The Travel Dispatch

Week 4 and 5: Dispatched From Cartagena and Palomino, Colombia

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Weeks 4 and 5 were a bit of an odd couple.

Not in the travel experiences so much as in my route which involved some unexpected to-ing and fro-ing. I started Week 4 in Cartagena and ended it in the hippie beach town of Palomino. Meanwhile Week 5 saw the reverse effect, beginning in Palomino and ending back in Cartagena. This was due to an unforeseen technological error which is just a fancy way of saying my computer broke down. My closest option for getting it fixed was in Cartagena; hence the backtrack.

This is why I decided to combine the two weeks (and highlights of both destinations) into 1 recap.

Off the Beaten Path Things to do in Cartagena Colombia

Destinations Visited

Country and Region: Colombia in South America

Cities: Cartagena and Palomino on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia

Language: Spanish

Currency: Colombian Peso

Visa Info: US Citizens do not need a visa to enter if you plan on staying less than 90 days.

Proof of Onward Travel: You are required to show this (most of the time you won’t be asked for it but better safe than sorry). I didn’t have this as I’m a one-way ticket kinda gal, so I booked a flight leaving Cartagena on Expedia.com, printed the confirmation to hand to the official as I entered the country, and then cancelled my reservation. Expedia gives you 24 hours to cancel with no monetary penalties so this is my go-to whenever proof of onward travel is needed.

Things to do in Palomino Colombia

Week 4 & 5 Highlights

I loved loved loved my first two weeks in Colombia.

My adoration for Cartagena, my first stop in the country (and in fact my first destination ever in South America), came as an unexpected surprise. In a different way, so did my crush on the quiet beachtown of Palomino, a village I’d never heard of until a friend recommended it and convinced me to go on a whim.

Below are the top highlights that played no small roll in developing my affinity toward these northern Colombian towns.

Spending Most Evenings in Cartagena’s Plaza de la Trinidad

Because of its touristic nature, I went in expecting to dislike the picturesque city of Cartagena. In part I was right. While I can’t deny the beauty of the famed Old Town, it felt too commercialized from its overpriced restaurants down to its cliche horse-and-carriage rides over cobblestone streets. I found the city’s true charms lying just beyond the Old Town’s historic wall in the less-popular Getsemani neighborhood.

The gem of Getsemani is the Plaza de la Trinidad. Where the sprawling squares of the Old Town hold crowds of tourists formed around pre-contrived dance performances for tips, promoters trying to lure you up to hooker-ridden rooftop bars, and peddlers hawking homemade crafts around every turn; the Plaza de la Trindad holds the opposite. Here the only dance performances come from locals gathered for their weekly zumba class, the promoters aren’t needed as the lines winding around the various food stalls speak for themselves, and peddlers are few and far between.

The Plaza de la Trinidad is a truly local hangout and (in my opinion) nowhere in the Old Town holds a candle to it.

The world's best arepa in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena Colombia

Eating My Favorite Meal in Colombia So Far

Colombia (much like its neighbor Venezuela) loves its street food arepa – a tasty corn cake stuffed with any manner of fillings – and by the time I left Cartagena the first time, I’d found my go-to arepa guy. His cart was parked just off the Plaza de la Trinidad on Carrera 10 in the Getsemani neighborhood. Hands down his savory creation was the best meal I’ve had on this 12 month journey so far and (bonus!) it only cost $2.

When I returned to Cartagena the second time I raved about his arepas to new travelers I met and took them to his cart. Their consensus? It was even better than I described. I recommend one of his arepas stuffed with either chorizo or with veggies and queso. You can trust my opinion – I ate there a total of 5 times and tried almost all fillings on offer.

Things to do in Palomino Colombia

Chillin on the Beach in Palomino

With one beach and two main roads, there’s not much to do in Palomino. But therein lies the beauty of it – you have no choice but to relax.

One dirt road connects the main thoroughfare to the beach and along it you’ll find local fruit stands, a small bakery selling different fresh-baked goods daily, a line-up of hostels with outdoor restaurants, stalls selling handmade crafts fashioned by the indigenous tribes of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range, and men touting inner tube tours down the village’s river.

At the beach just lay down your towel and the locals will bring the relaxation to you. Literally. You don’t need to lift a finger. Residents walk the shores selling every food item from hamburgers to falafel wraps to coconut sweets to water. And no worries – they don’t come in the thousands nor do they bother you or linger. If you’re not interested just say no and they pass on by.

Then there are the masaje ladies who for only $12 will give you an hour long-beachside massage. A 20-minute massage goes for only $6.

And For the Last Highlight…

This crazy transport story.

