Cartagena was one of my favourite places to visit during my time in Colombia and you can explore a lot of surrounding islands and beaches from this city.
Firstly, we decided to take a trip to the incredible floating hostel Casa en el Agua which is located a couple of hours away from Cartagena by boat. But a couple of hours can become six if you travel during choppy conditions. After getting soaked by the waves and enduring a lot of painful bumps along the way, we stopped at an island called Baru to wait for the waves to subside. The good thing about our painful journey was that we go to see this small island community as we had to stop for at least an hour, plenty of time to look around.
When we finally arrived at Casa en el Agua we were greeted with welcome shots of rum from the cheery volunteer helpers. There are plenty of great (if slightly expensive) cocktails to try and daily happy hours. In the evening we took the plankton tour, which involved going out in a boat and snorkeling in the dark. Underwater the luminous green plankton react to movements and you become surrounded by what look like underwater fire flies.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of the ocean looking out from my hammock over the balcony at a calm blue ocean.
We took a tour of Islote the nearby island, which is the most densely populated island in the world, and enjoyed an illuminating tour from the one of the locals. He informed us that people have to walk through houses to get around the island because of the lack of room. Almost all the space is occupied by houses but there are still small allies and streets that we walked through to see the island’s small clinic which has one resident doctor 5 days a week. The tour ended with a look at the aquarium where they keep a shark which you can swim with for just 5000 pesos (about £1.25). After watching the shark get poked awake with a large stick I thought jumping in might not be a good idea.
On returning to the hostel, I spent the afternoon snorkeling and using a paddle board. All equipment can be hired from the hostel and I spent hours exploring the surrounding reefs before a much more relaxing journey back to Cartagena. When not tackling the harsh conditions, the boat ride is quite pleasant but rather pricey at 100,000 pesos per trip (£30).
The old town of Cartagena was one of the most beautiful towns I visited in Colombia. Free walking tours offer some interesting background information about the history of the slave trade in Cartagena and highlights the fusion of Spanish and Caribbean culture. The Iglesia de San Pedro Claver is worth a visit as the church itself is beautiful and the museum permits entrance into the the bell tower. The museum is a beautiful three story block built around a courtyard filled with palm trees, a nice place to read a book. As well as information and artwork about the history of San Pedro Claver, the museum houses exhibitions of modern Haitian artwork.
The fortress Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is also a good trip, only a half hour walk from the old town. From the top of the fortress you get a great view over the city and can enjoy exploring the maze of tunnels throughout the structure.
One of the oddest moments of the trip was walking straight into a music video being filmed for the Colombian artist Kevin Flores, throwing coloured powder and jumping up and down to Escapate, his latest release. The video has some great shots of the old colonial buildings and over head shots of the old town so if you can ignore the odd storyline take a look. It’s also a great example of modern Colombian music and insanely uplifting.
The nightlife in Cartagena is pretty lively with great views from rooftop bars and clubs where live music is performed on top of the bar. After a heavy night out we headed to the mud volcano Volcan del Totumo where you can soak in the mud and enjoy a slightly awkward rub down from the locals.
On my first visit I stayed at El Viajero which has a lively social scene, large outdoor bar and relaxing area with hammocks. On my second visit I stayed at Mi Llave, a smaller hostel in a beautiful old building on the bay overlooking the city. I spent my last night before flying home to England here in Cartagena, enjoying a beer at a bar on the wall watching the sunset, the perfect end to my trip.