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Cartagena, Colombia: A Colonial City on the Caribbean

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(photos by Rebecca Webber)

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.


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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.

Stairs

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.

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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.

Dance

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.

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6 Responses to Cartagena, Colombia: A Colonial City on the Caribbean

  1. jen laceda August 9, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

    I’d love to go to Cartagena! But first, I need to watch 100 Years of Solitude. I heard, they shot the movie here!

  2. Alex Ab August 10, 2009 at 7:35 am #

    Hey, Nice article!
    my father is colombian and every time I get the chance I go down to visit. The last time I visited, stayed in this wonderful boutique hotel in the colonial city, wow: http://www.casablancabyb.com/
    Also recommend the coco lemonade at the santodomingo… mmm very recommended. And plaia blanca… wonderful!

  3. Suzanne Marie August 10, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    Beautiful city, beautiful people.
    By the way, its a new fashion nowadays the boutique hotels, they are luxurious, with the old colonial breathe, but still modern. Breath taking, the old city is perfect for a romantic (honey mooners watch out) or a getaway vacation.
    Its definitely one of my favorite cities of the world, because colombians are always open with new experiences and fashions.
    Its a place full of people, of all over the world, and the casablanca hotel, works perfect for me AlexAB, thank you very much, I am going to check it out!

  4. Dennis D Jacobs August 22, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    I just got back from a trip to Colombia and stayed two nights at Bantu. Loved Cartagena, but I don’t share your love for Bantu. The wi-fi did not work at all in my room, which was not clean and well-maintained. To use the Internet, I had to go sit on a couch next to the reception desk in the open air and sweltering heat. The air conditioner in my room decided to stop working at the most inopportune times. The pool is so tiny it almost classifies it as a bathtub. I will say that the staff was very friendly, but not particularly concerned about my problems.
    People interested in history should definitely check out the Palace of the Inquisition and the San Felipe Fortress. There’s a great jewelry shop called Joyeria Caribe that specializes in Colombian emeralds.

  5. Fida December 20, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    I wish! What a beautiful city! I’ll keep those tips for alter use 😉

  6. Luke November 30, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Cartagena is one of my favourite cities in Colombia! There is so much to explore there!
    Luke recently posted..Things To Do And See In Banos, Ecuador

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