I turned 40 this year and decided that I wanted to take my first solo trip to celebrate my birthday. Not just any solo trip, I decided that I was going to go out of the country. Alone. I’m in quite a few Facebook travel groups and kept seeing posts about Cartagena Colombia. The pictures were always beautiful. Cartagena was honestly never on my radar of places to visit until I started seeing these posts. The posts just kept catching my eye every time I saw them. I decided to do some research on Cartagena. I was sold. Not only on the city, yet I was sold on the fact that most of the posts that I had seen were of women that had gone over there by themselves. Cartagena appeared to have everything that I love to have when traveling: history, culture, food that I’ll eat, and a great beach. A bonus was that there were people there that look like me! I researched the city for months and looked at quite a few of the Facebook posts I mentioned earlier prior to booking my trip.
For lodging, I decided on Hotel Estelar Oceania located in the El Laguito neighborhood. For air, I decided on jetBlue. It was my first time flying on the airline. Based on my budget, I decided to stay for 4 days/3 nights. I looked over various tours that interested me. I finally narrowed my selections down to a day at the beach, the Palenque tour, the Chivas party bus, and time for me to roam around the city on my own. I actually met a young lady in a Facebook group that would be in Cartagena during the timeframe that I would be there, and we decided we’d meet up on one of those days.
My family and a few of my friends were totally against me doing this. They were not fond of my choice of country to travel to on my own. There is of course a negative stigma associated with the country of Colombia due to Pablo Escobar and the drug trade that was once big in the country. Yet, I just saw too many posts of people-especially women going there alone, so I knew that it had to be safer now. To put my family and friends at ease, I took some extra safety precautions. I registered my trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This program is offered by the US Embassy for US travelers traveling abroad to different countries. I planned out my itinerary prior to going so that my family would be aware of my whereabouts. I made a copy of my passport and sent my final itinerary to my gatekeeper here. I also sent my hotel information to include the name of the hotel, address, and the phone number.
Cartagena was EVERYTHING!!!! I truly enjoyed my time there. Here is a brief re-cap of my trip there.
Day 1: I arrived in Cartagena at around 1:30pm. Apparently, there were quite a few flights getting in, so I spent almost two hours going through Customs there. During the planning phase, I decided that I would exchange a few dollars for pesos at the airport as I would be taking a cab from the airport. My hotel wanted to charge $25 for transportation and based on my research, I knew I could take a cab for much cheaper. I ended up spending $19.000 COP (Colombian pesos) which equates to about $6 USD. I learned through my research that you must negotiate price prior to accepting a cab ride. Or anything for that matter. Riding in the cab had me fearing for my life!! LOL! The driving there is quite different. My hotel was nice. I’d rate it about 3 stars. It served its purpose for me to sleep and shower. The hotel did provide breakfast each morning as well as dinner. I never got to try the dinner as I was usually out during this time. I did end up having to change rooms as the air stopped working in my first room. My hotel was right across the street from the beach. I walked over to have a look around and found a place to eat. It was a hut on the beach. No signage, so I’m not sure what the name of the restaurant was. The young man that helped me did not speak much English. There were no menus. So he brought out three whole, raw fish for me to choose which one I wanted. I believe I chose Snapper. I had fish, rice, plantains, salad, and a limonada to drink. The fish was the best fried fish I’ve ever had in my life!!! It was soooo good! I’m such a picky eater, so I was concerned about what I would eat while in Colombia. I had seen pictures of this signature dish with almost every post about a trip to Cartagena, yet I wasn’t so sure about an entire fried fish. It did not disappoint!! I spent the remainder of the evening there at the beach hut to watch the sunset
Day 2: I signed up for a day at Playa Blanca. I booked through Viator and Guizman tours ended up being the tour operator for this tour. The cost of the tour was $49 (USD). I got a 10% discount off the price of the tour because I signed up to receive e-mails from Viator. The tour included transportation to and from Playa Blanca, lunch, water, and a fruit salad. My tour guide spoke English which was much welcomed as I was the only English-speaking guest there. There was a group of five women there from Brazil. They were so nice. They tried to include me as much as possible despite the language barrier. Playa Blanca was about an hour away from Cartagena. The tour guide explained a lot on the way there about various neighborhoods and businesses we passed along the way. Once we arrived, we got in a small boat and went a bit further down the beach. I chose to go on Thursday, so the beach wasn’t too crowded. We had a table and chairs to leave our belongings. The beach was absolutely beautiful! We were given a bottle of water and the fruit salad upon arriving and getting settled. If you are looking for a nice, relaxing beach to spend the day at, Playa Blanca may not be the beach for you. There are quite a few vendors on the beach selling multiple things and some are quite relentless. Despite this, I still enjoyed my day there. Lunch consisted of fried fish, rice, plantains, salad and a coke. It was delicious! We left the hotel around 8am and I got back around 3:30pm. I got cleaned up and then headed to the walled city. I met Angela there, the young lady that I mentioned early that I met in the Facebook group. We were attempting to eat at Café Del Mar, yet we did not make reservations and did not get there early enough for seating, so we decided to find somewhere else to eat. Café Del Mar is known to be one of the best locations in the city to take sunset pictures. I was able to get a nice sunset picture!
