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Have any of you been to Cartagena, Colombia?

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My wife and I are on a cruise next year that will stop in Cartagena, Colombia. I have heard and read many things, pro and con, about how to spend our time in Cartagena. Shall we stick to the organized tour only? Is there anything to be concerned about if we walk about on our own?

 

The Cartagena official tourism site does not seem to settle the issue:

 

http://www.cartagenainfo.net/cruise/indexeng.html

 

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.

 

Thanks.

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I am in the same boat (pun intended). All I know is the excursions offered by Celebrity. We are on a cruise in January that stops there. If you found anything useful anywhere else, please post it (or how to get to it) here. Thank you.

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We are in the same boat (pun intended). We are on a Celebrity cruise that stops in Cartagena and the only info we could find is the excursions offered.

 

If you found anything, please post it (or at least how to get to it) here.

 

Thank you.

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We are also on a cruise stopping off in Cartagena in January and I have studied that forum under www.tripadvisor.com quite regularly over the past few months. What I've gleaned from that is its not a place to walk around on your own unless you like being "attacked" by people wanting to either sell you something or guide you around and the harassment doesn't stop until you have a guide with you. However, there was one very good recommendation by a Canadian lady who gave me the name Jacinto (known as JJ) whose cell phone number is 312-607-7393 (after you've dialled the international code for Colombia. She said she had used this tour guide several times and there was very little he didn't know about his city and he doesn't overcharge.

 

Hope this helps.

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Not sure if you've noticed but there is a now a port of call board for "Colombia". There are two guides who seem to be recommended....Lee Miles (Emerald man) who provides a van and guide and Christian Martinez, a local, who provides a walking tour. You may be better going over the Colombia board with your questions. I've also read some really positive things about Cartagena and that is an incredibly interesting city. DH and I (and another couple) have booked the walking tour with Martinez and are really looking forward to it.

 

Deb.

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It's great because if you simply use common sense and get a little info (which you've done from the looks of the informative links you cite) you'll be fine.

 

Cartagena is large. It has a lot of poor people like any developing country; it has a very wealthy and impressive history as well as some very wealthy neighborhoods today.

 

Stay out of the slums, stick to the historic-touristic destinations and the upmarket neighborhoods and you'll be fine. (Sounds like visiting NYC right? It is.)

 

The beggars and peddlers that you will no doubt encounter are persistant (as in many developing countries). Just say "No" - politely, and mean it! Leave your developed country empathy on the ship (or only in your head) but NOT in your purse or wallet; you'll do yourself a big favor.

 

The peddlers are tricky, because frankly, Colombia has better quality and variety of handcrafted goods than anywhere else in the Caribbean. So - enjoy, take your 'poker face', again - know how to say 'No' and mean it, and bargain (definately).

 

A ship tour is not required for security - in fact I tend to think a bus load of cruisers simply makes a bigger target and feeding frenzy with the peddlers. Taxis are well security screened prior to entry into the terminal (unlike Panama). Survey the taxis and make a deal with a driver to accompany you for a few hours. I went with a disabled family member this way and had fine time. We visited La Popa Monastary, the fortress and old town, and shopped at 'The Mall' in Boca Grande (bought leather and emerald jewelry there that has passed the test of time as good values). Our driver would drop us off then return at designated times (say 30 minutes or an hour) and pick us up.

 

If you are going to buy gems and jewelry go to reputable jewelers. You can get a 'good value' in handcrafted gold and stones. Even at a high end jeweler I bargained (as I will do stateside with jewelers), and got about 25% off on earrings and a necklace - excellent stuff, you don't see hand filagree gold and stones of this quality stateside; on high ticket stuff, go with a high end retailer. Don't expect to make a 'killing' or 'burn' a local selling stones (that's how to GET burned) remember this is Colombia, they know how to export anything and they know what they've got... But it's a great shopping opportunity, the best in the Caribbean.

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I was on a cruise in October that stopped at Cartagena. I was trying to use Les Miles after e-mailing him several times. He was very cooperative and gave me lots of information, but I couldn't get much response from others on the cruise so we couldn't arrange a tour. But with the information given me by Les Miles, BW and I decided to do it on our own. We took a shuttle to the port building, walked through it. In the front there was a young man that appeared to be a cab or guide dispatcher. We told him we needed a guide that spoke good English. He had one sent around, arranged a price of about 70 dollars. We visited the La Popa Monastary, the fortress, the dungeon and did a walking tour of old town which included the cathedral. We ended up at the shopping mall and bought an emerald ring from Les Miles. Our guide spoke very good english. We did not have any problems with the peddlers. I was very satisfied with the arrangements. Ed

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Thank you so very much for this info! Our roll call does not seem to have anyone interested in 'independent touring' so this may just be what we need. $70 for two people is a very reasonable price!

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We are in Cartegna right now. I scheduled a private tour through Christian Martinez because I have read many favorable comments about him on this board. All I can say is that our tour was the WORST we have ever experienced. We have taken many ship tours, but tend to favor private tours to avoid the crowds. We have generally been very happy.

