Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = C$2,819 (Colombian Peso / COP).
I stayed a total of 8 nights at the Hotel Veracruz in Panama City, Panama. I stayed in a Double Room for US$21.60 / night.
It was a large room with 2 Double Beds and 1 Single Bed (which made the room small to walk around in).
In Panama City, I took the opportunity to clear out my suitcase of rubbish and to replenish some worn out clothes. There are lots of Shopping Malls in Panama City to keep a bargain hunter (like me) busy during the day. And, the Metro System made those malls easy to get to.
It was time to move on to Colombia … and, my first ‘Port Of Call’: Cartagena.
One option is to get out to Colon / Portobelo on the Caribbean Coast and catch a boat. There are 2 main boat options: a speedboat or a slow boat.
I met some youngsters that went by speedboat. They said that it was ‘frightening’: 9 hours on rough seas getting soaking wet and feeling like you are going to capsize at any moment. Cost US$200-300. This is too dangerous for GRANDPAckers.
The slow boat goes via the exquisite San Blas Islands where you stay overnight for 2-3 days. You have the cost of the boat (about US$500-600) plus the costs in San Blas. This is too expensive for GRANDPAckers.
Normal search engines tell you that the one-way cost from Panama City to Colombia is US$200-250 plus. I went to my tried and tested website: WHICHBUDGET.COM. I searched one-way from anywhere in Panama to anywhere in Colombia. This is typical of what you get:
On the right hand side, you see all of the cheapest options and their dates … and, which airline is offering the deal. From this, you can go to the relevant websites and search around the date(s) that you want.
My search told me that WINGO.COM were doing a flight for US$70. WINGO are to Central America what RYANAIR are to Europe: cheap and bare-boned. The WINGO site told me that they were also doing this deal on the date that I wanted to fly. With an additional 20kgs of stowed luggage my final price was US$93.
My flight left at 11am. Check-in opened 3 hours before that at 8am. I booked an UBER taxi to collect me from my hotel at 7:30-7:45am. My UBER taxi arrived on time and we were at the airport by 8am.
I arrived early because I was expecting the sort of chaos that I experienced when I flew RYANAIR in Europe. It was totally different.
I read the T&Cs on my booking confirmation carefully … these types of airlines make profit out of your mistakes and omissions. I was allowed a total of 3 bags: a small <6kg one to put under the seat in front of me, a mid-sized <10kg one to put in my over-head locker, and a 20kg one to go into stowage (which I paid extra for). I travel with a little Digital Travel Weigher and knew that my stowed suitcase was 21kg; just in case, I put 2kg of ‘movable’ items into the outside pocket. The 2 pieces that I was taking on board were both under weight.
The T&Cs also told me that I needed a laser printed hard-copy of my Boarding Pass. To get this, I needed to Check In Online within 72 hours of the flight. Which I did. My Boarding Pass was emailed to me. My Hotel Reception printed it out for me.
Lastly, the T&Cs said that I may be asked for proof of onwards travel and that I may be refused boarding without it. I took no chances, I booked another WINGO flight from Bogota, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador in July.
I arrived at the airport to find almost nobody there. It looked like WINGO were the only ones based there. The check-in desks opened at 8am. I was 8th in the queue. WINGO checked my Boarding Pass and Passport. Check-in tried to charge me extra for the 1kg excess in my stowed luggage … in front of him, I took out 1kg and put it into my mid-sized bag. My bags were all, now, OK.
PLEASE NOTE: A friend from Panama followed me to Cartagena on WINGO a few days later. She was 3kgs over-weight in her stowed luggage … she was charged a whopping US$15 / kg for the extra weight. Make sure that you know the weight of your luggage … if in doubt, use the weigher at a closed check-in desk to check and organise your luggage before checking in.
Check-in asked for proof of onward travel. I showed them my Confirmed Booking to Quito that I had downloaded to my Smartphone. Flights OK. All OK.
