Living in Costa Rica means I can continue to explore Central and South America quite easily. Cartagena, Colombia has always been at the top of my list so I was thrilled to get this trip on the books. From Costa Rica, it was a short plane ride away. I have always envisioned Cartagena as somewhat of a party spot. Maybe a place to plan a girl’s trip or a bachelorette party. Well, it definitely lived up to the vision in my head but also had so much more to offer. Rich culture, crazy history, beautiful ancient architecture, amazing food, shopping, a mud volcano, a beach, tons of nightlife, and tropical islands just a ferry ride away. I coupled my trip to the city of Cartagena with the Rosario Islands. I’m a true beach baby and it’s hard for me to vacay without working in some beach time. I found that this trip was a perfect mix of city and beach. Although it is quite easy and inexpensive to travel all around the country of Colombia by plane, I really didn’t want to waste a day of my trip dealing with the airport. The Rosario Islands was a great fit with just a one hour ferry ride from Cartagena. This was an easy combo!
Where To Stay In Cartagena:
Cartagena is a unique city, as it has two very different contrasting neighborhoods: the ultra modern high-rise hotel filled Bocagrande and the Old Walled City. This reminded me a lot of Panama City where there seems to be an invisible line dividing old and new. Just like my trip to Panama City, I opted for the charm and history of the older part of town. I stumbled across some pretty nice hotels in my search, but what I was really searching for was something unique. Maybe an old mansion turned boutique hotel? Well, I found exactly that at Casa San Agustin. After cruising around the city, I can attest this was my favorite boutique hotel in the Walled City of Cartagena. The property is luxuriously chic with a relaxed atmosphere. It was reimagined to maintain a colonial heritage intact within three beautiful white washed homes that compose it. Bam, exactly what I was looking for! The architecture preserves the authentic Colombian style while incorporating modern services and amenities. There is an Instafamous pool in the center of the suites and best of all was the bed. I am actually getting torn about beds being overly comfortable. When I arrived and laid down in the bed I fell into a deep slumber for hours. This is not like me! I do not like to waste any vacay time sleeping the day away. However, it was impossible to get up. Ha ha. Truth be told this was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in…ever. The location can’t be beat as it sits right in the middle of all the action of the Walled City with so many restaurants and bars that are easily walkable, even in heels. Yay for having a reason to get dressed up and wear heels again! It’s been a minute living in Costa Rica.
Favorite Restaurants In Walled City And Getsemani:
Let’s get into the topic that everyone wants to know the most about…food! The food was amazing!! From fine dining to delicious street food…I simply did not have one bad meal. Cartagena has so many dining options. I could barely scratch the surface in one week. There are two main neighborhoods to get your grub on. The Old Walled City and the Getsemani neighborhood which is located right outside of the walls. These neighborhoods are walkable back and forth. The Walled City is much finer dining. The scene on the street is everyone gets very dressed up and heads out to pricier dinners. Getsemani is much more casual. The restaurants are less expensive and much livelier. There is endless street food in Getsemani. You can eat a delicious dinner for $3 on the street. Even better, you can opt for a 40 cent empanada. OMG…so good! I spent more than half of my time dining in the Getsemani neighborhood which is considered the “hipster” area. Musicians liven up leafy plazas with impromptu performances so it’s a perfect place to sit on the sidewalk with street food in hand to watch the show. To be honest, I love me some fine dining but I’m not up for it every night of the week, which is why I spent so much of my time in the Getsemani neighborhood. Here is a list of my favorite places to eat in the two neighborhoods.
Old Walled City:
Cuba 1940 – Great place for lunch to enjoy 2 for 1 mojitos during happy hour. I ordered a Cubano sandwich with extra pickles. Delish! This place is awesome for dinner too when live music is happening. It has a really authentic Cuban feel like you are sitting in grandma’s house in Havana, Cuba.
La Cevicheria – Quiet little seafood restaurant on a corner in the Plaza San Diego. Yummy seafood and a huge selection of ceviche prepared differently. This restaurant even got a visit from the famous Anthony Bourdain where the chef made him a special off the menu ceviche.
El Cabildo Gastro Mar – Amazing rooftop restaurant with live music and great drinks. The food is typical Colombian cuisine and the view can’t be beat!
Demente – This was my favorite restaurant we ate at! Casual but very loud and lively. The atmosphere is rustic and modern with middle of the road prices. Great place for tapas and gourmet pizza right in the center of Getsemani. It was the only place we came to twice for dinner.
Calle San Andres- Head to the famous flagged street lined with delicious street food, art galleries, coffee shops, bars, and performances in the street.
