At first glance from the air you can see ‘beachy’ metropolis and city skyline. One would think this city is big. However with fewer than a million people, Cartagena is a small city with a big vibe! If you are a Narcos fanatic you will have the images of the Colombian lush plazas and greenery. Cartagena’s character is eclectic. The streets house fruit vendors and street art. Split into two small towns, endless photogenic neighborhoods: the walled Old City and the rising barrio Getsemaní.
We had the pleasure of experiencing Cartagena in its authenticity. Without knowing an ounce of Spanish – other than what my husband and I managed to cram from an app quickly, which fizzled at passport control. Cartagena’s humidity is unforgiving, and my curls had no chance of surviving the night! [Read more about that here] Sweating bullets and trying to communicate a mixture of broken Spanish and Sign language through the terminal was a complete joke. After successfully branding ourselves as non-Spanish speaking foreigners, we were able to befriend a cab driver who took us to through the Walled City to our AirBnb by Santo Domingo.
The cab ride was scenic as we took the long route. It was much appreciated as we had little time there and wanted to see as much of the city as possible.We arrived at our AirBnb which was centrally located to shops and restaurants. We didn’t need a car. Filled with excitement we dropped our bags, and began our weekend adventure!
Here were our favorites:
1. La Paletteria | Sweet tooth
We set on our walk to explore the city. It was 2pm local time and felt like 100 degrees! We stopped by La Paletteria. Situated less than a block away from Santo Domingo, was our favorite place to curb my hubby’s sweet tooth and my lust for fruity snacks. This place has dozens of paletas — agua (water), crema (cream) or yogurt ice pops — in flavors like tamarind and coconut. We grabbed the mango flavored paletta and headed out for lunch.
Malagana café | Late Lunch
Malagana café is a 10 minute walk from Santo Domingo and is neatly tucked away in Gestemani. Cartagena is known for amazing food, and with our bellies growling, we weren’t being picky. The AirBnb host provided us with a book which had local suggestions by other travelers who stayed at her apartment. We decided on Malagana. After a few app translations we were able to find our way there. It’s a 3 story restaurant with a rooftop. Surprisingly their menu was in English much to our delight. Alberto, the waiter gave us his suggestions on the menu – which we tried. The Lemonade De Coco Y Ron and Passion Fruit Caipiroska was amazing! We had great food and enjoyed the surreal moment of being there.
Our steamy afternoon in Gestemani came to an end and we walked back to the Walled City. On our way to our AirBnb we were pleasantly surprised by a carnival that wrapped around the street and into the Wall. This was the pre-celebration of the upcoming independence day of Colombia. After the carnival ended we proceeded into the Wall and retreated back to our AirBnb. Still stuffed from Malagana and with a bit of energy left, we decided to take an evening stroll around Santo Domingo. This city doesn’t go to sleep on the weekend. This may have been because of the pre-celebrations.
2. Islas del Rosario (Rosiario Islands) | Day trip
Islas del Rosario came highly recommended as the ‘it spot’ for couples. Eager to get there we first had to purchase boat ride tickets to the island, prices range from 30 000 pesos. To get to the islands requires an hour-long boat ride. The ride goes past fishing villages and remote islands. Islas del Rosario consists of 27 islands and has become a major attraction for many travelers. Upon arrival, we were greeted with welcome drinks and a set of rules for the day trip. The island housed a resort called Gentedemar.
The resort is serene and private, surrounded by lush greenery and warm beaches. Local islanders sell curios along the beach side. We relaxed all day on the beach and enjoyed kayaking and other water sports. We were given a designated waiter who served us drinks right on the beach. Lunch was served buffet style and was included in the fee.
After escaping the heat of the city and feeling refreshed from swimming on the beach, it was time to head back to Cartagena.
3. Habanos | Cigars
For everyone who loves a good authentic Cuban or Colombian cigar, head over to Habanos. A quaint store in one of the strip malls close to the Wall. The owner was very hospitable and gave us welcome drinks while we shopped for some cigars to enjoy that evening.
After leaving Habanos, we stumbled upon some street performance artists (mimes) who reminded me of the street performers in Johannesburg, South Africa. They did a few creative skits and dances after giving them a tip.SUNDAY
After an eventful weekend full of happenstance and adventure it was time to get ready to head home. Our flight was leaving Colombia at 3 pm which gave us the first half of the morning to do some souvenir shopping.
We bought most of our things from street vendors and local curios. They always have the best finds!
1.The Wall | Historical stroll
We managed to squeeze in a walk on the wall of the city. The wall is decorated with heavy canons that were used to defend the city from any invaders coming from the ocean. The Wall surrounds the Old City and signifies the historical significance of the separation of the old and the new Cartagena.
Our flight departed just after 3 and everyday I dream of going back to this beautiful place!