Cartagena visit

This item appears on page 27 of the June 2013 issue.

Following a 9-day Panama stay, my wife, Faythe, and I flew to Cartagena, Colombia, for two weeks of exploration around the area, June 25-July 9, 2012. At the airport, we exchanged money at an ATM in the departure lounge before getting a taxi to our hotel.

Hotel Casa Relax (Calle del Pozo Nº 25-105, Barrio Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia; phone +57 [5] 664 11 17) is located in the Getsem­ani area, outside the old walled city. The cost of COP150,000 (near $83) per night included an air-conditioned room and a nice breakfast. The staff didn’t speak much English. 

We took a 4-hour trip from Cartagena to Tolu on a bus operated by Brasilia Express (phone 01 8000 51 8001), a company recommended in the Lonely Planet guide for Colombia; the book’s referral was accurate. We purchased the tickets at the domestic bus terminal in Cartagena; I believe they cost $18 each way.

We spent a few days in Tolu just checking out the area. A popular weekend destination for Colombians from the big cities, Tolu has crowded beaches plus hawkers selling everything from jewelry to shrimp cocktails along the street adjacent to the beach.

Returning to Cartagena, we stayed at Hotel Bellavista (Ave. Santander #46-50, Marbella, Cartagena; phone +57 [5] 656 6201, fax 664 6411), where the very gracious owner, Monica, was a terrific hostess. She spoke English and helped us feel at home in her modest, but clean, hotel on Avenida Santander, across the street from the beach. 

For our air-conditioned room, we paid COP80,000 ($44) per night. The restaurant at the hotel served good food. 

For our final three days in Cartagena, we stayed at the Cartagena Ocean Front Penthouse (Carrera 10 Av. Maturin 5A, Cartagena de Indias, Bolivar, Colombia; email, owned by an American named Walter Luna, who was an excellent host. 

We found this through Airbnb and paid a daily rate of $53 through Airbnb prior to leaving for the trip. (Listed rates are from $35 per night or $175 per week.)

Our room was clean and comfortable, with a large patio door and balcony. There was no air-conditioning, but we found that, being on the fifth floor and with the door open, we enjoyed a wonderful breeze every night coming in off the Caribbean Sea just across the street. (Note: the apartment description says that A/C is available for an extra $30 per week.)

Both Hotel Bellavista and Cartagena Ocean Front Penthouse were a 15-minute walk from the old walled city of Cartagena. Exploring the old walled city was a lot of fun. The Colombians have done a fine job of restoring it and adding restaurants while maintaining the original layout and beauty of the many cathedrals, plazas and homes.

After an evening of dinner and exploring the Old City, we often took a cab back to the hotel, paying COP5,000 ($3) for two. 

There were plenty of ATMs available throughout the Old City, and police security was very adequate. We often were out walking in the old walled city after dark and never felt fearful. In our interactions, the people were gracious, helpful and very warm.


Clovis, CA