A list of things you need to know about Cali Colombia in order to stay safe, not get cheated, and have a good visit
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. I lived in Cali when I was a little girl, but since I left so young, there is much I don't know. Every time I visit, I am met with insanely weird laws and idiosyncrasies that just baffle me. These are some of the ones that drive me nuts, just be aware of them for that time you do decide to visit.
Things You NEED to Know About Cali, Colombia
Dry Laws are on when there is a Fútbol Match: On 11/27 America was going to play Quindío at Estadio Olímpico Pascual Guerrero. I don't care about sports, I can't even name a player on any Colombian team. I had no idea that the teams were playing, but as soon as I walked out the door to head out to lunch I started noticing the red shirts. Grabbed a seat at a restaurant and ordered a beer. I was promptly told that because there was a match, there would be no alcohol served from 4am on Sunday until Monday at 6am. I asked if this was just in the area, but no...this is throughout the entire city. There's no beer, no wine, no alcohol at all on either on or off-premise establishments. Supermarkets have police officers at the door to make sure that no alcohol is sold. If you get caught (as a Colombian citizen) the fine is 2 monthly salaries - ouch!
Wine is Controlled by the City: Much like the PLCB in Pennsylvania and the CALJ in Canada, Cali's government gets to choose what wines can be sold in the city. This means that if your wine is not approved by the government, no liquor store or restaurant can sell your wine. This also means that the wine selection throughout Cali sucks ass. Seriously. The beer selection, is decent with a good amount of German & Belgium choices, so I guess there is that. Restaurant culture also stinks, but it is getting better slowly (these were what I thought of as the best restaurants in Cali).
Taxis charge extra on weekends, evenings, and holidays: I don't like taxis in Cali. They are old, smelly, bouncy, and the drivers always try to cheat you by either not putting on the meter or going a longer way than needed (suckers - I may sound like a Gringa, but I lived here and know the city...and I have no qualms cursing you out if needed). On top of this, there's an unwritten rule that on weekdays after 7pm, weekends, and holidays there is an extra charge of $2000 COP ($0.63 USD). Just stick with Uber, they're clean, safe and cheaper.
To Grab an Uber at the Airport, go to the 2nd Floor: Yup. The first floor is for taxis only, so when you arrive, go upstairs to the second floor to door 1. Your carriage will await you there. Also, if you are grabbing an Uber in the city, try to do so away from the Taxi Cue. Lastly, someone from your group should sit in the front seat. This way the police won't bother your uber driver.
No Des Papaya: Papayas are gorgeous, especially in Colombia; but this phrase means that you should not tempt thieves or it will be your fault you get robbed. While I feel this way of thinking needs to change, it is great advice. This means you should not pop our your brand new iPhone or wear an obviously expensive purse when you go shopping. It's a bit annoying, I exercise caution everywhere, but in Cali this is something you need to follow strictly. The city is not anywhere near as safe as Medellin (no issues with popping out my iPhone in places like Poblado or Provenza) or like Cartagena where I felt safe everywhere (even when I visited Bazurto Market). So until the situation changes, make sure to leave your papaya at home.
Winter means rain, lots of it: Winter in Colombia means rain, lots of it. Cali is considered a Tropical Savannah, this means it has very clearly delineated dry and wet seasons, this is usually between March & May and October & December. The rain usually happens in the afternoon and at night. The rain is super powerful, so unless you want to get soaked, you should stay indoors while it passes.
Guachiman: If you see an older man with a machete walking around the block, don't be concerned. He's there to take care of you. He is the Guachiman (watchman in Colombian Spanish). He is paid by the block or neighborhood to keep an eye on things and look for unsavory characters. If you are lost or need directions, he is your friend. Tip him $1000 COP for his assistance and he will be your friend for life.
Watch Out For 2 Men on Bikes: It is illegal in Cali, Colombia for two men to ride on a motorcycle together. This is because back in the day, this type of activity meant either thieves or killers, so if two men are caught on a motorcycle by the police, they will be stopped, ticketed, and if they are caught with contraband, they will be put to jail.
Pico y Placa: In Cali, private car owners can only drive their cars on designated days according to their license plates. This is apparently according to the number your plate ends on. Won't really affect you as a traveler, but interesting to know. I think it has something to do with pollution and overcowding.
All Purchases Require ID: This still freaks me out. Every time you buy something with a credit card, you will have to show some form of ID to the person at the register. If you are Colombian, they will ask for your Cedula, the equivalent of your Social Security card. If you are a foreigner, a passport or driver's license will do. This is actually something country-wide, so don't be surprised if this happens.
I got into a Facebook argument on a Facebook group about the safety of Colombia. This guy kept saying that Colombia was ridiculously unsafe, and I (along with mostly everyone in the conversation) kept saying that Colombia is safe if you act smart, execute caution, and stay out of certain neighborhoods. It's the same with any city. In Paris, there is St. Denis. In NYC, there are parts of the Bronx you should not go to. In London there is Peckham. In Madrid, there is Carabanchel. This is true of Cali as well. Cali has its sketchy neighborhoods, so stick to the better neighborhoods, exercise caution and common sense, and you will be fine.
Cali has over 200 micro neighborhoods, so I've decided to focus on the ones where you will have the least chances of something happening to you. I'll also list the neighborhoods that you probably don't want to go into (at least not without a local). This will make your Cali experience one to remember (in a good way).
Top Neighborhoods in Cali Colombia
Barrio El Peñon
El Peñon is a more upscale neighborhood in Cali Colombia. It is filled with restaurants, shops, hotels and museums. It's also very close to el Parque del Gato
WHAT IS IT LIKE: This barrio (neighborhood in Colombian Spanish) is located Southwest of the river. This is one of the more upscale areas with luxury hotels (skip the Intercontinental Hotel horrible experience - ask me about it if you are curious), and the tiny but lovely Parque El Peñon. There are tons of restaurants (about 40 in a 3 block radius), cocktail lounges, sweet shops, boutiques, and art in this neighborhood (each Sunday local artists bring their goods to sell at El Peñon park).
WHO LIVES THERE:
THINGS TO DO THERE: From this neighborhood, you're 5 minutes away from Parque del El Gato del Río and Museo La Tertulia; and a short distance from the old city, San Antonio Church, and the Cali Zoo (you need to drive). If you're up for a bit of a hike, walk up to Cali's Three Crosses.
PROS: The El Peñon neighborhood is quite safe, there are wachimen (watchmen that are hired by the neighborhood) on every street and they do a decent job of keeping petty thieves away.
CONS: This is a more "expensive" area, so expect to pay a bit more than you would in other neighborhoods. There is also tons of traffic and pollution here, much more than I am used to.
The Granada neighborhood of Cali has lots of restaurants like the Containers
WHAT IS IT LIKE: The Granada neighborhood was famous back in the day because it was owned by two very prominent families (Lopez, Sarasti & Caicedo). These families erected some gorgeous Republican style mansions (and some of these buildings still remain). The neighborhood is undergoing a resurgence and while it is upscale for Cali, it is nothing like the Parque 93 area of Bogota. The feel is more laid back. There are restaurants (and this is where you'll find a bit more diversity in cuisines). There are also some great little boutiques for some very well known Colombian designers. This is my favorite neighborhood and where I would choose to stay. It's walkable and safe.
WHO LIVES THERE: Cali's elite.
