Every turn in Cartagena offers a surprise, whether it is lively plaza, another block of rainbow colored homes, or the flowers pouring over the balconies of colonial mansions. This year Christmas looked a lot different for us, but it was an adventure!
Several people have asked me, “Why Cartagena?”. We knew we wanted to travel to somewhere new (we both had not traveled to South America), we wanted warmth, and somewhere unique with a lot to offer. After looking at flight prices and researching a few cities we stumbled upon this gem and I am so glad we did. After picking our destination we noticed Cartagena popping up on several 2017 travels lists making us even more excited to see what Colombia had to offer.
We caught a very (very) early flight on Thursday morning and gladly left our coats in the car ;) Cartagena gave us a warm sunny welcome. Before traveling, we did a little research into things we wanted to see and do, but our main agenda was just to relax and enjoy the city. After our ride into the Old Town, I knew we wouldn’t grow tired of wandering.
Every road is just as colorful as the last. I absolutely adore Christmas time. I love cozying up, sitting by a fire, hot chocolate in hand with a Christmas movie one. The whole nine yards. I was pleasantly surprised at just how festive the city was. The roads were lined with lights and Christmas trees were in every hotel and home.
I told Ben that Cartagena may be the liveliest city I have ever experienced. Now, I don’t mean busy, although it is. I mean full of authentic life. After the sun starts to go down, and the temperatures are cooler, music seeps out of every home and into every plaza. There is dancing and groups of people sitting in circles just enjoying life. It was so eye-opening to walk through the streets. You would pass a hotel directly beside a family’s home both with the windows open and community happening within. I don’t know how to describe it other than authentic. Of course there were hints of tourism, and several men trying to sell me a hat that I had to say “no gracias” to a million times. But, it truly was a gift to be a part of this city for a week.
We called the Old Town home for the first half of our trip. Old Town, or the Walled City, is surrounded by a wall built in the 1700s and is home to some of the most beautiful neighborhoods. The hotel we stayed at for our first half seemed to follow the pattern of several other hotels and homes. Within the hotel would be an opening, similar to a mini courtyard, and several balconies above. The hammock by the pool offered a perfect morning reading spot.
Our first couple of days we navigated in and out of the streets passing by the fruit stands, street art, and restaurants. We also made our way over to Getsemani. This part of town hasn’t always held the best reputations but over the years the old stereotypes died. What was once the lesser visited and known side of town is now a backpackers dream and authentically charming. The colors are just as vibrant and the streets just as lively.
The colors were out of this world. I kept turning to Ben in amazement. Also, man did it feel good to get back to traveling together.
The food was delicious. A lot of coconut rice, fresh seafood, ceviches, fruit, and soups.
^What a stud.
Each morning we walked downstairs to a buffet of empanadas, arepas, fresh fruit, coffee, eggs, and rice and beans. I mean they do say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
On Christmas Eve we intended to go to one island to the beach, but due to our high school level Spanish failing us, we hopped on a boat heading elsewhere. All was well though because a few of the girls on our boat were Colombian and knew English and there was a family from England. We were pleased with the turn of events.
The boat took us out to the Rosario Islands, a group of islands about an hour boat ride away, off the coast of Cartagena. The water is crystal clear and the islands are beautiful. Some islands simply have one house and others have much larger beaches.
Our lunch was very fresh fish, coconut rice, and salad. I’ll take it.
On our way back to shore the captain warned us it would be a “bumpy” ride. It was as if we were on a roller coaster the entire way back. We caught serious air, but alas we made it to land just in time to watch the sunset with drinks on the wall.
Here is just about the only picture I have of the two of us from this trip. Usually I am a master at finding another couple and doing the whole “I’ll take your picture if you take ours”. After my poor Spanish encounter with this one, I stuck to self timer on a wall for the rest of the trip.
The wall is covered with people each night watching the sun go down over the water. It is beautiful. Several mornings were spent at Café San Alberto sipping loads of different types of coffee. There is absolutely a science to their work and it was delicious.
The street art here was my favorite. Fernando Botero’s work was everywhere. His signature style depicts people in exaggerated volume and the Mona Lisa made me giggle every time.
This street in the San Diego neighborhood may just be my favorite.
On Christmas Day we put on our festive gear and set out on a run along the outside of the wall. The heat is no joke here. Our first run in the beginning of the week was along the water towards Bocagrande at 10am and we quickly regretted our decision. On Christmas we learned from our mistakes and took an evening run to spread Christmas cheer. Like I said, we spent many mornings here buried in our books with coffee in hand.
Me encanta la fruta. Insert several heart eyed emojis.
The second half of our time we stayed over in Getsemani. There is a church located in the middle with a large plaza that is perpetually overflowing with people. In the evenings, people line the streets and just sit, play music, dance, and enjoy each other. On one of our last nights we ended up sitting in this plaza until around 1am talking with a couple we just met. She was from South Africa, he was from Pakistan. They both moved to Toronto almost ten years ago for school and met each other in their current jobs as consultants. They were on the first few weeks of their 5 month hiatus from work. I loved hearing their story. How they met, why they chose to leave their home, and what they wanted to get out of these next five months. This may be one of my favorite aspects of traveling. Meeting new friends and hearing where they are at in their walks of life. I am always surprised and humbled.
A man and his arepa.
This was where we shared breakfast each morning at our new abode. The mornings were absolutely perfect here. We lucked out that Café del Mural was directly next door. Should you find yourself in Cartagena, you MUST visit this place. Café del Mural was the practically the owners personal laboratory of coffee experimentation. Bunsen burners, test tubes, and nitrogen were all used to concoct the perfect cup of joe. What a dream.
My final farewell to la fruta de Cartagena. I almost cried tears of joy when they set this plate in front of me.
This trip was just what we needed. The liveliness of the city was refreshing and my creative heart was bursting with joy with every turn on the candy colored streets. In past, when Ben and I travel, we usually only stay in one place for three to four days max before moving on to the next. Constantly on the go and trying to soak up as much as we can. This was different. This trip forced us to slow down, to be present, and be fine with doing nothing but reading a good book or having a long talk. I loved every minute of doing what we love the most together. Rather than a “vacation” or a “trip” we always view traveling as simply living in another country for a bit. There is no one I would rather experience the world with than you, Ben.
I’d say Christmas 2016 was a sunny, colorful, refreshing success.