Cartagena: The cheapest way to get to Cartagena is to fly with VivaColombia from Cali. In 2011, we got a taxi to our Hostel, called Hostel Real that we booked online. In Cartagena it is worth booking somewhere in the high season and around Christmas/New Year as it is the busiest weeks of the year. You can get cheap hotels or hostels a short walk from the historic centre in old colonial buildings (like the one we stayed at, cheap and cheerful). Or you can get hotels in Bocagrande (the modern beach bit with no character but.. a beach!). This year, we stayed at the Playa Club hotel which was a cheap and cheerful hotel but right on the beach and with a great pool. You can get taxis cheap to get to the historic centre easily from Bocagrande. Other hotels there are significantly cheaper because they don't have aircon or a pool but tend to be the ones that don’t have online booking so you can go in person and barter it down. When we returned to Cartagena for our return flight for a couple of days in 2011, what we did was book a night in a normal hotel then we went to a couple of ones that weren’t advertised to haggle some prices (they are the hotels that Colombians stay in and bartering is part of the deal). Then you can move hotel for the cheaper price.
In Cartagena you can relax on the beach (and buy delicious fresh mango from sellers!) which has a nice breeze or explore the Colonial centre which has some great museums but it is very expensive for restaurants and bars. From Cartagena port, just outside the big beautiful city gate, you can arrange a boat to Playa Blanca near Baru if you want a proper Caribbean experience. This was my favourite part of our stay in Cartagena, although the boat ride was particularly uncomfortable! Ask at the port or at your hostel for tickets. Here are some photos of Cartagena and the islands from our trip:
Sleeping on hammocks is really uncomfortable and was quite expensive ($17,000 or £5 each a night) given that there were basically no services available and the hammock hut was falling apart. There were no cooking facilities and all the food and water for sale was very expensive. Most people end up enjoying it but it depends on your budget, and that that time we were on a very tight one. If you can rent horses, do it! The beach we were staying near was very dangerous with huge waves so we walked to the other one the following day to explore a bit and it was very pretty and we saw some cool animals but the whole thing was just tiring and badly organised. Although, as you can see from my photos below, Tayrona is beautiful, the girl behind the camera was absolutely drained. It is worth doing and you do get great photos, but we were not at all aware of just how physical it would be and that we might not end up sleeping at Cabo San Juan and just kept hearing such great things about it so assumed it all was well organised and goes smoothly, so just be prepared!