THINGS TO DO THERE: Eat, there are tons (and I mean tons) of restaurants in this part of the city. Shop, there are so many cute boutiques there. A lot of them are expensive by Colombian standards, but perfectly affordable if you're from the US or from the EU. Make sure that if you go to the clubs and restaurants in the area, that you dress to impress. Men's jackets and ladies dresses (and a full face of makeup) are required to keep up with the locals.
PROS: The Granada neighborhood of Colombia is safe, clean, and has plenty to do. There is also a lot less pollution than in El Peñon. You won't need a car here as it is very walkable.
CONS: At night, everyone and their mother goes there to party, so it can get loud. At prime time, what should be a 15 minute cab ride to get there can take you 30-45 minutes.
Barrio San Antonio
Barrio San Antonio in Cali Colombia is relatively safe, has nice restaurants and lots of Art
WHAT IS IT LIKE: San Antonio is a very pretty neighborhood. It's more artisty and bohemian, but can be questionable in some spots. This neighborhood is more laid back than Granada and there are some beautiful colonial homes that will look great in your Instagram feed.
WHO LIVES THERE: Local Caleños who are in the middle (and sometimes middle lower) class (my family lived there when I was around 8 years old).
THINGS TO DO THERE: If you're sporty, you can jog by the river. You can take a quick taxi ride to the Zoo (which is pretty good and the animals seem happy).
PROS: Lots of restaurants, bars. The arts thrive in this area.
CONS: If you're into fancy things, you're better off in Granada or El Peñon. It is not as polluted as El Peñon, but it is off a few major streets and those areas are polluted.
Barrio Ciudad Jardin
WHAT IS IT LIKE: This is probably the safest neighborhood. It's pretty new, so most of the buildings there are less than 10 years old and they all have amenities like pools, saunas, that type of thing. The MIO (Cali's bus system) makes it easy to get around.
WHO LIVES THERE: Caleños. As with most of the neighborhoods in the city, it's Caleños that live in Ciudad jardin.
PROS: Very safe place to live and visit. Services in the area tend to be good and upscale.
CONS: It's a bit far from everything else in the city, so if you want to head out it will take you 30 minutes when there is no traffic. Probably the closest place for you to go out if you are in Cuidad Jardin is La 66 where there are lots of bars and restaurants). Cuidad Jardin is more of a suburb, so you'll need a car to get places.
This statue honors Teddy, the dog for whom the Parque del Perro is Named
If you head to the World Capital of Salsa, chances are you'll end up going to el Parque Del Perro, Cali Colombia 's hottest nightlife spot. It's located in the San Fernando neighborhood. This tiny park has a long history of being a favorite spot for Cali's youth. It is said that in the 1950's, groups of young people would get together to play games along with a small neighborhood dog who they called Teddy. Teddy was found poisoned one day. One of the kids who was part of Teddy's group, Víctor Alberto Delgado Mallarino, became a police officer and eventually the director of the national police and had a statue built in Teddy's honor. This statue has given the park its name. If you're from Cali and you know more about the story - I'd love to learn more, so please leave a comment below.
Teddy is now loved by everyone and is the centerpiece of Cali's most popular nightspots. The tiny streets around el Parque del Perro in Cali is lined with restaurants, bars, and boutiques.
Best Restaurants Near San Fernando & Parque del Perro in Cali Colombia
There are two restaurants in the area I particularly like:
La Comitiva is one of the best restaurants in Cali, Colombia
La Comitiva: Great New-Colombian restaurant. Fantastic service (seriously) and a decent wine list (a rare thing in Cali). Sadly, the by the glass list is a white, a rose, and a red...but other than that this spot is a winner. Oh, and grab a seat outside.
La Comitiva is located at: Cl. 4 #3432, Cali (just a few blocks from Parque del Perro) +57 2 3827292 Hours of Operation: Sunday Closed, Mon-Sat 12–11pm
Go Go Ramen is a great place to get Japanese and Ramen in Cali Colombia
Go Go Ramen: This place has incredible ramen. I was so surprised and pleasantly pleased by the quality of ingredients (this place would do quite well in Manhattan. If you're bored of eating Colombian food, this is the place to go. Go Go Ramen is Located at: Cl. 4b #358, Cali (just a 5 minute walk from Parque del Perro) +57 5580941 Hours of Operation: Sunday Closed, Mon-Sat 11:30am–3pm, 7–10pm
Things to do Near San Fernando & Parque del Perro in Cali Colombia
Dance Classes at Academia Jacaranda: The instructors here are some of the best in the country. My aunt who is an award winning dancer takes classes here. If you want to learn to salsa, this is the spot.
You've heard about Medellín. Most likely because the show Narcos is super popular now (it's quite a good show too), you have head of Colombia (misspelling it Columbia) or you drink coffee. Medellín is quite different from you think and definitly from the drug filled days of the 1980's (how I miss them). Medellín is a safe city that is filled with beautiful people (and gorgeous women...men not so much) that is on the rise. In 2013 it was named the most progressive city in the world and it's no surprise why. There are museums, galleries, great restaurants, botanical gardens and more...but I'm here to tell you about all the other great reasons you should visit Medellín. I hadn't been there since childhood, and I was more than pleasantly surprised...here's why:
Dreams of The city of Eternal Spring
The grounds of the Museo el Castillo hold many types of flora and fauna
Although it is also called the City of the Mountain and the City of Flowers; its most accurate moniker is the one above. The average weather is 72°F. Yup, a beautiful mild 72°F. There's almost no humidity, and if it does get to the 80's, simply take a short rest under a tree to regulate your temperature. It gets a little chillier at night, so simply change from a dress to dress pants and a light sweater. It rains, but ,for the most part, the rain leaves as quickly as it comes. So all year round you should expect to be able to wear shorts, DON'T (more on that later) and short sleeve shirts.
Another nice thing about Medellín is how varied it is. You can be in Envigado and meet the locals, or you can go to Gringolandia Poblado and meet plenty of expats. If you want to go hiking, it's just 20 minutes away. You can be in the middle of things one day, and in complete isolation the next. I prefer the first, but you make the choice.
Why visit Medellín?
Medellín is Cheap
At least it is if you're coming from the US or Europe. To compare this to my life in NYC:
Cost of Eating Out in Medellín
There are plenty of inexpensive restaurants in Envigado, La Sazon de Martica was one of our favorites
Main Course at fancy restaurant on the Park: I picked parks because I wanted to give a pretty similar experience. These restaurants offer an incredible setting, and are quite popular. I took these prices off the lunch menus to keep things fair.
NYC - Loeb Boat House - Appetizer $12USD, Main Course $25USD, Dessert $10-15USD TOTAL=$47 minimum
Medellin - In Situ: Appetizer $6USD, Main Course $11USD, Dessert $6USD TOTAL=$23 minimum
**I will add that I think the food at In Situ is better than the Boathouse (Boathouse is just tourist crap).
That being said, you won't be eating at fancy restaurants all the time. You'll probably just pick a local place (we had ours in Envigado - La Sazon de Martica - so good). The way to go here is the executivo. This is Medellín's version of the Prix Fixe lunch. For us, that usually meant soup (a big one), followed by a plate platter of rice, beans, meat or chicken, salad, plantains, AND a freshly made fruit juice. This set us back about $10 for two people...and you will have leftovers.
Medellín is not as cheap as say Southeast Asia, but then again, the flight from the US is much shorter, the city is pretty darn safe, there aren't too many beggars (unless you go to Hamsterdam near the centro), and public transport works. It just feels much better than Southeast Asia, at least to me. Could be I am biased since I am Colombian born, but I like it there.
