A short five hour flight from Montreal and we arrived in Cartagena. We stayed a total of five nights in the city. The first two nights in the historical centre and the last three nights in Bocagrande. Getting from the airport to the historical center was easy in the authorized city taxi that costs 10,000 pesos (about $5).
Cartagena can be a little overwhelming at first. The city has a different rhythm that we are used to. The drivers navigate the streets with disregard for street signs and pedestrians. The noise is another issue. The constant honking makes it a little difficult at first to relax. We arrived at our hotel in the centre and immediately noticed that the safety box in our room was broken and the password could not be reset. The man at the front desk reassured us that the problem will be dealt with the next day. We laughed when the next morning he came and removed the safety box from the wall and replaced with another one that had a working battery. We locked our things away but thought it was funny that anyone could break into our hotel room and leave with the safety box that was not longer attached to the wall.
Cartagena’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage and it deserves the accolade. It’s a neighbourhood who’s buildings have been well restored and painted in vibrant colours. Hanging plants and flowers grow on the side of buildings adding extra charm to the place. We spent days exploring the narrow winding streets and relaxing in small parks popping up here and there along the way.
The neighbourhood has no shortage of restaurants and cafes. One of my favourite features where the interior courtyards hiding behind the facade of buildings. Art galleries, cafes and restaurants hide in these open spaces, away from the hustle and bustle of the street and the heat of the afternoon.
Restaurants and bars compete to outdo each other in terms of decor. Some could compete with the trendiest places in North America. The local beer is cheap but cocktails are expensive even by Canadian standards (anywhere around $10-$12). Salsa is a constant in Colombia and it’s fun to walk around Cartagena and hear the music playing out of open door bars and restaurants. We sat in a bar which we decided to nickname the “bar that real men frequent” because the place was full of men and only served beer. The owner is a salsa fan and the walls were filled with pictures of him always wearing a striped polo shirt posing with different salsa musicians. We sat at the bar, had a Colombian beer and listened to salsa.
We left the city for a couple of days to do some hiking in the north of Colombia. I’ll talk about it in a different post. When we returned we headed to out new location in Bocagrande. We were sitting in a taxi heading to our new hotel when our taxi drove so close to another car that his side mirror was completely shattered. Nobody got off to exchange insurance information, we kept going. Our taxi ride took us through some of the poorest neighbourhoods of Cartagena and we got to see how the other side lives.
Bocagrande is the modern side of Cartagena and the streets are lined with high rises, shopping malls and chain restaurants. The appeal for us to stay here was the proximity to several city beaches. Unfortunately the beaches were too busy and not very clean and we were immediately approached by street vendors. Also it was too hot to lay there and umbrellas came at a premium. Although we stayed three nights in Bocagrande we spent most of our time in the historical part of Cartagena which was only 5 minutes away by taxi (about $3.50). We visited the Museum of the Inquisition which although set in a great building it was a little be of a let down. We also toured the Gold Museum which I truly recommend to anyone. It had a great collection of gold figurines and English inscriptions detailing the history of Colombia going back 2000 years. The best part the museum is free.
Although this trip exceeded our expectations, we realized that there were some things that could’ve made the trip more enjoyable. For anyone who might benefit from our mistakes, we’ll dedicate one of our future posts to “The perfect week in Colombia”. Hopefully it will help others avoid some of the things that gave us grief on the trip. Happy reading!