouble. The most famous battle that took place in Cartagena was the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741), a naval and military battle between the Spanish and British which saw the Spanish triumph. The castle and wall are still standing today and you can take a tour of the castle, to see some of the best views of the city from the top, as well as walk through the many tunnels beneath the surface. The majority of the wall is still standing and you can walk on top of the wall and look down on the city, it still has cannons in place at various points. The wall is also home to a number of bars and restaurants, one in particular, called Cafe Del Mar, is an outside bar offering spectacular views of the city, ocean and amazing sunsets.

Cartagena also has very modern set of buildings on a spit of land connected to the old city with hotels, offices, high rise buildings and resorts. It is definitely eye catching to see the contrast between old and new.

Cartagena’s architecture is incredible, the buildings in the old city are colonial in style but individual in colour, they are Spanish and French influenced and very well maintained. Walking down the streets, dancers perform in the many plazas, there are delicious food stalls and live music. Cartagena truly is a magical city.

Cartagena is filled with incredible restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Some of the restaurants I visited were La Cevicheria, a seafood and ceviche restaurant which offers some of the best seafood thanks to its top chef Anthony Bourdain. Juan del Mar is another great venue which is actually two restaurants, one pizzeria and a gourmet restaurant. It’s situated in Plaza San Diego and I ate one of the best pizzas I have ever had.

Cartagena also has a group of 27 islands called the Isle de el Rosario. These islands have white sandy beaches, clear waters and many are still mostly uninhabited. You can take a day trip to the islands, hire a boat and crew for the day or stay on one of the islands in a hotel. These islands offer many activities such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking, swimming and many more. The majority of tours leave from the port in Cartagena early in the morning, take you on a boat trip to your chosen island and stop at castles and different sights on the way. They provide you with lunch and drinks, the opportunity to explore, swim and spend the day on the island before returning to Cartagena late in the afternoon.

Cartagena has a lot of choice when it comes to accommodation, it tends to be slightly more expensive than other cities in Colombia but there is something for every budget with a variety of hotels and hostels. During my trip I stayed in an apartment which I found on Airbnb and it was perfect (it’s definitely worth having a look at Airbnb before booking your accommodation for great deals and hidden treasures). The only downside was that because I booked with Airbnb I didn’t have the opportunity to book tours or get local information, but it wasn’t too bad because when I wanted to book a tour I found the nearest hotel and they were happy to help me.

Cartagena is definitely a must for any trip to Colombia, it’s uniquely individual with its colourful colonial buildings steeped in history. It really has it all, the Caribbean beaches/islands, city life as well as history and landmarks.

Cartagena the hidden gem on Colombia’s Caribbean coast

Cartagena, the hidden gem on Colombia’s Caribbean coast

Cartagena is a relatively large city situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and its year round tropical climate makes it an ideal place to visit any time of the year.

The city is steeped with history and combines the old with the new in an incredible way. Throughout history the city was a major port in the Caribbean for imports and exports coming to and from Colombia, which provided its own share of problems as well as benefits. Cartagena needed protecting from not only invaders but pirates too, they built a stone wall all the way around the city to protect the people of Cartagena. In the centre of the city stands a castle built on a hill to look out over the city and warn the city’s people of incoming trouble. The most famous battle that took place in Cartagena was the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741), a naval and military battle between the Spanish and British which saw the Spanish triumph. The castle and wall are still standing today and you can take a tour of the castle, to see some of the best views of the city from the top, as well as walk through the many tunnels beneath the surface. The majority of the wall is still standing and you can walk on top of the wall and look down on the city, it still has cannons in place at various points. The wall is also home to a number of bars and restaurants, one in particular, called Cafe Del Mar, is an outside bar offering spectacular views of the city, ocean and amazing sunsets.

Cartagena also has very modern set of buildings on a spit of land connected to the old city with hotels, offices, high rise buildings and resorts. It is definitely eye catching to see the contrast between old and new.

