One may think that living in Cartagena, situated on the edge of the relentlessly beautiful Caribbean ocean, it’s bikinis-and-flip-flops weather every day of the year. And technically, you could do this, if you’re not averse to getting a few strange looks every now and again. But Cartagena, like countless other tropical cities and countries, has dry seasons and rainy seasons, thankfully just getting the tail-end of Hurricane season, which many Caribbean hotspots suffer from.
So when rainy season strikes, what can you do? Bear in mind, this isn’t just a bit of British drizzle, this is hardcore, tropical rainstorm, end-of-the-world kinda rain, where if you venture out, prepare yourself to be wringing out your jeans and up to your ankles in mysterious grey water. The drainage systems in the Old Town are, well, a little old, so some areas tend to flood with the extremely heavy rains in October, as well as Bocagrande being a man-made strip basically constructed on what used to be a beach, so this area is also prone to flooding, too.
I’ve heard enough…how do I avoid it?
If you want to completely avoid any chance of rain on your vacay, come between December and March, where the chances of precipitation are very low. However, I don’t know about you, but I was certainly raised with the (possibly very British) attitude of “a little rain never hurt anyone” and I say you should just go ahead and come anytime. The months with the heaviest rainfall are October and November, but you can also expect some “Spring showers” from May onwards.
But don’t be put off! Nothing lasts forever, and the good thing about tropical rainstorms is they burn off quickly and the sun comes out rather apologetically to evaporate the puddles as if nothing had ever happened.
So, here is my definitive list of things to keep you entertained in Cartagena while it’s raining.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments section below.
In the absence of sunshine, just cover yourself head to toe in bright florals (men are included in this too) so you become the rainbow yourself. Cartagena lacks a couple of high street essentials such as Forever 21, Zara and Bershka (are you reading this, Mayor of Cartagena?) but head to Seven Seven which has a great outlet in Centro, or if you’re feeling a bit bougie, head to my fave bikini stores Cayo de Agua or Maaji. Laetitia has some stunning clothes if you want to splash out on some high quality Colombian-made garms. Mens clothes are also sticking to the tropical vibe and I really like Soloio for the prints and bathing suits (again, not cheap, but good quality stuff). For one-of-a-kind jewellery, accessories, art prints, and trinkets, don’t miss out on Casa Abba, where magpie-eyed shoppers can pick up rough-cut emeralds set in silver (my fave), amber, and gold plated earrings. Las Bóvedas is a must-see for typical souvenirs, emeralds and cute shiny mirrors.
Keep your eye out for some Havianas, too – you may need them to wade through the streets of the old city depending on the severity of the rain!
Head to the cinema
A classic option for rainy days, but Cartagena does tend to have a good selection of movies in various cinema theatres around the city. You can go to CineColombia in the shopping centres Caribe Plaza near Manga, just 10min by taxi from the walled city, or Bocagrande Plaza near the entrance of Bocagrande. Both have a great selection of movies in English with Spanish subtitles, and sometimes they have cultural showings too, such as ballet or opera if you’re feeling extra fancy. As both cinemas are inside shopping centres, you can do some more of #1 if you feel so inclined 😉
Cook up a storm
When there’s a storm outside, the best thing you can do is make another one – but this time in the kitchen. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing more comforting than some homemade food while it is thundering away outside. Turn the music up, and channel your inner Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver, but this time, with a Colombian twist. If you’re looking for some inspo to recreate the tasty street food you’ve already tried, check out this video to learn how to make my favourite Colombian snack 🙂
Airbnb is a great way of travelling – you have the opportunity to stay in some of the city’s most exclusive homes, and most places come equipped with kitchen essentials such as pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, oil, and salt so you can cook at home. Haven’t used it before? Click here to sign up and get a discount on your first booking!
Get a manicure
This option is not exclusively for women – in Colombia, it’s common for men to get their nails done too (just without the coloured nail polish for most of them). Colombian women are, in general, extremely well groomed and most of the time make me feel like a bit of a scruff bag. Due to high demand, you’re never far from a salon/ nail bar in Cartagena, and most mani-pedis cost around $24,000 COP, or around $7 USD. Head to neighbouring Barranquilla, however, and you can pay as little as $3.50 USD for a manicure! So really, there are no excuses not to be perfectly pampered. My excuse? Erm…I’ll get back to you on that one.
Getting a manicure is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours catching up on gossip or the latest Telenovela (highly addictive – not even kidding), by which time, the sun should have come out to play just in time for you to show off your shiny new nails.
Soak up some culture
Your socks may be soaking up something else through the soles of your shoes, but make sure you take this opportunity to visit some of the museums and galleries around town to get to know the fascinating – and sometimes gory – history of Cartagena. The Palace of Inquisition Museum is, in my opinion, in need of a little sprucing up, but here you can learn about the gruesome history of the Spanish inquisition, including a look at some of the torture devices in the patio. Squeamish people look away!
You can also check out the Cooperación Española and La Presentación which both have gorgeous, urban-jungle style patios filled with plants and often have art or photography exhibitions and events.
If you’re after something a bit more sumptuous, check out the Emerald Museum to ogle at some incredible gems and Pre-Columbian gold.
Go for it!
Seriously, you can actually ignore all of the points above and just do what you were planning on doing anyway. Ever been on a boat in the pouring rain? Yes, it’s wet. But if you were going to an island, weren’t you planning on getting wet anyway?
Life is to be lived with your mind wide open, and some of my most memorable times and deep belly laughs in Cartagena have been in the middle of a rainstorm – when I used to work at the port, one October morning the day dawned grey and dark and, with biblical levels of rain pouring down on us, we waded our way to the port to find that, not only were there no tourists to board the boats, but the boats weren’t actually visible beyond the grey sheet of rain. What can you do in that situation but laugh, wring out your clothes, and enjoy a steaming mug of hot chocolate whilst you wait for the Caribbean sun to burn its way through the clouds once again.