Hear me out, I didn’t hate Cartagena. It has a lot of history and interesting culture. The reminder of European colonization is persistent. Although, I did not expect my previous dream destination to be yet another “Cancun”. If you like tourist traps like Cancun, I recommend you skipping this article.
Like I said, its not like I hated Cartagena. The shopping and food was incredible. Our Air Bnb was top notch and very affordable. It came with a sweet lady named Claudia who did basically everything for us, including making breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can find our Air Bnb here, I highly recommend it for a weekend away. I just think there is better places in Colombia to see before you go out of your way.
I think what really spoiled our surprise was Medellín.We visited the infamous city of Medellín right before our trip to Cartagena, and it was absolutely incredible! It quickly turned into one of the best places in the world that I’ve visited. An obvious hard follow up, that’s what Cartagena was. I was more excited for Cartagena than Medellín, and expected to be just as blown away. Find out my reasons why I won’t be returning to Cartagena.
Probably the number one complaint about Cartagena that most people have is the people (yes, just trying to make a living) that sell things inside the walled city, or on the beaches. If you look at the reviews of all the beaches in Cartagena you will find thousands of complaining reviewers talking about how they were harassed by people trying to sell them things.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. I’ve been haggled to death several times in the past and was not going to let one more stop me. Boy was I wrong. Our very first day in Cartagena, we went to the main beach in Bocagrande (where our Air Bnb was), and the absolute second we stepped on sand, we already had about 3 people on us. The sales people in Cartagena will HOUND you to buy something and then actually get really mad at you when you say no for the 30th time. We had to get aggressive in our voices, which of course is not okay.
We were grabbed by ladies giving massages. As in, we were sitting down enjoying our drinks on the beach when bam, two ladies come up and just start rubbing, then cracking our necks. Me and my group are not people who like to be touched without asking. After she forcibley grabbed my feet, we finally yelled the word STOP for the 20th time. They got upset and demanded money for the work they did. We did give them some cash, but immediately left the beach after. It was one after another. I don’t think we sat for 2 minutes without someone trying to bargain something with us.
Inside the walled city, the street performers will follow you around dancing, and then demand money. Probably the biggest disappointment for me was the infamous fruit ladies. We asked for a picture with one lady, then 5 or 6 more got up in the picture and of course, they all demanded money of their own. It was so infuriating to the point where we didn’t do anything outside of a tour, shopping, or eating. We hardly walked around because of this and did tours instead.
Not Many Beaches
There is beach in Cartagena, but not very nice beach. Playa Blanca is probably the nicest beach if you’re up for the drive and the sales people. Other wise, I hope your hotel or accommodation has a nice pool. We spent most of our afternoons by the pool at our Air Bnb. It was an incredible view and very relaxing.
You would think because its on the Caribbean, Cartagena would not be lacking in the beach department. Although, to our disappointment, it did. It’s always nice to be on the water, so I won’t complain too much. Just don’t expect white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water.
Not as Authentic
When I said it felt like another Cancun, this is what I meant! As a Mexican, Cancun just hits me wrong. It’s like the Vegas of Mexico. Thats how I felt about Cartagena.
After seeing Medellín, Cartagena for sure felt like a tourist trap. If that’s your speed, then by all means, you might love it! It was just a big reason why we did not like it. Everything was suited towards tourist and nothing felt really unapologetically Colombian.
The good thing about tourist traps is that they usually have some famous restaurants and good shopping. Bocagrande did have a little mall that we loved. Full of boutiques and clothing stores, we for sure spent some time blowing money and eating more than needed.
It was Dirty
One of the things about Medellín that surprised me the most was how incredibly clean it all was. I don’t ever visit places in hopes they keep the streets clean, nor do I ever care if they are actually dirty. Although, it wasn’t what I expected and I know some people don’t enjoy it.
It didn’t seem like it was a people thing, it seemed like it was a city problem. That the city of Cartagena didn’t care too much to keep anything but Bocagrande or the Walled City clean. It was actually a little upsetting. Even flying in, you can see neighborhoods upon neighborhoods that need the help Im sure the city could provide.
Im no expert on the subject, so I will stop there. The world isn’t perfect and I don’t expect it to be. It was just a different environment all around then the other cities we visited in Colombia.
I hope this short list gives you insight on my experience in Cartagena.
It was my life’s mission to visit this city, and maybe that was also the problem. I expected too much! Even though it wasn’t my favorite trip, I do recommend several other tourist hotspots in Colombia like Medellín, Bogota, or Guatape.
Let me know in the comments your favorite memories or thoughts on Cartagena!