Cost of Groceries in Medellín
I used to shop at Whole Paycheck Foods. Then I found Trader Joe's and that became my favorite market. Just to give you an idea for about $2USD, I'd get a whole basket of fruits for about $3USD. In NYC I've paid $5USD for an apple.
Supermarkets in Medellín
Carulla: It's like a Whole Foods. Probably the best choice of food, but you will pay a bit more.
Exito: Same company as the SIM card. It's like a Walmart.
You can have food delivered with services like Domicilios - but the choices are slim
As a New Yorker, I'm spoiled by food delivery. While there is no Seamless, Delivery, PostMates, or Plated in Medellín, you do have Domicilios. It works pretty similar to a Seamless. You go on the site, place your order, and it gets delivered. Not all restaurants take credit card payments, so you need to have cash (which is pretty inconvenient) and you need to have exact change. So that needs to change. Also, the choices for delivery are crap...so while it is sufficient, this can certainly improve.
You do have another option. People are willing to pick up and drop off food. You just need to ask around your local places to find out who offers delivery via "Domicilio". Places to inquire are your pharmacy, cleaner, or local restaurant.
Housing is Cheap in Medellín
Cost of Long Term Renting in Medellín
If you do a yearly rental, you can probably get a nice 2 bedroom in a luxury building with a deck for around $700-1,000USD per month. To compare, a 2 bedroom in New York City in a similar building will cost you between $4,500 to $10,000 depending on location.
Cost of Short Term Rentals in Medellín
Awesome short term rental in Medellin under $100 USD per night
If you're visiting Medellín, chances are you'll either stay in a hotel, airbnb, or short term rental. Here's the breakdown on those prices:
The Charlee Hotel: This is the swankiest hotel in town. Rooms will cost you between $200-400 USD nightly. Total waste of money because of the other options. This is more set for the tourist who just want to not think about things like laundry, getting keys, etc.
Airbnb: This is one of the flats I rented for a month. I got a nice discount as well and the building had a gym, pool, and 24 hour doorman. It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath with an incredible view in Poblado. This flat cost us under $89USD per night. Keep in mind that when renting on a site like Airbnb, you can save money on cooking, laundry, etc...
Purple Monkey Hostel: Gotta preface, I don't do hostels, but this one is located in Poblado and highly rated. This will cost you $12USD per night. Great if you want to meet other travelers.
I can't speak for the hotel or the hostel, but I can speak for the two Airbnb flats that we rented. One was in a 5 story building in Envigado, the other was in a high rise in Poblado near El Tesoro mall.
Envigado: We had a three story penthouse. It was a 3 bedroom, 3 bath with a gorgeous deck. We'd go up at night, have a glass of wine and watch the mountains from the valley. It was lovely outside of two issues: loud music coming from the bars below (and don't get me started on the Christmas holiday - under no circumstances are you to stay in Envigado during Christmas/New Years - trust me), and water pressure issues. Apparently there's an issue with the city that if you are more than 3 storeys up, they don't guarantee water...which is why I recommend you go with a luxury rental like the one below.
Poblado: 30th floor, 2 bedroom, 2 bath with an incredible view. The flat had a pool, gym, 24 hour doormen...really kinda perfect. We stayed near the El Tesoro mall...this was a bit isolated, and while cab rides were really cheap, next time we plan to stay in Poblado proper next to Parque Lleras. I'll update the post once we do.
Transportation is good AND cheap in Medellín
Taxis: I would not dream of driving in Medellín. The hills scare the crap out of me, besides, taxis are dirt cheap. $5 will get you from Engivado to Poblado. Within Medellín proper, It's about $2 to go from a-b. You can also use Tappsi to call your cab or pick up an Uber (but that service is very expensive in Medellín). There is also the app Easy Taxi or Tappsi which will call a yellow cab for you. These cabs are the typical cabs. So expect small hatchbacks only good for 2-peoples' luggage.
Subway: There is also the Metro...however, it's not like NYC or Paris where the metro is everywhere. The metro is a destination in Medellin. It's out of the way, IMHO inconvenient. That being said, stop being lazy like me and take the metro. I took it, didn't get robbed, and it was fast. On hot days, it can get a little uncomfortable temperature wise, but like I said...it's cheap. If you're just going to see the major sites, they have an awesome guide on how to see them all via metro.
Gorgeous Women (the men...well)
I'm a lady...and I will tell you, there are no women more beautiful than women in Medellín. Imagine being in a city where every woman looks like Sofia Vergara, but prettier. This is Medellín. If I was a single man, I'd be in Medellín. If I was a lesbian, I'd be in Medellín. I'm a reasonably attractive woman, and I will admit that it was freaking annoying. Not only are the women beautiful, they are also perfectly fit. These women are engineered and even the most confident woman will begin to feel somewhat inadequate here. To their defense, most of them were incredibly nice. Damn it, I would have liked to be in a room with average looking women once in a while (I better hit the gym and step up my game before my next visit). Antonio had no complaints about this phenomenon.
To the men. I'm taken, so this is not an issue for me, but the men in Medellín are nothing like Italian or Brazilian men. The standard dress code is khakis and a polo. Under the polo is a soft belly. Did I mention mullets? Mullets are very popular in Medellín and the surrounding area. Sometimes there is a mullet-mohawk combination. Here's a PSA to Paisa men, that crap went out of style about 30 years ago, just shave your head, you will look better. The local men here don't have to try since there are so many gorgeous women all around. Granted, I'm not looking, but I would enjoy a little eye candy. Expats don't have to try either. They're expats and have money. This makes them prime meat. So, if you're a single straight lady you may have a hard time in Medellín.
If you're into dancing, you're going to love Medellin.
Love to dance? You're in the right place (only Cali can beat Medellín in this area). Because Paisas are so friendly, you're pretty much guaranteed a good time no matter where you go. Paisas (on the most part) are friendly, love meeting people, and want to have fun. For Paisas the rule is the more the merrier.
You can also pick up a few beers and head over to Parque Lleras and people watch. This was a favorite of ours.
In some neighborhoods, people will bring their dining room table, chairs, and stereo out into the streets. This becomes an instant party and you're welcome to join. This can be good or bad...so beware.
Medellín is pretty Safe
If you are in Poblado, Laureles, or Envigado, you'll have no safety issues. I am a old woman and had no issues walking around in these neighborhoods. Antonio and I even tested going out with our Apple Watches and never had an issue (warning - this is called "dando papaya". This is not recommended. "No dar papaya" is the law of the land, but I gotta tell you, we had to test this out. No issues in any of the known safe neighborhoods.
However, the centro is another story. I did not feel safe going there alone during the day. Even to the plaza by the museum. Catching a taxi was a hastle and I would not recommend it. There is an area next to the highway near the centro that is pretty much just like Hamsterdam in the wire. People there are sad looking, drugged up...kinda looks like a Zombie invasion. Medellín politicians, if you are reading this - get on this. Those people need help and they are making your city look bad. Outside of the three areas mentioned above, I would recommend that you execute caution. Don't strut your stuff, don't walk around with jewelry or smart phones. Other than that, you'll be perfectly fine.
The Time Zone
I do a lot of Europe travel and the time zone difference sucks. Most of our users for Socialdraft are in the US (although we are gaining grounds in Europe), it is so nice to not be jet lagged and to be able to work regular hours. This is a BIG plus for me.
