Cartagena, Colombia has been on my vacation hit list for several years. When one of the members of my women’s movement asked me what to do for her milestone birthday, I immediately suggested the Walled City.
In retrospect, two days in Cartagena city is enough to enjoy the people, the amazing food at the restaurants, and the museums. We did a day trip of snorkeling and boating. If I had to do it over again, I would have shuttled out to the Rosario Islands by boat and stayed out there for the duration. We were vacationing in August, so it was 90 degrees most days. I highly recommend a wide brimmed straw hat to keep the sun off your face, and wearing light colors. If you forget, no problem. There are street vendors selling hats on every corner.
The game-changer here was that we rented an entire villa for 10 that sat on the edge of the Walled City. We spent every evening in the rooftop pool, enjoying cocktails as the sunset over the Caribbean.
Rosario Islands, Cholon Boat Regatta Day trip
We chartered a boat from Hampton Property Rentals. It came with a captain and a first mate. She arranged our van transfers to and from the boat. We took the boat out for the day, with our day’s worth of beverages. We stopped to snorkel, which was well worth it. For lunch, our contact made lunch reservations on the island of Baru at the Matamba Restaurant, Aura Hotel Baru. Lunch was on the beach under a thatched roof. Great staff. Great seafood. You can stay here as well.
There are plenty of street vendors selling cigars, but hold out for this place. I love myself a great ‘Hemingway Short Story’ from Arturo Fuente. Cigar shop La Cava del Puro is tucked away in what looks like a strip mall, but is actually a cathedral called Iglesia San Pedro Claver. It has a beautiful selection of cigars. This is TripAdvisor’s write up. The associate will even pour you some rum while you peruse the selection. Can’t wait to smoke your cigar? Settle into the wooden plantation chairs just outside the shop. The chairs remind me of Cochin, India.
Dictator is the local rum, sold everywhere. We went to the El Arsenal Rumbox for a rum tasting.
It’s bar full of Americans, but go upstairs to the bathroom, where the men’s and women’s bathrooms are cleverly identified. You will see what I mean.
Agile light is the local beer. We drank alot of this. Only 3.3% alcohol.
St. Dom Women and men’s store. We came back here three times. Matt got two beautiful linen shirts. I got a beautiful South American swimsuit with ruffle flares on the sleeves and some mod European sunglasses.
Soloio. Men’s store. Italian made resort wear.
Etoile. Women’s store. Great. lightweight jumpers and dresses.
This used to be crime, drug and prostitute ridden. Now it’s a cool neighborhood to hang out in and very Instagrammable. It’s the workers’ neighborhood and you get that sense walking around.
At 7am, the heat was already bearing down on us. We went looking for the Wynwood Walls graffiti art. I especially loved the Irish artists rendition of areal local Colombian woman. Also instagrammable, the umbrella walk on Callejon Angusto. The locals covered this alleyway with umbrellas to create shade and also protect travellers during the rains. He held a contest, and the winner’s face is on this wall. Get the carne empanada from the little store Dunia express. Don’t forget the salsa.
You really can’t go wrong with restaurants in Cartagena. We didn’t have a bad meal. The service staff is super nice. The food is fresh.
Carmen. We did a prix fixe meal here that took several hours. I wouldn’t rush through this experience.
Mistura. We went here for Sunday brunch. Indoor, outdoor. You can make reservations online.
Varadero. I love how Peruvian food has made its way onto menus in Cartagena. We stumbled onto this restaurant because it was next door to our villa. I had a sea bass preparation, made in a yellow Peruvian sauce. So delicious. I don’t know if I found fish made that way again in the city.
La Vitrola. We had an amazing group lunch here. It’s reminiscent of 1950s Cuba. Great wine list. Vogue wrote it up on their list of restaurants to visit in Cartagena.
Bars for drinks
Vera, Tscherassi Hotel and Spa. Stylishly designed. Founded by the Colombian native Silvia Tscherassi. You won’t forget her style, because it’s emblazoned on the stylish napkins. Be sure to check the dinner plates. We came back here twice.
Sofitel Santa Clara. We must have come back here three times for drinks. Its an old monastery but reminds me of the old world charm at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida. An American wedding was happening here.
You can book this through Airbnb Experiences. Read more here
History Museum. It captures some 500 years of Cartagena’s history from when it was first settled. Warning: All the legends are written in Spanish.
Spanish Inquisition museum. Some 800 people were executed here.
Museum of Modern Art. It’s quaint but tiny. Not air-conditioned
NH Galeria. Cartagena and New York. Modern art.
La Presentación. Meh. Some interesting art.
Choco Museo. Chocolate Museum. The kids did a chocolate making class here and had loads of fun.