Best Rooftop Bar To Watch The Sunset:
The absolute best place to have a drink and watch the sunset is Movich Hotels. This is the highest viewpoint from above to see all of Cartagena both old and new. It is a posh rooftop bar that has a DJ spinning tunes while serving up tapas and craft cocktails. Yes please! Of course we wanted to experience this more than once but the second time we arrived too close to sunset, and it was at max capacity. Note to you all…get there early or head over to the neighboring Sophia Hotel Rooftop for another amazing sunset view experience. This was much quieter (no DJ) and not as high up, but still a really beautiful rooftop to catch the sunset.
Best Place To Go Salsa Dancing:
Ok, so those who know me well know that I like to shake my bon bon. After a couple of margaritas, if the music is on hit, you can catch your girl on the dance floor. Of course I could not skip a salsa nightclub while vacationing in Colombia. Duh! If you want to experience a true salsa dancing experience, shake those hips on over to Cafe Havana, located in Getsemani. The band and salsa dancers are a truly epic experience. Get your liquid courage going because the dancers come right up to the crowd and show you how to salsa for all to see. So fun!!
Horse Draw And Carriage:
After all that dancing you will not want to walk home. Horse draw and carriage is available in many places of Cartagena. Although we walked mostly everywhere, we did jump on a couple of carriage rides. One at the end of a long night out and one extremely romantic ride around the Walled City with a bottle of wine. Lots of hugs and kisses happening on this ride and it was truly a beautiful way to explore the city. We brought a bottle of wine on the ride which spilled all over us every time we took a sip and all over my overly thought out Colombian outfit. LOL. Good thing it was white wine! I highly recommend doing one of these rides if you want to lay on the romance.
Cartagena is very well known for photo ops. So many super cute streets lined with colorful homes. That on top of the historic architecture of the Walled City….It’s hard to put the camera down. Photographer tip….get out early to beat the crowds and the heat. Cartagena’s lighting is extremely tricky for photography. When the sun is directly above you it’s way too bright, you will be drenched in sweat, and dealing with the crowds. I got my shots early at around 7:00am. See what I do to bring the content guys?! It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get these blogs done. Get your photos done in the morning and then hole up in a place with air conditioning in the afternoon. It’s a solid plan. One photo must is a photo with the Las Palenqueras (fruit ladies). They do expect a tip for these photos but it’s definitely worth an add to the Cartagena photo album. Also, Calle 38, Carrera 9, the umbrella street Callejón Angosto in Getsemani, and lastly (my favorite) roaming around getting lost in the alleyways of this vibrant city.
Best “Not To Be Missed” Excursion:
So my hubs is not one for group activities or excursions in general. As usual, I can’t skip out on special experiences that are only available to the area. This activity is husband approved! This is a true “not to be missed” experience when visiting Cartagena. To appease my hubby’s dislike of group activities, we hired a private driver to take us about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena to the El Totumo Mud Volcano which cost us $75 round trip. This is one of the world’s smallest active volcanos. It’s a crazy experience because as you get into the volcano you feel like you are going to sink, almost like you are in quicksand. We were warned by our driver that initially it is a bit scary and told to just relax. You soon realize that you naturally float and it is impossible to sink. Your feet won’t touch any “ground” and you just bob enjoying the healing properties of the mineral infused mud as the volcano’s mud bubbles pop up all around you. I had a major case of the giggles because there are professional masseuses bobbing away as well that are ready to rub you down and get you really relaxed, for a tip of course. One man started rubbing down my husband without asking until he had to politely say “no thank you”. LOL. Hilarious!! The giggles didn’t stop there. Once we finished relaxing, we were escorted out of the volcano down to the lake where two ladies washed the mud off our bodies and removed our bathing suits without asking. Ha ha…I’m cracking up just writing this. Quite an experience! Seriously don’t miss it. We had a blast and it was a nice change from the city life of Cartagena.
The Rosario Islands is an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia. It is one of the 46 Natural National Parks of Colombia. The Rosario Islands are a one hour ferry ride from Cartagena but feel like a completely different world. They are known for their crystal clear waters and lack of development. Being it is so easy to get to, many people opt to go for the day and purchase a day pass from one of the resorts to soak up the sun. I stayed for three nights on Isla Grande at Hotel Isla Del Sol. Don’t let the name of the island fool you. Isla Grande is very small.
The top things to do on these islands are the luminescent plankton tours in the mangroves, snorkel tours, diving, and island hopping. Guess what I did? Absolutely nothing! I very rarely do nothing on vacay but that is exactly what I did. I woke up, ate, sunbathed, read a book, ate again, took a nap, swam in the ocean, went to bed very early, and repeat. I had a package where all of my meals were included in my stay so there was no reason to leave my hotel. What a change from all the action in Cartagena and a perfect way to recharge and feel rested before heading back home.
That’s a wrap for my trip to Cartagena and the Rosario Islands. There is so much more to see in Colombia. Next up in Colombia for us will be to explore the city of Medellín. Until next time Colombia!
Thanks for reading!