Landing in Cartagena immediately confirms you’ve arrived in a true Caribbean destination; clear blue skies, steaming hot and an airport as laid back as any island getaway.
The Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a perfect example of Spanish Colonial architecture, beautifully preserved and maintaining its Colombian heritage. Cobbled streets, ancient churches, bougainvillea covered balconies, pastel hues and an endless stream of horse and carts commandeering the narrow laneways.
It’s not uncommon to see local women dressed in brightly coloured costume, carrying fruit on their heads, street vendors spruiking empanadas and hot dogs, ready to sell to tourists eager to play their role in the lively exchange, despite it all being a clichéd performance, it’s too beautiful to care, like something out of a movie you’re swept up in.
The old town has a nice mix of small boutique and luxury shops, street stalls, picturesque cafes and restaurants, and more panama hats than Emelda Marcos had shoes.
At night the city is full of energy, with the temperature staying around 26 degrees, locals and tourists converge in the squares, socialising and eating. There’s a plethora of atmospheric bars set in gorgeous historical buildings featuring endlessly decorative floor tiles, pretty rooftops covered with fairy lights, overlooking the old town, serving locally distilled gin and amazing cocktails. We spent one very fun night in well-known Bazurto Social Club located just outside the old town, dancing Champeta to live Afro-Colombian music, surrounded by a crazy mix of bright and gaudy interiors and local regulars teaching us their moves. A fabulous heady night out that would be hard to beat.
The beaches of Cartagena leave much to be desired, having spent a late afternoon at Bocagrande, a ten minute drive from the old town, we regretted not venturing further afield to experience the true Caribbean sea. Although it was entertaining watching the locals swim and the fisherman bringing in their daily catch, it’s definitely worth making time to visit the islands off Cartagena for a few days.
Cartagena is just one jewel amongst many in beautiful Colombia, a country I would happily return to.