PLEASE NOTE: My friend checked-in with no proof of exit. She only had proof of a flight out of Panama to Canada. They nearly didn’t let her on the plane … through a lot of hard work and an act of kindness on behalf of one check-in staff member … she managed to convince them to let her on. Make sure that you have proof of exit.
I went to Starbucks to wait, have a coffee, get online, and do some work. At 10am I cleared Immigration en route to the transit lounge. This was quick and easy.
At 10:45am they started boarding. First Class were called first. Then, in Spanish, they asked for rows 25 to 30. I was row 27 and one of the first on to the plane. I was expecting to find insufficient over-head locker space. Not so.
We were in the air by 11:15am and landing in Cartagena just after 12 noon.
In the airport arrivals lounge you can buy a taxi chit from an official kiosk. The price to the historical centre is a set rate of C$12,000-15,000 depending on exactly where you are going.
Alternatively, walk 20 metres to get out of the airport onto the streets. On the streets you can flag down a normal taxi … the price is C$8,000.
I booked a cab with UBER and paid C$7,300.
The city of Cartagena, known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias, is a major port located on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. The city was founded on June 1, 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain … which, in turn, was named after Carthage, Tunisia.
It is the capital of the Bolívar Department and, as of 2016, had a population 971,592. It is the fifth-largest city in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after Barranquilla. Economic activities include the maritime and petrochemicals industries, as well as tourism.
It is strategically located between the Magdalena and Sinú rivers and became the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540s.
Settlement in the region around Cartagena Bay by various indigenous people dates back to 4000 BC. During the Spanish colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political, ecclesiastical, and economic activity. In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
WALKING THE CITY WALL
THE OLD TOWN
It is very hard not to like the place.
WHERE TO STAY:
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night at the end of May 2018 within the Old Town walls (‘Shoulder Season’ just as rainy season is starting) …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 15% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s …
Tripadvisor had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.
PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
There are plenty of GRANDPAcking options to choose from.
Have a look yourself:
WHERE TO STAY:
If you go further south into Bocagrande, you will be staying in modern high-rise hotels and miss out on the ‘historical ambience’ that Cartagena has to offer.
I booked myself into a Double Room at the Hotel Stil for 5 nights at US$22.75 / night including Breakfast. The Hotel Stil is located just inside the eastern city walls in La Matuna (Getsemani borders La Matuna to the south). My room was on the 9th floor with a view out over the old town.
The included Buffet Breakfast was very good. Each morning there were warm scrambled eggs, sausages, and hash-browns. There were, also, cereals and fresh fruits as well as breads, cheese and cold meat(s). To drink, you could choose from fruit juices, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. You could have as much as you wanted.
INTERNET / WIFI:
I bought a Claro SIMcard in a Minimart 1 block from the Cartagena Airport (before catching my UBER Taxi to my hotel). Claro is said to offer the best overall coverage and service. The SIMcard was C$3,100 and I purchased a 2GB Data Package for C$42,900. This data package came with a few minutes of call time and a few free SMSs.
I got a 3G or 4G signal most of the time.
A taxi anywhere around town costs C$2,000.
The Buffet Breakfast at Hotel Stil set me up for the day. I did not need lunch.
My friend and I went to a ‘typical’, nice, Old Town restaurant near our hotel one night. We ordered a Fish Soup for C$29,000, a Grilled Fish Meal for C$35,000, 3 small local beers, and 3 glasses of wine. The total bill was C$166,000!
If you are not careful and check prices, tax, and auto-added tips you can easily blow your budget!
Meals in these ‘nicer’ but more tourist-focused cafes will set you back an average C$20,000 each.
Expect to pay an average of US$4 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.
Expect to pay an average of US$4 for a cheap Lunch Snack with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
A good quality coffee in somewhere like Juan Lopez (their version of Starbucks) will cost C$6,500 for an average sized cup. You can find coffee for almost half this price if you go into the smaller back street cafes.
A small local beer (like Club Colombia) is C$3,500-3,700 in the non-tourist cafes.
