Firstly before writing my trip report I would like to thank the many people on here who have helped me plan my trip. There are too many people to mention everybody but I would like to thank playa4u and Marcela for their help deciding how to spend my time in Bogota and my most grateful thanks of all go to bjsabina for her help with everything to do with Cartagena. Bjsabina your help and advice really ensured we had the most fantastic holiday ever, thank you.
This trip report is longer than intended so to summarise:
Days 1 to 3: Bogota
Days 3 to 9: Cartagena
Days 9 to 13: San Andres Island
Days 13 to 16: Cartagena
Day 1: Tuesday 28th December
Fly from Manchester, England to Bogota (via Paris) with Air France. Everything went extremely smoothly, no problems whatsoever. However, I must say Charles de Gaulle airport is not for the faint hearted. The airport is huge. We went straight to our hotel, the Hill House Hotel in Usaquen. (I would recommend this area to stay and the hotel where we stayed. The only slightly negative point would be that the rooms are fairly small but this was not a problem, very clean and a good breakfast was served.)
We did not go out that evening, it had been a long day with a very early flight and was delayed slightly. We were far too tired after the flights and our body clocks thought the time was about 11pm.
Day 2: Wednesday 29th December
My friend who I was travelling to Colombia with, her work colleague is from Colombia and we paid for her uncle, who is also a taxi driver, to accompany us for the day. He is a lovely man and very knowledgeable about the city. If anybody would like to hire him just private message me (but he only speaks Spanish no English at all).
We started the day attempting to get cash out of various ATMs with an assortment of debit and credit cards. A word of warning despite both of us notifying our banks we were travelling to Colombia we still do not know why sometimes some cards worked and other times not. Definitely take a few cards with you.
Anyway with some cash we started on our day. It was a beautiful, hot sunny day. Absolute glorious weather and we drove though Parque 93 first of all and then stopped at the Gold Museum. I know the Gold Museum gets amazing reviews and this trip report is simply my opinion on what I did and saw in Colombia but to me it was only OK (but museums are not really my thing).
Next we went to the Botero Museum. Now this really is worth seeing. Lots of Botero’s paintings and sculptures and we were surprised to see works by Picasso there too. The museum is in a lovely setting too with a small garden outside. We definitely preferred the Botero Museum to the Gold Museum.
Next we stopped for a light snack in a little Colombian cafe which I believe are called ‘El Corrientazo’ which translates in English to ‘the super-common’. This is a term I would never use but I was led to believe this is the name of these places.
After our light bite to eat we went to Plaza de Bolivar, the central square of Bogota. It was glorious sunshine so was quite busy and there was even an ice rink there but with the sunshine it was melting quite quickly. We walked around the square and saw the Cathedral and the other large building which I believe is the Capito Nacional. Later in the day we went to Monserrate but from the square you can see Monserrate.
After Plaza de Bolivar we walked and drove around La Candelaria. We simply enjoyed walking around the streets and looking at the old buildings. We then went for a late lunch in the ‘La Macerena’ area. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant except I know it was quite small with a small upstairs too and I think specialised in fish. All three of us had a fantastic lunch in there and I would recommend this place if I could remember what is was called.
After lunch we went to Monserrate. I had been looking forward to this the most as part of my trip to Bogota. We took the cable car up the mountain (we had not intended to walk up but the path was closed due to the recent heavy rain). At the top of Monserrate we had the most amazing views of Bogota and as it was such a beautiful, sunny hot day it was not cold up there at all. We went into the church and all had a few moments to ourselves. We walked all around the summit and when we had finished walking around we just sat on the steps leading up to the church. I loved this place and just sitting there on the steps with my friend and our taxi driver. It really is a very beautiful and peaceful place. We stayed on Monserrate until just after sunset so that we could see the sun setting over Bogota and the lights of the city coming on and also the Christmas lights on Monserrate too.
After Monserrate we headed back to Usaquen and our taxi driver recommended some places to eat in Usaquen but by the time we got to our hotel we simply wanted to have an early night as we were still adjusting to the time difference and were not hungry after our lovely lunch.
To note: If we had been in Bogota for another day we would have also visited the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.
Day 3: Thursday 30th December
It’s another beautiful, sunny day in Bogota and we get up nice and early and after breakfast walk around Usaquen. We spend an hour walking around the lovely quaint little roads and see the church and the boutique shops. The street traders were just beginning to display their goods and we bought some jewellery from them.
