Cartagena des Indies is Colombia’s fifth largest city and known, with very good reason, as the queen of the Caribbean. This charming colonial town has a great energy, wonderful food and is just a short boat ride away from some of the most beautiful beaches and islands I have been lucky enough to spend time in.The main area where travellers stay is called Getsemani but as we weren’t really in party mode we decided to stay within the UNESCO world heritage designated old city walls at a boutique hostel called Casa de la Chicheria which, if you are travelling on a budget, I can’t recommend enough. This hostel has a great location – hidden within the old city it is a hop, skip and a jump from all the main sights and the best restaurants. In terms of sleeping options there is one dorm and a couple of comfortable private rooms – as there aren’t that many beds we found that those who stayed were quiet and respectful. The staff were so welcoming and helpful with both recommendations for Cartagena itself and our onward trips. But the piece de resistance of this place was the beautiful communal area – hammocks, a well-stocked book exchange and a couple of mini dipping pools to cool off from the city heat.
We had a few days to explore Cartagena and we never got tired of wandering the maze of streets within the old city walls. Along every street there is an array of stunning colonial buildings (in particular we became side-tracked by the incredibly detailed door knockers on each one). And to add even more colour many have beautiful fow spilling over their wrought iron balconies.
The city has lots of art galleries as well as statues throughout the city…including some very recognisable statues by Botero, Colombia’s national artist.
As well as wandering within the city we made sure to walk along the top of the Old City walls where you can get some great views both of the old and new sides of town…there are also a lot of conveniently placed bars at various points along the wall for some sundowners with a serious view.
Cartagena’s gold museum, Museo del Oro Zenu, is definitely worth a visit (even if you have been to the larger Gold Museum in Bogota). It has some brilliant pieces of gold work (especially that using the wax method) made by the Zenu communities which inhabited the Caribbean Plains prior to the Spanish Conquest.
If you feel like shopping, there are some great boutiques around the city – especially for swimwear and jewellery. But for us the food was the best thing on offer! We ate so well in Cartagena – the food was always fresh, full of flavour and adventurous. Our favourite spot was La Cevicheria which we ate at WAY too many times (and it probably meant we missed out on a couple of gems but the fresh fish was just so good here and the sauces so punchy (in a good way) that we just didn’t believe it could get any better!) During the steamy days we always stopped in at La Paletteria to refresh with one of the array of delicious fresh fruit ice lollies.
We also loved Peru Fusion for a fancier vibe – this restaurant offers a brilliant mix of Japanese and Peruvian food which was totally delicious and worth a splurge.
And if you are looking for somewhere to burn off your dinner look no further than Cafe Havana…this Cuban bar in Getsemani has some serious old school charm and a great band playing live salsa every night. There is no way that you won’t end up dancing the night away (especially after a few of their punchy cocktails!)
As Cartagena is situated on the Caribbean Sea it is a good point to launch off on a boat trip or two. We took one day trip out to the famous Playa Blanca, part of the Islas des Rosarios an archipelago of about 30 islands a 45 minutes boat journey or so from the mainland.
After a rather bumpy boat trip out we relaxed on the insanely white beach and drank rum cocktails out of fresh coconuts in the turquoise sea…heaven.
Having experienced a taste of island life again we decided to take a slightly more extended trip and booked ourselves into Hotel Isla de Pirata for a few days.
Set on a tiny island (and I mean tiny…you could walk from one end to the other in about five minutes!) a few days in our lovely, airy thatched hut allowed us to completely switch off.
Our main activities for a few days consisted of kayaking around the island a few times, swimming, open air massages and some serious sunbathing/chilling. And once again the Caribbean side of Colombia stole my heart….