If you hate your brother and sister-in-law have them join you in Cartegena for a beach vacation. I have been to Zanzabar, Mykonos,Aruba, Thailand and let me tell you this has been the worst experience of my life. I was not expecting the best beaches but this is a *** hole. The best resort is the worst place I have ever stayed.The other thing you need toco sider is safety- it isnot safe to travel outside of the major cities even with local.
I may have different expectations but if your family members ate not world travelers it would be a shame to ruin their first experience.
Unique Suggestions: Do not book anything with all incisive company from NA
Fun Alternatives: Get the first flight out to Miami
Plaza Santo Domingo is no different than the other plazas in Cartagena with their churches and other outlets with common space for the pedestrians decided to go on their business or hang out for a while. Yet at the same time there is the notion that the Santo Domingo plaza is definitely for the tourist as opposed to the Plaza Bolivar which seems to be dominated by the locals. I have no idea how it came about but it is a fact well known by the locals who are plying the tourist trade. So much so that if you succumb and sit down for a drink a whole series of artist of any calibre are going to offer their services and thus poison your impression of the place. Day time hustlers are the so called "palenqueras" or fruit-selling ladies while at night there are the "troubadours" who would be willing to entertain you with amazing repertoire of songs and if not enough some might suggest other tricks akin to circus performance. Just hold on to your stout NO as long as your beer is over and move...
Horse-drawn carriage tours are generally a very touristy affairs and in the western world a prohibitively expensive one. Fairy tale towns like Cartagena are perfect places to make this splurge and we saw many people doing just that. There were almost too many of them on all the narrow streets! We were on a long trip with a fairly tight budget and assumed it was too much money for something we didn't really “need” so never even asked how much it might be. Only on returning, I saw some prices in the 30-40,000 COP ($15-20) range for an hour tour. This is certainly not cheap by local standards but far less than you'd pay in bit North American cities. Perhaps some day if we ever return and they sure did make for some atmospheric photos and of course, these were free.
Basically, don't talk to anyone who approaches you, especially if they speak English. Make sure you buy from someone inside a building, not a mobile shop, so you can go back and complain if things don't work out.
But you still have to shop around, people inside the hotel were offering boat tours for a higher price than the place just a few blocks down the road.
I was so stupid. Just walked out on the streets for a few hours and I've been ripped off twice already.
Once by the oyster guy on the beach, I probably could have walked away but I felt I had to pay him something.
And by the money exchange guy offering me 2500 pesos for US$1 when the exchange rate was at 2000 pesos. He was quick with his hands and took some of the bills away after counting the money and before handing me the money. He was so confident, he even had a small chat to the guard outside the bank while he was doing it.
We were on a full day excursion from the ship 'Island Princess' and towards the end of the day we were taken, in our coach, to an up-market area of the city. As we climbed off the 'bus we were herded into a shop to buy emeralds. No choice was given by our guide: we had to go in. We went in and immediately informed one of the assistants that we didn't wish to emeralds. She seemed surprised. We left and wandered around the other shops ---a mixture of jewellers and jewellers! To be fair, there were a few craft stalls on the pavement. It was such a wast of forty minutes. Why hadn't we spent longer at another place? Okay, the itinerary had mentioned a stop to buy emeralds ---but so much time!
Above the shops was another shop we sells great quality coffee to drink or in packets to take home. The ice-cream there was great.
Unique Suggestions: Go up the steps to the shops up there.
Not really a tourist trap, but a touristy sight... Ladies in the old walled town sellig fruits or candies/biscuits from large baskets that they carry on their head, in perfect balance. They dress up in costumes with the colour of the Colombian flag.
Unique Suggestions: The candies/biscuits look vile, and i never found the courage to taste them. Fruits... I bought them from the supermarket, more choice, fresher and cheaper.
Fun Alternatives: Do take a phot of them... they are quite characteristics.
