We visited Colombia for the first time this past summer and while I did a ton of research beforehand on what to do, what to see and where to eat and drink, there were still so many important things about the culture and the area that we were unprepared for.
So, to make things easier for your visit, I’ve rounded up some important things that I recommend that you know before visiting Cartagena.
- Very few people speak English, even in the touristy hotels, restaurants and bars. While we did expect to be speaking a lot of Spanish while we were there, on our first day, we had a hard time adjusting to the language barrier. If you’re planning to visit, I highly recommend brushing up on your Spanish or bringing along someone who can fluently speak the language.
- Vendors are everywhere. No matter where you are – walking on the streets minding your own business or attempting to enjoy a quiet meal outside – there are always people around trying to sell you things. It’s important to know this going into your trip because if you’re not the type of person who can consistently say no to people and be firm about it, then Cartagena isn’t the place for you.
- Colombian Pesos are the native currency so ensure that you always have some on hand. While most restaurants/bars do accept credit cards, the smaller local spots and street vendors do not. Be sure to pick some up before arriving because unless you organize transportation from the airport ahead of time, you’ll be stuck taking a local taxi which doesn’t have a credit card machine. I found out too late that my bank considers Colombian Pesos foreign currency and that usually takes about 5-7 days to get it in, so be sure to plan ahead of time.
- The climate is tropical, so it’s hot and humid 99% of the time. That said, make sure to pack accordingly and be mindful of this when looking for hotels in the city because I promise you, you do not want to be stuck in a hotel without air conditioning.
- The walled city is smaller than you think. We learned that you can easily explore all of it in two days, so don’t feel the need to spend all of your time there. There are so many places and islands to explore just outside of the city.
- Day trips are easy and cheap. With so many beautiful islands to explore close by, whether by boat or bus, there are a variety of affordable and splurge-worthy day trip options in the area so I highly recommend you take advantage of them.
- The food is rich. While everything does taste extremely fresh and light, the dishes are very meat and seafood heavy and often come with rich sauces or equally heavy sides. This was an adjustment for us, and ultimately resulted in us getting sick the last few days while we were there. I recommend you coming prepared with pepto bismol and Imodium if like us, you’re not used to that kind of diet.