The obsession started because Google flights said it was cheap. It continued because they received a Nobel Peace Prize, contrary to U.S. assumptions about the political framework. But the obsession escalated when I saw a photo of Cartagena’s cathedral and old town. Despite popular routes to Medellín, we booked a trip to Cartagena.
When you fall so in love with a town and the hotel you’re in (Patio Getsemani, FYI. Not to be missed.) that you skip your layover in Santa Marta to return early… well, that’s true love. Cartagena was, like Lonely Planet says, one of the most beautiful cities in South America.
“Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls.
Holding its own against Brazil‘s Ouro Preto and Peru‘s Cuzco for the continent’s most enthralling and righteously preserved colonial destination, Cartagena is hard to walk away from – it seizes you in its aged clutches and refuses to let go.”
– Loney Planet
Be prepared for heat, humidity, sweat, and Spanish. There is very little English and even less air conditioning. Even the ocean and the rainstorms are warm. I know firsthand, because I felt both at once at Playa Blanca, Isla Barú.
Amongst the warmth is of course plethora of warm hearts and clammy hands offering cool 40s of beer in the streets. People drink, smoke, laugh, and dance wherever they please.
Men cart around trollies of beer, cocktails, cigarettes, or fried food. Women pass out mangos, coconut candies, and handmade crafts.
Walking through the streets at night, the hardest choices you’ll make are whether to listen to live music from a rooftop or a park, whether to eat fresh bread or fresh fruit, an whether to dance or talk to your neighbors.
The love people have for their city in Cartagena is as strong as their rum.
While exploring, we found these top 3 places to have a drink on a budget and pretend to be Colombian for just a moment.
- Drink on a medieval wall at Café del Mar (bonus: the Cafe del Libro below)
- Overlook the city from the roof of the clocktower at Mirador
- Salsa with locals at Fidel
And these places to eat something amazing.
- Fresco Pan Panadería, about a block past the clocktower to the right if you are looking at it
- Portal de las Dulces, below the clocktower with vendors selling candy at certain times of the day
- Mango for sale on the water
- Fried food for sale on the streets before the clocktower square
- Restaurante Acción de Gracias, a recommendation made to us by our friends at Patio Getsemaní with amazing fried fish filet