Cartagena – colonial city with a Caribbean twist

Despite having seen about a million colonial towns by now, we’ve heard that Cartagena is one of the more impressive and all reports have been that it’s well worth a visit. Jumping off the minibus from Taganga, we immediately see why – yes, it may well be a colonial town but there’s a definite Caribbean influence here that marks it apart from other South American cities. The multi-coloured houses are charmingly ramshackle, and residents sit out on the pavements, listening to music and watching the world go by. The sun is shining and for a city, the atmosphere is surprisingly chilled.

One of the many beautiful buildings

We’re staying in the Getsemani area of town, a popular spot with backpackers which is not quite as glamorous as the Old Town but far less western, more authentic and much better value for money. Think more white washed colonial rather than Holiday Inn. There are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants and bars in the area too, so all round, a pretty good location. As soon as we arrive, we stop off for a pizza near the hostel, bag a great balcony seat and sit watching the locals go about their day below as we fill our empty stomachs.

The streets of Getsemani

Later that evening and we decide to explore the local area more. We stumble across Trinidad Square, and bag a table at one of the surrounding cafes for a beer and some more people watching. There are kids playing football, a guy juggling, vendors selling hotdogs and burgers and people playing cards and chess. Everyone is just hanging out, enjoying the warm evening and having fun. It’s a great little scene and we while away a couple of hours soaking it all up.

Entrance to the Old Town

The next day and it’s off to the walled Old Town to be tourists. There are a few museums and churches that you can visit, but we content ourselves with a wander, taking in the beautiful buildings and peaceful plazas, before heading up onto the ramparts.

Up on the ramparts

From here, you can see the sea, and beyond, the modern side of the city, and we’re told that there’s a spectacular sunset too from the bar up there, Cafe del Mar. We decide to come back later to see for ourselves – the drinks are expensive but it’s worth it.

Richard at Cafe Del Mar
Sunset from Cafe Del Mar

Later that evening and it’s back to Trinidad Square for a couple of amazing hotdogs before heading out to a few bars in Getsemani for some cocktails – it’s not that cheap but then this is probably the most touristy place in Colombia.

More colourful houses

The following morning and we set off to explore Castillo de San Felipe, one of the largest forts which were built outside the city walls to protect Cartagena from pirates. Richard is particularly excited because it featured in the final scenes of the film Romancing the Stone (which he made me watch the night before), although he wonders where all the crocodiles have gone.

Castillo de San Felipe

We treat ourselves to a nice bottle of wine and some cheese that evening in the Old Town. The wine is very reasonably priced but the waiter tells us there is a 4,000 peso (about £1.50) corkage charge. Fair enough. When we get the bill, we see the charge is actually 40,000 pesos (£15) – more than the bottle of wine!! After pointing out to the waiter that he told us the wrong price he kindly took it off the bill – thank god! We felt a bit sorry for the guy as it would probably come out his wages so at least left a healthy tip.

One of the squares in the Old Town

Our final day in Cartagena was fairly uneventful, we were essentially killing time before heading to Capurgana. Unfortunately, we did have another Brazil nut incident. This time the culprit was a fish masala (which Rich informed me was absolutely delicious after eating it) – one mouthful and I knew. The poor woman in the restaurant was so apologetic – it was the first time she’d ever used them in the recipe – just my luck! Not the greatest end to our Cartagena experience but we had a great few days and highly recommend it. It certainly didn’t disappoint us, even after a year of South American colonial towns. Definitely one place not to be missed.

In the Old Town