How to discover Cartagena in one day by bike!
If you ever visit Colombia, you have to stop in Cartagena.
Well, I have a particular love for this city: since the first time I have visited it I’ve felt in love, and yet each time I come back, the love grows.
Cartagena is a Colonial city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and one of the gems of the country, boasting one of the most beautiful old towns in the world.
I have visited this city many times and stayed in different places: from Bocagrande (beach side) to the Bay, to the Old town and last but not least the quarter Getsemani.
I would like to focus more on this last quarter as from my point of view is the coolest new neighborhood in Cartagena: very vibrant and artistic, showing off an incredible street art and much more.
With a difficult past, it used to be a place where mainly prostitution and drug-dealing was around, today Getsemani hosts many trendy hostels and boutiques hotels, plenty of restaurant and bar (for everyone taste) and lots of music and art. You cannot avoid enjoying few nights out dancing “Champeta” (Colombia’s typical dance) until late or sipping gorgeous drinks with the local people.
Furthermore, on day time is a real pleasure to get lost on a walk through Getsemani’s streets: from pretty graffiti to old Colonial architecture, the walls covered up with colored flowers and vendors selling local food and natural juices.
What to visit in Getsemani:
Plaza de Santisma Trinidad: where generally many school kids hang around playing football and older people stick around playing boards game, you cannot miss indulging with the street food as it is plenty of it.
Calle de la Sierpe: take a stroll to one of the most artistic roads in town, fill up your eyes with amazing graffiti and street art
Baluarte de Santa Barbara: walk up or down this old Bastion in Carrera 11, where you can take outstanding pictures of the city
Walk: walk with no direction and you will find so many hidden spot and gem: where is the fun otherwise.
Sleep: option for every budget, from trendy and artistic hostel ( from 20000 to 55000 COP depends on the season) to boutique hotels
(price range might vary, check booking.com for the best deal).
Eat and drink: I stopped eating at Donde Pepina restaurant and the food was delicious but I loved to just be naughty and eat local street food
Night out: plenty of bars that close at 3-4 am. One of the most famous is cafe Havana, but you will just walk around and stop where you vibe feel best
CARTAGENA TOURS: on 2 wheels
Well, as everybody might have understood now, Getsemani is a place that I highly recommend to visit but this does not mean that it is the only place I loved of Cartagena.
So here we are, I would like to show you how to visit the city in one day with no rush and having lots of fun, but be ready as you are going to cycle an average of 25 km or more and it might be quite of a sweat!
Based on where you get your accommodation you can either move the followings point around, I was in Getsemani hence I have started from this Barrio (neighborhood), but it is very much, up to you.
1. Getsemani: I won’t write much here, as you have got plenty of info already above. It is a 1-2 km ride
2. Castillo de San Felipe Barajas: fortress of Cartagena, is located on the Hill of San Lázaro. On the bike tour, I would only suggest getting a quick view of the fortress from the outside as it won’t be safe to leave your bike outside unattended. In another occasion, without having a bike ( you might come back for instance..) you can stop for at least 1 hour to pay a visit to the Castillo. The fortress was built by the Spaniards in their colonies, being Cartagena a strategic port. The castle took over 200 years and 245 tons of gold to build. Entry fee is 16000 COP but I suggest to add the audio tour (it comes in EN and IT as well) for an additional cost of 10000 COP, highly recommend if you want to know more about the constructions, the history behind and some nice secrets. Distance from Getsmani is 3.1 km
3. Mercado Bazurto: a local market where you can find from fresh fruits and veg to fish (also dry), meats, clothes and miscellaneous. I am a sucker for markets, and wherever I go I have to visit at least one, and so I did in Cartagena.