Book the tour to Rosario Islands at the port on Avenida Blas de Lezo called “Muelle Touristico”. The building is called “Turismo Cartagena de Indias”. You can also book it with a travel agency in the city but not with the street vendors because you might have surprises...Have in mind that diving or the show in the Aquarium is always extra and not included in the price.
"hola my friend",
this is something you will hear approximately every hour while walking through the old city ! Sometimes it´s just to say hello and to show that they speak english (or maybe only these few words) but sometime you will see that the guy (99%) is following you and want to help you showing things, giving local "insider" tips etc... Some of these guys speaks quite good english and often looks more or less well dressed compared to the rest of locals you will see ! But take care - DANGER !
These guys may help you with different things (getting better apartment for lower money, show you nice local restaurant, often specialist in nightlife or getting a girlfriend for single male traveler) but at the end they are just working on getting make you feel comfortable with them at your site ... one day ... in a moment where you may leave them 5 minutes in your room or apartment or in the restaurant taking care of your personal stuff, it will happen. They will steal everything and often they plan it quite well waiting only 1 day or few hours before you leave the city so you do not have any chance to look for them and you will realize that you never saw their ID or any document that shows you WHO the person was or where to contact him !
Sometimes other people they present you (girls) maybe the real thief !
I didn´t lived that experience myself, just saw cases and even know 4 guys working that way because I live here in Cartagena - when I see them with foreigners I try to warn the person but can´t do it to obvious for the bad guy because they might make me problems or get aggressive.
They are smart .. .even inviting you to a lunch or lending their cel-phone to make calls just to make you feel as friend - TAKE CARE !
Another trap are the guys which offers you to change money on the street - NEVER .. NEVER do it ! They are trick thieves - they are capable to count money right in front of you and double so fast a bill and count them twice or they may FOR SURE gave you false bills ! NEVER CHANGE ON THE STREET !
Unique Suggestions: If you read my description you will not have to make experience with that trap !
Fun Alternatives: If you read my description you will not have to make experience with that trap !
So tourist want to mix in with the locals, go partying and meet people right?
The Getsemani, especially The Media Luna street is an area offered often, but by locals with questionable intentions.
Yes, you'll find everythings really cheap, you'll meet weird people adn men will usually meet girls ( too friendly sometimes ).
Just by the look of the place , DO NOT GO, unless you like getting robbed, pry stoned and meet social companions ( prostitutes ) who could end up being fernandos or diegos with make up.
Unique Suggestions: Just avoid it.
I assure you theres much better places.
Fun Alternatives: Any other place.
You'll notice with a little common sense where they're taking you.
Although you would probably expect Cartagena to be full of post offices and postcard selling places, that doesn't seem to be true! It took me a whole day to send a few of them! No post offices in the city!
Unique Suggestions: There is one single post office that I'm aware of, you should take a taxi to it. When you finally find it, it's going to be an adventure to send them, since the place looks like there was a hurricane inside. In the end, the postcards did arrive to the locations I specified, but it was months later... Keep that in mind! And always watch as they process them, apparently, colombians love to throw them away and keep the money for themselves!
Fun Alternatives: Unfortunately, I don't see any alternatives for sending postcards, unless you want to do it by DHL or something like that :)
As you will very soon find out, emerald sellers are everywhere. Everybody has his/her own mine, everybody has the best quality and everybody goes out of their way to drag you into the store.
Unique Suggestions: Just ignore them, say you don't have money and be prepared that they are probably going to follow you around for a while too! They're harmless enough though...
Fun Alternatives: No way of escaping that in Cartagena :)
Everywhere on the street, you will find people selling bracelets, necklaces, all kinds of souvenirs... Some of them will harass you (just ignore them), some of them will just sit. The point is, hassle, pay 1/2 of the price at the most! In Cartagena, they are all way too expensive...
Unique Suggestions: Just try to negotiate the price as much as you can. Most of the time, you'll be able to do it easily; some will require a bit more persuading.
