I’m not sure when I became fascinated with Cartagena, Colombia. One of my closest friends during undergrad was from Medellin, Colombia and I always told her that I would visit her country one day.
My good friend Kali Blocker mentioned the possibility of traveling to Colombia and I was sold.
On October 16th I made my first visit to South America and visited Cartagena, Colombia. In true My Fab Finance fashion, I made the trip come to fruition on a budget. I just calculated the expenses and this trip cost me a total of $381.25.
That’s right. I visited Cartagena, Colombia for 5 days and 4 nights for $381 and that includes airfare and lodging.
Here is how I did it:
Travel and Accommodations:
Last year I traveled to Ghana and Dubai via Emirates airlines. Emirates is a partner of JetBlue airways. As soon as I landed back in the states I called JetBlue to inform them that I had recently traveled on a partner airline and I wanted my miles transferred to my True Blue account.
With that one trip I had earned enough miles to cover my flight to Cartagena. I was only responsible for the taxes which cost me $71.60.
The next task was locating our accommodations for the day. I knew two things for sure. 1) We were going to stay in an AirBNB and 2) I wanted to be in the walled city so that we could walk and not rely on taxis to get around.
We found a cute loft that had great reviews and included a complimentary breakfast every morning. SCORE. Kali and I split the cost and it cost me $179 for the entire trip.
But now I’ve knocked the biggest expenses out, travel and accommodations for only $250.
If you don’t have airline miles to use, I’ve recently seen flights to Cartagena for as low as $320.
FYI: You do not need a visa to visit Cartagena on trips under 90 days.
Upon arrival we took a taxi from the airport to our lodging accommodations. The taxi fare was 10,000 Colombian Pesos (CP) which totaled to approximately $4.00 USD. We spent the day walking around the old city and decided to have dinner at the restaurant downstairs. I ordered a fish in a seafood sauce dish that came with rice and beans, Patacones (Colombian tostones), salad and wine. The meal totaled 60,000 CP / $20.47 USD.
Both Kali and I are members of the Nomadness Travel Tribe. We connected with a fellow Tribe member, Alex, who is native to Cartagena and provides “The Real Cartagena” tours. Alex picked us up that evening and took us to meet his beautiful family.
That night we went to the local section of Cartagena and ate street food and chatted with the locals. I ate la pinchos (grilled chicken on a stick ) for 5,000 CP/ $1.70
Kali and I wanted to visit a beach so we arranged a day trip through Alex to the Rosario Islands. I’m so happy I had Kali with me. She is fluent in Spanish and I would have been lost on this day trip-and during the ENTIRE trip-had she not been there to accompany me.
We went to a secluded part of the island and enjoyed the beach and sun. It wasn’t the biggest beach and the water was warm. But we got what we needed. There was an on site masseuse. She charged 30,000 CP/ $10 USD for a 30 minute massage. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep. It was exactly what I needed.
Lunch was served shortly after. An added bonus is that lunch was included with the trip cost. It was DELICIOUS and came with the best fish soup I had on the trip.
The trip also included our transportation to and from the island. This cost us 120,000 CP/ $40 USD . Our day trip cost me $50 total (this price includes the cost of my $10 massage).
That evening Kali and I dined at a nearby restaurant and dinner was 30,800 CP/ $10.57 USD (per person).
The following morning we awoke and ate breakfast (for free of course) and joined Alex for the day.
Alex took us to his Youth Center where he and his family teach English to the children of the community. Although speaking English is essential to advancing in Cartagena, it is not taught in all of the schools. This poses a barrier for individuals from less privileged communities which often limits their opportunities. Kali spoke to the kids about being an American of African descent, her initiative Diosas Al Natural and having natural hair in America.
Although there was a language barrier, this was one of my favorite experiences because I interacted with the children. Although we spoke different languages they looked just like family.
We then ventured to a popular local beach hangout that was lined with restaurants. We ate at his favorite one, La Perla Negra. This meal cost us 22,000 CP / $7.50 USD per person.
That evening we dined at an upscale restaurant that served Peruvian cuisine. I enjoyed the best Lomo Saltado I have ever had in LIFE. Racism is prevalent in Colombia and we found that non-black Colombians were often surprised and even uncomfortable with our presence at “nicer” establishments until they realized we were American.
The meal was 30,000 CP/ approx. $10 USD.
We did the Real Cartagena Tour. After breakfast, Alex picked us up and we hit the road. The tour began at noon and we didn’t return until 7 or 8pm. It was an action packed day and Tonya was done by the end of the day lol.
The tour began in the wealthier area of Cartagena called Boca Grand. We visited the Emerald Museum. As someone who LOVES gemstones and crystals I felt completely at home. While I did not purchase an emerald from the museum (because have a rather expensive shop at the conclusion of the tour) I have a new appreciation for the stone.
From there we drove through the lower income sections of Cartagena, to what is considered Level 1. This area is comparable to the favelas of Brazil. Level 1 is comprised of the people and families the government intends to forget. From there we visited a market and sampled local fruits. I must admit, I was not as adventurous as my companions. I had the sugar mango which was BOMB. Seriously, I’m not a fan of mango, but this was so good I wanted to bring it back home to NY.
Alex then took us to the highest point in Cartagena, La Popa Monastery. This is the moment that everything came full circle for me. I realized how large Cartagena truly was and how close the neighborhoods were. It was breathtaking.
From here we went on a walking tour of the old city and grabbed Colombian style arepas from a street vendor. At the end of the tour, Alex took us to one of his favorite local spots for dinner in an area called Gethsemani. It was the area in which African slaves who were brought to Cartagena settled. Our dinner was ridiculously cheap. It included fish soup, fried fish, rice and beans, salad, patacones, and sugar cane water (a local drink) for 7,500 CP / $2.61 USD.
Alex’s Tour is 60,000 CP/ $20 USD although we highly suggest tipping him because of the tremendous value.
Our departure date. Kali and I dined for breakfast downstairs and went to the local grocery store to pick up a few things we fell in love with while on our trip such as the chewy mint candies, cafe con leche, and body wash. This body wash was amazing. The total was approximately 20,000 CP/ $7 USD.
Grand total for the trip: $381.25 !
That figure still blows my mind. I never would have imagined that I’d visit South America for that amount of money!
I left Cartagena with tears in my eyes because I loved it so much. I didn’t have expectations. In fact I didn’t realize that Cartagena has the 4th largest population of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. Despite the language barrier, I felt at home. This was no doubt due to our ability to connect with Alex and his family as well as the opportunity to see the city in a way that we wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I can’t wait to go back and take my fiance.
If you are only interested in visiting Cartagena 4-5 days is more than enough time. On my next trip to Colombia I plan to visit Medellin and Cali.
If you are visiting Cartagena and would like to connect with Alex to support his work at the Alex Rocha Youth Center or arrange a tour you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org