I knew that Christian was not likely to guide us personally, but had no idea that the guide he sent would be so inexperienced. He took us to all of the main sights (via a VERY crowded taxi, which we paid for), but did very little "guiding." All in all, I would recommend sticking to a ship tour in Cartegna.

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Sorry you had such a bad experience with Christian's tour. We also went with one of his guides, had private taxis to transport us b/w city and fortress, and were overall happy with the services we received. True, there wasn't all that much explanation of the sights, but I had done some advance research and had some information about the places we were visiting. Perhaps without that information, we might have felt differently.

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So, what I'm hearing - and from past experience of hired 'guides', if we have done our research and know what we want to see, then hire a taxi with an English speaking driver, we should be able to see what we want.

Of course, the trick is to do extensive research and depend on the kindness of cc'ers to write comprehensive reviews of what they did and did not enjoy seeing.

Thank you, Carol - please write more when you get a chance.

And thanks to all who are helping us future travelers in the area!:)

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I don't know if you are stopping in Puntarenas on your cruise, but if you do, I would highly recommend Charlie Soto and Okeydokey tours. We just spent a wonderful day with him seeing the sights of Costa Rica. There was a group of about 20 people and we had an air-conditioned van to take us around. We saw tons of wildlife, including capuchin monkeys, kotamundi, crocodiles, macaws and even a toucan. We had lunch at a small local restuarant and everything was included in the price of $90.

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For those that read of CAROLHAT comment:

Yes, yes, yes...Charlie was the best guide we have ever hired! Did an East-west Panama Transit in April 06 and met him in Peurto Limon after reserving on-line @ same name in my title^^

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We were there the end of November. We took the ship cruise - Monestary and shopping. The guide was Claudia and she was excellent - very good English and lots of knowledge about the city and country. The view from the monestary is worth every penny. We shopped at the dungeons and the mall where Mr. Emerald is. We also drove through many other areas. Very interesting. We do want to go back again sometime.

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We took a ship tour and had a guide named Jairo who spoke good English and gave us a lot of information and history that was interesting. We toured the fortress, shopped at the dungeons, walked down a picturesque street that showed the old architecture, visited a monastary and a museum created in a place where the Spanish tortured victims Inquisition style. Some of the horrible instruments they used were on display.

 

We visited a church where San Pedro Claver was born and died. He was a priest who dedicated his life to helping the slaves of Cartagena. Then we went to a museum and saw folkloric dancing featuring native indians.

 

After that we were given forty-five minutes to shop in a fashionable area of shops and small restaurants. Then we returned to the shipvia an affluent neighborhood where US petrol engineers and personnel used to live. Those homes are now occupied by Colombians or are being sold to put up large condo buildings. I think the entire tour was four or five hours.

 

Be advised that street vendors will hound you every step of the way. They are offering embroidered table cloths, necklaces and T-shirts mostly.

Another thing all along the streets, there are women in traditional attire with fruit baskets on their heads. There are also some young men painted and dressed as slaves. The custom is that if you photograph these people you are expected to give them a dollar or two. Thyey do not pose for free.

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We will be in Cartagena in March and have arranged a tour with Lee Miles (the emerald guy) leland@misteremerald.com He has provided a very detailed itinerary for our 4-5 hour tour, including lunch. Looks like we are going to have 8 people in a van. The tour includes several of the main sites, plus a chance to do some shopping (at our request, he would omit that if you don't want to shop).

 

Lee has gotten good reviews from other cruisers but I have not used him yet. If I can remember, I post a review when I return.

 

David

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We were in Cartegena in November and took the tour Lee Miles organized. Claudia was our guide and was wonderful. Cartegena is a beautiful city full of history. Many people are afraid to leave the ship and all I can say is they are really missing out. I can't recommend Lee enough.

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My husband and I visited Cartagena in October 2012, stopping after a Panama Canal visit. Cartagena is a beautiful city, If a visitor is shopping for emeralds, I would recommend Leland Miles. We purchased a gorgeous emerald solitare ring to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. His staff is knowlegeable and gave us a range of prices and selection. I'd return in a heartbeat!

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My Wife and I were there on Celebrity Equinox in early January. We were really looking forward to visiting the old city, but were quite disappointed with our venue. We went with Mario, one of several local guides organizing group tours at the port. There were about a dozen of us on a small bus and only a couple of people in our group were fluent in Spanish.. There were several street venders at every stop and they were extremely aggresive. We only got to stop for a couple of minutes at the fort and the walled city. Then we got off the bus and took a walking tour in the old city. An older gentleman got separated from our group and Mario, our guide, shrugged his shoulders and walked off and left the rest of us standing in the square. Mario walked with a cane and spoke very little English, but, the little man was quick! My wife spied him rounding the corner a couple of blocks from us and the group almost had to run to catch up with him. It was quite obvious that the places he was taking us to were vendors who were compensating him for bringing people there. He took us to Hard Rock Cafe and climbed up at the bar, but, no one bought him a drink. I was relieved when we got back to the port and even more relieved to find our lost gentleman had made it back to the ship. Do yourself a favor, take a taxi take a recommended tour, or be prepared for an exciting ,but, not necessarily pleasant adventure. :eek:

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