The artist is back!
Today I’m going to be your teacher and the work will be called, ‘Cartagena, the city of vibrant colors’. Pick up your paintbrush, use my words and channel your inner Botero to paint your masterpiece.
Ready? Let’s go.
The dazzling blue waters of the Caribbean ocean meet the edges of an old historic ancient city wall. It’s golden hour and the hues of light pink, baby blues and canary yellows hit the ocean perfectly making the ripples in the waves glisten so brightly that you can’t take your eyes off of them. You look around and because you’re up above standing along the city walls you see cobble stoned streets lined with palm trees wrapped in twinkle lights. The streets are filled with extremely tenacious salespeople showcasing their bracelets, CD’s, sombreros and mochilas. Music is starting to get louder and louder as the clock keeps ticking and you see a few Colombian locals dancing in the palm frilled plazas with the colorful buildings behind them.
How’s that to get your masterpiece started?
When I lived (still cannot believe that is past-tense) in New York City a fun weekend getaway was always a must from time to time. You’ve got to escape the concrete jungle, especially this time of year, to get your healthy dose of Vitamin D, leave your stressful job and get lost in a brand new world for a few days. Cartagena would be my weekend getaway choice for you Northeast folks. A quick 4 hour-ish flight and you’ve got yourself a perfect little holiday filled with endless ceviche, rooftop sunsets and dancing!
Where to stay?
Andy and I are big proponents on staying in Airbnb apartments as much as we can. Why? You get to feel like a local. It’s one of my favorite parts of traveling. You should try it if you don’t already. More planning goes into it because you want to make sure you’re staying in the best part of the city that fits your interests but it’s totally worth the extra Google searches.
We opted to stay in the walled city of Old Town Cartagena and I HIGHLY recommend this. You’ll be in the center of it all, steps away from the top restaurants and bars, and the best part is you don’t have to take a taxi anywhere! You can walk everywhere in Old Town and because it’s not that big you can absolutely see it all in your little weekend getaway. Our apartment was in a tall building that was a renovated hotel building, close to Parque Fernandez de Madrid. We were lucky enough to score a high floor apartment with amazing ocean and city views. Hotel Bastion was one street away if hotels are your thing and you don’t want to give Airbnb a shot and I’ve heard great things.
What to do?
Get lost. No I’m not being rude. Really. Get lost.
Our favorite thing to do in Cartagena was step out of our apartment with no wifi on our phones and walk through the streets, up, down, across, all over Old Town with no agenda at all. The doors to the buildings are so intricately designed that it makes you want to go home and rip your front door down and get one of these babies installed.
Walking around Cartagena reminded me of a mix between Marrakech meets Havana meets Old San Juan. For all my travel junkies out there, you’ll know what that means!
ALL OF THE COLORS in Cartagena are unreal. Even if you wake up hungover and miserable you can’t help but be happy when you’re walking down these narrow streets. It’s like a million rainbows fell from the sky and painted the most picture perfect place.
While you’re walking around, snapping photos of these idyllic doors and flowered balconies make sure to grab a fresh arepa from the guys selling on their carts in the street for a tasty afternoon snack.
Find good spots to take in that sparkling sunset. Here are a few for you:
- Townhouse Boutique Hotel & Rooftop. Take the elevator to the roof just about an hour before sunset to grab a good table and order the Gin fizz cocktail. This new rooftop only fits about 30-40 people, has great music and a tiny pool that you can stick your feet in as you watch the sun go down.
- Top of the Movich Hotel. We decided to skip out on taking a boat to the islands on this time around. We were just in the Maldives & south coast of Sri Lanka so needed a tiny break from the island life. Instead we bought a couple day pool passes at Movich, and it was SO worth it. For $70 each you get access to their rooftop pool and bar from 10AM-7PM and $35 of that money goes towards your food/drinks. It has unbelievable views of Cartagena! A little oasis atop of Old Town.
- Cafe Del Mar. This is a VERY popular bar on top of the wall that overlooks the ocean with no obstructions for your sunset view. It’s over-priced and filled with tourists. We opted to sit on the wall next to Cafe Del Mar, could still hear the music and enjoy the sunset from there. A little anti-social of us but hey, I hate sitting next to other Americans when I’m in a foreign country.
Where to eat?
I got a list of recommendations for restaurants from a bunch of friends before I left. A few that I will pass on the recommendation for: Maria, La Cevicheria, Donjuan, Cuba 1940, Juan Del Mar (when you make your reservation make sure they seat you in front of the band) and for a great breakfast go to Mila. You really can’t go wrong in Cartagena for food. Everywhere is great. I’d argue though that my empeñada on the street was the best thing I ate there. So maybe one night skip the restaurant and support the local street food vendors instead.
Two pieces of advice before stepping foot off that plane.
Make sure you have enough space on your phone for all of the photos you will take. I just looked and I’m embarrassed to say that I took 486 pictures in 4 days. How is that even possible? Most of them are doors, balconies and me in front of them. Andy has really mastered the burst feature on the iPhone, he nails it every time!
Second piece of advice. Brush up on your Spanish. Seriously. Or else you’ll get really good at pointing on your trip. Pointing at your menu and your Google Maps when asking for directions or ordering. Memorize a few key phrases so you can try to speak the same language.
So when you’re sitting at your desk day dreaming about the Caribbean ocean, maybe forego that US virgin island you’ve been to before (no offense USVI) and try the vibrant South American city of Cartagena.
You will be in for a special treat.