Cartagena Summary: Ready to leave, no reason for me to come back.
I was so looking forward to Cartagena after all of the rave reviews. Maybe it was because it followed Bogota and Medellin, or maybe the word has gotten out and ruined it, but aside from some pretty buildings, Cartagena is similar any other overrun tourist tropical beach town, with massive crowds (even though currently off season), people here mainly to party, and no way to escape pushy vendors. I also got my first mosquito bites of the trip. My recommendation – skip it. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were at one of the cute boutique hotels, and had arranged for stellar day trips. I’ve heard there are some great alternatives in the area, we can ask steveleavestug.com next week when he is back from his camping and trekking adventures.
The main highlight of this leg was staying in a hostel for the first time. It was a bit of a fluke as I saw it while on AirBnb and said to Steven that this listing looks nice. The listing turned out to be a hostel. Given a theme of the trip is trying new things (and frugality), we decided to try it since we didn’t have to make a deposit and I could walk away if we got there and didn’t like it.
We arrived and it actually looked like the photos. A nice sitting area by the pool, and very private bunks. The bathrooms were clean enough. So we stayed. The first few days we met a bunch of people and got great tips about other areas nearby to travel. We even met a future Amazonian in the pool at the hostel (another small world moment). Most of the people we met were on the road from 3 months to a year and were using all of their savings to travel. The $21 hostel night was a splurge. I had great admiration for most the 20-somethings I met, it was certainly something I didn’t have the guts to do when I was their age (postpone law school to travel for a year) but probably should have. If all hostels were like this, I’d stay at one again, but every person there told me that it was the best hostel they’d ever been to.
As for Cartagena, it was crowded, hot, humid, and impossible to walk a block without being harassed significantly to buy something. We had a few mediocre meals, went to an overcrowded beach (where we got soaked on the way back – before and after below), and spent some time planning for the next week. We also got the first mosquito bites of the trip to top it off. We did see some beautiful dancing, captured below.
Time for Steven and me to part ways for a bit. We’re on our own for at least a week. The week has gone great so far, but Steven is headed to a national park and hike to a lost city, and I am giving the leg some downtime, and heading to San Andres and Providencia, small Columbian islands in the Caribbean. I am looking forward to getting away from the crowds and hopefully getting in the vibe of quiet island living. Plus, I get to rent a scooter for the week!
Full photo album here.