Day 3: I signed up for the Palenque tour with Alex Rocha. This tour included water, lunch, and transportation to and from my hotel. The cost of the tour was $80 (USD). I was picked up around 8:30am and taken to where all tour participants were meeting to take the bus to Palenque. It was about an hour away from Cartagena. Alex spent time sharing history of not only Palenque, yet about different cities in Colombia and different areas in Cartagena. There were more people on this tour and all were English speaking. Alex speaks English and Spanish. He is of Afro Colombian descent, so the information he shared was from that perspective. I truly enjoyed soaking in the information!! Palenque is a city that was the first free city established about 400 years ago by slaves and they pass down their culture and history to each generation. We were able to see the school the children attend although we were not able to go inside the school. We also went to a center in the city where the children learn dance and drums. They did a few performances for us. It was truly amazing! We got to see a few of the murals around town and a few other points of interest. We had lunch at a restaurant in town. I had fish, rice, salad, and fried plantains (yes, I had that meal the entire time I was in Cartagena LOL!) It was really good! It started raining, so we were not able to finish the entire tour. We headed back to Cartagena and I arrived at my hotel around 4pm.
That evening, I signed up for the Chivas bus tour. The tour costs $20 (USD). This tour was also through Alex Rocha. It included an open bar, a light dinner, transportation to and from my hotel, and entry into a night club for an hour. I was picked up around 8:30pm from my hotel. I was taken to the bus where other people were already on the bus. The Chivas bus rides around the city playing music. There were quite a few other Chivas buses riding through the city. All the buses met at a central location and there was a group from Venezuela that performed and encouraged the crowd to join them. We had empanadas during the stop. They were yummy! After the stop, we then stopped by the famous “Cartagena” sign and had the opportunity to take some pictures. We then headed to the club. I had a great time! It was a fun experience to be in another country seeing how the locals have fun. Three other ladies and I decided to go to another spot that was playing live music as we weren’t ready for the night to end. We stayed there for about an hour before calling it a night. I caught a cab back to my hotel.
Day 4: This was the day of my departure. I got up early and caught a cab to Getsemani. I wanted to get pictures of the graffiti in that part of Cartagena. I ended up getting some pretty good shots! I will have to go back and do the tour so that I can have the meaning behind each of the murals.
Cartagena was everything I wanted in a vacation. History. Culture. Food that I will eat. A beautiful beach. I met some wonderful people there. My first solo trip was a success!! I felt safe. It was a truly empowering experience! I had to rely on myself. It definitely will not be the last time I take a solo trip! I love the aspect of doing things on my own time. And I definitely can see myself going back to Cartagena. If you’re on the fence about taking a solo trip, just do it!!!! Take the necessary precautions. Check the US Embassy website to see if there are any travel advisories for the country that you are considering visiting. Register your trip with STEP. Choose someone that can serve as your information gatekeeper and check in with that person often so that they know you are okay and can relay the message to other friends and family.
I’d love to hear your feedback! Please share your thoughts and comments on my first solo trip.