Cartagena’s architecture is incredible, the buildings in the old city are colonial in style but individual in colour, they are Spanish and French influenced and very well maintained. Walking down the streets, dancers perform in the many plazas, there are delicious food stalls and live music. Cartagena truly is a magical city.

Cartagena is filled with incredible restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Some of the restaurants I visited were La Cevicheria, a seafood and ceviche restaurant which offers some of the best seafood thanks to its top chef Anthony Bourdain. Juan del Mar is another great venue which is actually two restaurants, one pizzeria and a gourmet restaurant. It’s situated in Plaza San Diego and I ate one of the best pizzas I have ever had.

Cartagena also has a group of 27 islands called the Isle de el Rosario. These islands have white sandy beaches, clear waters and many are still mostly uninhabited. You can take a day trip to the islands, hire a boat and crew for the day or stay on one of the islands in a hotel. These islands offer many activities such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking, swimming and many more. The majority of tours leave from the port in Cartagena early in the morning, take you on a boat trip to your chosen island and stop at castles and different sights on the way. They provide you with lunch and drinks, the opportunity to explore, swim and spend the day on the island before returning to Cartagena late in the afternoon.

Cartagena has a lot of choice when it comes to accommodation, it tends to be slightly more expensive than other cities in Colombia but there is something for every budget with a variety of hotels and hostels. During my trip I stayed in an apartment which I found on Airbnb and it was perfect (it’s definitely worth having a look at Airbnb before booking your accommodation for great deals and hidden treasures). The only downside was that because I booked with Airbnb I didn’t have the opportunity to book tours or get local information, but it wasn’t too bad because when I wanted to book a tour I found the nearest hotel and they were happy to help me.

Cartagena is definitely a must for any trip to Colombia, it’s uniquely individual with its colourful colonial buildings steeped in history. It really has it all, the Caribbean beaches/islands, city life as well as history and landmarks.

Cartagena the hidden gem on Colombia’s Caribbean coast

Colombia: The next big tourist destination

When you think of Colombia you think drugs, Pablo Escobar, third world, war, poor, undeveloped and maybe gang problems. Whilst all this is true of Colombia’s past, Colombia has moved on from this in a good way. They are on the verge of signing a peace treaty, the country is becoming more developed and the drug and violence problems have decreased. Even then, throughout Colombia’s past, the country as a whole wasn’t a dangerous place, the gangs were confined to a few major cities, such as Buenaventura. The same could be said for America- parts of Los Angeles and New York are dangerous and have  drug, violence and gang problems but we don’t say the whole of America has these problems because of it so why should we say that Colombia does.

I recently read a quote which said “the most dangerous thing about going to Colombia is that you might actually like it”.  After a recent visit to Colombia, I believe this to be 100% true. Colombia is an unbelievable place that has it all, mountains, Caribbean beaches, Pacific beaches, rainforest, plains, amazing natural landmarks and so much more. Not once on my trip, during which I visited a number of different cities over a six week period, did I feel unsafe- I have felt unsafer in Los Angeles or London.

During my visit I stayed in Bogota where I went to the top of the Monserrate (a cathedral on the top of the mountain), visited downtown, spent an afternoon in the Gold Museum and visited the surrounding countryside of Bogota, such as Guasca, Lake Guatavita, the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira and Andres in Chia.

I visited a small town called Barichara which is around six hours away from Bogota and is known for its cute, quaint and picturesque town. Barichara is located close to a town called San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia, where it’s possible to white water raft, climb, boulder, bungee jump, parasail, go on a quad bike adventure, zip wire through the forest and visit some of the biggest and deepest caves in Colombia. The Parque Nacional del Chicamocha is a park at the top of a mountain with an incredible view and a gondola which goes down to the bottom of the canyon and up the the other side of the mountain. The road leading up to the Chicamocha Park are incredible, twisting and turning with the mountains and has breathtaking views around each corner. It’s definitely something I won’t forget anytime soon.