Our flight to Cartagena was at 1pm so with check-in at 11.30am we leave for the airport at approximately 10am/10.30am.
As this was my first trip to South America, let alone Cartagena we arranged for a private pick up from the airport to take us to our apartment. We paid three times the going rate. There are plenty of taxis at the airport. As a guide for people reading this we stayed in the ‘El Laguito’ area near the Hilton Hotel. The most we ever paid for a taxi was 16,000 pesos to or from the airport. El Laguito is further than Bocagrande from the airport so if anyone quotes you more than this negotiate the price down but I suppose private pick-ups are more expensive.
We arrived at our apartment, a lovely apartment overlooking the sea to Tierra Bomba island. Straight down onto the beach for some sunbathing. We then spoke to a local agent, called Severiano, and arranged a day trip for the following day.
That evening we went into the Old Town for something to eat and also made our plans for the following evening with it being New Year’s Eve we thought it very wise to book ahead to ensure we found somewhere special (and yes we did, we booked dinner in Plaza Santa Domingo Square.)
Day 4: Friday 31st December
Today is one day I will never forget, what a way to spend New Year’s Eve.....
The total cost of this day trip is 50,000 pesos each and definitely worth it. We are collected from outside our apartment in a little open bus which collects some other people too and we’re taken to the harbour. After paying our Rosario Islands tax at the harbour (can’t remember how much but it’s not much) we then get into one of the boats which each hold approximately 25 people. It was lovely just being on the boat as nearly everybody was Colombian. No Brits, no Americans just Colombians and some people from Chile too. This is what I love about my holidays, doing what the locals do.
Our first stop was as at Bocachica Island to collect someone and then we went to the Rosario Island where the aquarium is located. In the boat on the way we passed the fortress of San Fernando and the other fort Fuerto San Jose.
Most people chose to go to the aquarium but a small number of us preferred the option of snorkelling in the clear water of the Rosario Islands which is what we chose to do with one of the guides off the boat accompanying us. This was fantastic, seeing all the different types of fish and the coral too. If you do not have a mask and snorkel you can just borrow them but I had taken my own.
After approximately an hour we got back into the boat and collected the rest of our group who had just been to the aquarium and then headed towards Playa Blanca on Baru Island for lunch followed by an afternoon of sunbathing. Whilst on the boat a little Colombian girl, she was only about two really took a shine to my friend so we got chatting to a lovely Colombian family and sat with them for lunch. After lunch we then sunbathed and swam in the sea. The Playa Blanca Beach is lovely, probably the best I’ve seen in Cartagena however it was not calm, clear water. At approximately 4pm we got the boat back to the harbour in Cartagena and then you make your own way home.
To note: You can do a trip to Playa Blanca from Cartagena or just pay for a boat taxi to take you there. The price for a water taxi is 50,000 pesos each (and you’ll need at least four of you in your group). It will take approximately 45 minutes to get there one-way.
In the evening we went for a drink first in the Old Town before walking towards Plaza Santa Domingo Square. As there were only two of us we were on a table for eight and the owner of the restaurant asked us if we were happy with our seats, we were. The square was closed that evening to everybody unless you had a dinner reservation. There were different bands playing and it was a beautiful setting.
After a short while a lovely Colombian family joined us on our table, mother, father, three grown up sons and a daughter-in-law. Colombians have impeccable manners and this family was no exception. We chatted away with them, whilst I do not speak Spanish their sons spoke English and my friend speaks Spanish so there was no problem communicating with them.
Much later on a couple joined our table and it was only after a while that they began speaking to us. They did not talk to anyone else on the table. We got on very well with them too so much so we all went out partying together later on. They suggested Studio 54, a club in Getsemani and we all danced the night away in there.
Day 5: Saturday 1st January
Today was a day spent on the beach. As we were rather surprisingly not too hungover we ventured onto Bocagrande Beach for the first time. Goodness me, it was busy but I suppose being an annual holiday it was to be expected. When we eventually found a quiet spot, the vendors .... one simply did not take no for an answer to the point somebody said to us if that happens again like that call the one of the policemen over. We did not go back to Bocagrande beach, we did not really like that beach.
