Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Arriving in Cartagena mid-morning was perfect. I was certainly ready to get out of Panama City and back to the coast. I ordered a taxi since the Wifi wasn't working at the airport and it was a beautiful sunny day, driving along the coast, it made me really happy to be next to the ocean again. When we approached the hostel, which seemed more like a cafe, I was happy to be greeted the happiest of hosts (really sweet ladies that seemed to want to help you) inside a tiny coffee shop with an indoor sunroof lobby, rooms upstairs, and a rooftop balcony. They assured me that the taxi didn’t rip me off and I was so grateful to hear that my room was ready, I was so hot and tired from traveling! I got to my room which was air conditioned and just a perfect fit for me as I needed my own space. I messaged that guy from Scotland who I had met in Boquete at Bambuda Castle doing the waterfall hike, since he had just gotten to Cartagena the day before, and he mentioned wanting to get drinks at sunset. So I got organized and then walked around to explore the town and ended up running into him! He was with this other guy from Switzerland and said they were going to get food so I decided to join. Turns out they were also meeting up with yet another guy they had met the night before, from the UK, and so we all sat and ordered the local traditional meal, which was this chicken soup dish that was absolutely what I needed at the time. We all sat around chatting and getting to know each other a bit, coming from completely different backgrounds and in different situations - 2 of them were gay and I wasn't sure about the 3rd but it was funny listening to their backpacking stories so far. After lunch, I went and walked around and then met up with them for sunset drinks at this old fort on the edge of town near the water and it was a beautiful sunset! There was a performer playing the saxophone and tons of people out and about all dressed up - it was neat seeing the locals as it was a holiday weekend too. Two French guys ended up joining us since the UK guy had invited them (he had met them prior at a gay club) and we sat around and talked for a bit and then headed to the square to get pizza at this place that had a mojito/drink deal that they knew about thankfully. We ended up meeting this German couple who sat next to us and told us about the hikes they had been on. Afterwards we went back to the square where there were young locals performing some Zumba-like dance so we joined the crowd and sat around watching with $2 beers. Then breakdancers and other performances by the locals started to get rowdy so I called it a night around 10:30pm and went to bed somewhat early as I was worn out. The power went out around 3am and I woke up in sweat, showered off and went back to bed. Since there was no power, I wasn't able to contact the Scotland guy as we had planned to meet up to walk around and explore more of the town while the others slept in. slept in. I ended up being able to use one of the host's phones and thankfully he answered. He met up with me at my hostel as I finished breakfast and we walked around exploring the churches and got a quick salad for lunch and then met up with the others (who brought 2 other girls, one from France, the other from Belgium) to go to the beach. We arrived at the beach around 4pm and I was shocked by the scene..it was packed with locals completely covering the beach, the sand was black and the water dirty - not really what I had in mind. We all sat around talking in the middle of the beach surrounded by many Colombians celebrating some kind of holiday. Thankfully someone bought a bouncing ball and we ran around playing volleyball and soccer. It cost $1 to go to the porter potty on the beach as I still couldn't get in the water because of my burn, but really had to go since we had been drinking beers (there's a first time for everything). We headed back at dark and went to the square again to get the famous street food hamburger the UK guy had been raging about the day prior. It actually was delicious and actually had HAM in it! I called it another early night since I had booked a tour with the Scotland guy to go to Isla Baru in the morning (some famous island with "beautiful beaches"). We arrived at the meeting place when the tour company lady said we should be there and of course had to wait around for 30 minutes. Then we took this big bus to Isa Baru and it was actually a tourist trap so I wasn’t too happy once I realized this. I was mad that we were wasting a whole day just to go to some beach with clear water, but thankfully we could make make it fun. We met this Asian and American couple who we shared a lounge chair/umbrella with and took pictures, napped and then tried to enjoy the "1 hour happy hour" which was actually just vodka or rum with sprite or coca cola and I literally had to go up and ask for the drinks at the time they said it would open (not your typical happy hour). It really was not the type of day we were expecting at all but it still makes me laugh that we experienced it together and met some interesting people along the way. We had our last night in Cartagena watching the futbol FIFA World Cup and ate some seafood, went to the square one last time and called it a night around 11am since we were leaving the next day for Santa Marta! Thankfully the same 3 guys I had met the first day in Cartegena were going on the same route as me along their journey so we all went to Santa Marta together which was a relief that I didn't have to do that alone (especially as a new solo backpacker).