We started our month in Colombia in Cartagena, a city in the north of the country on the Caribbean coast. Cartagena is famous for its 16th century old walled city and colourful colonial buildings. Unfortunately, these attractions bring in too many tourists and when combined with the fairly extreme heat it’s a destination we think that you only need a few days in.
What to do in Cartagena
The main highlight is to just walk around the city – especially the old town centre within the walls. We preferred the more edgy / artsy area of Getsemani just outside the walls – it still has the colourful colonial buildings with beautiful flowers on the balconies but add in some street art, live street performers and a bit more character. We spent a day exploring these two areas (with a break in the middle to cool down in the air conditioning!) which we thought was more than enough time.
There are plenty of large open squares (usually with a tour group or two and some souvenir sellers) throughout the city.
The more artsy area of Getsemani just outside the walls offers much more of the creativity and open expression that we’ve come to expect in South American cities.
There is a pretty nice sunset to be seen from the top of the city walls with street vendors selling cold beers. Fortunately by this time the heat of the sun has calmed a little and the temperature is pretty nice!
While having a coffee in a cool coffee shop we stumbled on a brochure for Blue Apple Beach House – a beach club accessible by a 20 minute speed boat ride. We had read the nearby public beaches and especially Playa Blanca were very busy and packed with people selling souvenirs so the idea of a secluded beach to chill at sounded pretty good so after a few quick emails we booked for the next day to escape the crowds and the heat. Sadly, it really wasn’t what we expected. For one there was no beach at all – I’m well aware there can be different definitions of beach so didn’t expect white sand but there was absolutely nothing! The “beach club” was really just a very small pool attached to what is probably a decent boutique hotel. We did enjoy a decent lunch and a few beers by the pool. Fortunately it wasn’t an overly expensive splurge and turned out to be a relaxing day but we certainly can’t recommend it as a day out.
Before visiting Cartagena it’s worth reading up about its history – it was once a massive slave trade marketplace and there are tours and more information available about this in the city. In hindsight we should have taken the time to learn more about this.
Food and Drink
We weren’t blown away by the food and drink options in Cartagena but did like a small Colombian cuisine restaurant in Getsemani called La Cucina de Pepina. It’s a small place, expect a long wait for a table and a while to be served but worth checking out.
Inside the city walls we liked the coffee at the upmarket, touristy Epoca cafe. They also have a decent brunch but we made the mistake of ordering pancakes to share as an extra after brunch and they are massive!
Accommodation in Cartagena
We decided the accommodation inside the old walled town was a bit too expensive for what it offered so stayed in the more charming Getsemani. We really liked Casa Venita Hostal that despite its name is much more akin to a little hotel than a hostel and was very comfortable (and had great air con). No pool though. If budget permits, accommodation with the pool is the way to go!
Despite this being a fairly downbeat post we actually quite liked our visit to Cartagena – it’s just not a city you need to spend a large amount of time in and isn’t particularly reflective of the Colombian culture which you see much more of further south (more on that in later posts).
Next up: from Cartagena we head off to explore the area around Santa Marta.