In the evening we had read good reviews of Cafe Havana in Getsemani. A bar with live music and people dance there too (some extremely well, oh how I wish I knew how to salsa dance!). There were quite a few tourists here. We had thought you could get food here. Maybe you can earlier in the day but at about 10pm you can’t so eat beforehand! We stayed for as long as we could without food and then just went to anywhere the taxi driver knew that served food and then went to Studio 54 again as we really enjoyed it in there the night before.
To note: I had been a little bit wary about going out in Getsemani. As with anywhere use common sense. We kept to well lit roads and ensured there were bars on those roads and we did not encounter any trouble but it is not as safe as the Old Walled City of Cartagena.
Day 6: Sunday 2nd January
We had thought we might spend today looking around the sights of the Old Town in the day but got up later than usual and just felt like relaxing on the beach in the El Laguito area which is exactly what we did in the day.
At approximately 5pm we went to Cafe del Mar to watch the sunset (this has to be done). Cafe del Mar really is in a great location. After a few drinks we went for something to eat and found a great restaurant. I can’t remember the name of it but it has a little garden at the back with a huge banana tree growing in the middle, a hidden gem of a place. We ate there in the beautiful setting outside.
Day 7: Monday 3rd January
Today was a day spent seeing the sights of Cartagena. We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us up to the top of La Popa hill. He waited for us whilst we went into the convent at the top of the hill. From the top of the hill you have the most amazing views of the whole of Cartagena. After La Popa he took us to the fortress, San Felipe de Barajas. This is a huge fortress. Lots of tourists here, but you really have got to see this place. As it was very hot and sunny we did not stay too long and went back to our taxi driver who gave us a little tour around the old City and dropped us off near the Santa Therese hotel where we had hoped to have had lunch. At that time they were too busy with guests so we went to the restaurant in San Pedro square, literally opposite San Pedro church. They were fully booked but as the menu looked so good we still wanted to eat there and were going to eat in the bar area but a table became available. Great food (this is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena in my opinion). After lunch we headed to the walls of the city and walked around them; including visiting the old dungeons. We saw all the squares, the clock tower, the cathedral. Not on this evening there were two concerts on separate evenings in Plaza de Bolivar – beautiful seeing and hearing the live concerts whilst walking around in the Old City.
After a day of walking around and a big, late lunch we did not feel like going out for dinner that evening, a lovely, quiet evening.
Day 8: Tuesday 4th January
We spent the day on El Laguito beach and in the evening went to a Peruvian restaurant in the Old City. The food was good but the service not so great but I just think we were unlucky as they lost of order. I’m sure this place gets great reviews usually. After the meal we went to Donde Fidel. They have lots of tables outside, the place is just by the wall and a great place to sit and have a few drinks.
Day 9: Wednesday 5th January
Today we flew to San Andres Island for what was intended to be a week here but when there we changed our plans. (I have written a separate review on my opinion on San Andres Island on Trip Advisor - to summarise we were not at all impressed by the island. I had only read positive reviews and I know we’re all different in terms of what we want from a holiday but we did not like the island.)
We had booked a week in the Cocoplum Hotel (still in my opinion the best location on the whole of the island.) It truly is the only hotel on the beach and is where the best beach is too. (To note: The Decameron in San Luis is not too far away, but is just across the road from a beach (a smaller beach) and be aware the Decameron consistently over-books so if you’re staying there confirm and confirm again your reservation. I can’t quote my source suffice to say it was from a very reliable source on the island.)
The junior suite we had booked at Cocoplum was not as described on their website and considering we were paying US$267 per night and had our requirements confirmed back to us in reply to our e-mails the place did not meet our expectations. I’m not going to write too much here about Cocoplum Hotel but I will write a separate review in the hotel section on Trip Advisor.
Apart from the suite we were staying, yes we were on a great beach (not calm, clear water though) and cloudy on some days with light rain but when it was sunny it was lovely and hot. We went straight to the beach after moving into our second room at the hotel and my friend was stung by a jellyfish when she went for a swim. If the water is not calm apparently there are jellyfish in the sea by Cocoplum.
That evening we just ate in the restaurant at the hotel and intended to go for a few drinks somewhere else later on. Apparently Wednesdays are very quiet on San Andres Island with not much going on at all so we just had an early night.
Day 10: Thursday 6th January
A fully day sunbathing on the beach. We really could not fault the beach, lovely sand and just wished there was more sunshine as for long spells it was overcast. We chatted to two English women we met on the beach and arranged to meet up together that evening.
