Thinking of travelling to Colombia and want to know the best places to visit?
In this series, Best Places to Stay in Colombia, I list the hot spots of this enchanting country. In this first blog, Best Cities in Colombia, get familiar with two of my favourite destinations, Cartagena and Medellin and where I recommend to base yourself, whilst there.
In the rest of the series, I offer ideas for Colombian’s Best Remote Places and Colombia’s Famous Natural Places!
Best Places to Stay in Colombia: Cities
Probably the most well recognised destination in Colombia, the captivating colonial walled city and fortress of Cartagena on the Caribbean coastline was listed in the 80’s as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a good place to start your Colombian travels and relatively close for those travelling from the US or Canada.
Some don’t consider Cartagena as one of their favourite places in Colombia – mentioning “it is touristy” and “unbearably hot and humid.”
However being Australian, I am relatively resilient to the heat, or at least, more accustomed to it. I’ll admit, though, it can get sweltering hot so I’m glad I stayed somewhere with a pool!
As much as there are many visitors to the old town, I can understand why. Cartagena’s architecture and walled context is breathtaking, it’s history intriguing and with many shopping and cafe, restaurant, bar and nightlife options, it’s a perfect destination for international leisure travellers.
Where to Stay in Cartagena – Getsemani
Only a 10 minute walk away from the Old Town, the nearby area of Getsemani, I consider a better area to base yourself than the Old Town of Cartagena. Getsemani is a bit more down to earth and more authentic and has a cool travellers’ vibe. Plus the area has conveniences at more affordable prices. You can step into the old town when you like, during the day or night, and whilst staying local in Getsemani, there is plenty to see and enjoy.
There are many local restaurants, street eateries, some international cuisine, great bars, lively plazas and colourful homes! Also, most gravitating is the street art in this area, with every corner offering a new mural.
Where I Recommend Staying In Getsemani
Hotel Casa Pizarro
I spoilt myself a little in Cartagena, but it was worth it!
Being my first stop in Colombia and my escape from the Canadian winter, I wanted to stay somewhere with a pool.
Accommodation in the central historic district with this luxury, was above my budget. This led me to nearby Getsemani, a funky neighbourhood, an outstretch of Cartagena’s Old Town and to the awesome, Hotel Casa Pizarro.
Newly built and renovated from an old colonial mansion this charming lodging is located on a pleasant square, Piazza Del Pozo, along with a few restaurants.
Nearby is the lively Plaza de Trinidad, popular with locals during the day. The church is here and it’s also a gathering place for leisure or hanging out. At night, the area can swell with travellers, students and locals who mix in bars and outdoor drinking stalls.
Las Indias restaurant, next door to the hotel, had delicious tapas food and is great for groups. There is also a pizza restaurant a few doors down for something quick and easy.
The hotel itself is bright, breezy and well decorated in a nautical theme with lots of stone, wood, and a lot of beautiful plants. There are also pleasant sitting areas with bookshelves packed with books. The pool is a little small and right near reception but it is clean and new and very inviting after a day walking around Cartagena.
On the roof, there is a terrace and lounge beds to relax and a lovely place to enjoy the comprehensive breakfast of fruit, juice, tea or coffee and a plate of an omelette, eggs or a sandwich.
Staff are very accommodating and helpful, always welcoming you with a big smile.
Rooms are comfortable and have all the usual conveniences of a hotel including a bar fridge. One thing to keep in mind is that the rooms have shutters which are great to let in the breeze and light but that can mean that sometimes noise can travel into your room. Generally speaking, however it is a quiet hotel. I would highly recommend Casa Pizarro for its location, cleanliness, facilities and staff.
Best Places to Stay in Colombia: Best Cities
Colombia’s second biggest city, Medellin, is nestled in a green valley between mountains. Often referred to as the ‘city of eternal spring’ it’s climate is favourably mild, not too hot or not too cold. Medellin has become a bit of a tourist hot spot in recent years, particularly with the Zona Rosa (tourist area) becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. There are multitude of restaurants, bars and trendy shops.
There are also some world class shopping malls in El Poblado where you can find some great international brands.
Due to Medellin’s world class infrastructure such as it’s efficient metro system, and community projects such as libraries, the city was voted out of 200 cities as the most innovative city in 2013.
Medellin is also a good place to get cheap flights with Viva Colombia to places on Colombia’s coast, for example Santa Marta or the island, San Andres. While the tourist area is a mecca for nightlife, there are other wonderful and more local areas to visit for visitors to Medellin such as Envigado and Laureles, both neighbourhoods have a number of expats living there and are generally safe areas. Suggested day trips from Medellin or for an overnight stay I recommend the towns of Guatape and Santa Fe de Antioquia.
A visit to Medellin would not be complete without a visit to Comuna 13, close to San Javier metro station, where the community has reinvented itself through street art and a subsequent tourist trade. You catch the 225i bus from San Javier station and ask for the ‘escaleras’ or escalators, the driver will know where you want to go.
I volunteer teaching English here! Any travellers interested in helping out, please see: Prime Medellin
Where I Recommend Staying In Medellin
I’ve stayed here three times in the last few years in a double room with private bathroom, in various rooms (Naranja and Violetta) at the back of the hostel. It offers comfortable, safe, well located and affordable private accommodation in the Zona Rosa of Medellin – but at the same time still relatively quiet and subdued.
There is a kitchen and fridge if you need to use, but with so many great bars and restaurants around I didn’t use it much, except to cool a bottle of wine!
The staff are welcoming, friendly, helpful and speak great English and can organise day trips. It has a great cafe with good quality coffee, beer and spirits. Various terraces to hang out on.
Good WIFI and breakfast is included. Good value for money!