Travel to Cuba? Look at the Alternative: Cartagena, Colombia

Traveling to Cuba to this day is still illegal for American citizens.  The only people allowed to visit the ostracized country from the United States are Cubans.  In order for Americans to visit the country they must sneak in by boat or without an American airline.  I haven’t personally travelled to Cuba but can tell you everything you need to know about Cuban culture.

The vast emigration from Cuba to the United States has left me with a perfect Cuban impression, dance moves, and a love of the Cuban Sandwich that surpasses an American’s love for McDonald’s

Cartagena, plaza de cartagena, cartagena plaza, pictures of Cartagena, Cartagena photos, main plaza cartagena, Plaza de la Aduana Cartagena

Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena

One of my best friends growing up was Cuban and that’s where I learned most of what I know.  I learned to devour a Cuban sandwich in Tampa, Fl faster than a fat kid eating his favorite ice cream.  It could be a fat girl but I prefer to pick on kids my own size.  Living in Medellin, Colombia, for the last 3.5 months left me with an impression of how other Colombians should look and act.

cuban sandwhich, cuban food

The delicious Cuban Sandwhich

Both the cities of Havana, Cuba, and Cartagena, Colombia, were powerful in their history.  Havana was the third largest city in the new world behind Lima and Mexico City at one point and Cartagena, Colombia, was also powerful thanks to the booming mine business transforming itself into a major trading port.

The Spanish Empire spent an absolute fortune building defenses for both cities and they both mirror each other as two powerful capitals of the Spanish Empire in the new world.

The similarities between the two cities go far beyond the famous colonial architecture reported by tourists.  The people of Cartagena look and act almost identical to the people of Cuba.

The old city of Cartagena felt like Cuba not because of the colonial architecture, but because of the people who I interacted with.

architecture in cartagena, cartagena colombia, pictures of cartagena, architecture in Colombia

I love those plants in Cartagena!

It was so surreal to be speaking with people that spoke and acted exactly like Cuban’s in the United States.  The overall population of Cartagena is much darker than the population of Medellin or Cali thanks to the slave port that was in the city.  Cartagena was one of the only two cities authorized to trade with black people at a certain point in history as well.

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One of the cool looking balconies in Cartagena

In addition to being darker, the Spanish spoken on the coast is completely different than the rest of the country.  Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela, speak the most proper Spanish of all the countries in Latin America.  The land locked cities of Cali, Bogota, and Medellin are no exception to this.

Everything is very formal even when speaking with each other. The Spanish on the coast is more informal as more words are enunciated less and there is less formality as well.  The whole culture while I was there, even the feeling of being hustled every 5 minutes, reminded me of Cubaville back in the United States.

It not about the buildings and the architecture although that helps with the feeling of Cuba.  The stifling heat is very similar to Cuba (thanks weather.com!) as well but it’s not about the heat.  It’s all about the people and how they behave within the old city walls.

Getting hustled in a taxi in Cali just isn’t the same as getting hustled in Cartagena.  Seeing all the pretty people in Medellin with the accent specific to the region of Antioquia just isn’t the same.  Those with no distinct background with Cuban culture may not get the same feeling as I did.  But if you have traveling to the city of Cartagena go back and think about it.  If you are traveling to Cartagena in the future pay extra attention to the people.

You will soon find out with a first Cuban encounter how similar the cities really are.


  1. cartagena does not compare to cuba at all. born and raised in cuba and married to a colombian and the culture, food and the way we speak is completly different. and cuba has one fo the most beautiful hidden beaches in the world (cayo largo) Santa Marta in colombia doesnt compare. The cuban music is very different from colombian music as well..they dance cumbia and ballenato and we dance salsa and guaguanco. I see your cuban best friend didn’t teach you anything about cuba…

    1. There may be different aspects to the culture I agree with you but as a person that does speak Spanish as a first language they speak very similar. its not exact but the punctuation is similar. The people also look more similar to Cubans than anywhere in Medellin. Would love to see that beach.. do you have any pics?

  2. For those who say Cubans and Colombians have absolutely no similarities… I’d say “Paren de sufrir” 🙂 It is not to say they are identical…of course not. However Coastal Colombians have that similar Caribbean accent which most “rolos” from Bogota look down upon. Colombia also has fine beaches in Santa Marta, Playa Blanca and Tolu and Las Islas del Rosario in Cartagena. We haven’t even started on San Andres and Provedencia as well as Santa Catalina which are Colombian islands but they still belong to Colombia. So get over it!

    1. In other words “However Coastal Colombians have that similar Caribbean accent” which is what I am talking about in the article. Thanks for the note

  3. Any by the way, People from the coast also dance Salsa although it is not as popular as Cumbia. And of course Cali is one of the most important cities in Colombia to compose and perform Salsa.

  4. Interesting relation between the two places. I’ve never been to Cuba, but I’ve enjoyed visiting Cartagena. I met a lot of Cubans in Venezuela when I lived there, and found the cultures to be similar.

  5. WOndering if you know of any places to stay that are clean and safe and near the beach that are not expensive…on an extremely limited budget..originally from Cuba….would love to visit Cartagena…
    Thank you!!

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