Cartagena, outside of the old walled city, is not a good place for those without an understanding of the ways of the region. The city isn't a good place to learn. I recommend Santa Marta as an alternate destination.
If you have the budget for it San Andres is beautiful and safe, not terribly expensive but not too cheap. It is a little misleading that it is part of Colombia as it is considerably north of the coast of Nicaragua. It is the tropical paradise type place. It also has the advantage of a large percentage of English speakers.
Cartagena’s beaches tend to be dirty with LOTS of panhandlers, beggars and pests.
Plan on a day or 2 to see the old city then move on.
Driving in Colombia can be a bit of a challenge. Mostly because road markings and maps are both a bit sketchy. IE; you might see a sign saying to turn right to get to X. The problem is that you will not know which right to take. There might be numerous possibilities and the correct right could be a mile or more beyond the sign. Driving in Colombia is usually a matter of asking directions from many people then averaging the answers. Just remember that no self respecting Colombian will ever say they don't know or aren't sure.
Questions; Do you speak Spanish? Directions don’t do much good if you don’t understand them.
If you haven’t traveled a lot in the 3rd world I suggest reading a book called “Smart Safe Traveler” It is available through Amazon or check out the website by the same name smartsafetraveler.com
Posted Aug 23, 2011