If visiting the UNESCO World Heritage city Cartagena de Indias is in your near future, one simple pleasure — along with the sightseeing excursions, relaxing beach days and savoring the incredible flavors of the Colombian coast — comes highly recommended from locals and tourists alike: rent a bike!
A bicycle, in addition to being a great way to exercise during a visit to this 483 year-old city on the Caribbean sea, is a great way to get around, see more of real life and enjoy a sunny afternoon or breezy evening. While the beach is a popular choice for cruising, or the newly-developed Malécon near the airport for more lengthy riding and bike ramps, it’s suggested to start in Centro, the historic downtown area, and work your way out, venturing beyond the walled city.
Bicycles in Cartagena can be rented easily and inexpensively, ranging in price by the hour from $5,000 to $20,000 COP (about $1.50 to $7.00 USD). Usually, the cost depends on your source and their degree of selection; bicycles range from standard, almost military-issue push bikes with squeaky tires and small, stiff seats, to newer (and more exclusive) beach cruisers or trek bikes, with knobby tires, comfortable seats, and convenient baskets.
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One location to try is near Parque de Bolivar, around Calle 33 #3-5, across the street from upscale boutique Ketty Tinoco. While this bike rental business does not appear to have a name nor a storefront, the kind and humorous owner and his family are always ready to rent their bikes, which range in selection from kids sizes to adult tandems (kid seat optional).
Present your identification (valid passport or Colombian cedula), and let them know how long you expect to be gone. When you return, someone will exchange your ID for payment, in cash of course, with exact change preferred.
Other bike rentals throughout the city may be found in Getsemani, like Bike & Arts at #10-23 on popular Calle Media Luna, where many hostels on the street rent from their personal stock. Independent shops include Cartagena de Indias Bike Rental & Touring, at Carrera 10 #36-2 a 36-66, or you can just walk and ask for the nearest bike rental, as many of the legit shops go unadvertised.
Bicycling for leisure or focused exercise can be tricky in Centro and around Cartagena. Old cobblestone streets challenge even the knobbiest of tires, with taxis and other vehicles rarely yielding to any “right of way.” It is advised to leave the sidewalk to the pedestrian tourists, however you may occasionally find yourself hopping the curb to dodge a treacherous fender.
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While you may have to occasionally dismount and walk (and of course be courteous of pedestrians), the walls provide an excellent pathway for cycling as you see the beauty of Cartagena. Be sure to stop for a beverage somewhere: vendors on the wall offer cold drinks and snacks, to stay hydrated and refreshed in the hot Caribbean climate.
As you may have already guessed, it’s recommended to dress in cool, comfortable clothing, like shorts and a breathable shirt, with a sun-blocking hat (if you forgo the bike helmet which many places offer with the rental) and sensible sandals or shoes. Keep in mind that even the most snug flip flops tend to go flying if you pedal too fast.
As your bike rental time winds down, if you synchronize the hour just right, you’ll be able to catch one of the gorgeous sunsets over the ocean, which edges many parts of the historic city. Set yourself up for some excellent photos, or just watch as the sky shifts, on a typical tropical evening, from pure blue to fiery orange, finishing with a rich violet as the sun melts into the vast horizon. As dusk creeps over the city, and lamp posts begin to glow on colorful street scenes, climb back on your bike, riding slowly in the night air, and savor those remaining minutes before surrendering your two-wheeled wonder.