The Caribbean coast of Colombia is beautiful. I visited Santa Marta, an old industrial town on the coast which combines the old town with new hotels and industries. From Santa Marta you can do a number of excursions to the lost city, to national parks, hiking trails or just to the beaches. About an hour from Santa Marta is a small village called Palomino, from the beach in Palomino you can see incredible views of the Sierre Nevada mountain (the highest snow covered mountain to the ocean anywhere in the world). Palomino has miles of coastline with two main rivers joining the ocean at each end.You can hike inland with the river and float down the rivers, with tiny rapids, on inner tubes (a lot of fun). Palomino gives you a sense of Colombia’s history, it holds its heritage very well with native tribes living only an hour or so away and everything is still very traditional.

Around 4 hours away from Santa Marta is another famous city called Cartagena. Cartagena definitely combines the old with the new, the old city still has a wall around it with cannons from when the city needed protecting from invaders. There is a castle still standing, which you can walk around, at the top of a hill looking down over the city. Cartagena also has very modern buildings, hotels, offices and high rise buildings on a spit of land connected to the old city- it’s definitely interesting to see the contrast between places. The most incredible thing about Cartagena is the buildings in the old city, each building is a different colour with its own unique features and you can really see the  Spanish influence. It’s amazing walking down the streets with dancers performing in the plazas, food stalls and live music. It truly is a magical place. Cartagena also has a group of 27 islands called the Isle de el Rosario, these islands have white sandy beaches, clear waters and many are still mostly uninhabited. You can go on a day trip to these islands or stay in one of the few hotels, it’s definitely worth a trip.

The food in Colombia is unreal; everything is fresh! Colombia doesn’t have seasons but has all types of weather so people can grow plants, fruits and others things all year round. This means literally everything is fresh, natural and non processed which gives Colombians such a healthy lifestyle.

I have travelled to many countries and Colombia is by far the best one I have ever been to, there is a reason why Colombian people were voted some of the happiest people in the world. It was the strangest thing, everyone was so content with their lives, no matter how much they had. The people who were less well off owned farms and were self-sustainable, they grew their own crops, kept animals and knew the skills they needed to survive and be happy- this was remarkable to see. On my Chicamocha canyon gondola ride down the canyon and up the other side, I looked out the window and saw houses half way up the mountains with farms and electricity cables but no roads to the properties. It was amazing to see how that people live like that, in such a different world-there are native tribes in Colombia which have never been discovered and have never seen the country outside where they live. These people were just content with the world they have made for themselves which I think is pretty cool. 

I loved Colombia so much that I’m currently looking into a way to go back. I would definitely recommend everyone to forget the stereotypes, take the plunge and visit Colombia.

Colombia: The next big tourist destination

Once you visit South America, you will never want to leave

Many people are very wary about visiting South America and the majority of people don’t ever visit. I recently spent some time in Colombia and I totally loved every second of my trip, it was unlike anywhere I had ever visited before.

Some South American countries have reputations throughout the world as being dangerous, poor and countries that no one wants to visit. Although this reputation is somewhat true, it’s the same with any other country- every country has dangerous parts and problems.

The media is a very useful tool but it can also be a very biased tool. For example, when I was in Colombia my dad called me and told me he saw a news story on TV about Colombia and drug gang related violence, he then told me to be careful. To this I replied ‘dad the place that it’s happening in is an 11 hour drive from where I am, the whole country isn’t violent!’. America has some of the most dangerous cities in the world and the media doesn’t say the whole of America is dangerous.

I believe that South America is home to some of the nicest, kindest and happiest people in the world, from what I could see everyone was content with what they had even if it was only very little and people made the most out of the situations in which they found themselves in. Yes the people had aspirations and dreams but they also never complained about what they didn’t already have as South America isn’t a consumer society.