Things to do in Palomino Colombia

Who I Slept With

Media Luna Hostel

Location: Media Luna is located in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

Price Per Night: USD $13.50 per night

Highlights: reception sells beer. Great communal courtyard equipped with a pool. Extremely easy to meet other people. Lockers in the dorm rooms. Free breakfast. Guest kitchen. Great location. Staff are constantly cleaning all areas of the hostel. Free towel.

Lowlights: massive party hostel. Unhelpful (and at times very rude) staff. Loud music well into the early morning. No hot water (this is typical in Cartagena hostels and it’s so hot outside you don’t want a hot shower anyway. This didn’t bother me and the water, though cold, isn’t freezing).

Would I Stay There Again? no. I really hated this place and was happy to leave. Others I was with didn’t mind it but the staff really rubbed me the wrong way and the party vibe was way too much for me. I much prefer the hostel across the street, Hostel Mamallena.

Hostel Mamallena

Location: Mamallena is located in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena

Price Per Night: USD $13.50 per night

Highlights: great atmosphere and back patio perfect for meeting other travelers. Extremely helpful staff. Offers lots of tour options and shuttle arrangements to other cities in Colombia. Free breakfast. Very clean rooms. Good bar. Large lockers in the rooms. Guest kitchen. Offers laundry services. Free towel. A/C units in rooms. Wonderful location.

Lowlights: loud music in the courtyard right outside the rooms however they do shut it down at midnight. My room had bedbugs. PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS DETER YOU FROM STAYING HERE. Bed bugs are not uncommon when backpacking Central and South America. Other travelers can carry them unintentionally from hostel to hostel and I have a feeling this is what happened. I was in a private 4 person dorm and when we notified the manager, they took it very seriously and handled the matter so professionally. They threw out all the mattresses and fumigated the room before checking to make sure no other room had them as well. We also did not have to pay for our laundry and were given our money back for the rest of our stay. We switched hostels to Media Luna (which I hated) but I felt so comfortable over how Mamallena handled the situation that when I returned to Cartagena to get my computer fixed, I stayed there for 3 nights with zero issues or bed bugs!

Would I Stay There Again? yes absolutely. I throughly enjoyed my stay here. I’m confident the bed bug issue was an isolated incident.

Tiki Hut Hostel

Location: Tiki Hut is just off the main road in Palomino and is a 3 minute walk from the beach

Price Per Night: USD $14 per night

Highlights: great pool with outdoor showers to rinse off. Perfect location to both the beach and the village. Spacious lounging areas with outlets nearby. All beds have mosquito nets. Dorm rooms have ensuite showers. Bar with 2 for 1 happy hour specials. Sells food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Staff are very helpful.

Lowlights: all lounge areas are outside so you get eaten alive by mosquitos (however I believe this is the case in most hostels in Palomino. Almost everything in town is al fresco). No free breakfast. No kitchen for guests to cook (they will let you store items in their refrigerator though). Slow wifi.

Would I Stay There Again? yes, I was very happy here. Though I would be curious to checkout another hostel in the area just to compare.

Things to do in Palomino Colombia

Things That Got Me Through the Week

I often get asked what’s in my backpack and while I posted an entire article on everything I brought with me for my 12 month journey, I thought it’d be more beneficial to show you week by week exactly when and how I use each item.

This section highlights my most used items throughout Week 4 & 5.

haviana luna sandals

1. Sea to Summit Silk Travel Liner: when my friend thought she was being bit by bedbugs in Cartagena, she woke me up to warn me. I immediately searched my bed, not seeing any I climbed into my silk travel liner as a precaution and went back to sleep. A couple hours later when everyone in the room once again woke up and confirmed there were indeed bed bugs, I was the only one who hadn’t been bit. Bedbugs don’t like silk and are unlikely to ever nest in them. 

2. Belkin Power Strip: both of my dorm rooms at Media Luna and the Tiki Hut only had one working outlet. This power strip allowed me to charge all my stuff while not having to unplug anyone else’s stuff. I just left this in the outlet for everyone to use until I left.

3. Haviana Luna Sandal: I wear these in every shared hostel shower – even ones that are pristine – but the Media Luna showers in particular made me extra glad I had them. I would not have wanted to be in there barefoot.

Men playing checkers in Cartagena Colombia

Published in Weeks 4 & 5

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The current Travel Dispatch journey kicked off in Panama on Nov 15 and is showcasing a classic “round the world” loop as I weave my way from Latin America to The Balkans, Eastern Europe to the Middle East,  and Southeast Asia back to the US over a period of 12 months and with a budget of $25,000. Finally along live by subscribing below!


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