Week 31: Cartagena, Isla Grande & Playa Blanca. Colombia

So most people take a flight to Cartagena from Medellin but obviously this was too much dolla bills for us.  An acceptable 10-hour bus journey turned into a nightmare 21 hours. Myself and Nils arrived late so had separate seats.  I stupidly was watching Narcos on my phone not exactly a clever idea in Colombia. The Colombians absolutely hate Pablo Escobar (quite understandably) and particularly the popular Netflix series. They say it doesn’t reflect what actually happened in their country during that awful time. That being said the man next to me joined in and we watched Narcos together. He grew up during the violence and was 8 years old when it was at its worst and he told me he has clear memories of hiding under his bed during attacks. Anytime there was a sex scene he would cover my eyes and started giggling. I obviously chose the episode full of sex!! An uncomfortable yet hilarious experience. Eventually the giggling Colombian left the bus and Nils was able to sit beside me. The journey was painfully slow and true to South American nature the bus man stopped every few minutes whether it be for a sopa, secondo or simply to stop for no reason. Half way through the journey the toilet exploded and all the contents were flowing up and down the bus a perfect combination with the stifling heat.

Arriving in Cartagena I almost lost my life with the heat it was v intense and apparently is like this all year round. I’m definitely more a cold bird and  kind of miss the Patagonian weather. The historic centre of Cartagena is stunning it’s really touristy but this doesn’t take away from the stunning architecture. We re hydrated with a beer and some people watching.  We tried to scout down some cheap food in town not the easiest task. There are gorgeous places to eat but it’s expensive. We finished the night off with some whiskey and wines on our balcony.

Historic centre of Cartagena
Old town Cartagena

We came across a gorgeous café run by an Australian couple who hire locals from poor parts of the community. It’s called cafe stepping stone and the food is very two boy’s brew. Coffee was also excellent. Ironically good coffee is not something  you can easily find in Colombia because they export all the good stuff. This cafe was an amazing place and a great escape from the heat. I went back twice to get their banana bread with real butter all it was missing was a dollop of Dom’s infamous raspberry jam. On our second night we checked out plaza Trinidad which is in the more laid back part of the town located in Getsemani. This place has great street art, food and dancers. There was a massive Zumba session going on outside for everyone to join in. Nils got a hotdog for dinner and a random man offered me the leftovers of his plate of meat so dinner was a freebie for me that night. Happy days.

Colombia getting ready for the world cup
Colombian hats
Me in Getsemani
Street art Getsemani
Getsemani street art
Getsemani street art

The next day we decided to go to one of the nearby Islands. We planned to camp, excited for my new tents first outing (and Nils’s first South American camping experience). Isla Grande  is only a 45 minute boat ride away and is a stunning paradise a world far away from buzzing Cartagena. Our first job was to suss out a free camping spot. We walked for about 1 hour until we found playa libre. I was told before hand you must check with the locals before pitching your tent so the only man I could find was one with few teeth selling lobsters and crabs on the beach. Probably not the best idea asking someone trying to sell you something for a favor. Anyway he said claro no hay problema you can pitch your tent wherever you like. So happy days we had a gorgeous day snorkeling and swimming in the crystal clear water.

Not hot at all……
Nils at playa libre our camping spot, Isla Grande
Brand new tent’s first outing out in Isla Grande

Dinner for the next few days was going to be tuna and wraps (the island is v pricey for food and drink). I decided I wanted to make guacamole, a ridiculous idea on a sandy beach. After painfully chopping everything in the darkness  I was delighted with my guac (made with hot slimy avocados). When I turned around my bag of guac was knee-deep in the sand. The rest of the dinner was alright albeit a little sandy. Nils a little more careful on the food side opted for none of my few week old cheese I’ve been carting around. Mid dinner I ended up screaming the beach down as a local Man appeared out of no where blabbering in Spanish. I eventually managed to translate that it was illegal to camp on the beach and lobster man was lying and that we needed to move asap.  A disaster as it was pitch black. There was no convincing the angry man so I set off to find an alternative. Lucky me I found a group of Argentinian hippies selling bracelets who have been sleeping on the island for the past 3 weeks. So we moved house and camped beside them for the night.

