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Gear & Chicas In Cartagena

by David Lewis
23 October 2013 22 Comments

Looking for another remote destination that does the tranquil and the mind-blowing in equal measure. Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia...

What do you get when you mix unspoilt white sand beaches, some of the world’s cheapest, purest and most potent cocaine, some off-their-face locals and the kind of women that want to make you drop to your knees and thank God he made you a man? The answer it seems is Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

I was turned on to the idea by a friend who had recently returned from a one-month “shagfest” (his words) in the South American country. “It’s off the scale man!” he promised. “You’ve gotta see it now before it all changes and gets shit like Thailand!” He’s a good salesman.

I jetted off deeply unsure if it was possible to enjoy – or even survive – a week’s break exploring the coastal strip. Was it really the last great untapped holiday paradise? Or more likely was there a bloody good reason why so many gringos stay well away?

After a tedious and bumpy 18 hours and three flights later I touched down in Cartagena. What a start.

The place is incredible. Set within fortified walls – and under a blistering sun – the multi-coloured buildings and winding streets have stood largely unchanged for four centuries. It feels like walking through a film set. And even though a Hard Rock Café and other shitty global brands gnaw at the edge of the old town, it’s hanging on to its old world charm. For now at least.

By night the place goes up a notch. Parties in the Getsemani neighbourhood outside the old town are legendary. Everyone – gringos and locals – get loaded on cheap cocktails late into the evening and party ‘til dawn. And there is always the pick-me-up option for the gentleman in need of a nasal refreshment. Although illegal coke seems to be everywhere. A gram of outrageously pure marching powder will set you back about 15,000pesos – or £5.

The general rule of thumb you can safely assume is anyone staying beyond that time is off their tits. It’s a unique vibe.

And the dancing, ahhh, the dancing. Dance is an important expression in Latin culture. There exists none of the mindless six gins-then-boogy formula of Whisky Mist and Faces. If you want to dance – dance. Any way you choose. And you will always get a good reception. But be warned – doing an “ironic” running man just does not cut the mustard. You look like an even bigger twat than usual and the locals will think you are a piss taker. And weird. Rightly. And nothing in life can prepare you for a group of Colombian chicas dancing. It is different from anything I’ve ever seen – they seem to balance seriousness, fun, rhythm, perfect movement and teasing sexuality. None of which I could possibly perform on a dancefloor. And so friendly! Sometimes they’ll dance with you if you offer and sometimes not. But you are always accepted/let down with a smile.

According to my guidebook – the city is safe. But it isn’t. As I settled down to making some dinner one night in my hostel – I heard a platinum blond girl from Essex telling the owner: “Some fucker held up a broken bottle to my froat last night and took my cash and necklace.” Jesus. “Don’t take a wallet out when you go out,” she advised me later on. “Just bring as much cash as you need. You gotta be fackin’ careful all the time.” Salient stuff.

After a couple of heavy nights I needed a scene change. From Cartagena I took a four-hour bus ride along the coast to the fishing village of Taganga. And that place is wild.

The village is not much to look at. It’s a mesh of criss-crossed dirt roads, filthy stray dogs and rubbish strewn back yards. But three things get the tourists frothy; an amazing beach, year round heat and heaps of the best coke in South America.

After a day spent catching up on some beachside reading (Killing Pablo – what else?) I got into my holiday glad rags and hit the clubs. Sensations nightclub is somewhat…unsensational – but the after party at the Israeli Hostel is becoming legendary.

The Israeli hostel is just that – a home from home for any number of twenty-something Israelitos in town to let off some steam after the army. And about three every morning, dozens of backpackers descend to party hard until the sun comes up. And beyond.

The crowd seem to separate out at about 5am – those who are on it from those who aren’t. The general rule of thumb you can safely assume is anyone staying beyond that time is off their tits. It’s a unique vibe – friendly, wild and trashy all at the same time. The only problem is the walk back to the hostel. The local fuckers tend to descend safe in the knowledge that a not so elegantly wasted gringo will make easy prey.

One night I had to pick up my pace to sprint as three locals came up me at four in the morning. The semi-run-semi-swagger home was not a good look but I’m dead certain I would have been in trouble had I not have legged it.

