Cartagena Travel Guide

Health & Safety

Watch out for the "Money-Changing-Magicians"

Those street vendors offer you a very good exchange rate. After you have counted the money you will recognize that a small amount is missing, and after complaining he will put exactly that amount on top again. In the same move they will take some big notes from the bottom.

Most people won't count their money a second time, and first think they made a good deal but in fact got ripped off.

Be very careful when walking at night specially around lonely parts of the city.

Tips for Currency Exchange and Retrieving Pesos from ATM machines.

Most hotels, upscale restaurants take credit cards, but many places, especially taxis only accept Colombian pesos. Some banks may exchange money, but the rates may not be the most convenient. The easiest method for obtaining pesos is to use your debit card at an ATM machine. Another option is to use a Cambio or curreny exchange kiosk, however, your exchange rate will be a little higher than by using a debit card. Using a credit card at the ATM machine will require you to use a PIN number, so contact your financial institution before your trip.

There is a large Citibank ATM location on calle Venezuela near Barrio San Diego that has a guard out front. Seemingly available 24/7.

Taking a walk

When in the Old City do not walk outside the walls after dark, and remember that it is a large city, so just use common sense.

The street vendors can be very annoying, but a simple "No quiero nada" in Spanish will keep them away.

Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca

The tours offered to visit Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be quite a let down. You'll be offered a price for a tour which "includes" either snorkeling or entrance to the aquarium and a meal at Playa Blanca for about $50.000. Once on the trip you find out that you have to pay extra for the aquarium or the snorkeling - $15.000. Make sure the tour guides on the boat are told by the person who sold the tour what is included in order to avoid disagreements.

The best way to book a tour is going inside the marina and avoiding the "sales" people outside. They are getting a cut for the sales and have no responsibility to you. Once inside ask for Elizabeth (known lovingly as La negra Liz"). She owns several boats, will give you the best price, and most importantly her word. You can rent your own small boat for $700.000 or secure a seat for $75.000. Ask them before hand about the itinerary. Her company in particular has its own "resort" in the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean, nice and has good food for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, their beach access is limited and less than spectacular. Her boats will insist on taking you there, but you have a choice.

Playa blanca is by far the best beach, but it can be overwhelming with the locals trying to sell you their products.

More upscale destinations include the Baru Island and private resorts owned by the big hotels (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). In most, you are allowed to spend the day at the beach.

Every tour boat has their own agenda.

Taking a long distance bus

If you plan to take a bus to Santa Marta from bus terminal, it is advised to approach ticket counters and buy tickets directly there. Otherwise be aware: normally there is a bus service with connection in Barranquilla, where you will have to change a bus and pay a new fare to Santa Marta again, even if you have already paid it in a previous bus and even if you were promised that this was an absolutely direct bus to Santa Marta. If you happen to have this kind of connection in Barranquilla, make sure that you keep your tickets with you (even though they are being collected shortly after departure) and make sure that the guy, who will meet you in a bus and guide to another bus during a connection was clearly notified by a bus driver that you have already paid your fare to Santa Marta.

source: Wikivoyage

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