My First Experience Going It Solo: Exploring Cartagena

Hannah Vance is a student at Colorado State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Hannah is currently studying abroad with ISA in Barranquilla, Colombia.

DSC_0043 taxi
A street in Cartagena

On Sunday I woke up kind of early and set off for Cartagena. It’s really easy to get to; I just had to go to a special bus station and pay 15,000 pesos ($7.50), and then ride in an air-conditioned bus for 2 hours to Cartagena. I was really excited, but as we approached I got a little nervous. I assure you that Cartagena is safe (or at least the parts that I was going to be visiting) and the bus I was on was safe, but it was interesting to find myself traveling that far away from my home-base alone. I never thought that I would be in Colombia and be able to just travel around by myself. It’s amazing to think how far I have come not only in my confidence with speaking Spanish, but also just my general confidence.

I got off the bus in Cartagena at the entrance to the Walled City, which is the historical part of the city. Last time we visited, we stayed in the modern part of the city with highrises and new buildings. I didn’t get to visit the Walled City very thoroughly when I was there before so that’s why I decided to go back. Best decision ever. It was beyond gorgeous. It’s like what I imagine Spain to look like (Colombia was conquered by Spain, obviously). I spent probably 3 hours walking up and down the streets just admiring the buildings. It was mid-day on a Sunday so barely anyone was out. I imagine it was mostly due to the sweltering heat, but also probably they were just spending time with their family.

Eventually, I needed some lunch, and I decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe that is inside the Walled City. Now, I know that’s cliché, but first, I have never been to a Hard Rock, and second, you can’t imagine the euphoria I felt as I walked by and ice-cold air conditioning was pouring out of the door. By this time I was drenched in sweat, and I just wanted to sit down somewhere to essentially dry off. (You are now finding out that I am a really gross sweaty person, lovely). Anyway, I had a really nice lunch, and it was a really fun experience to see a Hard Rock, even though I was alone. The wait staff was really awesome, and they took really good care of me. I don’t know if they felt bad for me, or if they were bored because it was slow or what, but that was definitely a stand-out point of the experience.

DSC_0155 flag
El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

After my lunch, I decided I had seen enough of the Walled City, and that I would continue on to the second destination I hadn’t gotten to see before — El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This castle is the place that defended all of Cartagena from attacks beginning in the 1500s when it was built. It was built on the top of the highest hill in Cartagena so that they could see any potential attacks either from land or from sea. I paid 7,000 pesos ($3.00) to get in because I’m a student, and I spent probably another 2 hours just walking around (still in the blazing sun mind you, so I was seriously sweating again). It is so cool to stand on top and just see out over the whole city and imagine how it was to be there while the castle was under siege. When they built the castle, they included a series of tunnels so that they could hide (or escape, I’m not entirely sure) from their enemies if need be. The tunnels are now open to the public along with everything else so I decided to check them out. Bad plan. I got so incredibly claustrophobic and honestly a little scared while I was in there. I was so happy to see sunlight when I finally found an exit. Now, for touristic purposes they are lighted with electric lights in the walls, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in there when the castle was being used without lights, only with a lantern of some sort (I assume). I have no idea how they knew where they were going.

Finally, I decided that was enough for one day and headed home. Once again I took the same 2 hour bus ride back home and ended up really tired, dehydrated, a little more tan (yessss!) but super happy that I decided to go. I can’t wait to go back someday in the future and spend even more time there because there is just so much to explore.


3 thoughts

  1. Hey Hannah,

    I’m Jessica and I;m going to Colombia particularly Barranquilla. However while I am abroad I would like to visit Cartagena as well. Is it possible for you to tell me what bus company or tour you took to get to Cartagena? I am going to Colombia this weekend.

    1. Hey! Oh my gosh I’m so excited for you! I can’t remember off the top of my head the bus company but let me snoop through some of my stuff and I’ll try to get back to you. 100% recommend doing it though, because it was so awesome! Also Baranquilla is the best place.

Leave a Reply