While Cartagena is starting to boom as a hotspot Colombian destination (if the plethora of swanky bars and burgeoning boutique hotels in the Walled City are any indication), it’s still quite possible to tour the city as a budget traveler. Here’s a few recommendations for fun and cheap ways to enjoy this beautiful port city.
Brush up on your history
Most of Cartagena’s historical attractions are either free or really cheap. We loved the Museo del Oro, which provided a fascinating glimpse into the history of Colombian gold and the Zenu culture. The exhibits were both in English and Spanish, the gold metalwork was absolutely breathtaking, and best of all, it was heavily air-conditioned. (And also FREE)
Explore the Old City
Cartagena has some of the most beautiful colonial architecture I’ve seen. Bright walls, cobbled streets, and ornate woodwork are just a few of the rich details. Spend an afternoon wandering the alleys and streets of the Old City, ducking into shops and lounging in the squares. But be sure to come back again in the evening, when the streets fill with vendors and performers. Plaza de Bolivar had a cultural dance performance every night we were there—elsewhere in the city bands played, DJ’s spun, and Michael Jackson impersonators did the moonwalk. For those worried about safety, I felt extremely comfortable wandering the streets and squares, although the guidebook expressly stated not to roam the top of the wall after dark.
Take in the sunset
Pop up to the top of the wall about a half hour before sunset and claim a seat in one of the nooks and crannies. Bring a drink (an ice-cold Aguila, a glass of juice, or a bottle of water) and relax as tourists and locals alike gather to catch sight of the sun slipping low above the water.
Skimp on the day trips
If Cartagena is just one stop along the journey, think about saving money by skipping the day trips. We splurged on just one guided excursion—a trip out to the Totumo Volcano—but opted out of other day/overnight trips to the nearby beaches. Other travelers raved about the beauty of Santa Marta, but honestly, I thought the beach at Bocagrande (just a 20-minute walk from our hostel in Getsemani) was the perfect mix of pretty, clean, and not crowded. Plus you can’t beat the view of the Old City as you float in the coastal waves.
Pass an evening like a local
Grab a beer from the local corner store (yes, you can drink in public here) and catch a pick-up football game in Plaza de Trinidad. We spent more than one evening drinking Aguilas, cheering on a passel of seven-years olds, and people-watching. Splurge on some street food (a hotdog with mile-high toppings of cheese, peppers, tomatoes, and sauces was one of our favorites) to round out the night.