The first time I visited Cartagena back in 2010, my first impression was that the city was overrated. After having seen tons of colonial towns throughout Central America and Colombia, by the time I got to Cartagena I had had my fill.
Nevertheless, I stayed for a week. By the fourth day, I was tired of walking around the old city, suffering from the suffocating heat. At the time, I didn’t bother to go to the beach either. I heard that they were unimpressive, and being from Florida and frequently visiting Trinidad, I have a high standard for beaches.
What I like about Cartagena
I had a ton of fun on my four-day trip there. There are tons of restaurant options with a cool ambience and different food varieties. I loved wandering around the old town while the sun was setting, eating ice cream and watching the musical dance performances just by the old clock tower. At night, the DJs at both clubs I went to were better than others I’ve heard in Medellin. Cartagena is an awesome place for a weekend getaway with friends or your significant other.
Why I like Medellin better
Compared to the rest of Colombia, Cartagena is so expensive! I don’t know if it’s because of the cruise ships that come through or it being such a popular vacation spot for locals, but wow. I don’t know why I thought everything would cost the same as it does in Medellin. I was shocked by the prices of meals, club entries, and drinks – literally twice that of Medellin. Medellin offers a much better value for your money than Cartagena does. It’s a lot easier to stretch your dollar here than on the coast.
Tourist Scams & Price Gouging
In some of the more visited destinations around the world, there are tourist scams galore. There is the old throw poop on tourists trick in Ecuador, the “Oh that hotel is closed, let me take you to the one my cousin owns” pitch, and the price gouging that is bound to occur any time your looks give away your non-local status. Luckily, the majority of Colombia hasn’t suffered from any tourist scams as there really hasn’t been that many tourists coming here.
In Cartagena, however, the price gouging is rampant. While we were on the beach, a fisherman offered my boyfriend a taste of an abalone. After tasting one and declining others, the man says, “OK, that will be 15,000 pesos.” Equaling around $8 USD, this is a ridiculously high price seeing as how you can buy a decent meal in a restaurant at that price point.
And if you don’t speak Spanish, good luck paying the right price for any taxi rides. No taxis have meters, so you have to know how much rides will cost before you hop in the taxi.
Anyone who has traveled along the Banana Pancake Trail has had to fend off hordes of touts in his or her day. They will approach you while you’re eating in restaurants, tanning on the beach, or any place they can get to you really. Another thing I love about Colombia is again, thanks to its short history of being a tourist hotspot, is the lack of touts… except in Cartagena.
The beach is the worst. They will try to sell you overpriced lemonades, jewelry, cocktails, jet ski rides, hair braiding, and massages. After saying no thank you several times, one woman sprayed some dirty feet-smelling liquid on my leg and starting kneading it in a poor attempt to make the sale.
In Medellin, you might be approached by a guy trying to sell DVDs or an old woman selling gum, occasionally.
Cartagena is a great weekend getaway, a very romantic spot, and a good place to get a dose of the Caribbean culture here in Colombia. But if I had to choose between living in Medellin or Cartagena, I’d choose Medellin every time.
Which do you prefer, Medellin or Cartagena? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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