Hola a todos! Mr. CN and I have returned from our first South American adventure to Cartagena, Colombia and I have to say it is one of the most a-DOOR-able cities we have visited! Just look at all of these bright, cheery doors and entrances that speckled the entire Old City.
Not only were the doors and buildings colorful and welcoming, but so were the people, sights, sounds, and flavors of this quaint port city. To me, Cartagena felt like an old European town in the tropics, or as I kept calling it, the “New Orleans of the Carribbean”.
Situated as a port city of the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is divided into a few distinct districts, with the most trafficked being The Old/Walled City, Getsemani, and Boca Grande. If you’re looking for charming, but perhaps more pricey accomodations, choose the centrally located Walled City. For budget backpackers, there is nowhere else but hip and trendy Getsemani. And for travellers in between- and those with Hyatt hotel points, like us!- choose the up and coming Boca Grande area that is only a short ten minute walk to the center city in one direction, and another ten minutes to the more residential and commercial side of the city in nearby Laguito.
When wondering how much time you’ll need to spend in Cartagena, I can say that since it’s not very large a quick 4 day stay felt like the perfect amount of time to see the city and even enjoy the beaches. Of course, if you can stretch your trip there is plenty more to see and eat within the city center and in the nearby countryside.
In terms of what to see and do, we were lucky enough to have our own local guide, Mr. CN’s aunt, show us around the city and suggest an itinerary. Below you’ll find our bulleted “rough guide” with a heavy focus on the food, of course.
Buen viaje! Good travels!
- Convento de la Popa- a well preserved Augustinian monastary at the top of Mount Popa. Offers a museum and excellent views of the city below.
- Castillo de San Felipe- a fortress built by the Spanish to protect the city from invaders. Explore the winding tunnels and bunkers, tours available upon request.
- Emerald Museum- Cartagena is world reknowned for their emeralds, or esmeraldas, so this museum is likely worth a visit. I cannot attest to it, however, as our tour guide owns her own emerald empire, so we were fortunate enough to get an up close look at some of her beauties!
- The Walled City- the entire city of Cartagena itself is a historical marvel, and so every street, and especially the towering wall, is a sight to behold.
- Isla del Encanto– a boat ride away from the port are numerous private islands that make for an excellent day trip. We highly recommend a day tour to Isla del Encanto to relax in a cabana, dive in the crystal waters, and maybe even paddleboard or kayak.
- Isla del Rosario and el Oceanario- as a part of our island day, we were offered the chance to snorkel, scuba, or go to Rosario Island to visit the aquarium. Hands down our advice is to go to the aquarium! You’re not looking at sad, clustered fish behind glass, but rather you’re up close and personal with beautiful native fish, entertaining sharks, and diving dolphins.
- La Cevicheria- Anthony Bourdain has NEVER steered us wrong. The ceviches here were so on point we ate here twice. Plus, it’s a bargain!
- Alquimico Bar- for some NYC style cocktails you must visit this hip spot and enjoy well made tiki drinks on their rooftop. Again. we’d come back here twice if we had more time.
- La Paleteria- popsicles. Enough said in the Colombian heat
- Sinko Bar- a bar and restaurant with more inventive cocktails and modern takes on classic Colombian and Peruvian dishes
- Epoca Espresso Bar- frequented by tourists (it serves as the breakfast dining option for the adjacent hotel), but exceeds expectations on coffee. They offer various methods of prepration, including a pour over iced coffee that we couldn’t get enough of. The arepa was also delicious and the avocado toasts were superb and cost about a quarter of what NYC all-day cafes charge- score!
- Cafe del Mar- this is the spot for a traditional pisco or mojito while enjoying the sea, people watching, and a strong breeze. Get here early during happy hour time (no specials actually offered) or go during “off” times (but really, it’s vacation in Colombia, there is no off time for a cocktail) if you want a front row table.
- Harry Sasson Restaurant- a more classical Colombian restaurant located within a hotel. Great for traditionally prepared dishes in an atmosphere of casual elegance.