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Cartagena tours

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My wife and I are doing the Canal in Dec. 2011 and will be stopping in Cartagena. Have been looking at tour options and was pondering the "Best of Cartagena" through Princess or Cartagena by Lee Miles. Any recommendations for either of these or others? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated and will be taken into consideration. Thank You.:):)

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We have heard it's easy to do ones own self guided walking tour of Cartagena, and there were maps given out at the port? Anyone know if they are there for anyone to get?

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We did a tour through Lee Miles a few months back while in Cartagena. Great tour!!! Got to see many different parts of Cartagena. Both walking and in a vehicle, but a very good tour. Had a nice small group of 7 of us, so it was very nice. We organized it through our roll call for our cruise. Would definitely recommend Lee Miles tours.

 

Tim

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When you did the Lee Miles tour with your group size can you give me an estimate of the tour length and approx. cost per person? Need info for planning purposes for a group about same size. Thank you.

 

David

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We will be doing the Canal this November and I was researching Cartagena also. Here are some of my notes taken from CruiseCritic postings.... hope it helps. It is a little long but....

 

Our Cruise Critic group went on a tour of Cartagena which we enjoyed because of the wonderful people we were with, but while we were rushing through, "The Palace of the Inquisition", I briefly talked with a couple of elderly ladies resting on a bench, who had taken a taxi to the old city, walked through the historic streets, visited a couple of museums, had a wonderful lunch, and were going to stop somewhere for a drink before they taxied back to the ship. I envied them. Even though we told our guide that we did not want to shop, we still spent over an hour visiting an "emerald museum" and a shopping area. If we ever return to Cartagena, we know what we will do.

 

