Cartagena de Indias, or more commonly known as Cartagena, is a jewel of a city on the northwest Caribbean coast of Colombia. I don’t use that term lightly and Cartagena really is fantastic. The old town is as good as it gets and I’ve been to a lot of old towns around the world, especially in South America and in Europe. It is as fun as it is beautiful. I has all the little intricacies that you would look for and it has that ‘hard to put your finger on’ intangible quality that just makes it an amazing place. It’s hard to explain all of the reasons why it’s such a cool city but I will give it a shot.
This is kind of embarassing to start with and as much as I really don’t care about fancy hotels and can and have stayed anywhere, the Hotel Charleston in Cartagena is particularly noteworthy. Not only because of its great location but its history of being an old convent and its stunning decor that keeps the character of the city and the modern ammenities that it offers its guests, including its amazing rooftop pool with panoramic views of the modern city and the Bay.
As you step out of the hotel, you walk into a fascinating maze of streets that offers you the kindness and excitement that is Cartagena. Jewelry and food vendors greet you pleasantly in an almost true Caribbean way of no hasseling. The old town teems with life as its residents go about their daily life and I was relieved to see that tourists hadn’t overtaken the city. It was really much better than I expected, again because of the Colombian stigma I am sure.
Walking through the city you will notice a ton of little squares with sculptures, statues and churches galore. They are all different as well and represent a different period of the history of the city. The houses and building are a kaleidoscopic plethora of colors and makes for some very pleasant viewing and photos. The streets aren’t that crowded although you do need to look out for horses as they race down the streets with their carriages in tow. Beggars, homeless and miscrients are non-existant in Cartagena. There was never any time where we felt at all in danger so that should be the last thing on your mind.
For me the best part about the old city was twofold, the restaurants and the ramparts. The restaurants were highly touted to us from the beginning of our stay and they didn’t disappoint. Particularly San Pedro, which is a more modern Colombian/Asian fusion restaurant located pretty close to the hotel. It was great food with an unexpected Asian twist. La Vitrola was another great Italian place with excellent food, wine and beautiful people watching as we found out.
Another unexpected surprise and for me it was especially surprising was the quality of their candies and desserts. They had a little street called the ‘Portal de los Postres’ and they had these little coconut sugar candy/cookies that were unreal. They were so good in fact, that we bought like 5 pounds of them literally to bring home. We bought so much from the nice lady vendor that she closed up shop early and went home after our purchase. It was definitely her biggest sale ever and it felt nice to help her out.
Finally, the ramparts of the city are vast, somewhat like Dubrovniks but not as high up. Additionally, they are home to the best sunset bar I’ve ever been to called Cafe del Mar. A perfect place to enjoy an Aguila Beer or two… It is located on the western point of the ramparts and has a perfect view of the sun setting over the Caribbean Sea and the day we were there happened to be a stunning sky to go along with it.
I miss Cartagena now that I am back. I really wish I was still there. There is so much to do and there is just such a great relaxing, fun vibe to the city. You can just stroll the streets and get lost and eat your stress away on great food. I highly recommend it to anyone because everyone can enjoy it. It doesn’t matter how old you are or your budget because there is ample accomodations and everything else to make you happy. You won’t be disappointed.