Cartagena is vibrant, colorful, and proud; a city that has become desired for its music, cuisine, and marvelous sights. It has attracted the attention of tourists all over, and some famous ones too! Anthony Bourdain, Sofia Vergara, Justin Bieber, and most notably, our cover star, Will Smith, are all in love with this lively Colombian city! Stroll the streets to see stark contrasts between the old and the new, lovely blue waters, and some modern Colombian art! Bienvenido!
Fortunately, the 2 ½ hour flight from Miami to Cartagena was no big deal, and you can start your day off without the worry of jet lag! Skip through the cobblestone streets of Old Town to marvel at some historic scenes. This part of Cartagena is sometimes referred to as “the walled city” as it’s guarded by tall walls and a fortress. The fortress, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, is where your journey will begin! The construction of the huge fortress first began in 1639, but wasn’t completed until 1789, 150 years later. During its prime, it was used to ward off foreign armies and pirates, but today it serves as a landmark where you can catch unbeatable views of the city. If you’re feeling extra spontaneous, you can request a tour of the underground tunnels where soldiers were kept safe during battle.
Take time to sightsee around the rest of Old Town! Brightly colored Spanish-Colonial houses are bountiful here, making for picturesque spots. Walk along the 16th century walls to stare out over the ocean, and don’t forget to pass by the many stands selling goods by locals. Inexpensive scarves, shoes, handbags, and more can be found here, and many boast the colors and patterns that represent the country. If you want to find even more shopping options, head to Las Bovedas. In the past it was an old prison, but today, you can scan the cells to find a different shop in each! Where else would you be able to shop inside of a former prison? Observe the architecture of the old building and purchase some unique souvenirs!
Feeling lucky? If not, you should trot over to Plaza Santo Domingo, where the huge “La Gorda Gertrudis” statue lies. This bronze statue was created by sculptor Fernando Botero and depicts a large fat woman smiling confidently. It’s said if you touch her left breast it’ll grant you good luck! In the same square are the well-known palenqueras. These women dress in vibrant colors that represent the country’s flag while they balance bowls of fruit on their heads. Snag a pic with them after making a refreshing fruity purchase; a trip to Colombia isn’t complete without it!
The dome of the Cartagena Cathedral can be seen wherever you are in Old Town, and it’s definitely worth a visit. Construction of the cathedral began in 1575, but in 1586 progress was delayed from an attack by the cannons of English privateer Francis Drake. It was finally completed in 1612 and renovated a few times over the years. Currently, it stands tall with its bright yellow exterior and dome clock tower. Inside, you can walk down the central nave and admire the 18th century gilded altar.
The smells coming from the street food stands are probably enough to get your imagination running wild. Conquer those culinary cravings with La Cevichería. This nautical-themed restaurant specializes in seafood, and yes, ceviche, and was visited by Anthony Bourdain himself, thus receiving the Bourdain seal of approval. Order a ceviche dish of course, (The Colombian Ceviche Temptation won’t disappoint), and to drink, go with an ice cold cerveza Aguila, one of Colombia’s national beers.
Now that you’ve satisfied your hunger, you can muster up some more energy to voyage onward! Pay the Cartagena Museo del Arte Moderno a visit for some fantastic art collections. Sculptures, mixed media installations, colorful canvas paintings, and more are hung throughout the charming hallways, and include some renowned names in the art world like Enrique Grau and Alejandro Obregón, who have both paintings and sculptures on display.
If you’re looking to dig a bit deeper into the origins of Cartagena, check out the Museo de Oro, a museum that focuses on the gold and pottery of the Zenú (or Sinú) people. These indigenous peoples were around before the Spanish conquest, and created some intricate and gorgeous gold pieces, a major part of Colombia’s culture and history.
By now, the sun is hesitantly setting, and to catch the perfect view, you should hustle over to Café del Mar. This popular bar on the city walls allows for views of oranges and pinks as the sun sets over the waves. Make sure to add to the phenomenal experience with some of the best cocktails around! Margaritas, mojitos, martinis, and more will have you appreciating the dreamy surroundings, with a buzz!
