We caught a flight with Avianca from the very well organised Bogota domestic terminal; watched Blended with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore on the flight (although the flight was too short to catch the end of it. Damn it!) but I literally laughed out loud so many times people would definitely have been wondering about the gringo (foreigner in Spanish, although apparently not with negative connotations). We purchased the flight about 2 days before and it was $150 for both of us – better than 20 hours on a bus!
Anyway, we caught a taxi from Cartagena airport to the Getsemani area of Cartagena where we stayed at the Hotel Marlin (pretty darn crappy to be fair). The taxi system at the airport is great; you walk outside the Baggage Hall (outside the airport) and there’s a window and you just give them the address you’re going to and they give you a piece of paper with the price on it which you give to the taxi driver so there’s no way you’re being overcharged. Touts still approach you though once you step outside so you definitely need to have your wits about you. I couldn’t tell you how many times we’ve had to say ‘No, gracias’ already.
So it’s definitely low season in Cartagena at the moment; we had booked our hotel online and once we got there they told us they’d charge us 20,000COP (about $10) less per night…so I guess moral of the story is not to plan ahead. Pretty crappy hotel but we still stayed four nights. The Getsemani area lies within Cartagena’s walled city; it’s definitely grittier than the walled city proper but I think it probably gives a better sense of local life here. The oldest part of the city is here, Plaza de la Trinidad, and it’s actually the oldest area in the city and is definitely worth a look to see local kids playing the all important futbol. We ate in a couple of places in this district. Breakfast was at Cafe Lunatico (although quite a standoffish owner even though we were in there loads) and it was about $6 for juice, tea, toast, some form of tomato scrambled eggs and fruit. We had pizzas at I Balconi up above Cafe Havana more times than I’d care to divulge but it was absolutely delicious. There’s a cool bar called Laboratorio which has a great vibe, BBC beers and they infuse their own rum – the huge wall behind the bar is full of local fruit infusions.
The walled city is absolutely beautiful – easy to see why it’s UNESCO World Heritage listed. The crumbling colours of the older buildings and the bougainvillea tumbling from balconies is stunning. The main entrance is behind a huge yellow clock tower, Puerta del Reloj, which leads to a lively square called Plaza de los Coches. One side of the plaza is dedicated to sweet sellers – huge glass jars filled with the most random sweet things you’ve ever seen! There are lots of plazas to wander around – Plaza de Bolivar was a lovely leafy square with plenty of shade and entertainment. The Museo del Oro/Gold Museum is really interesting – it contains artefacts/pieces from the Zenu people and write-ups in English – and air-con! Free entrance too. We popped into one of Cartagena’s many churches one evening which one would think would be a pleasant experience…until you’re greeted with the skeleton of a priest from 1654 before dinner…
There’s plenty to see just meandering the streets and popping in to cafés, heladarias (ice-cream shops) and little shops. The souvenir shopping actually didn’t seem like tat to be honest – they had pretty nifty looking bags and artwork. Not that I’m allowed to buy anything. Except fricking hiking boots. Who’s going to see my pedicure then?
Noteworthy ice-cream was had with my lovely Harney & Sons Paris tea (YES!) in Gelato Paradiso. Also AMAZING ice-pops in La Palettaria. There’s a Hard Rock Cafe here too but we couldn’t really be dealing with going in there. The San Diego area of the city is really pretty to walk around during the day – lots of beautiful buildings. We had awesome cocktails one evening in Cafe del Mar on top of the wall – lovely breeze and great people-watching.
One afternoon we walked from the Getsemani area across to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – a fortress protecting the city from the top of a hill – the walk takes about 15 minutes. Entrance fee $18,000COP. It’s a maze of tunnels (although not all open to the public) and there’s a lovely view of Cartagena. We wandered across to the shopping mall about 5 minutes walk away to get some air-con and…more ice-cream. This is where I bought my hiking boots for our upcoming trip to the Ciudad Perdida/Lost City.
On our second last day we took a stroll out to the sliver of land called Bocagrande where all the Colombian holidaymakers take their breaks. It’s about a 25 minute stroll from the Puerto del Reloj (mostly uncovered though so SPF 50 required). We just ended up going to a Juan Valdez for coffee out there; it was a really good Juan Valdez actually – John got some siphon coffee yoke that the dude was super excited to make. Then the rains came to Cartagena…so we left for pastures rainier in the north…
Next stop: Santa Marta and Minca.