My family just returned from a week in Cartagena Colombia. I must admit that I had apprehensions with this destination given all of the bad publicity it receives. I must say we were pleasantly surprised at how safe we felt and how beautiful Colombia is. The people are friendly and truly want North Americans to visit. We stayed at the Las Americas Beach Resort.
Language - The staff speak Spanish with a few who have a basic understanding of English. Many don't understand English at all.
Currency - There is no problem using USD but pesos are preferred. If you use USD, you will get your change in pesos. The resort exchanges USD to pesos on site.
The Resort - Is not a 4.5 star according to North American standards. When you travel around Cartagena and see some of the other hotels, you will be happy you picked this one. The resort itself is kept clean. The groundskeepers are out before dawn cleaning the pool and the grounds.
The food - The buffet has very little selection (about 5 choices at every meal) and is repetitive. We tired quickly of the buffet. Chicken and fish are served at every meal as is rice. Breakfast was the same pretty much every day. Ask for a menu and order from the a-la-carte. If you don't see what you like, ask as they are more than happy to make what you want. Some food on the menu is available at a premium (clearly identified). Shrimp was $10 and lobster $12. USD.
The staff - Are very friendly. Service is very good and you will quickly find your favorites who will take care of you. Service is excellent even without a tip. We saved our tips until we were leaving. We left behind several travel mugs the staff desperately wanted and they were thrilled with their new acquisitions. Our favorites were Edwin (speaks perfect English and will take care of your every need). Alcides & Miguel also speak and understand English well. Tell them you read about them on the internet and that their friends from Canada who left them the big mugs say hello!
The Rooms - look in need of a bit of a facelift. The floors always feel like they have sand on them. The bathrooms are clean. Your bed is turned down every night for you. The mini bar is not part of the all inclusive and you will be charged for anything you take (even water). Ants in the rooms are a bit of a problem. Don't be surprised to get a few bites. There are some mosquito like almost transparent flies around as well.
Entertainment – Was almost non existent with the exception of a couple of dance shows lasting about a half hour. There was some music being played in the lobby bar on a couple of occasions as well. The resort is pretty quiet by 9 p.m. The bars close at 11. If you’re looking for night life you’ll have to go into the city.
Transportation – The hotel offers free shuttle into the city. Taxi fares are about $5 USD. Drivers in this city are aggressive so be prepared.
The City – is beautiful and colorful. There are many sites to see. A trip to the fort is well worth the walk and the view. Street vendors/peddlers are everywhere and can be persistent. If you’re not interested say no gracias and keep walking. You can typically get your item for about half the asking price. The police are heavily armed and quite visible. They are very friendly and will be photographed with you if you ask.
Leaving - You will likely go to the airport about 4 hours before departure. Every piece of luggage is opened and checked. Don't be surprised to see your clothes being sniffed and your toiletries being opened. Your luggage will then go through x-ray followed by another security check and a search of your carry on items. Before you walk to the plane, you have a final body pat down check. You need the time allocated to get through the searches.
Overall, we had a fantastic experience in Colombia. Anyone interested in going will be surprised at how different the country is from the reputation is has. My family felt safe and did not want to leave. We would return to both Las Americas and Cartagena if the opportunity came up. I think once more North Americans visit and have positive experiences, Colombia will become a sought after destination.
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