Live Like Royalty on a Budget
One of our places came with Cata. Cata is awesome. I want Cata to work for me forever. I miss Cata. Cata was our "cleaning lady", but she was so much more than that. Cata made sure the house was clean (she even gave personal attention to the plants). Cata did our food shopping, she helped us arrange things. Cata took care of the household. Cata did not cook, but recommended a cook that could take care of the cooking for us. Cata charged $17 USD. I miss Cata. I plan to hire Cata full time and pay her way more than that so she can work for me full time. I miss you Cata!
Young People Speak English
I have an unfair advantage. I was born in Colombia, so I speak fairly decent Spanish. That being said, locals automatically knew I was a "gringa". Paisas have a very specific accent and can tell a foreigner in seconds. However, Colombians have a love for the US (many of us have family in the US) and most will have some knowledge of English. Learn some and you will not only earn brownie points from locals, you will make your life so much easier with older Paisas who probably don't know much English. You can start off on Memrise (yup - they have a Colombian Spanish course), or take a class when you get there. there will be plenty of choices and the most you will pay will be around $100 USD per month. In case you are going, the above video will give you some nice basics to get you started. Here are some highlights she mentioned along with a few more of my extras:
Claro que si: This means "of course". This is not just a Paisa phrase. My mom is from Cali and this is probably her favorite expression. She almost sings is. Paisas will too.
Eso: The word translates to“that”, but in Colombian Spanish it means "yes".
Guevon: Guevos are balls (like huevos are eggs..you get the gist). If you speak with someone who is not in the room and you call him/her a Guevon/a you're calling them a ball sack. If you were to greet a friend with "Hola Guevon" you're good to go.
Jueputa: A shortened form of "hijo de puta" (son of a bitch). You stub your toe, you scream Jueputa. Someone robs you, Jueputa. Someone calls you a Jueputa, you throw down.
Parce: Buddy. This means this is a good friend.
Pues: I'm torn on this. Ever since I was little my family made fun of Paisas (all Colombian regions make fun of one another - there's nothing truly malicious here) by adding "pues" to phrases. I hardly heard it in Envigado or Medellin in the two months I spent there. That being said, you may hear it a lot. Take it as the "like" of Valley girls. It's there to solidify the fact that the person speaking is Paisa.
Que mas: Literally it means “what else”. It really means "what’s up?” in English.
When you book your hotel/airbnb/rental, ask what type of connection they offer. There's no "fast" internet in Medellín, but it will be sufficient for your needs. It's also nice that a lot of public places like restaurants and malls offer free wifi. Just ask. This is especially important for the next part of this conversation - smart phones.
There are multiple providers and they all suck. When you first get your SIM card, make sure that you've turned off cellular data and that your apps are not set to refresh on cellular. This can drain your credits in a day or two. Once you've turned off all the apps from cellular, and turned off location services. Otherwise you will find yourself purchasing a recarga very soon.
Go to any of the above and buy a SIM card. Then you can add data. You don't need minutes, just make sure you have either Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp and you'll be good to go.
How to Make Calls in Medellín
A weird thing I was told about Medellin is that a land line can only call a landline and a cell can only call a cell. Don't ask me why...on a good note, Skype seems to work for both.
If calling a landline from your cell, type 034 before the number from your cell. If you are calling from a landline to a landline, you don't need to add the 034.
How to Get to Medellín
You'll be flying into JMC airport, the tiny one in the city is private. It will take you around 45 minutes to an hour to get to Medellin proper in a taxi.
When you exit customs, you will be in the area where people meet each other. If you want an Uber, there is a tourist booth on the left. They have Wifi, so ask if you can use it if you want a nicer drive than a cab.
The cost will be about 65,000 pesos ($22USD) if you take the yellow taxi and 80,000 ($27USD) if you take the white ones. It's a flat rate and you don't need to tip, although the drivers do appreciate it. In case this changes by the time you read this, the price will be on the front windshield of your cab - look for "Aeropuerto JMC".
If you have no cash, look for an ATM, there are a few.
Shopping in Medellín
Sante Fe mall is a high end shopping center in Medellin Colombia
My favorite place to shop was Envigado. Medellín has some amazing boutiques and most of the really good ones will be here. You can get custom clothing for very cheap. Go and explore...but if you're not in the mood to explore and you want things to be a bit easier, hit up the mall. This is where most Paisas go.
Santa Fe: When my brother, his wife and my niece came to visit from Bogota, this was the first place they wanted to go. It's brand new, modern and there was an ice rink (we went ice skating). You'll find the Gap, the Limited, you get the idea.
Rio Sur: I was told this is where you go for nightlife. I say meh. Stay in Poblado. That being said, there was a really good Spanish (as in Spain) restaurant on the first floor. I was not a fan of this mall.
Oviedo: Walk across the highway from Rio Sur. I was surprised at how big this mall was and at how much it had to offer. Liked it way better than Rio Sur.
El Tesoro: Another really good mall (the Jersey girl in me loved it). Tons of restaurants (check out Cuzco and the incredibly hard to find Etero - neither is in El Tesoro, but they are within walking distance & worth it). Lots of great stores (both American and Colombian, and they had a snow globe thing (my niece loved it - I hated it, but I hate the cold).
Nightlife in Medellín
I need to preface this by letting you know the drinking age in Colombia is 18 years old, so in a good number of the clubs, you will see very young people (and some high schoolers will sneak in). I prefer an older crowd (since I am nowhere near that age) but I do love to dance. Start your night off at dinner, then head off to Parque Lleras(aka - Gringolandia). This is where you will find most of the nightlife spots. Yes, there are a lot of Americans there, but locals are a plenty. Like I mentioned before, grab a six pack, pick a spot on the park and people watch while you enjoy your crappy Colombian beer (Colombian beer sucks). When you get bored of this, you can head out to clubs and restaurants.
Babylon: Cra. 41 #922 - Poblado. It's busiest night is on Thursdays and they are open until 4am. Get some rest before you go. This place is a little more expensive than most, so the crowd tends to be a little bit older (not old, but older).
Bendito Seas:Cl 10A #3821 - Poblado. This place is known for its Thursday night Ladies. Great spot if you're a single guy.
Good view of the city, great date spot for drinks. There’s 4-5 other clubs here as well.
La Ruana de Juana: Cl. 10 #41-75 - Poblado. This place doesn't get going until about midnight, but if you get there early you can claim a table. There are some decent deals (like 2 for 1 bottles) some of the time.
Rio Sur Mall: Poblado - This mall was meh for the most part, but there are some great discos on the top floor, including Kukaramakara. The crowd here will be wealthier than that at most places as will that over at Delaire Skylounge, this is a nice rooftop where you can grab a drink and enjoy beautiful views of the city. Sixtina also has some great DJ's.
La 33: Laureles. This is a pretty main street in the Laureles area. There are tons of bars and clubs, but these will have more of a Colombian spirit than those in Poblado. They are also cheaper.
La 70: Laureles. This is another street full of nightlife in the Laureles neighborhood. I liked this one a bit more, since the crowd is older.
Things to Do in Medellín
Take a Dance Class: While Medellín is not a "Cali Pachanguero", it's still a great place to learn to dance (and it's cheap).
La Piedra Del Peñol at Guatapé: This is a trip outside of the city. There is a big rock that you climb. Your reward is an incredible view. Once you're done with that, you can eat some yummy food, go ziplining, and do watersports in the lakes.
Hop on the Metro-Cable: Great views and just a fun thing to do.
Plaza Botero and the Plaza de las Esculturas in Medellin Colombia has a great collection of Fernando Botero's rubenesque ladies and men
Check Out Plaza Botero: If you know a few things about Medellín, you probably know Fernando Botero. He's the guy that paints and sculpts those lovely rubenesque (pleasantly plump) figures. His artwork can be seen all over the world, but this Medellín born artist donated a bunch of statues to the city which can be seen at the Plaza. When you're done, go to the Museo de Antioquia where you can see a lot more of his art. One note, go during the day, the area is sketchy at night.
