21st – 24th June
Cartagena, oh Cartagena! Such a warm, interesting, historic town. This was our first stop in Colombia. It’s on the Caribbean, and feels very ‘tropical’ – hot, laid back, lots of fruit.
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We stayed in 2 hostels (due to a mess-up with the internet booking website!) but both were good, and we got to see two different parts of town. The first was right inside the old walled city, a very touristy area with well maintained old buildings and cobbled streets. The 2nd hostel, Hostal 25^59 was in Getsemani, also an old part of the city but outside the main tourist-heavy section. This hostal was very cute, run by a family as part of the house they’re still building. The hostel itself is just 2 rooms of 4 bunk beds, very small and simple. The hosts were very friendly and helpful, and icy mango juice in the afternoon was a lovely treat!
Below is a summary of places to go/things to eat/things to see in Cartagena.
Where to have breakfast:
El Gato Negro – good coffee (espresso! Ask for a cappucino) Muesli with fruit is good, as is the huevos (eggs). Apparently you can book boat trips to Panama here. The bill for 2x breakfasts and 2x coffees came to 17.000 pesos (around $9 AUD)
Cafe Lunatico – Coffee is the instant kind, but that’s fairly common here. Breakfast specials are great value. We had similar food to our breakfast at Gato Negro – Muesli with a massive pile of fruit and yogurt (hers), and omelette with toast (his). 8.000 pesos each (around $4 AUD). The décor in this cafe is really cute and rather quirky. The bill comes in an old tin lunch box.
Where to have lunch:
Accion de gracias – Large restaurant and fairly busy. The prices are pretty high but the food is great and the servings are MASSIVE! I had the Bandeja Paisa – a mixed plate of local food. There were 9 different types of food on the plate (Chorizo, beef mince, pork ribs, beans, rice, fried egg, fried banana, corn bread, and one more thing now slightly forgotten). Rob had the Churrasco – a massive 500g of beef, with a few side dishes. Each main was aroun 17.000-18.000 (around $9-$10 AUD)
Where to have a drink:
Cafe del Mar – I was incorrectly told by a few people that this was the original Cafe del Mar – it’s not (that one is in Ibiza) but that doesn’t matter at all. The setting is magnifico! It’s on top of the old city walls, facing west, right out to see. Perfect for sunsets! We missed sunset but got there whihle there was still a bit of light – watching the waves crash while sipping a cocktail, listening to the smoooooth Cafe del Mar tunes, is pretty amazing. The drinks were OK – I enjoyed the cosmopolitan more than the caprioska. Go there for the view and the atmosphere!
Where to have dinner:
Top Tapas – A diner-style restaurant opened by the friendliest Spanish chef from Barcelona, just 3 weeks ago. He advised us on the best combination of dishes, he had a joke, he was passionate about his food and ensuring we were enjoying it. The food was delicious – Typical Spanish tapas. The day after eating there, we walked past and the chef happened to be leaving the restaurant at that moment – He greeted us as if we were locals, or old friends. Lovely!
Where to have dessert:
That’s Amore – cute tiny frozen yogurt and fruit shop – The guy working there seemed passionate about his desserts and they truly were delicious! The decor looks a little like a dessert too! Lovely place.
What to do:
- Walk around the old town – bring a hat! and avoid the middle of the day (set that aside for siesta). Buy a hat if you don’t have one (you’re close to Panama in Cartagena, so Panama hats are a go!)
- Wander around Getsemani and get a bit more of a feel for the ‘real’ side of town. Some poverty around, and lots of very friendly people.
- Sunday evenings from 8pm, watch or join in with the outdoor Zumba session in the Getsemani main square (Plaza de la Trinidad)
- Visit the modern art museum
- Walk or take a taxi to Bocagrande, the more built up area (looks a little like the Gold Coast) and sit on the beach for a bit under a hired shade tent. We did this. It was pretty good – we also heard that other beach areas were better! Many people take boats to Playa Blanca and other islands nearby, but we didn’t have time to do this. Anyway, the beach at Bocagrande is interesting – people are trying to sell EVERYTHING! And some are very persistent. Massages, crab meat, juice, tacky photos, beer, jewellery, glasses, hats etc etc etc…
- Have a beer or 3 at the outdoor tables in the square of the main old city. It’s hard to get used to nearly everything being table service here, but it’s nice! You just sit at a table, a waiter comes to you and takes your drink order, you drink, and whenever you’re done you ask for the bill. Too easy!
- If you’re brave, like Rob is, try some street food. If you’re feeling really brave, have kebabs grilled on a street corner by a toothless man, while he plays salsa from a radio hanging off the wall behind. Then instantly wonder what wild tropical/gastro diseases you’ve picked up (turns out, we were fine)
- Walk around the walls of the old city at sunset!
- Eat lots of mango!