Although all the locals told me to avoid the visit as not really a safe place, I followed my gut and went for it: it was the right choice. True, as every market, being a crowded place it is not a tranquil spot but you got to just be a little careful and use common sense. Take a small backpack with you and place it on the upfront of your body, or even better a little bum-bag and avoid to carry much cash or credit card (you do not really need, neither of them) and just enjoy your walk testing as many fruits as you can. Walking further in the market you can also get to a lake with plenty of pelicans hanging in there (many.. really many). Across the roads of the market, vendors will try to sell you as much as possible, it might feel a bit too pushy if you are not in the Latino culture, if you feel like that just put a smile on your face and carry on. If you are a Spanish speaker instead, just stop with them further and try to understand what they want to sell, how fresh is it and negotiate on the price! The roads are not the cleanest ever and many different smells will overwhelm you (mostly if you are not much use to markets) but the food looked fresh. If you can, stop there for lunch: between the shelters, many women will cook local food, and this is a real typical local food (for a big portion as cheap as 8000/10000 COP). See below I really was enjoying my risotto with seafood..!
About your bike: DO NOT leave the bike at the market and do not try to take it with you (roads are too small and crowded), but leave it at the secured parking lot of the nearby Shopping Mall “Caribe Plaza” (it is free of charge and secure).
I have spent at the market the majority of the time of the day, was there for 2 hours, but 1 hour can also be enough to experience a bit of real life in Cartagena. Note: IT IS NOT a touristic spot, and people might not get used to tourist, so be sensitive and respectful and adapt. Distance from Castillo de San Felipe: 2.4 km, and overall you might walk for 1-2 km. through the market.
4. Barrio Manga : is a residential city neighborhood, famous for the the Puerto de Cartagena ( Cartagena’s port) along with Muelle Turístico (a very gorgeous wharf),the Casa Román ( 19th century Moorish mansion, in Calle 25), the Fuerte del Pastelillo (old Fort, that today is the headquarters of the Fishing Club), Park Lácides Segovia (this park remodelling cost 400 million of pesos, and now looks fresh and clean for all the people of Manga, who like to walk the park enjoying fresh air. The Park is also a WIFI spot if you might need it) and the last spot will be the Baluarte del Reducto (defensive construction also known as San Lazaro, last spot to see in Manga, as on the way back to Getsemani, following on your tour). You do not really need to leave your bike unless you want to make few nice pictures, but the area is very tranquil and not much populated, so you won’t get any issue with the bike. Along the Muelle, it is very peaceful and you can rest for a while eating some snack or having a drink or simply enjoying the view and peace. Distance from Mercado Bazurto is 2.1 km plus the whole route here in the Barrio is 2-3 km
5. Bocagrande: populated Cartagena’s beach side. You can cycle the on the path aside the beach along Carrera 1 (3 km long path) ending at Laguito Beach. On your left side, you will see many modern skyscraper-style hotels and shopping malls, whilst on your right side you will have a pretty beach plenty of food and drink vendors and masseurs. You can still stop on the beach to enjoy a refreshing drink in one of the many beach-bars (mind your bike, try to keep it close to your table) or also worth it to come back and relax on the beach for few hours, keeping up on your tan. Distance from Baluarte del Reducto to Laguito (Bocagrande end point) is 4.5 km, you will pass by also part of Getsemani to get to Bocagrande.
6. Castillo Grande and Cartagena’s bay: another very much loved spot of mine, the bay, most of all with the sunset. This can be also a nice stroll on the late afternoon, where you can then sit down by the harbor and watch the sun falling on the city with an explosion of shades of red, yellow and orange that will give you goose bump. This is also the poshest and richest area of Cartagena, with 2-3 million USD (or more) worth apartments. House also of many water sports. Distance from Laguito to the Bay is 2.5 km but you can also carry on to Calle 6 and Carrera 6 after, to another nice beach spot less known and definitely less crowded by noisy people.
7. Puerta del Reloj and El Centro and San Diego: Puerta del Reloj (Clock Tower Monument), is the door to the Old town, across Plaza de La Paz and Plaza de Los Coches with the Statue of Pedro de Heredia, a Spanish conquistador, founder of the city of Cartagena de Indias. A nice spot and worth it to stop to take few pictures, and also buy some souvenirs: I recommend to stop on the corner of the porch, under the arch there will be (hopefully for many years to come) an old man selling Botero’s little statues, and carry on the porch you can indulge in some local sweet and candy. Carry on your tour, you can cycle through the Old town streets although it might be very crowded so you must be very careful here and try to avoid to hit people. The alternative can be to drop back your bike by then if you are close by to the Old Town or Getsemani. If not I suggest to stroll with your bike for a little while and come back for walking tours.