Check Out Ciudad del Rio
I say this is like the Long Island City of Medellin. A residential area, that is usually inhabited, but check out the Modern Art Museum, it has tons of pieces from Arango, an artist you should definitely get to know. On weekends, you can check out the park and see all the crazy kids who don't care about their bones doing tricks on their bikes. It's not the most lively area, but if you grab a glass of wine at the cafe in front of the museum, it makes for some good people watching. Also, make resos at night to go to Bonuar. One of my favorite restaurants in the city.
The botanical gardens in Medellin have over 4,500 flowers
These are awesome. When you drive there the first time you may be put off by the area right outside. It's not the prettiest, but once you walk into the gardens, you're in heaven. It's huge and there are samples of almost every plant you can find in the area. There is even a butterfly house. There are a few restaurants to eat in, but where you want to eat is In Situ. We went there at least 4 times for lunch. The food is great and as mentioned before, it is quite affordable if you're coming in from a city like NYC.
Parque Explora in Medellin was fun for my niece, but even more fun for me
I used my niece as an excuse to go here, but you don't need one. It's an awesome science center for kids with a HUGE aquarium. They do some really cool 3-d movies, and there are tons of cool things to play with while there. Make sure to wash your hands, kids means germs. The last thing you want is to catch a Colombian cold.
Medellin is a magical functioning city that has some small issues but if you are visiting as a tourist, digital nomad or just traveling it is great. The people are easy to connect with, though you will need Spanish unless you are in Poblado. The history of violence that plagued the city and Colombia in general has disappeared. You may see a few people smoking or a few old men with younger girls but that is almost cleaned up.
Imagine the views from one of the mountains,with a Club Colombia in your hands, you will see the mist rise in the distance and think "this moments". You will remember it forever and your travels through the "City of Eternal Spring".
My dad was a police officer in Colombia in the 70's & 80's. This was not the safest profession at the time. When I asked my mom about our time living in Medellin (I have no recollections - I was quite young), I can tell these were not her favorite times.
In an effort to escape the crippling cold in NYC, Antonio and I decided we'd head to the City of Eternal Spring. Yup, Medellin boasts the best possible weather in the world. I had never head of Envigado and started to do some research on r/colombia to figure out what neighborhood to stay in. It kept coming down to two: Poblado and Envigado.
Ultimately, Envigado won because I was leaving the US to get to know Colombia...not to hang out with a bunch of expats...not that I have an issue with expats, but I wanted to re-discover the country I was born in.
Sunrises and sunsets are amazing from Envigado.
Is Envigado dangerous?
Hells no! I know what you're thinking...Pablo Escobar was born in Envigado (Barrio La Paz to be exact). This was the birth place of La Violencia. It must still be dangerous...you could not be more wrong. This is one of those neighborhoods where everyone knows each other and watches out after each other. Police officers are a constant presence, but not in a menacing way...they are merely there in case you need them. That being said, don't be an idiot. Use common sense as in any other city, and don't wear your expensive jewelry out. That's just silly.
You will find shrines to saints throughout Envigado. Mary seems to be a very popular lady
What is Envigado like?
There are micro neighborhoods within Envigado. I stayed at La Magnolia which sits between Parque Envigado and La Canalisacion de Ayurá. Think residential. Families have been here for quite some time. Many of them run bodegas, hair salons, and stores out of their homes. At night you hear the sounds of Vallenato as you stare at the gorgeous lights that dot the mountains of Medellín. Envigado also tends to be incredibly loud from November 28-Jan 6. Families don't celebrate in their homes, but outside. Fireworks go off nightly...so if you decide to spend time in Envigado during the Christmas holiday, either bring ear plugs, sleeping pills, or ask your host/hotel if they have sound proof windows. I would say the noise level is my only issue with this neighborhood and the one thing that will keep me from coming back. That's right Envigado - you lost me at fireworks going off next to my head every single night in a row. I returned to Envigado in February to give it a fair try. It was quieter than December - but still not quiet. I would not recommend staying in Envigado, but I certainly recommend you explore the area.
If you head to the border that hits Medellín’s South area - around Poblado - Envigado feels posh, polished. It is hard to tell the difference between both neighborhoods. So ultimately it depends on where you stay.
The views of the Aburra Valley in Medellin are spectacular
History of Envigado
Like much of Colombia, Envigado was the product of the Spanish who arrived in the area around 1541. It took until 1775 for Envigado to become a city. While Medellín has absorbed many cities as it has grown, Envigado is still its own entity. It's quite large too. There are about 200k people living in Envigado, making this (IMHO) a very proper city.
Things to do in Envigado
A lovely one square block plaza. So much to do here. If you're into churches, check out Iglesia Santa Gertrudis in Envigado. You will often find locals dancing to live music...and of course, there's food and drink. If you're lucky enough to be in the city for the Christmas holiday, the park will be decked in lights.
Paisas are fit. The men, the women...they've got buns of steel. This is due in part to the insanely steep hills on which they hike and bike. If you too want buns of steel, go for a hike at La Romera, or Parque Salado.
As I mentioned, Paisas are fit. The nice thing is you can get fit too. We joined Dinamo Fitness, a gym in Envigado. Antonio and I got the family plan which cost $27 USD for the both of us. Best of all, we got a physical assessment AND a physical trainer to work out with us daily...I'll be looking good in a few months.
Otraparte Casa Museo is a the former home of the poet, philosopher and Antioqueñan writer Fernando González.
Otraparte is for those with a poetic heart. It was the home of Fernando González, a philosopher and is now a museum to honor his memory. Besides, they have a super cute outdoor cafe where you can sit, read a book, and have a few snacks. On Saturday nights, this place is poppin', so get here early.
December 7 is the "Dia De Las Velitas" in Medellin and Envigado.
See the Christmas Lights. If you are lucky enough to come to Medellin for Christmas...you will be privy to some of the most beautiful light displays in the city. Beware...on November 31st when the celebration officially begins, there are fireworks...this means fireworks throughout the city for hours. So make sure to get nice and tired because they go on all night...and continue to the morning. This is true throughout the month of December...and gets worse when there are futbol finals...but I digress...back to Christmas. A special day in Envigado is the "Dia de las Velitas" or the "Alumbrado". It is celebrated on December 7, and celebrates the immaculate conception of Mary. It's quite a spectacular show as every household puts out lights in celebration. The city is also dressed up in lights. Check out Parque Envigado and the main streets in town.
Where to Eat in Envigado
Devocion in Envigado boasts great comfort food from around the world
Devoción: Great place for a cheat meal. This restaurant has a small menu inspired by street & bar food of the world. Loved their burger, it comes on Arabic bread and with green tomatoes. Their "poutine" was ridiculously delicious too. A meal for two with two beers came to about $15USD.
Lemoncillo is an incredible (and cheap) vietnamese restaurant in Envigado
Lemoncillo: Fantastic Vietnamese restaurant. We weren't expecting anything good, but the food was incredibly fresh, the flavors were right, and so was the price. The chef was incredibly friendly as was the staff. We're heading back next week for more.
Kokoriko: I've been a fan since I was a little girl. This is a chain restaurant (yes...you heard me right) and they can be found throughout the country. I dream of the day this chain is all over the world. Awesome roasted chicken, great soups...and they give you plastic gloves so you don't dirty your fingers....yummy!