They had a C$14,000 ‘special’ of 2-for-1 on Michiladas (basically just ‘lager and lime’). Expensive – even at ‘half price’.
If you get down to the seafront to somewhere like Cafe Del Mar you will, also, be paying double what you can pay elsewhere … but you do get a beautiful sunset location and view whilst sitting beside the canon strewn wall.
Here you find food and drinks being served out of meal-vans. Prices are reasonable and the view is pleasant with a nice view of the Cathedral as it lights up for night-time. We sat at one of the tables with our own bottle of wine without any problems.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
The streets are riddled with up-market outlets as well as lots of typical ‘T-Shirt’ type stores.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
You will, also, find several Money Exchange kiosks – but they only exchange the major currencies.
I checked out several ATMs … here are the results:
- The Colombia, Bogota and Aval Banks have a withdrawal limit of C$600k
- Davivienda C$420k
- Juriscoop C$780k
- Pichincha C$800k
Be careful with the smaller, less-known banks. They may allow you to withdraw more but you pay more in fees. For example, for a C$600k withdrawal Aval charge C$13,200 … Colombia charged C$12k.
The bank that you choose depends on 2 things (1) the host bank’s fee and (2) your home banks fee. Obviously, if one or both banks are going to charge you a fee (which can amount to about US$9 per transaction), you want to take out as much as possible.
Luckily, my bank back in NZ stopped charging Foreign ATM Transaction fees a couple of months ago; this helped a little bit.
UPDATE: I have been told that the Davivienda Bank do not charge a fee. If, like me, your home bank doesn’t charge a fee, choose Davivienda as their low transaction limit (in this instance) becomes irrelevant.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in these countries. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
From January until March it is extremely dry.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DE BARAJAS:
I will tell you more about that it my next post.
GRANDPAckers can afford to HOLIDAY in Cartagena to GRANDPAcking standard.
GRANDPAckers are strongly advised to find a hotel that includes a free Breakfast. The Breakfast at Hotel Stil was excellent value for money and really helped keep daily costs down. I can recommend the Hotel Stil.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I lived in Cartagena to GRANDPAcking standard.
I spent 5 nights at an average price of US$22.75 / night in an air-conditioned Double Room with a small fridge.
I spent C$46k on a new Claro SIMcard and a 1-Month 2GB Data Plan.
My Breakfasts were included in my room rate.
I averaged C$13k / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore so, this was mainly for cappuccinos in little cafes.
I averaged about C$26k / day on Dinners. This was mainly budget restaurants at about C$20k per meal … but also includes an $80k meal in a fancy restaurant.
My COE worked out to be about US$35 / day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me just over C$7k for an UBER taxi from the airport to my hotel.
My total COL was about US$38 / day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself something for 2 nights at about C$80k / night including Breakfast. Once there, look around and find somewhere for about C$70k including Breakfast.
Transport: You can walk everywhere around the Old Town. I have included a weekly trip for 2 on local transport to a nearby beach or attraction.
Communications & Fees: I have oncluded a Claro SIMcard and 1 month 2GB data plan.
Food & Beverages: Your budget is C$50k / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants. I assume that your Breakfast is free.
Your COE is US$43 / day (76% of your total budget).
COST OF LIVING:
With a bottle of beer in a cheap cafe going for C$3500-4000 and a cheap bottle of wine (from a supermarket) going for under C$20k, you have enough to enjoy yourself.
THE GRANDPAckingACID TEST: Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? NO.
The cost of a 2 bedroom apartment in / close to the Historical Centre will be prohibitive.
If this constant harassment annoys you … go somewhere else. Otherwise, Cartagena can be very enjoyable.
You will need to avoid all of the Tourist Restaurants and Bars. As an example, outside of Cartagena you can buy a 1 litre bottle of cold beer from a minimart for C$3,500 … in Cartagena, you will be paying that in a cheap cafe or street-table bar for 350ml. That’s just the way it is in Cartagena …