Hot spot in the Old town and San Diego: this area is a real treasure of colonial architecture, as mentioned above one of the most beautiful old Town worldwide, and it will leave you with so much desire to come back one day.
Las Murallas: the Old Town is surrounded by this long old wall where you can walk on for another gorgeous view of the city (cool point for the both sunrise and sunset, and photo-point). The wall, finished in 1976 , is preserved in perfect shape, except for a part of the walls facing La Matuna.
Plaza De Bolivar: Bolivar’s Square ( you will find a square named after Bolivar in each city in Colombia). Interesting to stop here to visit the Gold Museum ( a smaller version of the sister in Bogota, but still very impressive: the bird-shaped human figures were forged by the Zenu), the Cathedral (built in 1576), and Palace of the Inquisition (with incredible facades balconies).
Monastery and Church of San Pedro Claver: used to be the Church of San Ignacio of Loyola, then named after San Pedro Claver, a missionary who lived and died in the convent.
Museum of Modern Art: Entrance is free but some exhibitions charge a small fee. The Museum is specialized in 1950s Latin American painters.
San Domingo Church: famous for is crooked bell tower.
Heredia Adolfo Mejia Theater: in Plaza de La Merced. Built in a horseshoe shape, in Neo- Baroque style, is also the host of sculptures of Italian marble made in Italy and shipped by sea via the Atlantic Ocean. ( Sorry, I am Italian, I had to underline that .. )
La Gorda Gertrudis: in Plaza de Santo Domingo, you cannot miss the lovely Statue of Botero, “La Gorda” (The Fat One) with very little to cover. It is said that if you touch her breasts, you’ll be blessed with luck in love: so give a nice touch, this time it is allowed!
Shopping: many roads host boutiques with handcraft jewelry or accessorize and furthermore clothes and shoes for every taste.
Eat: I can suggest the restaurant La Mulata in Calle Quero 9 – 58 Sandiego for some traditional food with a modern twist, but to be honest you can pick and choose many others as well, as regardless the fact that some of them sell touristic food (the Old town is the hottest spot in Cartagena, full of tourist from every where in the world), the food will still taste delicious.
Walk or cycle with indefinite destination, as each little streets of this Old town is special and beautiful, and the amazing Colonial buildings with flowers hanging from the walls, the sweet and candy sold by local vendors in their carts, the smell, and the history will leave you a special memory.
Distance from Castillo Grande is 4.7 km, but consider you might ride other 3-5 more in the Old Town
CYCLE TOURS TIPS:
Where to rent the bike: at your hostel/hotel or you can ask directions for the bike-hire shops (many of them at Getsemani and in the Old Town). Cost varies from 5000/6000 COP per hour to 20000/30000 COP per day.
Bring at least 1 bottle of fresh water with you, then you can buy more on the way, but keep hydrated as Cartagena is a very hot city and you will ride many km and many more walking, so you will sweat a lot and you need minerals and water with you.
Get a nice breakfast, with plenty of fibers and the right amount of sugar to get the right calories to start your ride, and avoid fat and greasy food. Over the day stick with fresh fruits and snack
(if you think to have lunch at Bazurto consider to stop the for 2 hours, so to digest a little as well).
Ask a locker when you hire the bike, as they might forget o give you one: it will be vital to leave for a short period your bike around. DO NOT leave your bike at Bazurto market not even with the lock, nor in any other, too much crowded place.
No need to take much cash with you, neither your credit cards. The less valuable items with you, the better and the safest you will feel (like everywhere in the world). Although Cartagena is a very safe city, some areas might be less safe (not dangerous) and you could be an easy spot for pickpocket.
If you are not fit enough to cycle this much you can still opt to walk, maybe splitting the tour in 2 different days or by a bus tour packages, but you might lose in authenticity.
Have plenty of fun and make some very cool pictures!