Cartagena on a budget – tips for backpackers

Are you traveling to Cartagena and want to save some cash? As it became a tourist paradise, it’s not easy but it’s doable! Comparing to other parts of the country, it’s a bit more expensive. There are a lot more tourists here than were in San Gil, and it is seen on the prices. Here are my tips and experiences.

1. Accommodation

When we were looking for accommodation in Cartagena, we found most of the hostels in the center a little bit expensive for our budget. We prefer private rooms and we didn’t feel ready for dormitories yet. So here’s what we’ve done: searched for accommodations outside of Getsemani. We found a really cool hostel in Manga district which is 20-25 minutes away from the center by walking. Yes, first it seems a little uncomfortable, but if you think about it, you leave in the morning and probably get home in the evening so you have to walk two times which is not that bad.

The view from the bridge from Manga to Getsemani

It’s an extra way of saving if the hostel has a kitchen. We usually look for hostels with equipped kitchen. Even in Colombia where eating out is not that expensive (depends on where), it is usually cheaper to cook a quick pasta dinner and make your own smoothies.

2. Free walking tours

Every time we arrive to a new city, we look for free walking tours. So far we had the best experiences with them. We did one in Bogotá as well, and the same company exists in Cartagena so it wasn’t a question if we go on a tour with them or not. On our first day in the morning, we did the Free Walking Tour Cartagena and it was so awesome that we decided to go to the Free Food Tour in the afternoon. We’ve learned so much about the city’s history while walking around in the beautiful colorful streets.

It’s a peaceful square now, but it was the place where the Spanish used to sell the slaves.

We were really happy about the food tour too, we got to taste the local specialties, such as ceviche, patacón, empanadas, traditional coffee and fruit juices just to name a few. There is no fixed price, you can decide if you want to taste something or not, so you only pay for what you actually want to eat.

These tours work based on tips, there is always a recommended amount, but it’s up to you. I think it’s still a great way to save some money but be sure you respect the guide’s work.

3. Cheap restaurants

In Cartagena, you can find a lot of fancy and expensive restaurants. Don’t be fooled by them, look for places where locals eat! We found this little place in the center, at Carrera 7 (opposite to the supermarket), and we kept going back there because the food was delicious and the amount was enough, and it was cheap and simple, full of locals. Right next to it there is a bistro where we would have spent twice as much at least, and it was almost empty.

It’s better than it looks. Menu del dia sin carne for 8000 COP.

If you are not in the mood for menu del dia, you can always find street food vendors with good and cheap empanadas.

4. Walking around the streets

The best things in life are free. Indeed… For one day, we were just walking around, discovered the colorful streets, taking photos, enjoyed life. Climbed up to the wall, watched the sunset together. We skipped the fort btw because it would have cost 50.000 COP (15 USD) for the two of us and it seemed pretty crowded. It’s a vibrant city with summer all the time, full of interesting people and places. Just get out there and enjoy it! (Make sure you have enough water though, it can be really hot!)