Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cartagena, Colombia: Last Stop in South America!

Cartagena, Colombia! My last (official) stop on my South American tour.

What It's All About:
Cartagena is a city along the northern coast of Colombia - it also borders the Caribbean, so it sits on the water and there are a number of nice beaches nearby (and in the city itself, though these are not nearly as nice). The historic center has adorable and picturesque little colonial streets inside a set of city walls. And BALCONIES. Tons of beautiful balconies. Of course, the city is a World Heritage Site, so a lot of the old architecture/styles/colors have been preserved - it looks straight up old world.

Cartagena balconies. This balcony looks like a dream.

Colorful colonial buildings

A lot of backpackers hate on Cartagena, and many warned me that there's not that much to do (besides the city center), and that the beaches are nice, but both the beaches and the town are very very touristy.  On top of that, Cartagena is seriously balls hot. So. hot.  Having my expectations sufficiently lowered, I actually really enjoyed Cartagena!  The streets are so darn photogenic, and I didn't really care to go to any of the nearby beaches given I'd just spent time in beach paradise. I will concede that it was very hot - like, unsurvivable without A/C hot.  It also made it a little harder to want to meet people, because you're so hot that you don't want to do anything but sit in your room under the A/C, and then when you do manage to drag yourself out, everyone is a hot sweaty mess and you don't want anyone to touch you because you're so hot yourself.  I think I'm digressing from the point of the "What It's All About" section, so let's move on.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • My super-late bus from Santa Marta didn't pull into Cartagena until almost midnight. Nadine, my Swestie (Swiss bestie, for those not in the know), was in Cartagena for the night, but was leaving the next morning to go the opposite direction to Santa Marta. As we had only one night overlapping, she rallied and came and met me at my hostel shortly after I arrived.  We had one last 1AM ice cream together and grabbed a drink, while catching up on each other's Colombian adventures. This was going to be the last time I saw her (in South America! IN SOUTH AMERICA), so it was especially poignant.  I plan on coming to visit you in Switzerland, I promise! xo

Reunited and it feels so good (but am I referring to Nadine or my ice cream...?)

The clock tower lit up at night. Who could possibly hate on this city??


  • The next morning, I stayed in my cool hostel room as long as possible until they turned the A/C off (it only runs at night to save energy) and thus forced me to leave. I reluctantly put on my big nerdy sunhat and went on the afternoon walking tour. Which was not really worth the effort, because a lot of the tour involved pointing at balconies, which I could have done myself, to be honest.  But there was some interesting info, and I met some cool people.

On that note, this is why I love my friends

The walking tour WAS good for walking all the historic streets and taking beautiful photos of Cartagena, however!

One of the main plazas

Here's a view outside the old city of the new city across the water.

Get ready for a bunch of city street photos

Sprays of flowers

Some local boys feeding pigeons in the park

These balconies are my favorite color ever. Also, people are sitting outside because it's nearing dusk and I will say that Cartagena gets (a weensy, weensy bit) incrementally cooler at night. Unlike Santa Marta, the oven of South America.

I dubbed this lovely street "Gelato street," due to the plethora of said dessert. My favorite one is the one closest on the left - I may have had a Nutella gelato here every single day I was in Cartagena (necessary in this heat!!)

  • After the walking tour, a couple guys invited me to go get sunset drinks with them and some of their friends. Interesting info: there are incredibly cheap trans-Atlantic cruises you can get in certain seasons, when cruise companies are moving their cruise ships from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, or vice versa. It's super cheap because you're just buying passage on a boat the company's already sending to an area where they will need it for high season. A lot of backpackers and young people do these boats since they're cheap, and it basically becomes one huge party boat the entire way.  Anyhoo, there was one such voyage leaving from Cartagena a couple days after I arrived - so there were a lot of people I met that were here for this boat.  The cruise was 13 days, headed to Portugal, and ranged from $300-500 for the entire time, depending on who I asked. HOW FUN DOES THAT SOUND. AND THEN YOU END UP IN PORTUGAL. So many cool, unknown things like this in the world!  I'm super digressing, but there's a network called the Digital Nomads, and a group of them were doing this cruise: Digital Nomads is basically a club for people who work remotely all over the world. So these guys I met on my walking tour were part of the Digital Nomads, and we went to go meet more people from their network for drinks. 
  • We headed to a place on the city walls called Cafe del Mar, which was a cool outdoor space that had an incredible view of the water.

View of the water from the city walls and Cafe del Mar

Those SKIES. Cafe del Mar during the sunset


  • Next day, I went wandering the streets/doing some light shopping with some girls I'd met in Medellín earlier in the week. In the afternoon, I'd signed up for a tour to go to a mud volcano, which came recommended to me by a lot of people. Though to be honest, I had zero idea what 'visiting a mud volcano' entailed.  
  • We were trucked about an hour outside of town to this countryside-looking area - and then, Ta-daaaaaaaaaaaa! MUD VOLCANO.

