Cartagena de Indias amazed us with vibrant colourful streets, old architecture and friendly people. We did our homework in advance and kind of knew what to expect, but still we were surprised by what it has to offer. If you plan to visit Cartagena with a toddler, be sure you will have a wonderful time here. Kids receive lots of attention and even sweet treats from locals and everyone will be even nicer if you have a child with you.
The city of contrasts
Cartagena is a city of contrasts. Walking the hundreds years old city walls you can spot the most modern condo buildings in Bocagrande. On the narrow streets of the old city you will find the most exclusivist boutique hotels but, a few meters away there might be abandoned old buildings or people sleeping on the streets. For dinner, you can choose fancy restaurants with exquisite platings or food carts selling cheap local food, just meters away from each other. This is part of life here, the proof the city is alive and developing. Now it is the time to visit Cartagena, as it is in a continuous change.
Since we visit Cartagena with a toddler, we have to plan our time very wisely, considering his needs. He is tired after a short walk and gets bored quite easily no matter what we do, so long walks or museum visits are not suitable. That’s why we chose a bus tour for the first day here, to get a first impression about the city and see the areas we might not be able to reach otherwise. It was totally worth the 45k pesos/person!
Even though Cartagena touristic area is not that large and most of it can be covered by foot, I highly recommend this tour as it is the best option for long distances on Caribbean heat. The full round takes about 90 minutes and the ticket is valid for 48 hours on hop-on/hop-off busses. It also includes an afternoon guided walking tour through the walled city. Unfortunately we missed it, as there was no way to end Eric’s nap for that.
Walking on Cartagena’s colourful streets, everybody wants to sell you something. From cold water, sliced fruits and sun hats, to Colombian aphrodisiac ants, day trips or horse carriage tours, every few minutes someone will approach you with his “best offer”, “with special discount”. We said “no, gracias” so many times that even Eric learnt the phrase and started using it. At first I was annoyed by all this harassing, but then I realised it is completely harmless, just the way to earn a living here.
On Cartagena’s streets, there is a food cart at every corner. Arepas, bunuelos, empanadas and many more, Colombian street food is usually deep fried, not at all on the healthy side. We try to avoid such snacks, as we visit Cartagena with a toddler and there’s no way we eat something without him trying as well. But, in Cartagena, street food means also fruit salads and fresh lemonade. Small carts with countless fruit types can be seen all over town. Fresh mango, papaya, melon, pineapple and many other that I’m not able to name are constantly peeled, sliced and packed in front of you. This is a delicious treat for the whole family, just perfect to bear with the Caribbean heat.
The heart of Cartagena, the walled city is the perfect walking destination. Just get lost through the maze of narrow streets, admiring the colonial architecture, impressive churches and blooming vegetation. We loved how the old buildings are preserved and that even the outside advertising signs perfectly fit the overall appearance. No wonder Cartagena’s walled city was included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list, as one of the best preserved colonial cities in South America.
The charm is enriched by the “palenqueras”, women in colourful dresses carrying fruit bowls on their heads. Traditional image of Colombia, they are now just a touristic appearance on the streets, making a living from posing to tourists, not from selling fruits. But this does not diminish at all their authenticity.
Inside the walled city you can find some of Cartagena’s best boutique hotels and elegant restaurants. Among them, various souvenir shops wait for your visit with their colourful offer. Unlike many other touristic locations we’ve seen, most of the souvenirs you find in Cartagena are Colombian, authentic products. That means buying a small memory from here will also help the local community.
South from the walled city there is Getsemani, the younger sister that should not be missed. Relaxed, with fewer street merchants and less touristic bustle, this is the favourite location for young tourists visiting Cartagena. Not only because it is more budget friendly, but also due to its bohemian charm and artistic appearance. Just a few blocks away from the walled city, we spend a few nights at a hotel in this area and consider it a great option the explore the whole city.
Only a walk through Getsemani streets will make you feel like in an outside art museum. On top of colourful colonial buildings and lots of flowers, Getsemani is also abundent is street art. I’m not talking here about small graffitis here and there. You will see true outdoor mural paintings, entire buildings covered in artistic expressions.
Getsemani is a place that never sleeps and where you will always find something to do. Organised around Plaza Trinidad, people gather here in the evening, after the hear has cooled off. Street food, local dance performers, cocktail bars with “all you can drink” offers, you can find it all here.
Bocagrande is the new extension of Cartagena; actually it feels like a totally different world. Sky high luxury hotels and elegant condo buildings line up on the waterfront. Beach bars with sun lounges and bungalows are nicely arranges on the sandy beach. Among all, a continuous swarm of tourists in swimsuits and locals trying to sell their deals.
Honestly, no matter how impressive it is, we didn’t particularly enjoy Bocagrande. It is just a regular beach resort, no different than any other seaside destination in Europe or US. We came in Cartagena from a Caribbean island with magnificent waters and pristine beaches, so it was hard to be impressed when it comes to such topics.
We just took a walk through the beachfront and had a short stop at Bocagrande Plaza, the grandiose shopping mall facing the sea. This was just to make some minor shopping, after not seeing a large shopping center in the last three months. It was a good opportunity for Eric to enjoy some time in the play area; kids will be kids everywhere in the world and from time to time need special places designed just for them.
If you were thinking to visit Cartagena, don’t hesitate anymore. It is a wonderful city with so much to offer. Don’t even worry about safety or other stereotypes that we are used with. You will have a wonderful time in Cartagena with kids too. If you plan for a longer stay, there are several relaxing or adventurous day trip options for any taste and budget.
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