Cartagena, Colombia is a colorful, one-of-a-kind South American city that has so much to offer. Its culture is very different from the US which is part of what makes it such a unique and desirable travel destination. But, that being said, its differences also make it a bit more complicated to navigate. To make things easier for your visit, I’ve rounded up a list of what to know before visiting Cartagena.
Tips for Navigating Cartagena, Colombia:
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, it took some time to adjust to the language barrier. If you’re planning a visit, I highly recommend brushing up on your Spanish or bringing along someone who can fluently speak the language. English is not as prevalent here as it is in say, Europe.
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. If you can, I recommend requesting pesos from your local bank prior to traveling. Colombian Pesos are often considered foreign currency at most banks, so it takes them 5-7 days for them to request. Unless you organize transportation form the airport ahead of time, you’ll need the pesos right off the bat in order to be able to pay for your ride.
Tipping is common within restaurants, bars and hotels but is typically only 10%. The tipping policy in Colombia differs a bit from the US so keep this in my end as you frequent the restaurants and bars.
The climate is tropical, so it’s hot and humid 99% of the time. That said, make sure to pack accordingly and be on the lookout for air condition as you peruse your hotel options.
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.
The food is rich. While the food is absolutely delicious, it’s often very meat and seafood heavy 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. While this won’t be the case for everyone, I would recommend coming prepared with the necessary medication just in case.
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 vendors 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 feels comfortable in these situations, then Cartagena may not be the place for you.