This is apparently what a mud volcano looks like. Like a giant weird anthill.

  • It was probably one of the weirdest things I've ever done. You basically climb to the top of said "volcano," and then inside is a huge gray mud pit.

Views from top of mud volcano

Descending into mud pit

"This looks questionable"

And then you get in, and it's the gooiest, weirdest, thickest stuff ever - and locals guys come over to rub you all over with mud

"Turn over"

The weirdest part of the mud volcano was that you couldn't touch the bottom of it - BUT YOU WERE FLOATING. Like, your body was just kind of buoyantly keeping you at the surface. And then when someone inadvertently splashed you in the eye or something, you had no clean hands to wipe the mud out of your eye, or mouth, or whatever orifice it'd gotten into. In case anyone is wondering, the mud did not taste good.

So many weird slippery bodies of strangers, who quickly became friends. Because weird mud volcano.

Finally emerging out via the ladder of death - slipperiest ladder ever.

Dave (Australia)(that country needs a certificate of authenticity), me, and Chinni (US)

Off to wash the mud off!

  • The mud wash-off was even weirder - we had to walk down to the river, where a bunch of local ladies/men had giant buckets of river water and took turns scrubbing each of us down individually, while pouring buckets of brown river water over us. And oh man, they scrubbed. Like, got all up in there.

Sad casualty - tons of mosquitoes down by the river - one promptly bit me on one eyebrow, then another bit me on the other. WHY.  Still, mud volcano = ridiculous amounts of fun

  • Back at the hostel, we properly showered and a couple of us went out to dinner and to wander the streets at night.

Mud volcano/dinner buddies. L to R: Nick (Canada), me, Dave (Australia), and Sean (Canada). Behind us is the pretty tower!

Outside the city walls, looking in.
Cartagena, you are so pretty at night too!  And you're no longer boiling hot; just incredibly hot. Win.

Main cathedral at night

Moon shining over boys deciding what to do.

We headed back to the hostel after dinner, where we assembled a crew to go out. But first, pre-gaming.

Hostel crew at El Mirador, an outdoor bar/club with views over the city

Views from El Mirador

These people are the greatest

  • I left Cartagena the next morning and flew to Bogotá for a day layover, as my flight out of Colombia was departing the day after. I basically landed at the airport, checked myself into a nearby hotel with my OWN ROOM (BOOM), and napped. Bogotá was also blissfully cool. Almost winter-like, I'd say.

In the evening, I did manage to rouse myself from my nap to go meet Tito for drinks in Bogotá!  I met Tito through my friend Drew last year when I went to Bogotá with my mom - we'd gone out for drinks, mom included, back then.  It was awesome getting to see him and catch up with him.

Farewell, Colombia!
Bye, Colombia! You are one of my favorite countries ever. Colombia was cheap, and insanely beautiful, and the cities were all so varied and different and fun and gorgeous. I can see how people spend months and months and months here. We casually referred to Colombia as the "black hole of South America," because it just sucks you in and you end up never leaving. Add Colombia to your list, stat.

On a side note, THIS IS THE BEST TRAIL MIX YOU'LL EVER HAVE IN YOUR LIFE. Jason had a huge bag of this stuff in Tayrona, and we took. it. down. It is seriously like crack in a bag. There are other colors that try to trick you into thinking they're delicious, but the purple kind is where it's at.  I can't even describe it. It will change your life. I may have cleaned out the local convenience store, as well as all the stores in the airport on my way out of Colombia.  IS THIS STUFF ON AMAZON?!

Farewell, South America!
And with that, my 3-month South American adventures came to an end.  Departing from Bogotá the next morning, I was so, so sad. My heart honestly felt so heavy. The past three months have truly been one of the most memorable, craziest adventures of my life, and South America has been one of my favorite continents to backpack. 

I'm going to miss it all. I'm going to miss the vibrancy, the energy: the tons of buses zooming down the street, the salsa/reggaeton music blasting out everywhere, the jam-packed convenience stores, the bustling markets, the warmth of the people, the breathtaking scenery and mountains and valleys and oceans. I'm going to miss the backpackers I've met here, who all seem to share characteristics of being active and friendly and adventurous and interesting and daring. I'm holding all of you in my heart.

I'm so not ready to leave! 


  1. I almost started to cry reading this! It was such an amazing experience and I'm so happy to have met you. My trip to Colombia wouldn't have been the same without you. Best of wishes and until we meet again!:)

    1. Aw, you are absolutely one of my favorite people I've ever met! So glad to have met you and can't wait to see you back in the states! :)