Visiting Colombia has made me want to visit other South American countries. South American countries are very beautiful and are some of the most diverse places in the world as they are surrounded by two oceans and have everything from rainforests and mountains to salt flats and desert plains. Colombia offers everything, I believe in 5-10 years time South America is going to be a major tourist destination, with companies increasing flights and large companies buying new flight routes, the continent will boom. South America offers very cheap services as the currencies have fallen dramatically in the last year meaning the dollar is very strong and everything is cheap.

The safer and more established the countries become the more tourist friendly they become too. Colombia has a large amount of small islands in the Caribbean, which are mostly unhabited, providing ideal tourist destinations.

Islands off Cartagena

My advice would be: Don’t listen to the media, listen to the people who have been there, what they thought of it and what they did. I have never heard of anyone who has been to South America talk badly about it! Take a chance and see for yourself!

Once you visit South America, you will never want to leave

 

Adventurous holiday guide

Holiday companies have created a package holiday generation offering customers holidays which include, flights, accommodation and more often than not, food and drink. These types of holidays are good for people who wish to get away quickly without the hassle of organising or worrying about where to go or stay.

Me and my family have always gone on different types of holidays; we have road tripped around America, stayed in numerous private villas and combined snow skiing with a beach vacation.

I’m going to explain how easy it is to book an adventurous holiday which will change the way you travel forever.

Holidays are a good way of seeing new places whilst giving you the freedom to do the things you want to and allowing you to immerse yourself in the country’s culture. People are sometimes scared of booking everything themselves due to the fear that something could go wrong and although things can go wrong, if you book everything properly you minimise the risk.

  1. Country – First of all I would start by deciding where you would like to go on holiday maybe Europe, America, Australia- the world is your oyster.
  2. Flights – Search online for flights to your given destination. Skyscanner  and Expedia are good places to start, they are comparison websites which will let you see which companies fly to your destination and which company is the cheapest. Once you have found the company which is the cheapest, go on the airline’s website and sign up to their mileage programme- it’s totally free and easy to do. Mileage programmes allow you to collect ‘miles’ for every flight you take and you can use your miles to purchase discounted future flights and upgrades. They usually offer rewards such as a free extra bag, club lounges and meals. Now it’s time to book your flights- flights leaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday are usually cheaper than flights at the weekend. You should also aim to book your flights on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday as prices can sometimes change when the companies think more people are looking at them. You should also clear your cookies as companies use these to change prices of flights you have looked at on a number of occasions.
  3. Aim – Decide what you want to do on your holiday; what’s the aim of your trip? Do you want to have a beach holiday, sunbathe, go snow skiing, go travelling, just relax, take a culture driven trip, go sightseeing, go on tours or go to theme parks (or combine some or all of them)?
  4. Accommodation – Take some time to research the accommodation available in your chosen destination. Some good websites to start your search with are hotels.com, Airbnb and hostel world. Hostels and Airbnbs can be significantly cheaper than hotels and provide more of a cultural experience.
  5. Research – Now you have booked everything and sorted out flights and accommodation, it’s time to start the fun part of deciding what to do when you get there. There are many different websites which provide guides to countries and you can find by a quick google search of ‘things to do in…… (your holiday location)’ to give you more detailed examples. I also recommend researching what locals do or where they eat. You could also google ‘blog posts about….. (your holiday destination)’ as blog posts will give you honest reviews from people who have actually been there.
  6. Check and Confirm – The last thing you should do before leaving for your holiday is double check everything especially dates and times. Where possible you should select to pay when you arrive or leave accommodation and you need to decide whether you need a hire car or not. You then need to print out all your information so you have a copy of it with you whilst travelling.
  7. Go on holiday!

As you can see there is nothing challenging, time consuming or difficult about booking your own holiday- if you take all the necessary steps, there’s nothing risky about it either.

I hope this inspires you to look differently at booking your next holiday.

Adventurous holiday guide