Travel Tuesday: Cartagena!
I was one of those annoying study abroad kids who swore they’d never love a city as much as they love their host city (Sevilla, Spain for me.) But… Cartagena is a close competitor, I must say. It was colorful and full of history, food, family-owned shops and an overall great vibe. (I mean, horse-drawn carriages are the main mode of transportation after 8 p.m.!) I would go back in a minute. (And flights on JetBlue from New York aren’t that expensive…) Instead of a full recap, turning this more into a guide of must-dos/sees. Happy to chat about our trip any time though. :)
We got so lucky with our hotel – everything at Casa Claver was great. My brother, Chris, sister, Emily, and I shared an apartment loft, and our parents had a nice room down by the lower pool. It was a small hotel and everyone was so friendly and helpful. There wasn’t a common dining room, so every morning they brought our breakfast to the apartment and the five of us went to town on fresh fruit, eggs, pancakes, rice and beans and arepas, and I drank ~5 cups of coffee in one sitting. The roof pool was beautiful and had a great view of the city and the ocean. Historically, we over-plan every trip and end up more exhausted than relaxed by the end (shocking, right?). This trip we really were good about balancing doing and seeing things while also enjoying some quiet time by the pool. (I think we’re “travelers” as opposed to “vacationers.”)
Donjuán – our first meal in Cartagena, and I have 0 complaints. Definitely call ahead for a reservation! The drink my mom and I got was called the “Cartagena Sunset” (or something like that…) and it was almost too good. 😉
Alma – Located in a beautiful hotel in one of the city’s main plazas. The salmon I had at Alma was delicious. Sadly, I was disappointed by my white sangria. (It had guanabana fruit in it, and I’m still scarred from a guanabana experience I had in Costa Rica... basically looks like snot but with seeds like a pomegranate and a tart taste.) Get a reservation here, too. It’s nestled in a cool plaza area, so if it’s not super hot sitting poolside would probably be really nice.
Carmen – our Thanksgiving meal was the Carmen 5 course tasting menu, and Chris + I had wine pairings with each course, too. It was hands-down one of the best meals I have ever had… and I couldn’t even tell you what half the stuff we ate was! Not for you if you’re an adventurous eater, but it is definitely worth the experience.
La Paletería – Popsicles! All made fresh and the perfect pick-me-up from the heat and humidity.
I’d also suggest wandering around and see what you find – we had some good meals/snacks from random places that I don’t think even had formal menus, nonetheless a website or reservation system. Like many countries with a heavy Spanish influence, service and speed are not prioritized like in the United States, so plan accordingly. I’m also a big fan of going to groceries wherever I am (domestic or abroad) – it was so fun to see the crazy chips flavors and different snacks/products they have. We also stocked up on bottled water at the market to avoid paying the higher prices at museums and shops. (But definitely lean into the bottled water to avoid, er, distress, during the trip. For toothbrushing and all.)
Sailboat – we rented a sailboat from 3 – 8 p.m. and it was magical. The perfect afternoon in the sun, with a chance to jump out and swim, watch the sunset, and enjoy the beautiful surrounding islands of Cartagena. You can also take a water taxi to the islands for a day pass at a beach club, but we opted to enjoy the pools at the hotel and the boating; I’d definitely do a beach day on a return trip. (The water taxis looked a little rough, so consider some just-in-case dramamine)
Parroquia San Pedro Claver – a beautiful 16th century church and museum dedicated to Claver that shows the history of an early abolitionist and his service in Cartagena.
Palace of the Inquisition – This museum talked a lot about the Spanish history in the area, including their torture and trade methods. The Catholic and Spanish influence here in the 16th Century were extreme, and I was geeking out because we had talked about this in my Spanish Civ class in college. (Was also horrified by some of the history all over again.)
Las Bovedas – Basically the tourist go-to for Emerald rings (Emily and I caved and bought ourselves one), coffee, paintings, etc. You can tell it’s where a lot of tourists go and stock up – but avoid shops that have things listed in dollars instead of pesos and definitely barter! The Colombians we met and bartered with were so nice and it was a fun way to use our Spanish. (They were usually surprised when we started bargaining in Spanish and it led to a conversation about where we’re from, etc.)
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – This is a castle on the hill that was originally built by the Spanish to oversee the city and the waterways. It had some incredible views… but it was hot AF up there in the sun. Bring some water and a hat.
Watch the sunset with the margaritas at Café del Mar – Our hotel concierge, Angelica (we were all obsessed with her) recommended this, but our schedule never worked out. Something to consider!
Walk the Wall – great views of both the old city and the sea.
We hit Cartagena at the right time – Friday and Saturday the city was overrun with tourists in town from cruise ships. Tuesday-Thursday it was very calm and open to wander around, eat, etc., so just keep in mind that there are definitely busier times of the week/year than others.
And, in what was a “seriously!?” moment – a guy on our flight back to the U.S. was in an Alabama polo. We had a smooth travel experience on the way home (at least compared to my experience on the way down), aside from me getting pulled out in security, taken to a back room, sniffed by dogs and patted down, before being escorted onto the plane before any other passenger. That was fun. (Super weird, and a time I was glad to know enough Spanish to ask about what was happening!)
It was a wrap on an amazing trip and time with the family. We never took trips like this growing up, and it is such a unique thing we’re getting to do now. We have some big plans in store for 2019… Em’s turning 30 and Mom and Dad turn 60, and no celebration will be spared. (I’m already budgeting…)
Now… get to Cartagena!!