Five things to do in Cartagena while you’re volunteering
By Jenny Teasdale
Having volunteered on some projects through Domino Volunteers, Jenny fell in love with the city and is now living full-time in Cartagena. Here she gives her five favorite things to do, to get to know the heart and soul of the city.
1. Be open, say yes to invitations and enjoy the serendipity!
Within my first few days in Cartagena, I fell in love with the warmth and openness of the people I met - the family I was living with, the wonderful people I was working with, the new friends I was making and everyone I met in the street.
The warmth and joy you find in people here is infectious. Despite my patchy Spanish, whenever I was invited anywhere, I said yes. Before I knew it, I was trying new foods, dancing to new beats, giving talks and workshops and was even interviewed on national television! But most importantly, I made fantastic new friends, who share their language and culture with a warmth I’ve never felt anywhere else. I was hooked—and maybe you will be too!
2. Eat, drink and shop local
There’s nothing I like better than local food. I was introduced to arepas, patacones, queso and all kinds of unusual fruits on the Street Food tour run by Cartagena Connections. Why buy your avocados from the supermarket, when there’s a lovely guy on the street pushing a cart full of them, shouting “aguacate!” right outside your door? If you’re after a cheap beer, head to Plaza Trinidad any day of the week and watch the old boys play chess or the young kids play football. For a quick and tasty “corriente” lunch, find a place full of locals like Este Es El Punto in Getsemani. And if you want to go really really local, explore Bazurto market, where you’ll find every kind of food you’ll ever need at half the price of the city.
3. Dance like nobody’s watching
Everyone in Cartagena dances and they dance so well! You’ll hear music on every street corner and people break out into song or dance in the street all the time. At first for me (a Brit!), this was really intimidating - how could I ever dance as well as them? Don’t worry! Nobody’s watching you. They’re too busy enjoying themselves! Head to Donde Fidel for some traditional salsa and an old boy will no doubt, help you learn the steps. Go to Plaza Trinidad every Sunday evening for zumba. Try out champeta at Bazurto Social Club. And if you want some classes with a professional, get in touch with Salsa Classes Cartagena and they’ll tailor classes to whatever you need.
4. Speak Spanish
I’d taken a few Spanish classes before I started volunteering in Colombia, and I’m so glad I did! Despite Cartagena being a city very open to tourism, you’ll get far deeper into the culture with a bit of Spanish. I soon realized, as I started working on volunteer projects and I began to make friends, that I needed to take up my Spanish game. Domino Volunteers recommended Letra Caribe Language School and I really enjoyed taking classes there. And of course, you can always practice on the street - chat to the street vendors, chat to people next to you in the cafes, join the Cartagena couch surfing group and you’ll soon find friends who’ll help you with all the local Cartagenero phrases!
5. Take some time to explore
If you’re volunteering in Cartagena, make sure to build in some time to see the surrounding areas. Even within a few hours, you’ll find an incredible diversity of places outside the city. I recommend taking at least a week or so if you can, to head north to Minca, the Sierra Nevada mountains and La Guajira, and if you’re feeling adventurous, trek to Ciudad Perdida with Wiwa Tours. If you only have a few days, take a boat out to the Rosario Islands and also visit the historical town of Palenque.