Cartagena

The beautiful city of Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena de Indias, to give it its full name, is a truly beautiful city. It was originally built as an old fortress and the old city is surrounded my stonewalls, all beautifully preserved. There are lots of different barrios (neighbourhoods) within the old town ranging from upmarket to more working class, like Getsamani.  This means that within a five or ten minute walk the price may quadruple.

Cartagena

Cartagena

It is lovely to be able to wander aimlessly around the neighbourhoods as all are equally atmospheric, with coloured houses, exposed brickwork, bougainvillea and churches. It’s incredibly charming, but a working city nonetheless.

Cartagena

Cartagena

On every other corner you will see a man (usually) selling minutes on his cellphone as calling is really cheap. Walking up and down the streets are vendors selling water, fruit, other things which my Spanish isn’t good enough to understand, and then there are multiple fresh juice sellers as well.

Cartagena

Cartagena

On a walking tour of the city you can discover all sorts of hidden gems and hear wonderful stories of Cartagena’s history.  One of the churches has a crooked clock tower, which has a couple of explanations.  My favourite version involved the Devil who had unsuccessfully attempted to lead the architect into temptation.  There’s also the Inquisition Window, where if you thought your neighbour was a heretic you could simply throw their name into the window and they would then be investigated. The Spanish Inquisition was clearly not a time to be unpopular with the neighbours! I also liked the long points built on the corner of the houses, which were put on to prevent witches from landing on their houses (they can’t land anywhere else?), which are still incorporated into the designs of homes.

Cartagena

Cartagena

I also visited the modern art museum which had some fantastic art in it. It was also housed in a really cool building, a former 17th century Royal customs house. Then I wandered through Santuario San Pedro, which is a church and former convent, where the New World’s first ever saint, San Pedro de Claver, lived.

Cartagena

Cartagena

Cartagena is surrounded by water, so there are plenty of beaches to explore. Bocagrande is a very touristy beach, lots of high rises and lots of hawkers. Not particularly beautiful in that it isn’t what you might think of as a Carribean beach, but nice all the same. There were masses of hawkers, but they weren’t very problematic, and in truth could be extremely handy as they offered anything a girl could contemplate on the side of the beach: food of any description; massage; beer; cocktails; water; sarongs; sunglasses; jewelery; phone calls; fruit; ice cream…you name it. An opportunity to combine beach and shopping.

Cartagena

One day I went to Playa Blanca,  a short boat ride from downtown Cartagena, on the island of Baru. This is the white sand, turquoise water and palm tree fringed beach in my imaginings of the Caribbean, however I have to confess to being a little disappointed. It’s true that it’s a beautiful beach, or rather it would be stunning without the gazillion people that were there the day I went. As is inevitable with large numbers of people, unfortunately there was quite a lot of rubbish there too. As well as being a very popular spot for Colombian tourists, it’s a really popular spot for hawkers. The ratio seemed to be one for one, and at times it felt like more.

Cartagena

Cartagena

In the evening the city takes on a new lease of life.  Cocktails on the Cafe del Mar, a bar and restaurant on the wall with views over to Bocagrande, is the perfect place to start off your night. Then head to dinner at one of the many delicious restaurants which Cartagena is famous for, before heading to the clubs. One of my favourites is the Havana Club, a legendary bar and nightclub with live music, which is handily located across the road from my hotel. I met a Canadian woman at the Havana Club who has been living in Cartagena for the last five years. She was very interesting, telling me about her Colombian boyfriend, who she thought was single until his wife and kids turned up at her work. This corresponds with what the teachers at school told us about Colombian men – “married by day, single by night”!

Cartagena

Cartagena

Even with a very tight budget, Cartagena is the perfect place to be, just for the people watching. And my second favourite activity is simply meandering up and down the old streets and soaking up the atmosphere of daily life against the backdrop of the beautiful city. I can see the fruit sellers, the juice makers, the different salespeople walking up the street with their wares, and the people selling minutes on their phones. You can also admire the local Colombian streetwear, which can be summed up with one word – tight.

It’s wonderful to soak it all in.

Cartagena

 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: