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Go to Cartagena for the colors, the architecture, the history, and the food.

We stayed in Getsemani, a neighborhood just outside the walled center. During the day, the streets are awash in color - ribboned with pennants, and spilling with flowers. Take some time to explore the narrow, quiet streets during the day while most of the tourists are in the walled city. Stop for brunch at Café Stepping Stone, or a snack para llevar at Colombitalia Arepas. Make sure you come back at night when it really comes alive, with music and people-watching in Holy Trinity Square. Get a table at Demente for delicious tapas, Malagana Cafe & Bar for a cozy rooftop and great chicken wings, or Di Silvio Trattoria‘s patio space for moody ambiance. If you’re walking between Getsemani and the center, go through the Parque Del Centenario and keep an eye out for monkeys scampering throught the trees (we heard there were also sloths, but didn’t see any).

Every walk into the walled city started with a trip to La Paletería for a popsicle. They have a huge variety of flavors, and I loved the limonada de coco, mandarina, and galletas de la abuela. The city is smaller than I expected, which means there’s time to explore nearly every street – don’t miss the Clock Tower, or the San Diego neighborhood, which feels somewhat low key, like Getsemani.

Of course, the Colombian coffee is amazing, and cafés offer much-needed breaks from the heat. Abaco Libros y Cafe was one of my favorite places to sip a latte surrounded by floor-to-ceiling books. Folklore Colombian Cafe is another great spot to try different brewing methods, and relax in the sunny courtyard. Epoca Espresso Bar offers a delicious brunch menu – plan to arrive early to snag a seat. The Museo Del Cacao lets you sample (and buy) the country’s chocolates – we ended up getting a delicious creamy corn drink.

The food is distinctly Caribbean, and you can get a traditional platter at the un-touristy Refresqueria la Estrella de la IndiaLa Vitrola is a classic, upscale restaurant with live music - just make sure to make a reservation in advance. There are so many great food options that we didn’t get a chance to try – it’s hard to go wrong!

While nearly any street in the old city ends in the sea, the beaches are rocky and right next to the highway. We spent a day visiting the Rosario Islands. We started in Isla Barú, which was the most popular and crowded beach (and isn’t actually an island). From there, we took a boat to Isla Grande for snorkeling, then a quick hop to two more islands (I’m not sure which – I can’t find the brochure!). It was a lovely day, but I would recommend sticking to one beach - ideally Isla Grande for snorkeling options and more secluded, pristine waters than Isla Barú.

On our last day, we said farewell to the city from the rooftop of the Movich Hotel. You can enjoy the best views of the old town and the Bocagrande skyscrapers while sipping a delicious limonada de coco in the bar area, or buy a day pass to use the two pools.

Churches offered a cool respite from the Caribbean sun. Spend a quiet afternoon in Iglesia de San Pedro Claver exploring the light-filled church and courtyard. Don’t miss the spiral staircase behind the ticket booth, leading to a small gallery and great views of the pews. Bring a book and settle into one of the chairs along the mezzanine, tucked away from the bustle of the square outside.

Cartagena Cathedral is another great spot to admire the architecture and have a moment of reflection.

Some great doors
We stayed at the Hotel Boutique La Artillería, which is a good option for an inexpensive stay. The hotel is on a quiet street around the block from the bustle of Getsemani, and a 10 minute walk to the walled city. There’s a rooftop pool and beautiful breakfast courtyard, but the rooms were fairly basic.


Signe Schloss 2019 — Brooklyn, New York