Traveling through Colombia and experiencing the culture completely exceeded my expectations. I spent 9 days in the beautiful country but it was not nearly enough. My journey was accompanied by a group of eager travelers and the trip was organized through a company called El Camino Travel. The trip was split in half with a few days spent in Cartagena and the remaining days spent in Medellin. Today I will be sharing the first half of my trip in Cartagena. The city was filled with bright colors, beautiful doors, and wonderful, determined people.
After arriving and checking into the hotel, I did a bit of exploring through the streets to get a feel for the city. My first night in Cartagena was spent with the group to get to know each other and get excited for our trip together. We attended a mixology at a local bar where we all got to mix our own drinks. The employees were very kind in helping me make a virgin Mojito since I don’t drink. Next, we were off to dinner where we ate at a prison. Yes, we really had dinner at a women’s prison where all of the food was prepared and served by the inmates. This prison opened up a restaurant and all of the profits go back to the women for a better future. I was hesitant to try the food at first, but it was absolutely delicious. After dinner and a bit more exploring, I finally went back to the hotel to get some sleep since I had only slept about three hours on the airplane the night before.
We woke up early and headed over to the harbor where we awaited a boat to take us to an island off the coast of Cartagena. We explored the island of Isla Del Rosario. This day was meant to be a relaxing trip to the beach where we could lounge, swim, and snorkel if we chose to. The speedboat ride was about 45 minutes to the island and once we arrived, I couldn’t wait to relax in the sunshine and swim in the ocean. We also had lunch provided to us on the island before we had to leave. After spending a few hours in paradise, it was time to return back to the mainland. This is when things went horribly wrong. We left the island at about 2pm and by this time, the winds had started to pick up. After 10 minutes into our boat ride, we were being tossed up and down by massive waves, getting sprayed with water when the boat crashed down onto a wave, and fearing for our lives. At first it was laughable, but then it became serious. Soon enough, I began to panic, and my anxiety hit me harder than the waves hitting our boat. Long story short, I had a 40 minute panic attack on the boat until we finally arrived to smoother water as we approached the harbor. I definitely was not prepared to have that kind of experience on the trip but as soon as the boat was docked, I was the first one to get off the boat. I had never felt more thankful to be walking on flat ground. Once we arrived back to our hotel I crashed for about 20 minutes as my anxiety attack sucked all of the energy out of me. I felt better after a quick nap and then got ready for our night time event. Our group gathered to ride a Chiva bus, which was an open-air bus that played live music and served drinks as it drove through the city of Cartagena. I had such a fun time singing and dancing on the bus and it was a great way for me to forget about the terrible experience I had earlier that day. We returned to the hotel a few hours later, exhausted and ready to go to sleep.
This day was probably the most memorable from the entire trip. Our group headed 45 minutes away from Cartagena on a bus to a mud volcano. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were told to bring an old bathing suit that we don’t mind getting full of mud and that afterwards we were going to be washed by some women in the lake. We arrived at the volcano where we had to climb about 50 steps to reach the top and wait in line to enter the mud pool. After climbing down a small ladder into the pool, there were a few men waiting for people to come in so that they could massage them. First of all, the mud was very questionable. People climbed in and out of this mud every day, but I tried really hard not to think about what could be in there. It was also extremely thick, making it a struggle to move around. Once I stepped in, someone started to massage me. It was relaxing, but I was also laughing really hard because I couldn’t believe that the situation was actually happening. After a five minute massage, I was pushed over to a different corner to enjoy the mud with my group. The mud was very hard to maneuver and we were pushing and pulling each other to help each other move around. Each person spent about 15 minutes in the mud before having to exit to let others in. At the exit ladder, there was another man waiting there to wipe excess mud off of our bodies with his hands. We walked down the volcano where we were directed to the lake to be washed off by a few women. One of them came up to me and took me into the water, then told me to sit on my knees so that the water was up to about shoulder level. She immediately began dumping water on me with a bowl that she was holding, and the mud was pouring off of me. Next thing I knew, there was a tug on my bikini top, and this woman literally took off my bathing suit to wash it. The water was completely murky from the mud, so no one around me could see that I was naked, but I could not believe what was happening. She then handed me my bottoms and put my top back on for me, and I walked out of the lake very fast. I was horrified. To make it even worse, after I walked away, I noticed that my top was on inside out. I asked the other members of the group if they received the same bathing as me and they said yes, so it made me feel a little better. We all got back on the bus to return to the hotel to have a real shower before gathering again for a street food tour. I have never been a fan of street food, but I wasn’t expecting to eat much anyways because street food usually isn’t vegan. I tasted a few fruits but mostly just went along for the stroll through the streets and listened to our guide talk about some of the history of Cartagena. Our night was free to explore, and my roommate and I (who is also my friend that I went on this trip with) actually checked in to a very nice hotel for the night. We ran around the hotel taking photos and had a relaxing night in our room.
The next morning, we woke up early so that we could check out of the nice hotel and bring all of our things back to our original hotel. Before leaving, we went up to the rooftop pool to take more photos and then had a nice breakfast. We made it back to the original hotel to bring our stuff back to our room and meet the group for our morning activity, which was a dance lesson. We took a 10 minute walk to a school-like building where we all sat in an outdoor room and awaited a performance from two professional dancers. They performed a salsa dance as well as a style of dance called Champeta. We then moved all of the benches to the back of the room so that everyone could spread out and start learning a Champeta routine. I was very excited for this because I used to be a dancer and cheerleader and haven’t danced or performed in years. About 5 minutes into learning the routine, everyone was pouring sweat. We were in an outside room that was completely shaded and had 2 ceiling fans, but it was probably about 85 degrees outside, if not hotter. We finished the routine and everyone had a blast, and we all ran back to the hotel to shower since we were drenched in our own sweat. Everyone gathered shortly afterwords to walk over to the other side of Cartagena to have lunch. After we ate, we were introduced to a woman who ran a non-profit organization for a group of indigenous women who make beautiful, handmade lampshades and other small accessories. We took a bus to the indigenous women’s community where we walked up a steep hill to check out their workshop. The workshop was extremely small and we had about 15 or more people to fit inside. The women gave each of us a strand of the material they used to make their lampshades and then taught us how to weave them. They also explained that making one lampshade takes 3 hours of weaving, 2 hours of sewing, and about an hour and a half of final inspection. After weaving for about 30 minutes, we browsed their other small products, which were mostly handmade bracelets. They were actually very beautiful and most of our group bought some items to support their business. This was our last night in Cartagena, and we had another free night to do anything we wanted before heading to Medellin the following morning. My roommate and I went to dinner with 3 other travelers, got popsicles, and went back to the hotel to pack up our things.
This completes my journey through Cartagena. Our host was able to pack a lot of great activities into just 4 days but we still had free time to roam the city. I have been home from this trip for over a week now and as I reflect on just the first half of my trip in Colombia, I already miss it very much. I would absolutely love to return one day and I hope that you were able to see that Colombia has so much to offer. Thank you for reading about my adventure, I really hope you enjoyed this post and maybe even got some inspiration to start thinking about your own travel plans!