Sadly the city of Cartagena faces severe poverty and its resident are doing what they can to make a living. Many will follow you around the Old City and the beach attempting to sell you everything from small trinkets and bracelets to salt water (yes I am not kidding). One guy actually claims that the liquid he carries in his plastic pouches has medicinal healing properties for your feet after a vigorous walk in the sun scorched streets of Cartagena. He will actually pour the liquid onto your feet and give you a semi foot bath, and although I was not interested I saw him later filling up his pouches at the beach with ordinary sea water. Some vendors can be almost hostile. The are aggressive and friendly all at once which really raises red flags for me. One vendor wanted me to try oysters he plucked from the ocean. After eating one himself he then said "no problem free first time", what he doesnt tell you is that when he keep repeating "no problem" and shoves another oyster in your hand to eat the billing begins, and they have been known to make up to 80K pesos ($35-40) in profit on unsuspecting tourists who thought they were getting free samples only to be told, ok you pay now. He tried it with me, however when I mentioned the magic word "Policia" and subsequently flagged a uniformed officer down he was like a ghost...gone.
Unique Suggestions: Advice, don't deal with street vendors, stick with the shop owners who have actual stores you can go into.
Unfortunately Cartagena is marred for the foreign tourist by aggressive 'vendadores' - calling them street merchants is rather grandiose, as this implies some degree of legitimacy to their business. Sometimes it seems that the entire adult population of the town is trying to sell you something, be it T-shirts, hats, Cuban cigars, their services as a tour guide, or prostitutes. I even had a taxi driver pull up by the kerb next to me while walking down the street at two in the afternoon to ask me if I was looking for some 'chicas' (girls).
Cartagena's economy seems to rely heavily on tourism and it's really bad in the off-season, when there are hardly any tourists at all, leaving you outnumbered ten to one, especially at night. Eating out one evening in the Plaza Santa Domingo, I was forced to sit inside the restaurant as there were only about 10 other diners in the entire square, and maybe 20 people trying to sell them things.
You can't really hold it against them, as they have to eat, but the pressure is absolutely relentless. Just say no.
Unique Suggestions: Don't pay the price they ask. If you do actually want whatever they are selling, offer no more than one quarter of what they initially ask you. Remember, they need your cash more than you need what they are selling. Saying 'no' and starting to walk away is a great bargaining tactic, as they will immediately drop their price. You can probably get away with this at least twice or three times before you reach the lowest price they're willing to sell for.
Fun Alternatives: The only way to minimise the hassle is to avoid making eye contact and just continuing to walk on by, making negative gestures with your hands and saying 'no'. If it's quiet, don't eat 'al fresco' - go inside the restaurant where the vendadores are barred from entering by the owners.
Due to high levels of unemployment in Cartagena, especially in the off-season, everyone has their finger in every pie they can find. One of the more irritating group of people you will meet are those who tell you there's a great emerald or craft exhibition just up the road, then proceed to pester you until you agree to go visit it. Perhaps they will claim to be an official tourist guide. They may show you photo ID to prove it. Maybe they are even genuine. Whatever, the exhibition will turn out to be an overpriced jewellry store, and presumably the guy who brought you there gets a cut of anything you spend. It's easy enough to get away without buying anything, of course, but after it happens for the third time you start to get irrirated that your time is being wasted like this. Best policy is just to ignore everyone who tries to talk to you as you're walking around, even if they don't immediately appear to be trying to sell you something.
Unique Suggestions: Smile and nod and look suitably impressed at the gems on display. Watch in amazement as the owner says he will give you a special price, his fingers flying over the keys of his calculator as he works out his discount. If you look closely you will notice that despite all the impressive key-punching, what he really does is hit keys at random for a bit, then pushes the 'cancel' button and just types in the price he plans to sell to you at. Clever, huh? At this point, simply say that as you've only just arrived you're not really wanting to do a lot of shopping just yet. Ask for the jeweller's business card and promise to come back later. Then leave.
Fun Alternatives: Don't go inside in the first place. Be firm. Walk away. Then buy your emeralds in Bogota for a third of the price.