An easy, short one hour flight on Avencia Airlines will get you from Bogota to Cartagena de Indias. This walled-city is full of history and charm. Founded in 1533, it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and people come from all of Colombia and the world to visit. In fact, over 30% of the people in Cartagena work in tourism.
As a base of exploration here, the place to stay is inside the 11-kilometer walled city. The Hotel Charleston Santa Theresa is a five-star, top-notch hotel and one of my favorite hotels that I have ever stayed at. You’ll know you’re surrounded in luxury from the rose petals in the bathroom to the top-of-the-line toiletries and sheets.
Then get out and explore! Cartagena is a walkable city and it’s great to get lost and wander the cobblestone streets and squares. Simon Bolivar was very important to this city and there are several monuments, a square and buildings in his honor. There is another part of Cartagena called Boca Grande, which you can get to by a short taxi ride from the historic area. This area is the “new” part of Cartagena and from what I could see doesn’t really offer much. It’s more condo rentals than anything else.
Castillo de San Felipe is the largest fortress built in America by the Spanish Empire in 1657. It was built for protection against pirates while shipping gold to Europe. You can tour the fort on your own or take a guided tour.
A bicycle is another great way to get around the city and a bike tour by Cartagena Bike Tours will get you acclimated. Gerardo Nieto is a native Cartagenero and will provide you with the history of the city as well as point out film locations of movies like Love in the Time of Cholera and The Mission. You can ride your bike on top of the colonial walls. Stops include local squares, historic homes and getting coconut water from a street vendor.
Another way to tour around is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride at night. Just ask the hotel or flag one of the carriages on the street who doesn’t have passengers. A catamaran ride at sunset is another great way to experience Cartagena from a different perspective. Catamaran Maxicat provides drinks and appetizers while cruising along the shoreline of Cartagena.
I wasn’t overly impressed with a lot of the food we had in Bogota but Cartagena was a different story. My favorite was Don Juan Restaurant. Chef Juan Felipe Camacho, studied in Spain at a Michelin-starred restaurant and combines that Spanish influence along with fresh ingredients to serve up some really good food.
Another local favorite was La Cucina Pepina, located in the Getsemani neighborhood. Mama Pepina was a sociologist and doctor before she decided to publish a cookbook and become a chef. They serve traditional Colombia Caribbean home cooking. Fruit juices are popular in Cartagena too and Mamoncillo and Corozo juices are native.
I wouldn’t recommend Cartagena for its beaches even though there are a couple of public swimming areas, as there is a lot of volcanic rock directly offshore. Most locals go to the Rosario Islands for a beach day or to Punta Faro for a relaxing weekend.