Currency & Best Way to Get Money The local currency in Cartagena is the peso, but U.S. dollars and credit cards are accepted everywhere. If you run short, an ATM is located at the port. You'll find currency conversion rates at oanda.com or xe.com. Best Cocktail In the searing midday heat, I'd put my money on a large bottle of Club Colombia beer ($3 will buy nearly a liter). Drink it on a leaf-dappled bench in the Old Town's pretty Plaza de Bolivar, but beware -- this little park is full of fountains, and all that tinkling water can make you feel the beer's effects all too quickly! Where You're Docked The port of Cartagena -- where your ship docks -- now offers a brief (and free) shuttle bus ride away from the dockside (see Hanging Around). At the port gates, you'll find taxis to take you downtown to Old Cartagena, which is a 15-minute, $20 taxi ride away.Getting Around If you're happy just wandering around town, it's easy to get about on your own. Just hop on the shuttle to the port gates and grab a taxi from there. Official taxi drivers are easy to spot; they'll be wearing crisp, pale blue shirts with "TAXI" stamped all over them.A one-way trip to the Old Town (Ciudad Amurallada) for up to four people costs $20 -- at five bucks a head, it's a big savings on a $70-plus shore tour. Your driver will offer to come back for you later, but believe me, you'll have no problem finding a return cab if you decide to go it alone -- they are everywhere.Ask the driver to drop you at the main gate near the Convention Center, as it's easy to orient yourself from here.Watch Out For The locals seemed very friendly and the streets felt safe during my daytime visit, but the usual advisories about not flashing jewelry or too much cash do apply here. And if you're prone to tummy upsets, one Spanish term worth remembering is "Sin hielo, por favour" (no ice, please).Don't Miss Old Town: Between the first main gate and the second, you'll find yourself in an outer area called Getsemani, which circles the Old Town and is home to lively, low-cost cafes, shops and bars.But if this is your first visit and time is at a premium, it's the heart of the Old Town -- the prettiest part of old colonial Cartagena -- that you'll want to see. So go through the second gate and head left toward the Plaza de Bolivar. You'll hear the tinkling fountains of this lovely little park before you get there, and you'll know you're in the right place when a gigantic bronze statue of South America's liberator, Simon de Bolivar, rises above the tree tops.At one corner of the square is the Museo del Oro y Arqueologia (Gold Museum -- admission free) and a jewelry store heavily promoted by sellers who rove outside trying to usher in customers. If shopping's your thing, this is a good place to bargain for rubies, emeralds and gold. Also worth seeing is Cartagena's 16th-century cathedral, which lies nearby (and was once bombarded by Sir Francis Drake).A simple stroll through the narrow streets of the two Old Town districts -- El Centro and San Diego -- is a pleasure in itself. Cartagena is full of colonial churches, monasteries and palaces, and even its ordinary houses are a delight, their wrought iron balconies crammed with pots of vivid geraniums and cascading with rich red and purple bougainvillea.Plenty of restaurants here open onto the street so diners can watch the world go by. You can also browse a variety of shops selling souvenirs (including obscene wood carvings, for those who like that sort of thing). Particularly good buys, if you're not into novelty phalluses or copulating monkeys, are locally produced watercolors depicting views of Cartagena.If it's not too hot, a stroll around Las Murallas -- the old town's dense walls -- will reveal striking sea views. Prefer some shade? Enjoy the tranquil dappled courtyard of the 17th-century Convento de San Pedro Claver, which lies in the street of the same name. Its small museum charges $3 to enter. Next door, the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver has a fine Italian marble altar.Palacio de la Inquisicion: If history, atmosphere and the darker side of human nature are of interest to you, head to Cartagena's most remarkable attraction, the Palacio de la Inquisicion (Plaza de Bolivar, admission free).As Britain's Monty Python comedy team once famously declared, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, and this wonderfully spooky museum would certainly cast a chill over the sunniest Caribbean afternoon.Just inside the door lurks a figure swathed in black, topped off with a pointed executioner's hood. The main exhibition room contains pillories, a rack and a variety of rusting torture implements so bizarre that their use almost defies the imagination.Outside, a sunny, tree-lined courtyard contains a gallows and a chopping block, and other small exhibits show the type of paraphernalia involved -- or believed to be involved -- in witchcraft.It's all very weird and absolutely fascinating – the more so because the curators have resisted the temptation to gild the lily, and present their grisly collection in a straightforward manner rather than hamming it up. If you see one thing during your stay in Cartagena, make sure this is it.Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: The entire old city is one giant fortress with still more fortifications outside its gates (this part of the Caribbean coast was clearly a tough place to live in the 16th to 19th centuries).The most notable exterior fortress is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which was first called for in 1533, construction was started in 1639 and it took 150 years to complete (a bit like one of Britain's ring roads).When it was finished the fortress proved completely impregnable, to the chagrin of various marauding hordes. You'll have fun roving the battlements and exploring the warren of underground tunnels, which were designed to amplify the faintest footfall so that enemies could not creep through. (Note: This is not the place to wear steel-tipped stilettos).Seaside Area: To the south of the walled Old Town is an L-shaped peninsula broken into three districts -- Castillo Grande, El Laguito and Bocagrande -- which make up the "seaside resort" of Cartagena. Filled with good quality hotels, bars, shops and restaurants, this area is a magnet for holidaying Colombians and international tourists.And if you don't mind looking like a naive tourist (I never mind if the view's good enough) you could take a horse and carriage ride. These run along the waterfront from Bocagrande to the old walled town and cost around $20 per carriage.Beaches The most convenient beach from the port is La Boquilla, which lies about 8 km north of Cartagena and is easily reached by taxi. A 10-minute cab ride beyond Boquilla is Manzanillo Beach. Both are well-maintained each night by large tractors pulling power sand rakes.The prettiest beach is the white-sanded Playa Blanca, about 22 km south of the old town and reachable by bus, boat or taxi. Tickets are sold in Cartagena town's main market, Mercado Bazurto, but departures are early, around 9.30 a.m., so it's really impractical for cruise callers to get there except by taxi or on a ship's tour.There are also fine beaches and good snorkeling in the Rosario Islands, 27 of which lie in a chain about 30 km south of Cartagena. Most cruise ships will run beach tours here for around $55 to $60 a head -- worth considering if you want a scenic boat ride and a hassle-free day.Lunching All things are possible in Cartagena, from a blow-out at a five-star hotel to a tasty, freshly cooked snack from an Old Town street vendor. On our day there, the bold Australian with whom we'd shared a taxi forked out $2 to tuck into a plateful of butifarras -- small barbecue-flavored meatballs. He wolfed them down, pronounced them delicious, appeared to suffer no ill effects and won great respect from us for behaving as a "real" traveler should. The equally adventurous will find that the street vendors of old Cartagena offer many other local delicacies, including bunuelos (cheese balls) and arepas de huevo (fried dough balls with an egg inside).For a sit-down lunch, the Old Town possesses many good restaurants, open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and serving everything from Spanish and Italian to French and Creole specialties at very reasonable prices. Your best bet is simply to stroll around, eye a few menus and see what looks good.If you want to play it really safe, there's a Hilton at the tip of El Laguito peninsula, a 10-minute cab ride from the walled city.Fogon Costeno: For $10 a head, including a generous tip, we enjoyed a selection of tapas (a perfectly substantial lunch in the midday heat) washed down with well-chilled local beer, and sat at a table overlooking the lively street. The decor is quite appealing with warm ochre-painted walls, fresh white tablecloths and a vast array of local art displayed on the walls. (Calle de la Iglesia 35-38, tel 6642354)Restaurant Vesuvio: Located near Plaza de Santo Domingo, this restaurant specializes in Neapolitan cuisine. (36 Calle de la Factoria, tel 6642249)Parrilla Argentina Quebracho: The focus here is on Argentine specialties. Try the roast suckling pig if you dare, or wimp out with a nice steak. (2 Calle de Baloco, 6641300)Staying in Touch Heading from Plaza de Bolivar back toward the main city gate (near the Convention Center), you'll find a craft shop cum Internet cafe called Robins.com on Calle Manuel Roman y Picon. Rates start at $1 for 30 minutes.Shore ExcursionsBest for First-Timers: If you don't want to risk going it alone, take the 3.5-hour "Best of Cartagena" coach tour, which will show you the main sites -- including the Fort of San Filipe de Barajas, the Naval Museum, the Church of San Pedro Claver and the Inquisition Palace -- while also allowing time to shop for local handicrafts and international goodies at the Pierino Gallo mall. Expect to pay around $42 per adult, $32 per child.Best for Repeat Visitors: The six-hour "Mangroves and Swamp Ecological Tour" takes you by bus and canoe to discover the flora and fauna of the Swamp of the Virgin. The only downside (in my mind) is that after your encounter with nature and a beach/pool break at a local hotel, you're "treated" to a performance of folklorique. But you may like that kind of thing more than I do. The tour costs around $52 per person for both adults and kids.Best for Adventure Travelers: A 3.5-hour "Cartagena Beach and Boating" tour takes passengers by motorboat from the pier to nearby Baru Island, viewing Tierra Bomba island and the fishing villages of Punta Arenas, Cano del Oro and Bocachica en route. On arrival, you have two hours to swim, sun or snorkel (provided you bring your own kit). Price is $57 per person.Best for Families: I'd recommend a six-hour tour to the Rosario Island chain by speedboat; the area is designated as a national park and has richly populated coral reefs, which are excellent for snorkeling. The tour includes drinks, lunch, a swimming or snorkeling break on Isla del Sol and a trip to nearby Isla de San Martin to see a dolphin show at the local aquarium. It doesn't include snorkeling gear, so take your own. Cost is $99 per person