After a mojito or two, you’ve surely loosened up by now, so get ready to dance! Tap those feet over to Café Havana, a Cubanstyle restaurant and bar located in the Getsemaní neighborhood. Salsa is the music of choice here, which means that you will have to hit the dance floor to show that those hips don’t lie! With the Afro-Latin rhythms played live by a local band, and the delightful cocktails served all night, you won’t want to miss this lively nighttime gem.
Finally, after an eventful day of exploration, you will need a place to rest. Return to the heart of Cartagena, Old Town, to reside at the Charleston Santa Teresa hotel. The rooms lie spread out over two different wings; one Colonial-like, with a 17th century style and embellishments, and the other, Republican, built in the early 20th century. Whichever you choose will be lavish and unique, as each room is adorned with distinctive furnishings. A TV, a marble bathroom, free shoe shining, and turndown services are offered within each room. The hotel’s pool is located on the rooftop with spectacular views, and complimentary fruit popsicles. Classy dining is also included here with their two restaurants, La Terraza, and Harry Sasson, where a menu by the famous Colombian chef has been crafted.
While your first day was all about sightseeing and soaking in information, your second day will be about relaxing and soaking in some rays. Travel to Bocagrande, the more modern side of Cartagena, which will certainly invoke memories of a certain city back home with high rises, hotels, shops, restaurants, and more. While there are beaches on Bocagrande that cater to tourists, you’ll want to catch a boat ride here to float over to some better ones. Tap into your inner pirate as you set across the sea! A 45-minute ride through the blue waves will find you washing up on the shores of Playa Libre, a beach on Isla Grande, which is one of the 30 islands a part of the Rosario Archipelago.
Your experience on this magical island is all in your hands! You can set out to do some adventurous water activities like snorkeling, diving, canoeing, and exploring the coral reef National Park, or you can take it easy by setting up your beach chairs near Cocoliso Island Resort. The hotel will make your island excursion even smoother with their very own spa, fresh water pool, and pool bar.
After bronzing your skin and taking a dip in the glistening waters, you should grab a bite to eat. Luckily for you, there’s beach vendors all over Playa Libre offering freshly cooked seafood caught that same day. Opt for fresh fried fish or generously sized lobsters, almost always served with a delightful side of arroz con coco (coconut rice) and patacones; yum! To seal the delectable deal, wave down another beach vendor for some cold Colombian beers (cheers to that cerveza Aguila otra vez), or take a stroll to the aforementioned resort for piña coladas, y mas!
Next, book a snorkeling trip to uncover some incredible sights. A local guide will accompany you on the trip as you sail over the deep waters. You’ll get the chance to see drug lord Pablo Escobar’s abandoned vacation house, crumbling and barely standing. From the boat, you can still see the massive mansion, the waterfront apartments, and even a glimpse of the enormous swimming pool. Escobar had intended for it to be an island party house, where he could host over 300 guests in the luxurious rooms. When you finally put on that snorkeling mask and dive into the water, you’ll see an even eerier scene! A plane wreck lies on the bottom of the ocean, right off of the coast of Escobar’s abandoned estate. Check out the schools of fish swimming around the wreckage and snap some shots with an underwater camera!
When the sun heads down and the moon pops out, you’ll head back to the water, but this time in a different fashion. Ask a local tour guide to lead you to the Enchanted Lagoon, where bioluminescent phytoplankton glow bright and blue at night! This spectacle will make it look like the lagoon is glowing and it’s simply entrancing. If you have a significant other with you, it makes for a romantic time! Make sure to take advantage by snapping some pics and having a toast of champagne!
To close out your wonderful island retreat, stay the night at hotel San Pedro de Majagua. Book the Superior Suite for a spacious room with an LCD TV, minibar, L’Occitanne amenities, and hammocks for daytime snoozing. The hotel also includes a restaurant and bar, tours, water activities, an option for a “romance package,” and transportation to and from Cartagena. Sleep peacefully as you fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean!
Your trip to Cartagena has evoked feelings of excitement, peace, wonder, and love! How could it not? This city is one that boasts rich culture, adventure, fantastic music, and equally amazing cuisine, making a return trip not only likely, but required! Like Shakira once sang in her famous song, you’ll surely find yourself “addicted to” Cartagena! Your next trip back to the gorgeous country will be even better as you reach out to discover more cities, but for now, head back to the MIA. ¡Hasta la próxima!
By Aaliyah Pasols