Zacateca Mexican restaurant in Envigado has a shrine to El Chavo del Ocho
Zacatecas: Great Mexican restaurant. Make sure you get the "Mango Biche" margaritas. The tacos were HUGE, but also tasty and the hot sauce was actually hot...not something you normally find in Colombia. Go. Get the Chicken Taco, it comes with bacon and it is my favorite there. You'll love it. There are other fancier Mexican places in Envigado, but this is where you want to go, trust me.
For about $2.50 USD you can get a soup, rice, salad, banana, and a drink at El Pipelon restaurant in Envigado
El Pipelon: Lunch for two cost about $5 and was ridiculously delicious. I got mondongo (tripe soup). It came with rice, an egg, banana, arepa, and juice. Antonio had a soup and pork in onion sauce - also came with rice, an egg, and pickled vegetables...oh...and a beer...so if you're on a budget, this is great spot. Cra. 43 #32CS-02
Contenedores Food Place: This is a container park turned food hall. We ate at La Recoleta and loved our food. More "expensive" than the rest of Envigado - Maybe $30 USD for an appetizer, two sandwiches, and two drinks...but so worth it. Restaurants include:
La Recoleta - Argentinean touches, sandwiches, cocktails.
Romeo Y Paleta - Ice cream pops - try the arequipe & cheesecake flavors.
Milagros - Mexican food (fine, but I prefer Zacateca)
Mezzaluna - Salads, you'll want one after you step on the scale after eating in Envigado.
Chef Burger - ...burgers...they're good...bread is not quite right, but the meat is lovely.
Villero parilla - Steaks
Tano Argento - Argentinean-Italian. Surprisingly good (much of the "Italian" food you get in Envigado and Medellin is not right - this was the closest we found to actual Italian flavors).
There are plenty of inexpensive restaurants in Envigado, La Sazon de Martica was one of our favorites
La Sazon de Martica: Unfortunately, this place has no address, but it is located on Diagonal 32 & Transversal 32A Sur. Look for the "garage" with about 6 tables inside. It is usually packed by noon, so get there at 11. This way you can get a table and make sure they don't run out of all their delicious food. Lunch for two will cost you 20.000 COP (less than 10 bucks). A typical lunch there will involve a soup, seco (rice + protein + plantain + egg + avocado), and juice.
El Nuevo Campin: Another ridiculously cheap, ridiculously delicious restaurant. Less than $10USD got us a soup, seco, and a drink and amazing service. Trasnversal 32 Sur C & Diagonal 32D.
Zona Gastronomica: This is an area in Envigado, about 2 blocks square (maybe 4 if I want to be truly fair) where it seems every other house is a restaurant. Had some good meals, some mediocre ones, but if you're looking for many choices, this is where you need to go. Below is a list of the restaurants we liked in Zona Gastronomica in Envigado. This area is located in the Jardines neighborhood.
Barbacoa Burgers and Beer: Really tasty burger. Only issue was the bun, if they just toasted the bun, the burger would have hit a home run. There are a lot of good burgers in Envigado, this was one of them. Really, really great beer list!
El Barral Spanish Restaurant: Lovely Spanish spot. Great tapas and fantastic service. They have a tiny outdoor area up front where you can sit and people watch. Highly recommended. Calle 30 Sur No. 43A - 38
Pizzeria Olivia: Not NYC pizza, but some of the best we had in town. Service was spotty, but if you're craving a pie. This is probably the best place to go. Cll 30 Sur No. 44a - 08
Chiclayo Cocina Peruana: Super yummy Peruvian food and much cheaper than Cuzco (located near El Tesoro Mall). Killer Ceviches...stay away from the Pisco Sours...the hangover is a killer.
Rota Bar: Small bites, beer & wine. Chill spot for a quick bite with friends.
Antonio's Gelato: Awesome homemade ice cream, lady clerk with serious bitchy resting face. Ice cream is totally worth it though.
Carbone & Pasta: Horrible (and I mean horrible pasta - think ketchup on fettuccine) delicious steaks.
Black Pepper Steak House: Didn't have a steak. I had the insane seafood platter which came with tuna and salmon skewers, shrimp, and tons other goodies all perfectly cooked. Totally worth it. Cra 44A N 30 Sur - 7
Where to Shop in Envigado
City Plaza in Envigado is the "major" shopping center in the area. You can find pretty much anything you need here.
X2Underwear: What a fantastic store. They have the most beautiful men's underwear and the people that work there are lovely. The most pleasant shopping experience. Too bad it's only for the guys.
Other than that, just walk around Parque Envigado. There are plenty of shops to fill all of your needs.
Worth Traveling To
Lucia at the Charlee Hotel:Located in Poblado, this is a gorgeous restaurant. Really great design and delicious appetizers (the main courses we didn't like as much). What you'll love about this place is that you can sit and watch the crowds of people at Parque Lleras, enjoy some decent wine, and nice food. If you so choose, you can head for a drink at the roof bar afterwards. Felt a little pretentious to me, but still has a great view. Cl. 9a #37-16, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Colombia Pro Tip
In Colombia, cell phones can only call cell phones and land lines can only call land lines. Don't ask me why - just be aware of this when you visit.
YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE CARTAGENA! I can't imagine anyone not liking the city. You may be worried about visiting this city in Colombia, but you don't have to be.
Cartagena is the safest city in Colombia.
It's not a tourist trap. I was there November/December and although the tourists were there, it was not overcrowded like Venice.
The locals frown on public drunkenness and are not afraid to put misbehaved tourists in their place (this is quite entertaining when it happens). This means that while you can party and have a great time, you don't need to worry about obnoxious tourists or locals.
Cartagena is not perfect. It has plenty of issues, but even with the negatives I left ready to go back. I'll walk you through some of the coolest spots in the old town (there will be other blogs for other neighborhoods), and give you some tips for your trip to Cartagena Colombia (they're at the bottom of this post - so scroll if you're in a rush).
While in Cartagena's Old City, take time to walk and enjoy the city's gorgeous door knockers
Chances are if you're headed to Cartagena, you'll spend most of your time in the Ciudad Vieja (the old town). This is where most tourists spend their time, and it is easy to see why. The old town and the Ciudad Murallada (walled city) is a treasure trove of Colonial architecture, churches, gorgeous mansions, amazing shopping, and history. I loved the old city and spent plenty of time there...I could have spent even more and plan to quite soon. Cartagena is a very inexpensive travel location if you do it right.
San Pedro Claver, a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary devoted his life and work to the African slaves of Cartagena
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CARTAGENA
You probably noticed if you googled "Cartagena" that a Spanish city pops up from time to time. This is the city that gave La Heroica her name, and the reason why Cartagena is known as Cartagena de Indias. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1533, Cartagena was inhabited by the Karib, Malibu and Arawak. Spaniards came and took over. Cartagena's location on the Caribbean made it an important trading post (many slaves were put to horrible fates here) and a great place for profit for the Spanish. This, in turn made it attractive to Spain's rivals. The Spanish needed to protect themselves and built the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The Spanish held their ground and the Catholic church took hold of the city. Cartagena was at one point a center for the Inquisition of the Americas. In 1821 Simon Bolivar liberated the city from Spain and Cartagena's modern history began.
Cartagena, known as La Heroica, is a city of protective fortresses and cannons that served to protect its citizens from pirates of the Caribbean such as Francis Dranke and John Hawkins.