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If you and your wife do not have mobility issues and are able to climb stairs, I'd recommend the Princess tour to the Totumo mud bath volcano. This was one of the funnest tours I've done and my husband entertained everyone at the dinner table that night with the day's events. So many people were sorry they hadn't signed up for this one too! It cost $54 each. The mud bath is about an hour's drive from the port so you get a drive through Cartagena and then a lovely drive up the coast where the ocean is visible for much of the journey. Then into the mud bath at Totumo. I have photos and a description of what to expect on my blog. http://appytales.blogspot.com/2010/05/totumo-mud-volcano-bath.html

 

If you're a geocacher this is an earth cache. Bring your GPS and take a photo in front of the volcano.

 

Afterwards we returned to Cartagena for a small tour. There are a couple of places to get off the bus briefly including the fort, but there isn't enough time to explore it, just take photos. I have some more of the description of the Princess tour and photos here http://appytales.blogspot.com/2010/05/cartagena-colombia.html

 

This was the only port that I booked a Princess excursion. You can hire a taxi to take you to Totumo and back, about $20, but an hour out of the dock and highways with military checkpoints..... This was the only port that I decided not to do my own thing.

 

Some people on our cruise booked a private tour with Dora at Cartagena Tours and they loved it. She offers tours on a sliding scale meaning the more passengers in the van the less the price is for everyone. You still have over a year to make a decision. Once your roll call gets going you'll probably find others booking these same tours.

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My wife and I are doing the Canal in Dec. 2011 and will be stopping in Cartagena. Have been looking at tour options and was pondering the "Best of Cartagena" through Princess or Cartagena by Lee Miles. Any recommendations for either of these or others? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated and will be taken into consideration. Thank You.:):)

 

We did the best of Cartagena through Princess. We never do private tours because we really dont want to miss the ship :D. This tour is very nice. They take you through the city to visit the La Popa monastery, breathtaking views. Then you go to Fort Barajas and after that you do some shopping and you go to a place where you watch some dancers. We enjoyed this tour very much.

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I wouldn't worry too much about missing the ship while doing a private tour in Cartegena. All of the major sites in Cartegena are close to the port. As long as you plan to be back at the ship an hour before it sails, you will make it with a private guide.

We did a private tour with J. J. Taborda and it was great. We contacted him first by email and then spoke with him on the phone. There were specific places we wanted to go and we did not want to do any shopping. He completely honored our wishes and gave us an excellent tour of his city. If you're interested, you can contact him at:

jacinto-200@hotmail.com.

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I just happened onto your wonderful summary for Cartagena. (I'm new to Cruise Critic).

Any chance you also have one for Puerto Limon, or for Panama, or for Huatulco, or for Acapulco, or Puerto Vallarta, or Cabo San Lucas? Those are the ports of call of our coming cruise. Thanks again for that great summary.

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I have organized a Private Tour through Lee Miles for our upcoming Princess cruise on the Coral. For a group of 25 (27-seat bus), the cost is $38 per person and it includes stops at all the key attractions, including the Inquisition Palace. Lee has been great with the organization.

 

I will give a full report upon our return.

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I contacted him and he answered right away, but he wanted $130 US per person. IMO way too much money - we will seek an alternate

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We just returned from Columbia and booked Lee Miles. We only had four of us so it was $90 p/p and we were friends of the other couple so we thought that we could arrange our tour the way we wanted. Not so for us. The driver we had was on a time clock and wanted to stick right to it. I asked when we first got into the van if we were going to the monastery and he looked a a piece of paper and said "Nope". From that point on, it was rush rush rush.

We asked about stopping to pick up beers because for $90 each, a cooler was not provided.

We had passed up beers being sold on the streets and finally he stopped at a store and ran in to get us three beers. He then charged us more than what the street vendors were charging.

Our first stop was the fort. I have to admit that he knew a lot of the history and recited it in English nicely, but he wanted our full attention and I wanted to look at the things he was talking about, not watch his face while he was talking. When we would look around while he was narrating, he would become upset. The problem was that he would narrate about a certain thing and then it was follow me. No time to look at what he had finished talking about and when the men wandered off to take pictures, he kept looking at his watch and saying we had to go.

This continued on throughout the day. He was not personable and did not appreciate

our humor or did not understand humor at all. The last hour of our four hour tour was at Mr.Miles Emeralds store. Now, we did want to go to the store but to incorporate us shopping at his own store as part of the city tour was unacceptable. We actually thought that we were going to a touristy shopping area after we were done with the store but told "no" that our time was over and he had to get us back to the ship. The area that his store was located did not have local items, just another jewelry store, a restaurant and a drug store that did have a few items for sale.

Mr. Miles did ask us how our tour was going and he asked right in front of his tour guide, so thinking that our tour wasnt over yet, we told him that we enjoyed the city and the guide was very knowledgeable.

I have heard about good reviews but maybe it was the guide. I would certainly say that if you pay what we did for a private tour, there should have been a whole lot of flexibility and the emerald shopping should not have been part of the four hours.

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We did the Lee Miles Tour. Had 26 people on a 27-seat bus and it was $38 pp. It was a terrific tour. Claudia was our guide and she did a great job of explaining everything. Only downside of Cartagena is all the street vendors. Would highly recommend this tour. Lasted just under four hours. Our bus was right on the pier next to the ship.

 

Best way to organize is a group is through your Roll Call. That's how we got our numbers. Enjoy.

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