Colombia isn’t on most American travelers’ short lists. But its Caribbean city of Cartagena, whose well-preserved port is a UNESCO site and firmly on the cruise-ship circuit, is becoming more and more popular — especially with a direct flight from Fort Lauderdale on Spirit Air. At the end of May, Rebecca Webber went down to Cartagena with a group of friends for five days to attend a wedding. Here, she explains why she loved this up-and-coming vacation spot.
Favorite Activities: I loved just wandering around the old city of Cartagena, where the architecture is beautiful. But probably the best thing we did was to charter a boat to the islands. We stopped at the aquarium on San Martín de Pajarales and then went to the Cholon playa on the island of Baru (pictured left). That was a beautiful beach, much nicer than the city beaches by Cartagena.
Beautiful Bantu: I stayed at the stylish yet affordable Bantu Hotel, which is a converted colonial house with an inner courtyard like many of the accommodations in Cartagena. My room was clean and well-maintained. The water pressure in the shower was intense and the wifi almost always worked — only the air-conditioners were a little unreliable. Every day around 5 pm, the staff came to each room to deliver a little sweet snack and a note wishing the guests a good evening.
Bantu has a pool on the roof which was small but refreshing. (The Sofitel, where some of my friends stayed, probably has the best pool in Cartagena.) There were also lounge chairs and cabanas where one could get a massage, manicure, etc.
Getting Muddy: One day, we took a tour that included canoeing through mangroves and a visit to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo aka Mud Volcano (pictured right). The mud volcano seemed suspiciously manmade, but soaking in the mud (pictured left) was pretty cool. Afterward, we washed ourselves off in the nearby river. If you visit the volcano, make sure to bring ots of small bills because the “helpful” locals will demand tips for everything from snapping a photo to holding your sunglasses.
Delicious Drinks: I adored a frozen nonalcoholic drink called a coco-limonada, essentially a frozen lemonade with a hint of coconut milk. I also got an amazing frappuccino-like drink drizzled chocolate sauce and cinnamon powder at an outdoor cafe in Santo Domingo square — worth every peso. If you’re looking for an alcoholic refreshment, definitely try the mojitos. They were lighter and more refreshing than the ones I’ve had back home in NYC.
Favorite Bars: Mr. Babilla was a fun place, where professional dancers got up onto the bar as the evening wore on (pictured left). We also had a relaxing evening outdoors on a bar called La Casa de la Cerveza located atop the city walls in Getsemani. Beautiful decor, just watch for mosquitoes.
Favorite Restaurant: If you’re looking for a fancy meal, try La Vitrola. But no matter where you dine, order seafood. It’s the Cartagenan specialty.
Bring Your Spanish Phrasebook: You’ll need it! Very, very few locals speak English. You should be able to find someone to understand you at your hotel, but even most tour guides I encountered spoke only Spanish.