I have heard very positive stories about “Cartagena de Indias” and as an experienced traveler I wanted to judge for myself; with the conclusion Cartagena is a MUST SEE!! The historical colorful town has so much charm, that I loved to walk around during the day and even better in the evening.
Cartagena’s Old town is appointed to a Unesco World Heritage site and is surrounded by old colonial stone walls or Las Murallas that were constructed in two centuries that started in the 16th century. The town itself has small streets with colorful houses which have even more colorful flowers on the balconies. The plazas among the town have Spanish influenced churches.
The Puerta del Reloj is the entrance to the inner walled town, it consist of the two arches at the main gateway and a republican style tower with a four-sided clock. Right after you enter here you get to the Plaza de los Coches, what was used to be a market of enslaved people. You see the colonial houses at the back where you can buy confectionary and sweets. In the middle of the plaza is a statue of the city founder Pedro de Heredia.
You can stroll around and find the nicest shops, bars and restaurants and feel the sensual Caribbean vibe. Go back in time and rent a carriage with horses that will guide you through the old town. I preferred to walk the whole old wall around the old town. Watched the kiters practicing at sea and feel the history and wind. Cartagena is a windy town, which made it more comfortable because the temperatures can rise pretty high.
I booked the Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique which was outside the old town in the Getsemaní neighborhood. The hotel was chill, with a small pool where you could cool off if necessary. The complete and divers breakfast was served at the rooftop of the building which had a great view and cool breeze.
You can easy walk between the Old Town and Getsemaní. Getsemaní is the area where more hotels are exploring and great entertainment can be found. Around the corner of my hotel was the plaza in front of the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad. When the sun is down this place attracts many locals and tourists to buy food at street food vendors around the plaza, people sit and hang out here to have a beer some even start to dance!
In Getsemaní you can find a lot of hostels and nice restaurants. I found a very nice Acai place, called Beiyu, where I had several coffees and acai bowls. Location: Calle Del Guerrero; Entre la Plaza de la Trinidad and la Calle de la Media Luna.
Another recommendation is the restaurant Saint Roque, here you can eat Indonesian food, the owner is Dutch and a portion of the profit goes to a child-care project here in Colombia. Location: Calle Espiritu Santo 29-214 near Calle Media Luna.
I also went to the Peruvian restaurant called Cuzco. From my previous travels I liked the Peruvian kitchen, so I was ready to taste it again. It was very busy, people waiting in line before opening, the service is very good and the food too. Location: Carrera 3 No. 33-48 Centro Histórico.
On my way back from the boat tours I passed the Gelato Artesanal, perfect timing to eat a delicious ice-cream !!!
I love ceviche!! The fish is “cooked” in lemon and taste so fresh. Ceviche is a real South American dish. The best ceviche you can get at La Cevicheria. Location: Calle Stuart 7 San Diego, Old Town.
Cartagena has an international airport; my flight with KLM has a stop-over here. This was perfect for me to start in Bogota and fly out of Cartagena, saved me an internal flight.
I arrived with a Berlinastur minibus out of Barranquilla, but many busses pass Cartagena, since it is a very touristic place.
Boats are the best option in Cartagena, this way you can get to several islands and beaches. See next part in tours. On the water you have the best views on the new buildings in Cartagena, which people call the “Miami” of Colombia.
Rosario Island Tours
As much as I loved the Old town and Getsemaní to walk around, the beach girl in me missed the beach and the turquoise ocean. That is what I expected from the Caribbean so I booked a tour to the Rosario Islands. Last year I went to the San Blas Islands (Panama) which was the best trip ever and wanted to get back to that feeling.
The first tour was to the Isla del Encanto (100.000 COP). I was surprises that there were so many tourist in the harbor where the boat left to the island. Busy and packed, all waiting to pay and getting into the right boat. I got a name tag and had to remember the name of the boat, for my return. I think there were 6 boats (50 persons per boat) heading to this island, hmmm that is not what I expected. The boat journey lasted more than one hour to get to the island, which was a beautiful ride, love to be on the water.
The island was packed with tourists and beds on the beach; I was able to get one half in the shade. The ocean was turquoise; that was what I was looking for to get the real holiday feeling! I rented a SUP board for 20.000 COP for half an hour, this to get away from the crowd. Surfed some small waves on a small reef a little to the right of the island. Had so much fun!!!
The buffet lunch was well organized and was complete including fruits as desert. The boat is already going back at 15:15 PM, which is quite soon since we arrived at 11:15 AM. They told they do this because the wind is picking up and the ocean gets too wild. We had to take a inner detour back to Cartagena; all the way through the river with a lot of industrial boats in brown water.
All in all a entertaining and chill day, but I would not have chosen this Island if I knew beforehand…..
The second tour was to the Coralina Island. Same routine, checking in, less busy only one boat and much more organized and the price was not even that much higher (120.000 COP). The island was perfect, no real beach only coral and the perfect turquoise water around the island. The service was much better, got a white wine upon arrival and an area that was reserved for me with my name on it with fresh blue towels! I felt so special, this is what I needed for my last day in Colombia!
Snorkeled around half of the island and enjoyed the sun and chill atmosphere here. The lunch was not a buffet but four very tasty courses. Some people stayed here for days and I think that is a good idea, because here the boat goes back at 15:30 PM too. So if you have the time and money I will recommend you to spend at least a night here; to enjoy this beautiful scenery a bit longer.
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