THE OLD CITY OF CARTAGENA
The old city is more than just the walled city...but it's small enough that you can walk it all in one day night (you'll end up heat stroked or sunburned if you attempt this during the daytime). There are three main neighborhoods in the old city: San Pedro, San Diego and Getsemani. San Pedro was where the rich people lived. San Diego was for the working people, and Getsemani has now become the hippest neighborhood after being known for being the place for prostitution. Cartagena values its travel dollars, so you should be safe all over the old city. At no point did I feel threatened and we had no bad experiences with thieves or pick pockets. There are always people on the streets and I had no issues at all. That being said, don't be stupid and go flaunting money, cellphones, or jewelry. Have fun, but observe caution and you'll be just fine.
WHAT TO SEE IN CARTAGENA'S OLD CITY
Plaza San Pedro Claver in Cartagena, Colombia is filled with colorful buildings.
Plaza de San Pedro Claver (1575-1612) - You'll know you're there when you begin to see some charming metal sculptures of people doing what Colombian people do: getting a haircut, playing games, etc.. These were made by sculptor Eduardo Carmona. Then you will notice a large sculpture of a man of the cloth in conversation with a slave. As I mentioned before, Cartagena's economy was boosted by the slave trade. Claver was a Spanish Jesuit priest who baptized and proselytized slaves that arrived from Africa. He considered himself the advocate for slaves and was canonized in the late 1800's. The church dedicated to him is a Cathedral in the Italian style and totally worth a visit (especially since it's pretty cool in there). There is also a museum where you can learn more about Cartagena's history and the slave trade that built the city. At this plaza, you will often find Palenqueras selling fruit (perfect respite from the heat - watermelon, pineapple, papaya) and homemade sweets like cocadas. If you want to take a picture of or with a Palenquera, it is customary to make a small purchase beforehand. Heck, those internet points you win on instagram mean nothing to you, but the dollar you pay for that delicious watermelon will make a difference in their lives. You can also sneak into the Modern Art Museum to get a little shade.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena: The art historian in me cringed when I walked in to heat and humidity. That being said this museum has an outstanding collection and I would encourage them to charge more so they could stabilize the temperature in the building. Its right by Plaza de San Pedro Claver and housed in two buildings one from the 17th Century and another from the 19th. They were used to store weapons, but have now been connected to become the MAMC in the late 70's. The collection includes both Colombian and international artists. My favorite artist was Enrique Grau. He donated the pieces to Cartagena and gives you a pretty good idea about the artist. Other artists who caught my eye were Alfredo Guerrero, Augusto Rivera, Omar Rayo, and Olga de Amaral. Cost per adult ticket was $5.000COP (about $1.50USD) Calle 30, 4-08 - phone 0057 5230 2622
Gertrudis or "La Gordita" was sculpted in Bronze by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero.
Plaza Santo Domingo - This is one of the most touristy spots in the city. Plaza Santo Domingo is located a block away from Plaza Bolivar. It is made up of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo and a bunch of restaurants that offer outdoor seating. This means that a bunch of young ladies will all work hard to sell you on going to the restaurant they represent. There are a few things I particularly liked about this plaza. First, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo from the mid 1500's. The church is a popular wedding location, we must have seen a different wedding every night we were there. This plaza is also quite popular for dance troupes, so you get some very inexpensive "dinner & a show". Just make sure to have a little cash to donate to the performers. Finally, as a good Colombian should, I absolutely fell in love with Gertrudis. Who is she? She's La gordita de Fernando Botero, Colombia's most well known visual artist. This Rubenesque reclining nude is made of bronze...it is said that if you rub her breasts, she will bring you luck in love.
This sculpture was erected in honor of the visit by Pope John Paul II to Cartagena
Plaza Bolivar - This plaza is always full of people, both tourists and locals. A few spots here deserve their own write up, so they will get it. The plaza surrounds the equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar, Latin America's George Washington. Grab a seat, buy a fresh coconut and sip it under a tree. At night time, enjoy the nightly dance shows and live concerts. If you're into museums, check out the Cartagena Gold Museum (tiny, but free to enter). You can also check out the Museum of the Inquisition which has tons of torture devices and more gruesome items. The Cathedral of Cartagena is a nice place to cool down...and if you so wish, check out the sculpture dedicated to Pope John Paul II from his 1986 visit.
This torture device, called a Heretic's Fork, is a double sided bifurcated piece of metal placed between the breast bone and the throat. If you fell asleep, it would pierce you awake.
Palacio de la Inquisicion (At Plaza de Bolivar)- This is one crazy museum. It lives in a gorgeous home which served as the court of the Holy Office. It's not the cheapest museum for what you get, but if you're an architecture fan like I am...that will make it worth it. A word of warning. There are "guides" in the museum. They don't cost cheap, and I don't think they are worth the price. You can pay for them if you want to be entertained, but the museum is not huge, so a guide is not really warranted. That being said, this torture museum really puts things in perspective when you begin to see all the instruments of torture that were used by the church to get people to confess they were witches. There's some pretty gruesome stuff in there. The thing that freaked me out the most was the Heretics Fork. This device is a double sided fork, that is placed between your sternum and your chin making you super uncomfortable. Basically, you move, you are impaled by the fork. I'm not really sure what kind of person you need to be to come up with this idea, but I'd say a pretty sick one.
The Teatro Adolfo Mejia , now known as the Teatro Heredia was constructed by Luis Felipe Jaspe who also created the Clock Tower
Plaza San Diego - I spent way too much time here, mostly because the ladies at the arepa con huevo stand make the best ones in the city. I think I had one every other day. Seriously - these women are the best in the city, so do not miss them. I loved the square mostly because although there were plenty of tourists in this plaza, you could feel the energy of the locals. Grab a seat at the plaza, enjoy your arepa con huevo and enjoy the music from local musicians ranging from kid rappers, to guitar trios playing boleros, to amateur violinists. When you're ready to move on, hit up the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, check out las Bovedas, and the Teatro Heredia.
Plaza de la Aduana in Cartagena known for administrative buildings, lights up during the Christmas season
The Clock Tower & Plaza de La Aduana - There are many tiny entrances into the walled city, its most famous is the Puerta del Reloj or Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower). As you go under the clock tower, you will see many artisanal crafts for sale. They're priced nicely enough, so it's a nice time to help the local economy. Once you go through the clock tower you will be at the Plaza de los Coches. Yes, you can pick up a carriage ride, but I find them inhumane (many of the horses are ridiculously skinny, and the carriages are made of heavy materials unlike those in New York). Ladies, you are not princesses, stop making believe you are. A quick walk from here, you will find Plaza de la Aduana where Christopher Columbus stands triumphantly over La India Catalina. I've got so many issues with this monument, but it does tell you a lot about the history of the city and Latin America. Walk a little more, and you will find yourself at Plaza San Pedro Claver.
It's pegasi - enough said.
Muelle del Pegaso en Cartagena de Indias - As you walk out of the city center through the clock tower, you will encounter the Muelle del Pegaso (dock of the Pegasus) which connects the Center of the old city to Getsemani. It is decorated with multiple pegasus sculptures, and sits in company of the Convention Center and the Camellón de los Martires. It was a lovely spot in December, especially at night when the area would be lit up and vendors sold arepas con queso, cerveza and other treats to locals. You'd often hear music and be entertained by street artists. One night, we ran into the Festival de Pasteles at the Parque Centenario. This was an awesome event. It ran a whole week and local pastel makers competed for the title of the best Pastel of Cartagena. Their pasteles are quite similar to Tamal tolimense. I was in heaven. We went back twice, ate like pigs and had an amazing time. If you want to take a trip to Isla Rosario, you can grab a boat here, but we recommend that you plan this out ahead. A day trip is not worth it. If you head out to Islas Rosario, take at least 3 days.