“It’s off the scale man!” he promised. “You’ve gotta see it now before it all changes and gets shit like Thailand!” He’s a good salesman.

That’s the contradiction about the place. You often hear gringos talking about either a) the incredible, life-changing night they’ve just had or, b) the digital camera that they just got robbed of hours earlier. The general rule is if cornered – hand it over. Although I heard plenty of tales of knife/gun/bottle toting locals – only once did I hear of someone being physically assaulted.

I could only handle so many of these nights out and I fancied a change of scene to end the trip. From Taganga it’s a short bus ride and two-hour hike to the spectacular palm tree lined beaches at Tayrona.

Tayrona is a national park and home to numerous swimming spots and hiking opportunities. The water is bright, clear, choppy and cool and waif thin Argentinean chicas cluster along the sands – sipping their hot mate drinks. It is a beautiful spot.

A hammock for the night overlooking the ocean costs 25,000pesos – about eight quid. Falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore is a cliché – but a great one. It is really the perfect place to detox. Before you retox.

And best of all I didn’t hear anyone speaking English for two days. I kept expecting to hear some west London trustafarian idiot shouting into their iphone but thankfully they never came. Just me, my ropey Spanish and the South Americans – bliss.

It was a great last leg to a paradox holiday. Plenty of ups and comedowns, amazing nights out and real concern for my own safety. But it is the glorious heat, good fresh food and friendly, beautiful chicas that will live long in the memory.

And parts of that coast really are untapped, unspoilt, unreserved and hugely unsafe. It really is the best/worst place I have ever been.

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Nick 6:06 am, 24-Mar-2011

Have just returned from Cartagena, what I remember of it was good, apart from the whole nearly being kidnapped thing

Owen Blackhurst 7:36 pm, 24-Mar-2011

Travel writing as it should be... having been a five-star cunt on numerous wanky itineraries this gets me going. Struggling to persuade the missus we should head there next month but such is life...

MattleHat 2:08 pm, 2-Apr-2011

Sounds good. Would probably need another week off work afterwards to get over Columbian flu...

Seanpops 8:04 pm, 18-Oct-2011

Off to Cartagena next month and I was interested in what you had to say. But let's be honest, all you've said is it's cheap and the coke is great. Your article kind of reminds of a line of coke... Full of hope and promise but in reality... Disappointing and limp, like your old mans cock.

bogfox 12:07 am, 19-Oct-2011

A word to any backpackers thinking of coming to Colombia..STAY THE FUCK AWAY...you just clutter the place up...

David Hillier 1:42 pm, 7-Jul-2012

nice article, I've been there. Great place. Slept with this one chick who I had absolutely no right to be even in the vicinity of. I'm noticing more of my friends are going to Colombia for holidays now.

Matt 3:48 pm, 7-Jul-2012

Good read, thanks.

Devious Soul 11:02 am, 9-Jul-2012

Spent a month there last year and had a blast. A lot of the dealers work with the police in Cartagena, so if you pick up on the street, expect to get collared about 5 minutes later and marched to a cash machine. £100 will get rid of them allegedly. Met a Canadian who got picked up twice in one night! Loads of army around Colombia, and I found it to be reasonably safe, though you do hear a few horror stories. It certainly felt safer than a lot of places in Brazil. Well worth taking a boat trip from Cartagena to Playa Blanca which is absolute paradise. Also, the night life in Bogota was great, stay at the Cranky Croc if you do head to the capital, run by some great people who know what's what. Colombia = The bollocks

monkdrunk 8:57 am, 10-Jul-2012

brown american boy( african, native, european ancestry). educated in states and have been around the world. nice trade log. headed to bogota in 3 days and i will come back and give you guys a report of my experiences. have spent a week reading a boat load of blogs about colombia and have a good virtual image in my head of what to expect in bogota. have spent lot of time in southeast asia and in the hood before i was educated so I'm not squeemish or stupid. don't drink( though that pure white sand sounds intriguing if you know what i mean mate,,haha) wish me luck and i promise to spill my guts when i get back. the monk..

jimmy 10:55 pm, 17-Oct-2012

@davidhillier ....but that's why you paid her dave....easy to forget those details in a coke induced haze

Russel 5:21 pm, 1-Nov-2012

Getsemani halloween party last night, two British girls sexually assaulted, one's Scottish boyfriend died later in the hospital with a knife through his spleen. And this was at the "gringo" hostel.

