Oh Cartagena….I wish I was there right now.
I grew up in South Florida in the 80s and 90s and back then Colombia was this place that no one had every been to and no one ever planned on going to. But, fast forward 20 years and Luke and I were looking for a place to travel to over the holidays. Our original plan was Argentina – think wine, food and more wine. But coincidentally as we were about to book our flight to Argentina, a friend called and raved about Cartagena. Long story short – it sounded amazing – think rum drinks, the beach and more rum drink. So we decided to go for it.
We were visiting my family in Florida for the first part of the holidays so we flew from Miami straight into Cartagena – who knew that Colombia is only about 2 1/2 hours from Miami?!?! The flight was super easy (not going to lie, I was a little nervous about flying Air Avianca but it proved to be nicer than most US based airlines). The airport is about 7 minutes from Cartagena and the place to stay in Cartagena is in the historic walled city. The goal of the vacation was to relax, soak in the sights and eat great food – as soon as we entered the walled city, I knew we made the right decision in Cartagena.
Cartagena is a vibrant, walkable, warm city that sits on Colombia’s northwest coast on the Caribbean Sea. Dating back to the early colonial time, Cartagena has seen itself its fair share of colonialists, slaves and privates. Check out this site for more history. What is left is a fortified walled city that looks like you are back in the colonial times. The architecture is vibrant and colorful – think Bahamas meets Spanish colonial.
We spent the first 3 nights of our vacation at the boutique hotel connected to the Sofietl – Bovedas de Santa Clara - and loved it. It was a smaller hotel that the Sofitel but we were able to use the amenities of the Sofitel. I am pretty picky about where we stay when we travel (i.e. hours of online researching) and Bovedas de Santa Clara passed test. We even got upgraded to a two story suite.
The first couple of days of our vacation was spent wandering around the walled city and soaking in Cartagena. I must say that everyone was so friendly and warm and the food was incredible. Think lots of fresh fruit, plantains and ceviche.
We ate at some great restuarants, namely Salou and La Cocina de Pepina and wandered around the city. We even went scuba diving!
We were later joined by Luke’s friends and we moved hotels. Our next hotel was Casa San Agustin – which was simply amazing. If we had a house, this is what I would want it to look like. A great mix of old and new.
I know what everyone is thinking – is Colombia safe? Given it past reputation, I had the same reaction, but from our experiences it was safe. We were in a very touristy part of the country but even some touristy places can be unsafe. I never once felt uncomfortable, espcially since I don’t exactly fit in with my blond hair down there. Full disclosure, as a woman you do get a little more attention but nothing aggressive.
We loved our time in Cartagena and if you are looking to travel to a new place -definitely check this out. Here are some recommendations for your stay:
Alma- definitely a must try. I am still dreaming about the lobster empanadas and the pasta with shrimp and lobster.
Salou - make sure you try their ceviche (crema ceviche to be exact).
La Cocina de Pepina - this restaurant is outside of the walled city in a neighborhood called Getsemani. It is walkable from the walled city
Also, try the street vendors. Particularly fruit from these ladies: the Palenquera. I am sure the fruit costs more, but it is much more festive.
Things to do:
Rosario Islands – we charted a boat and took it out to the Rosario Islands. It was beautiful and a great way to escape the heat of the walled city
Wander – The walled city is amazing. It is small enough to walk and definitely safe. Best advice – wander the streets and admire the colors, the food and the people.
Sunset Cocktails on top of the wall – We tried Cafe Del Mar one night. The scenery was beautiful but the service and drinks were nothing to write home about. Instead save some cash and buy drinks either from one of the beer vendors roaming around or grab a “to go” cocktail and head to the wall at sunset.
Enjoy Cartagena -if you want anymore information on when to go/where to stay etc., please contact me.