Paradise at Isla Grande

I’m used to camping in freezing cold temperatures and bringing my -20 degree sleeping bag to the Caribbean was probably a bit overkill. The two of us so squeezed into my 1 man tent and I thought I was going to pass out with the heat. After a few hours I opted to sleep outside the tent trying to escape the heat. It was still boiling but better than the sandy sweaty tent. The entire night was spent with ants, bug and spiders crawling over every inch of my body including my hair, knickers and ears.  I relocated to the pier for a morning nap and to see the sunrise. It was so nice seeing all of the local children waiting on the pier to catch a boat to school at 6.30 am!!!

Children’s waiting to catch the boat to school on Isla Grande

The next day we befriended the two most amazing dogs who we had met when we arrived on the Island. We named them Johnathan and Lorraine. They followed us absolutely everywhere. We found out they were really racist towards the locals and loved to protect the foreigners. We walked across the ‘town’ to check out one of the other beaches where they followed us every step of the way. We walked, swam, napped and ate lunch together. We bought the dogs some bread rolls and water. It’s amazing the street dogs here are so polite they never once begged for food or water but it was quite clear they hadn’t eaten or drank in days. After another sandy tuna wrap for dinner. We decided to abandon ship on the tent for our second night and just sleep on the pier with the hippies. At the beginning it was heavenly with no mosquitoes, a gorgeous breeze and looking up at the stars. This soon changed…. Mid listening to some music a huge wave came crashing down on us and this pretty much continued for the whole night with both of us absolutely soaked!!  The whole night we had Johnathon sleeping in between us ñtaking up pretty much the whole mattress. So Nils isn’t exactly convinced about my love of camping yet (fair). Next day  myself, Nils, Johnathan and Lorraine made our way to the other side of the Island to chill out before catching a boat to Playa Blanca. We stopped off for a compulsory coca cola; Nils is addicted and gets a minimum of 3 per day!!!!

Nils, Johnathan and Lorraine after a rough night on the pier
Birds and butterflies, Isla Grande

We splashed the boat out and shared a delicious sea food lunch sick of the tuna wraps. Sea food here is amazing and makes up for the bland Colombian food. I was swimming when the boat arrived to take us to Playa Blanca the boat man literally sprinted onto the beach grabbed my tent and all my baggage and carried me / flung me onto the boat. South american efficiency at its best.

Not wasting a crumb! Definitely getting our monies worth on this one
Me and Lorraine, Isla Grande
The legendary Johnathan

After the islands we decided to spend 2 more nights in Cartagena just wandering around trying out the gorgeous cafes and tasting the local ceviche. We did a free walking tour and food tour around the city with an Indian guy who didn’t really know what was going on. Anyone going to Cartagena don’t do the free walking tour so much nicer walking by yourself. We were there during the presidential election where for 2 days it is illegal for restaurants or shops to sell alcohol. One poor divil was caught selling cans of aquila (the Colombian beer) when about 12 policemen all armed tried to chase him down!!!

Locals selling fruit

I wanted to visit a local food market in Colombia because I haven’t seen one yet. Nils isn’t a fan of walking anywhere and a big fan of taxis. Something during my last few months of travelling I’ve rarely taken. I think it has been instilled in me since being a child never to take a taxi. Dom also not a fan of taxis would insist we walk absolutely everywhere. Bazurto market was amazing and definitely the real deal with no other gringos there. The people in Colombia are famous for being the most friendly in South America and they haven’t disappointed. Lots of the locals were showing us around and trying to help us. After strolling through the offal, meat stands and the sea food (defo our favourite) we made our way to taste some of the market’s food. We had gorgeous prawns, sea food and turtle (tastes a bit like chicken). A huge plate of food for only 10,000 pesos (3 euro). We spent the day chatting to the locals having a few beers and watching the world cup. They are football obsessed here and the atmosphere leading up to the world cup is electric. I got chatting to a lovely man and bonded over a few cervecas. The kind man  gave us an invite to his house for a seafood BBQ to watch the Colombian  match the following day.

Cartagena’s street food: Cheesy Areapa (a pattie made out of maize, stuffed with cheese and fried)
Fish Market Cartagena
Street vendors


The face says it all
Stellar hygiene standards
Lunch at Mercado Bazurto


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