If you’re looking for a city with soul, one that charms by day and pulses with energy after dark, then look no farther than Cartagena. Colombia’s Caribbean coastal gem, what some consider the most beautiful Spanish Colonial city in the Western Hemisphere, is bewitching. And like many before, I, too, fell under her spell.
My first impressions of Cartagena (in italics) from a trip last fall were reinforced when I returned in January with a group of nine smart, fun-loving women (and one fearless male leader), looking to chase those mid-winter blues away. My dear friend, Uruguayan artist Alejandro Turell, led our group through the narrow cobblestone streets like a congo line on a cruise ship. We were groovin’ with Cartagena from the start, but the fun didn’t end with a song. We had four blissful days of Colombian cuisine, culture, and shopping.
A few highlights follow:
There was a morning walking tour with the delightful architectural expert Fernando Rivera, who brought the city’s history and colorful Colonial buildings to life.
Those same charming streets were later traversed with purpose as we shopped for treasures (the US dollar is strong, and the goods are great) with Kristy Ellis, our shopping guide. Kristy, an Aussie, owns Cartagena Connections, recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as the preferred source for the best of local Cartagena. We were lucky to have her on our team.
We explored Kristy’s favorite neighborhood, Getsemani, where the graffiti-lined alleys put a unique spin on contemporary culture. This art of the people, by the people is on steroids – dazzling and dramatic in both size and scope!
For a different, snazzier kind of art experience, we climbed one night to the rooftop of our home, the Hotel Casablanca B & B, for a private art show and cocktail reception, organized by Norma Uparela of Art Cartagena. Norma introduced us to renowned Colombian artists Pedro Ruiz and Rubi Remie, whose pieces are currently making their way stateside as lasting mementos of our trip. (Remember, your dollar goes far in Cartagena!)
And, of course, we ate (ceviche!) and drank (wine!). Favorite stops included Carmen for dinner, Ohlala Bistro and El Boliche Cebiche for lunch, and Alquimico rum bar anytime of day or night.
Maybe it was the pastel-colored buildings with bougainvillea spilling over iron balconies, so reminiscent of New Orleans. Or the horse-drawn carriages clopping down the narrow cobblestone streets of the El Centro district. Or maybe it was the infectious spirit of the local people whose enthusiasm is seen around every corner – on their faces and in their artwork. There’s much to love in Cartagena!
This walkable city, once the gateway to South America and major player in the gold trade, now shines with a new luster. Renovated hotels (a Four Seasons is on the way), fashionable shops, acclaimed restaurants, and perennial sunshine attract visitors looking for an easy (3-hour direct flights from Atlanta) and stylish getaway.
So gather your posse and get going. Cartagena calls.
Caroline Travels the World…And So Can You.