Cartagena

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The UNESCO World heritage site Cartagena is the undisputed Queen of the Caribbean world. Its mystic old town is surrounded by an ancient impeccable city wall, which contains a labyrinth of cobbled streets, antique balconies with exuberant flowers, medieval buildings and places full of live.

Beauty dancing in the old town

 

In Cartagena's quarter Bocagrande with its impressive skyline are fancy beaches and many hotels of all categories - this makes it the number one touristic destination in Colombia. In addition Cartagena has a nice environment with marvelous island which are protected by a national park and the active volcano Lodo El Totumo, where you can bath in the mud of its crater. But the cosmopolitan city with more than 1 million inhabitants has also its shadows like slums with unbearable poverty and violent crime.

Few kilometers southeast of Cartagena is a second UNESCO world heritage, the sleepy little town Mompòs in the hot swamps of the lower river Rio Magdalena.

 

White and grey herons on the way from Bucamaranga to Mompós

 

Pineapple cargo in Mompós with river Rio Magdalena

 

Somehow the time in Santa Cruz de Mompós is dead. Old shabby buildings are in narrow lanes or on ancient places - just cars and motorbikes remind that Mompós is in newer times. In the past Mompós was one of the most important towns in Colombia thanks to the traffic on Rio Magdalena. But the vessels used another arm of Rio Magdalena end of the 19th century - thus the decline started. But its morbid character has its own charm and we spent a great time in Mompós besides its nearly insufferable heat.

We camped at the parking lot of the hotel Santa Cruz (GPS coordinates: N9° 14.362' W74° 25.614') and we could use the cold shower of a room, which we did intensively. Still the vital line of Mompós is Rio Magdalena, where people are searching for gold which the river delivers from the Andes. Mostly they get just sand and mud.

Searching for the gold of Rio Magdalena

 

Donkey waiting for the sand (and gold!)

 

We did a superb trip with a boat to a narrow branch of Rio Magdalena into a pristine lagoon. Life on shore and in the water is extensive. The afternoon heat on the boat was bearable.

Kids enjoying the warm water of the river

 

Cowboys on shore of the branch

 

In the refreshing water of the lagoon

 

Herons at sunset

 

Mompós at dawn

 

Our next destination was the small beach town Santiago de Tolú, which is located approximately 100 kilometers south of Cartagena. On its southern end close to the river and directly on the beach is a nice campground with all facilities (GPS coordinates: N9° 31.030' W75° 35.257').

The ferry to cross Rio Magdalena to Magangue - on the way from Mompós to Tolú

 

We did not dare to drive over this bridge in Tolú, which is few meters south of our campground. But we saw cars and vans crossing it!

 

Sloth in Tolú

 

Tolú's main attraction are the Islas de Bernardo, which is a national park today. Ten spectacular islands are located on Tolù's coast in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea. We made a round trip on a boat and visited Isla Palma and Isla Mùcura. The first one is like a Disneyland with a zoo, aquarium in the ocean, museum and some trails through its lush mangroves. The latter one has an outstanding beautiful beach. Inbetween is the very dense populated island Santa Cruz del Islote, where 1000 people live on 1200 square meters.

Fishermen island Santa Cruz del Islote

 

Fawn in the zoo of Isla Palma

 

Scary native in the forest - made with wood

 

Beach of Isla Múcura

 

Bird of Isla Múcura

 

The first two days in Cartagena we explored the city deeply together with Tommy. Of course we wanted to hike on top of its only hill, the 150 meters high Cerro Popa which is adorned with the holy monastery Convento de la Popa and consequently a major tourist attraction. Some people looked strangely when we walked up the access road, which is located in a not very nice quarter of Cartagena. We passed a Police station. They were asking what we are doing there. After some discussions they decided to send a policeman with a motorbike with us. The policemen was always in eyeshot of us. Shanty buildings with weird people were on the road - we were happy to see our personal policeman. At the end of the road was a huge parking lot and it was very busy with many tourists, shops and restaurant. Back to town we used the same procedure - Thanks a lot Police of Cartagena!

In Cartagena

 

View from the monastery Convento de la Popa with the skyscrapers of peninsula Bocagrande in the background

 

Dancing in Cartagena

 

Sadly we said bye-bye to Tommy on January 21st 2015. Thank you so much joining us Tommy, we had such a good time together!

Now we intended to continue to Panamà. But there is gap of approximately 100 kilometers on the Panamericana - no way to drive to Panamà. In the past most travelers with cars had used an expensive and complicated container to ship their car to Central America. But we hoped to go with the new ferry FerryXpress (webpage www.ferryxpress.net), which had been established recently. It is a huge Italian vessel with a capacity of 500 cars and more than 1000 passengers.

In Cartagena the Hotel Bellavista has a reasonable campsite (GPS coordinates: N10° 26.101' W75° 32.311'). There we met other voyages from Brazil, France, Switzerland and US, which were checking the situation with the ferry. Besides their big capacity they just loaded passengers - no use for us. Their communication was everything but customer-oriented like may be next week. But after few days they canceled it without any further statement. The webpage OverlandSphere from Martin MCGowan is a good communication tool for registered facebook users about the status of the ferry but Martin had no further success. Theoretically you can book the ferry via OverlandShere and you get a 10 percent discount!

With our Swiss friends on the campsite Hotel Bellavista

 

After few days waiting we explored the northern environment of Cartagena with marvelous but sometimes dirty beaches and the unique Volcán de Lodo El Totuma. This was real fun in the mud! Fortunately there is a fresh water lagoon nearby where we could clean ourselves. We stayed the night in front of the volcano (GPS coordinates: N10° 44.662' W75° 14.489'), very quiet after sunset!

The just 15 meters high Volcán de Lodo El Totuma

 

Enjoying the mud of the volcano

 

Beautiful landscape of the Volcán de Lodo El Totumo

 

When we returned to Cartagena we gave up the mess with FerryXpress and agreed to book half a container for car with on cancellation option until next Saturday 3:00PM. We made already plans how to the waiting time for our car because shipping by container means that the car is more than one week on its way. The ferry needs just 18 hours from Cartagena to Colón, Panamá.

By coincidence we came to the FerryXpress booking office close to the old city. We thought let us ask about the status of the ferry because still we have the cancellation of the container for two days. The younger Lady in the office told us unbelievable news - no problem we can book the ferry with our car for the next possible date next Tuesday now! Immediately we headed back with our bicycles tor our car, fetched our papers and returned with our Swiss friends to the FerryXpress office. One hour later everybody had the multiple confirmed tickets because we had push the Lady several times to double-check with the Management of FerryXpress. Happily we went to the marvelous beach Playa Blanca on the island Barù, which is located few kilometers South of Cartagena. We could sleep on its parking lot for some little money (GPS coordinates: N10° 13.390' W75° 36.562').

Busy beach on the weekend

 

Girls enjoying the warm water of the Caribbean Sea

 

On Monday we had to do some paperwork for our car with the customs office DIAN. Dan from Brazil summarized the whole very chaotic process:

1) Once the sailing is confirmed buy the tickets for passengers and vehicles soon as possible;
2) Visit Rozo (FerryXpress agent at the port, GPS coordinates: N10° 23.792' W75° 31.268') to get the bill of landing and pay the corresponding tax (25U$); Also the ticket can be purchased here
3) Visit Colombian's customs DIAN with the form provided by Rozo duly filled and get the stamp from DIAN (GPS coordinates: N10° 24.548' W75° 32.093') minimum one working day prior to the boarding;
4) On the boarding day take the car to the cruise terminal and wait outside the gate for the fumigation (GPS coordinates: N10° 24.382' W75° 31.642');
5) Proceed with the fumigation and pay the responding costs (35U$);
6) Enter the terminal and follow instructions from port authorities;
7) Go through narcotic police search;
8) Go through sanitary inspection
9) Wait for custom's (DIAN) clearance;
10) Go through Colombian immigration;
11) Congrats, you may take the car to the ferry

Proceeding at Colon:

1) Take the car out of the ferry
2) Wait for the bill of landing (FerryXpress will bring);
3) Get the insurance provided by FerryXpress(20U$);
4) Go through narcotic search again;
5) Go through Panamanian immigration;
6) Go through Panamanian customs (2 months authorization for the car);

In Cartagena the process for just eleven cars needed mare than 6 hours. In Colón we had feeling that we were the first arriving with cars because it seems that the authorities had no glue how to proceed with us. We arrived at 1:00PM with the ferry and we had our papers finally around 9:00PM in the night! How will it be if 500 cars came to Colón instead of 11!

Our overall costs including two seats for the night were around 900U$. With a container we would have paid minimum 2000U$ just for the car. And we saved several days and a lot of our nerves because the paperwork for shipping cars with container is much more complicated!


The huge ferry to Panamá with just eleven little cars

 

Monkey in a tree in front of the port

 

Bye bye Cartagena, bye bye Colombia, bye bye South America!

 

Astonishing not only the ferry is Italian, also most of its staff including the chefs. We got a real Italian pizza, the best we have enjoyed on our trip through America so far.

Celebrating on the ferry - Renaud, Alfred and Christa with some fancy drinks

 

For more pictures, please click here                   For a map of our itineraries, click here

To download the GPS coordinates, click here

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