Redchris 9:46 am, 9-Nov-2012

I've spent 8 months in Colombia over 4 trips and 6 years. It is the most incredible place on the planet imho. Only one issue in 8 months: hotel in Medellin was held up at gunpoint. Fortunately I was out at the time. Unfortunately mine was the first room past reception and got totally fleeced. Sure you hear stories and undoubtedly bad things happen but they do in most places. You find that most people who run into trouble are usually being stupid - ie wandering round blind drunk/coked up in the middle of the night drawing maximum attraction to themselves. I wouldn't hesitate to go again. Tip: San Augustin. It's the garden of Eden. Look up Hanibal if you make it and tell him Chrios says hi.

Sam 5:40 am, 15-Nov-2012

Going to Cartagena in a week for about 9 days. Couple questions - 1. What is the best, safest way to buy coke without getting ripped off, sold shitty coke, or getting arrested and thrown in jail? Bartenders? 2. Is it stupid to buy coke knowing that you could end up in jail, or is it pretty common for visitors to Cartagena to be able to buy it easily without too much worry? 3. Are there a lot of crimes committed against tourists in Cartagena?

Asdf 12:18 pm, 14-Dec-2012

nice

Chris 8:15 pm, 30-Dec-2012

Interesting reading man! Keep up the good work! As for sam id like to give a good universal tip on how to score drugs , what ever it may be n where ever u may be, taxidrivers or prostitutes, never fails!!! Take a day or to to check the place out, dont get shitfaces runing around the streets askimg for coke, thats not the right way to do it...

danny 4:32 am, 2-Apr-2013

alright lads great read took me whyl to find, ive herd of some hotels or hostels were there is fine women coke swimming pool all dirty cheap can any one advice me or no what the fuck im on about,

danny 1:17 am, 10-Apr-2013

hi does any one no of casa golana or something like this ,ment to be full women n coke n a good time or anything of the sort let me no please

Jase 7:04 pm, 17-Nov-2013

Great art., but I've been to Medellin,Cartagena,CR,Russia, Ukraine etc.,and U don't know shit about Thailand. Safest place on the planet. Melting pot of Asia. Ladies of all tastes,Russian, Colombian, and Asians. Mixed Asian and white so fuckin sexy! U must have a death wish or just a dumb-ass. If coke is your thing u r right on though.

Big Buds 4:34 am, 27-Jan-2014

Spent one of the best weeks of my life about 2 years ago their. Woman are unbelievable and the coke is legit!

spunk bubble 11:02 pm, 18-Feb-2014

fackin yeh mate i got raaaaaaiiit on it in columbia year, got some fackn coke n that, off me tits i was, there was this bird there right might of been a pro but she was up for doin it for free like, she mite of robbed me fone out me bag when i was a sleep but prper decent fake tits like. then i went to a proper chil beach with some lads from israel they was facking offff it maate!1! anyway i basicly got off me tits agen and fucd one of the isreal birds or mite ave been a french. columbias sick mate all me mates are goin next yr!

dangermouse 3:23 pm, 20-Mar-2014

Don't be silly, opportunist thieves and muggers are around. If they see a solo tourist coked up and drunk, they will take their opportunity- hell, in their shoes, so would I. enjoy the women, be respectful, wear a condom- bring some from home. try taking taxis to and from places, if not, go via well lit roads. don't be scared, you're on holiday, have fun. You will be dead soon enough...

Dave 8:38 pm, 10-Apr-2014

Heh you should talk about english people, you are hated in India for your not give a ***k attitude no respect and we d owhat we want Listen you are a shit country who treats Palestinians like dogs, enclosed no rights no state. You should not even be allowed to travel, but your are up the u.s.a's arse And best of all I didn’t hear anyone speaking English for two days. I kept expecting to hear some west London trustafarian idiot shouting into their iphone but thankfully they never came

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