Maria Mulata (Mexican grackle) is the official bird of Cartagena, this is one amongst various public art pieces dedicated to her.
Getsemani - This is now the hippest barrio in Cartagena. It is where independence was first declared and has recently seen a renaissance. It was once known for prostitution, seedy stores and clubs. Now, it is a lovely neighborhood with stunning graffiti and street art, killer restaurants, and is definitely a home for the local Cartageneros. We were there during December and on our nightly walks, we'd see all the people from the neighborhood at the local church singing the novena. There were ton of restaurants, bars, and clubs.
India Catalina - Catalina had it rough. She was kidnapped by the Spanish in the 1500's and eventually ended up assisting them in the conquest of Colombia. The monument in her name sits on the harbor in between the Castillo de San Felipe and the Old Town.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - Sorry Cartagena, but you gotta up the ante here. This is a stunning site, but you're missing a ton of opportunities here. Lisbon's Castelo Sao Jorge is kicking your ass when it comes to defensive castles and it's not because theirs is better, but because they understand how to use the space to envelop tourists in history and lore. I'm physically healthy and active, and I am a huge history buff...and I did not find this to be the most pleasant experience. The site itself is impressive, but the tourism board is missing out on many opportunities to make money while making visitors happy. Go, but make sure to wear sunscreen (bring extra). Wear sneakers, there is no way up, but walking. Make sure to wear a hat as there are no places to hide from the sun (unless you head into the bovedas - not the most comforting spots around), and make sure to bring a few frozen water bottles. The only shop is all the way at the top of the Castillo, by the time you get there, you will be heat stroked. Cartagena could create a better experience by setting up rest spots (tables, chairs, and umbrellas), guides throughout to talk to you about the history. They could also set up learning centers within the castillo (or at least more signs). Finally, their gift shop sucks. Nice people there, but it's all nick nacks. That would be the perfect spot to have a small wine/beer/frituras bar and a little music. Lisbon does this, and they do it quite well.
The Parque de La Marina in Cartagena Colombia is part of the National Armada
CARTAGENA TRAVEL TIPS
Sun Protection: The Caribbean sun can be unforgiving. Make sure to wear sunscreen and a hat. Even though I wore SPF 30 on a daily basis, I ended up with a little skin damage. You can also carry around bottles of water, but stuff is so cheap there, I would just buy it on the street.
Carry small bills: Local vendors (and taxi drivers) will try to get as much out of you as possible. Make sure to carry change so that you don't end up overpaying for goods and services.
Stay away from the Emerald Shops: Colombia has great emeralds, but this is not the place to purchase them.
Do eat on the street: Look for women and men with bags filled with Styrofoam containers. They come out around 11 and will yell "ALMUERZO". That means lunch. These lunches cost a mere $2USD and usually include coconut rice (yummmy), a green salad, and a protein that can be chicken, or pork. So freaking good. Then grab yourself a coconut from a street vendor to wash it down with.
Wear White: White reflects heat, so you will stay much cooler. Besides, this is the favorite color of the locals, so you will stick out less.
Dress nicely: Colombians don't wear sneakers, and while Cartagena is more relaxed than say Bogota or Medellin, if you wear sneakers or flip flops you will totally stick out. At night time, step up your game. Gentlemen can wear white linen pants with a nice shirt, and ladies can wear a nice Summer dress.
THINGS TO EAT IN CARTAGENA
Arepas con queso are Cornmeal and cheese cakes found on the streets of Cartagena
These are not listed in any particular order...but you cannot leave Cartagena without trying these lovely dishes:
Arepa Con Huevo: My absolute favorite type of arepa. Find the arepa ladies at Plaza San Diego. There are others in the city, but these are better than any restaurant or stall in town. These arepas are made of corn flour, and filled with spiced ground beef and deep fried. Once they cook, they are filled with two eggs and fried again. They are possibly my most favorite indulgence (and they are super cheap). I'm kinda drooling right now.
Arepa Con Queso: These arepas are thick cheese & cornmeal cakes that are grilled (on butter) and topped with more butter and cheese. They are pungent, delicious, caloric and damn good with a beer. The best ones were at the carts of el Camellón de los Martires.
Tasting Menu at Restaurante 1621 - Sofitel Santa Clara: It's expensive for Cartagena, it's a steal by NYC standards. The cuisine is French-Caribbean and puts the ingredients of Cartagena to the standards of La Technique. The service and wines were also wonderful. We paid $120 USD for dinner for two (two courses and dessert).
Gelato at Paradiso: I was blown away. Gelateria Paradiso makes everything in-house with the best ingredients available. You can have something traditional like Cookies & Cream, something tropical like Tamarind, or something unusual like Basil. There's a flavor for everyone.
Pasteles Cartageneros: I may have loved these because they were so much like Tamales Tolimenses (I may get hurt next time I go to Cartagena for saying this). They are hearty, delicious, and one is enough for two - but I've been known to polish one off on my own. They are made or cornmeal which is filled with pork, chicken, beef and a few veggies. The mix is wrapped in a plantain leaf and boiled. If you go in December, ask locals about the Festival de Pasteles. It goes on for a week and you'll have the chance to taste pasteles from the city's best Pasteleros.
Limonada de Coco: Oh yeahhhh...there are few things better in the sweltering Cartagena heat than a delicious Coconut Lemonade. I'm not sure what the hell they do to make this so damn good, but I was ordering these at every restaurant in town.
Fruit: Fruit is freakin' delicious in Colombia and Cartagena has a bounty of it. You can get anything from pineapple, papaya, guava, uchuva, nispero, granadillas and much more. If you want to try a good variety, head to one of the squares and buy a salad from the palenqueras. It will cost you very little and you will get a taste of one of each of the fruits at her table.
Ceviche: You're at the beach. You better eat seafood. When it comes to ceviche you've got plenty of options. You can go to La Cevicheria, but if you really want the Cartagena experience, you need to head to Avenida Venezuela (between the walled city & Getsemani) and check out the Ceviche stands. Amazing ceviche for around $2USD. Just remember to ask for it without ketchup or salsa rosada. Colombians love ketchup on their fish and I find this to be a sacrilege...just something to keep in mind.
Arroz con Coco: You will be hooked and beg for the recipe. Coconut rice here is served at almost every meal. It's made with real coconut and panela (basically pure unrefined cane sugar). It somehow works with main courses. Especially fried fish.
Fried Fish: The fried fish in Cartagena is delicious. Most restaurants will offer whatever is the catch of the day. When you eat it, make sure to relish on the fins. Fried fins taste better than potato chips.
Patacones con hogao: Fried plantains with hogao...
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET SICK IN CARTAGENA
Getting sick when you're traveling sucks. You could go to a hospital in the city, but there's a much better option. There is a service called AMI. This service is a subscription emergency medical service for locals. How does this help you? If you're sick, you can call the service and request a doctor. The bad news is that if they're having a busy night they won't get to you immediately (and you'll have to call back until a spot opens up). The good part is that a doctor will come to your hotel/lodgings, check you out there, and prescribe whatever you need. The better part, a visit cost us $90.000 COP (less than $30USD). One note - you will need to call them from a landline or Skype. In Colombia landlines can only call landlines, and mobiles can only call mobiles...weird, I know. Thank you Dr. Ronald for taking good care of us.