Where to Stay in Cartagena
As I alluded to in my last post, Phil and I actually stayed in three different locations in and around Cartagena this trip. Based on our experience, we highly recommend Boca Grande as the neighborhood to stay in to explore this beautiful city.
We spent our first two nights at the gorgeous Hilton Conrad outside of Cartagena. It’s about a 20 minute drive outside of the main city but they offer a shuttle to & from Cartagena a few times a day and have amazing rooms and beautiful grounds. Phil and I spent our time there relaxing by the pool, hanging out on the beach and eating our way through their breakfast buffet which was an awesome mix of Colombian specialities along with more standard American hotel breakfast fare. We actually did such a great job relaxing that we didn’t take many pictures so I’ve supplemented with a professional photo from the hotel website.
After splurging on two days/nights of relaxation at the Conrad, we headed to an Airbnb closer to Cartagena where we could more easily explore the city. After checking out, we got a taxi and asked him to bring us to the address of our new Airbnb. He seemed a bit confused by the address but once we showed him on the map, he confirmed he knew where it was and we were off! In retrospect, this was the first hint that our Airbnb was not quite what we had hoped for.
Twenty minutes later as we pulled up to our apartment building, we understood his earlier hesitation - though we were in a high-rise building almost all of the other surrounding buildings were impermanent, improvised structures. Ok, we thought - not the best neighborhood but at least we were with in a short drive from the main city and taxis were abundant, no big deal. We checked in, got our keys and headed up to the apartment. When we got up to the apartment… we weren’t much happier. The “living room” was tiny and cramped and while the photos were not lies, we understood how they had been set up to make it look bigger. Not to mention, an unknown location was BLASTING reggaeton so loud that we could sing along to even with our windows closed (… we did not want to sing along). Still, not the end of the world - we would spend a lot of our time exploring the city and we could make this work!
Phil tried to get on the wifi to look up what was around building because it was past 3 PM at that time and we still hadn’t eaten lunch. Turns out the apartment that was advertised as good for “business travelers” had wifi so slow it could barely load Google Maps. No, slow wifi isn’t the end of the world but we are a couple in our early 30s - we don’t spend our nights partying until dawn, WE SPEND THEM WATCHING NETFLIX. At this point we were like “what else could go wrong??” We were also bordering on hangry (… definitely we and not just me) so we decided to forgo Google maps and just head outside in search of food. That was when we uncovered the final straw - the lock on the apartment. The deadbolt was non-functional and the doorknob lock was just not trustworthy enough. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving our belongings unattended in this apartment.
Luckily for us, Airbnb came to the rescue! Phil called their help line and within a few minutes he was on the phone with a real, live human who was able to cancel our reservation for a full refund. Airbnb support actually helped us SO quickly we still didn’t have a place for the night. We used our phones to check Airbnb before realizing that booking an Airbnb the same day (now that it was close to 4 PM) probably wasn’t realistic so we switched gears to HotelTonight. We were able to book the Hampton Inn in Boca Grande for the night only a short drive away and then we booked it out of the Airbnb (see what I did there!). Once we got to the Hampton Inn, we got back on Airbnb and found a place also in Boca Grande to finish out our last four nights in Cartagena.
All in all, we spent two nights at the Conrad, one night at the Hampton Inn (after fleeing our original Airbnb) and four nights at an AMAZING Airbnb that ironically only cost like $8 more per night than our original booking but was better in every way you can think of. All in all, the Airbnb fiasco could have been much worse and we are very grateful that Airbnb support was understanding and very responsive. Also, we learned a few valuable lessons on how to be more discerning in our search for apartments that I will definitely share in a future post!
With all that out of the way, we were ready to spend the rest of our time enjoying Cartagena from our home base in Boca Grande. I took a screenshot of Google Maps to give you a bit of the lay of the land in Cartagena. The red circle encapsulates almost all of Old Town - which I covered in my last post. The blue oval indicates the neighborhood of Boca Grande. This is the part of the city that as you fly in makes you think you may have somehow accidentally gotten onto a flight to Miami! There are miles of beaches with pristine, white high-rises jutting into the sky. At the southeastern end of Boca Grande you’ll find the neighborhood of Castillogrande - this “castle” shaped piece of land is basically an extension of Boca Grande with beaches and skyscrapers. Finally the green circle highlights Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, an amazing fortress dating back to the 16th century, that I’ll talk about more in my next post.
We absolutely loved staying in Boca Grande! We found you could actually get more for your money on Airbnb there compared to the Old City (including looking at private rooms in hostels!) where space is a bit tighter and demand is likely higher. There were dozens of walkable bars and restaurants plus we could see the ocean from our apartment and easily walk to a host of beaches. We felt totally safe exploring Boca Grande on foot and even made the bold decision (given how hot it was) to run the 2+ miles from our apartment to the famous fortress one afternoon. With taxis and Ubers at your disposal 24/7, it only cost the equivalent of $2-3 USD to get to the Old City or Getsemani when we wanted. For all of these reasons and more, we loved staying in Boca Grande! Stay tuned for my next post on what we loved in Cartagena outside of the Old City.