That evening there was heavy rain. We all went to Mahi Mahi in San Andres town (lovely meal) and wanted to go on somewhere else. Everywhere was quiet apart from tiny street stalls were people drank or drank on the Boardwalk. We paid a taxi driver to drive around and literally nothing appealed to us. The places were either full of 18-year olds or were empty. At about 1am we decided to give up and went back to Cocoplum.
To note: the buses stop running at 8.30am so it’s 12,000 pesos into town from Cocoplum and 20,000 pesos back (after midnight.) There aren’t really any places near Cocoplum to go drinking and the town is not really that nice at all. Fully of shops like an English city centre high street, lots of tall hotels, no lovely buzz that we felt with Cartagena. The town centre is not appealing. There are loads of hotels here but I would not wish to be staying in the town.
Day 11: Friday 7th January
I’d been chatting before I went to San Andres Island to someone online who regularly holidays on San Andres Island and he was on holiday there at the same time. We hired a golf cart for the day with him (100,000 pesos) and literally toured the whole of the island. Saw the alligators in the Big Pond. Nothing was missed so I really can say that the location of Cocoplum is great just a shame about the standard (however I must add Claudia who works there and the Manager did everything they could to help. The staff are helpful but when you have a cold water and a grimy bathroom what can they do and no balcony in the first room despite it apparently coming as standard!)
Late afternoon we bumped into the two English women again and they had decided to leave San Andres Island and go back to Cartagena. They did not like the place either, they did not think it was ready for tourism and the weather had not been as good as expected. This made us consider our options too and we also booked ourselves on a flight back to Cartagena on the Sunday.
Day 12: Saturday 8th January
Spent the day sunbathing on the beach and later on in the evening went into town to do some shopping and have a bite to eat. Nothing I could recommend just lots of people hanging about in the town. In Cartagena everybody was extremely friendly and polite in San Andres I don’t know what it is we just did not seem to connect so well with the people there.
Day 13: Sunday 9th January
Fly back to Cartagena. We are able to get an apartment in El Laguito (prefer El Laguito to Bocagrande area) in the apartment block right next door to where we were earlier in the holiday so feel very at home here. It’s now late in the afternoon so instead of going to the beach we go to the swimming pool on the roof of the apartment block.
If feels good being back in Cartagena – we absolutely love this city. There is such a great buzz about this city, the friendly locals, the great places to go out eating and drinking.
That evening we stumble across a French restaurant called Olano. (Definitely recommend this place and the peppered steak – made a change from fish.)
The evenings are all beginning to blur but tonight and tomorrow evening was spent in the bar Fidel by the wall and in Tu Candela. We were also recommended Mister Babilla which we went outside to but then decided to get a taxi home as were feeling a little tired.
Whilst in Cartagena there were two evenings when there were live concerts in Plaza Bolivar Square so if you are intending to visit Cartagena look out for these as you may wish to go to these in the square.
Day 14: Monday 10th January
We spent the day on El Laguito beach and in the evening went back to Olano (the French restaurant from the night before). There was not a free table so went for a drink first as they said they would have a table available in about half an hour’s time. After dinner it was Fidel or Tu Candela.
Day 15: Tuesday 11th January
Our last full day and we get a boat from El Laguito to Linda Island. We had considered going to Playa Blanca but were told Linda Island was nearer, quieter and just as beautiful. As we had already been to Playa Blanca we went to Linda Island. (50,000 pesos for two people). It was a nearly deserted beach. If you are looking for seclusion come here. We sunbathed completely undisturbed with nobody around us. There is a little place to eat and drink where they ask you what you would like for lunch. There were one couple and one small group of people here too. You are then collected from the island at whatever time you want and we went back to El Laguito just before 5pm to see the beautiful Cartagena sunset for one last time.
In the evening we considered going to Santa Therese for dinner but were surprisingly not impressed by the choice of food on the menu so instead we went to the restaurant in San Pedro square (the one where we had lunch on Day 7.) In the day they do not have tables outside but in the evening they do and we had another fantastic meal here. It is an excellent restaurant in a lovely setting.)
Day 16: Wednesday 12th January
Alas, today is the last day of our wonderful holiday. We fly from Cartagena to Bogota and had hoped to visit the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira but due to our flight from Cartagena being delayed we did not have time.
What can I say I absolutely loved this holiday and would love to go back to Cartagena again.Edited: 15 January 2011, 18:11