It was a lazy Sunday morning when the thought hit me….I want to go to Colombia.
I kept seeing all the gorgeous, colorful posts on IG and just felt compelled to go experience it for myself. So I looked up ticket prices and to my delight Jetblue was having a sale- $350 RT from NY-Cartagena.
I immediately booked. I didn’t call my friends, hit up the group chat, or try to find someone to go with me. I just booked. I was in the mood for some solo travel, and despite my initial hesitations about safety, Colombia was a great and safe experience for me.
So you’re interested in visiting Colombia too? Even better, you want to go alone? Well, here’s the perfect 5 day itinerary for your solo adventure to Cartagena.
Day One: Arrive in Cartagena and get settled into your hotel. Take the day to explore the city!
I wasn’t sure what to expect once I landed in the airport, but getting through customs was fast. I was also pleasantly surprised at how easy the airport was to maneuver. One of my safety measures for my solo trip was to pre-book my taxi so I wouldn’t have to worry about negotiating in Spanish and so that all my movements were documented.
I paid $20 in advance for a taxi to my hotel and it was definitely not necessary. Cartagena’s city center is about 20 minutes from the airport and the taxi cost about 12,000 Colombian pesos. 12,000 pesos = $4 USD. So yea…. definitely overpriced. Pre-booking is definitely a waste of time for local travel.
Nevertheless, I arrived at my hotel Hotel Casa Baluarte and was very satisfied with the accommodations…until I realized there was no hot water! Apparently it was listed in the very fine print and I missed it. Turns out many of the hotels do not have hot water, so pay attention if that’s important to you.
Hotel Casa Baluarte is located in Getsemani, which is the real heart and soul of Cartagena. That’s where you’ll find the people, the music, the street food. Although I’m sure staying within the walls is a great experience, I highly recommend staying in Getsemani. And it was about a 5 minute walk to the Walled City. I spent the evening watching dancers in Parque Bolivar, taking a horse and carriage ride through the city, and indulging in all the dulces offered to me by the Palenqueras. I struggled at first trying to adjust to the environment, no one really spoke English and I could not find an ATM. Not to mention, the constant catcalling was overwhelming. As vulnerable as I felt, it certainly sharpened my senses and I quickly adjusted. By end of day, I felt comfortable with getting around.
Day Two: Call Alex Rocha and Venture out to Palenque!
Palenque is probably what I was looking forward to the most during this trip. Palenque was founded during the early 17th century by escaped Africans and is known for being the first recognized free black town in South America. Often when I travel, food, art, and spirituality is what I’m in search of. So, this opportunity combined my passions. I heard about Alex Rocha and his company Experience Real Cartagena from a friend, and per her advice “You cannot go to Cartagena and not meet Alex!”. And she was absolutely right. Alex picked me up and before venturing off to Palenque he took me to his home to meet his wife and kids and show me around his youth center. Alex is really phenomenal, he operates a youth center to mentor and educate children in local barrios. I encourage you to check out his Social Project, you may have skills and knowledge that you can help donate to the children.
After having some of the best cheese I’ve ever had (I should’ve wrote down what it was called!) and enjoying the company of his relatives, we ventured off to Palenque. Along the way, Alex stopped and had me try some local cuisines. The arepas were great…..the Iguana eggs…the verdict is still out!
Once we arrived to Palenque, the most ironic thing happened. It started raining. And I don’t mean drizzling…it was pouring. In the middle of a hot, sunny Cartagena day it started to pour as soon as we reached town. Apart of me laughed, it figured that on my road to spiritual enlightenment and my quest to learn about African religions, it would rain so much I couldn’t get out of the car. But, it certainly wasn’t for nothing. While sitting in the car, I got to speak with a local about their religious traditions, how the world views African spirituality, the history of their freedom and the preservation of their culture. It was really an amazing conversation. Later on, I did get to go out and talk to some of the people. The last thing one of the locals said to me still resonates deeply. “Don’t forget Palenque”. And I’m sure I never will.
Seriously, call Alex and use him to explore Cartagena. He made my experience authentic and enriched. And he knows all the best local spots to get street food. You won’t be disappointed.
Day Three: Relax on the Beach at Playa Blanca
I looked at different options to get to Playa Blanca, but I inevitably decided to go with my hotel’s day tour there. For 50,000 COP ($17 USD), I booked a day tour with transport and lunch to Playa Blanca. The beach itself was gorgeous, crystal blue waters, perfect weather and the best coco rice I’ve ever had. The only downside was none of the tour operators spoke English. My Spanish comprehension is pretty decent, but there were multiple times I didn’t catch what was said and was very confused about the instructions. Also, the locals are super aggressive with trying to sell you things. I mean, all day long I kept getting surrounded or an item shoved in my face. One woman started giving me a massage and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Well, truthfully she had heavenly hands, so I didn’t mind at all! But, it was hard to read my book with all the interruptions. I don’t mind supporting, so I bought whatever I could. If you’re into total peace and quiet, you may want to look at another beach.
Day Four: Get Dirty in the Volcano
I typically look on Viator for tours when I travel and was very intrigued by this Mud Volcano tour offered. It included a “spa-like” mud massage and trip to Manzanillo Beach, so I figured it was worth the experience. The bus arrived right on time to pick me up from my hotel and I was pleased with how clean and cozy it was (and the guide spoke English). The only downside was the bus drives all over the city to pick up guests, so it took about an hour to even hit the road. 40 minutes later we reached the volcano and the fun began. When I climbed up to the top and looked down, I got a little nervous. love getting dirty, but….I. DID. NOT. WANT. TO. GET MY HAIR COVERED IN MUD! And as you can see from the photos…I sure didn’t!
The mud massage was awesome! It was warm, soft, and you float in it. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but it was really soothing. I highly recommend it. Afterwards, several local women wash you down in the river to help clean off all the mud. That was an…intimate experience to say the least. They pulled my bathing suit top down to wash off my chest and pretty much everyone in the river saw my breasts. I’ve had worse problems though, I just laughed it off. They were super nice and commented on how radiant my tan was. Plus, I left squeaky clean with not a drop of mud in sight.
Day Five: Dance, Eat, Get Lost in the City!
I did a lot during my time in Colombia, it really was the perfect getaway. I ate a lot, I danced a lot, I walked a lot, and I practiced my Spanish a lot. But, what I found to be the best part of it all were the things that were unplanned. Just exploring the city, getting to know the natives, and just being is what a solo adventure is all about. Cartagena is definitely one of my top 10 countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. It’s so unapologetically Black and vibrant, I can’t wait to return.
And should you ever choose to go, drop me a line and let me know just how much you loved it too!