Six days in Cartagena de indias
Six days in Cartagena de indias, a beautiful city on the Colombian Caribbean coast, that can offer amazing beaches and a lot of culture and history to be discovered, good food and nightlife too.
Day 1 Arrival
We arrived with the bus from Santa Marta passing through Baranquilla which took four hours, quite a bumpy journey despite it being on he highway due to the lack of suspensions on our minivan. We met a lovely couple from South Brazil along the way, called Bruno and Bruna – easy to remember! At arrival we were the last ones to be dropped off and were very curious about the flat since we had no idea what to expect. A friend of mine from fencing who is half sicilian and half Colombian, very kindly let us stay at her auntie’s place in Bocagrande which is the commercial district of Cartagena. It’s by the sea and it’s only a few miles away from the walled city which is the pretty-old-touristy part of the city. We arrived and got given the keys from the porter. The building is a tower block and the flat is on the 13th floor and it’s just stunning. Beautiful view over the sea, and amazing taste in the décor. We are so thankful and lucky! To settle in and start our six days in Cartagena, we went to the supermarket and got some food and ended up staying in and cooking at home our first night, made a classic pasta with tuna and tomato sauce which was – modestly – quite yummy
We had a lie in, I made breakfast with tasty cheese arepas and bacon, and we used the day to explore a bit the area around us and investigated about tours options for the coming days. The truth is that there are too many options here! The most famous tours are to Islas Del Rosario, where you can go by boat to the arcipelago of 27 islands, of which the most famous are: Isla de Baru where the famous Playa Blanca is situated, Isla Grande, Isla Encanto and isla Bomba.
We didn’t manage to take any decisions just yet about which one to go to, prices vary from £15 to £120 for the number 1 rated cultural tour on Trip Advisor.
We decided to start with the walled city and made a plan and a booking for tomorrow to do a free walking tour of the old town at 10am and go from there. Brucey even managed a cheeky haircut while I went to the pharmacy to buy a cream to try and cure my millions of mosquito bites.
We had lunch in our neighbourhood of Boca Grande and found a nice bar called Isabella’s where they show all the Euro cup games and have very fast Wifi since we don’t have any in our apartment.
At 7pm we met again with three of the Americans that we met during the Minca tour a couple of days ago, Cici (or Carla) and her sister Kelly, and German. We had our Colombia T-shirts on since Colombia played the knock out Copa America game against Chile. We met in front of their hostel to find a place to watch the game but everywhere was busy and they had been on a tour of islas del Roasario all day and were quite tired and hungry so we decided to go for a Pizza at La Diva which had no tv but had aircon and the Pizza was amazing for South American standards! After that we walked around the walled city trying to find somewhere to watch the second half, we got lost several times and found out that the second half was delayed due to very bad weather in Chicago. We finally got to a rooftop bar near the clock tower to watch the game but it started raining and the game didn’t seem like it was going to start anytime soon so we ended up going back to their hostel’s bar which was very cool. We said goodbye to German who went to bed to pack and get ready since he’s flying out tomorrow. Only 4hrs flight to NYC, very convenient. Cici and Kelly lasted a couple of drinks longer but were also very tired after the sun and the snorkelling while we had quite a lazy day so managed to stay up and watch the second half which started at 10:30pm. It was painful to watch since Colombia was already losing 2-0 and during the second half they deserved a penalty that wasn’t given to them by the ref. The bar though was still very lively even after the defeat, with lots of people dancing on the counter and a great atmosphere. We were quite drunk and decided to go home after the last Corona. It’s very true what they say about Colombians, there is always a good excuse to party and dance. Losing or winning are either way a good excuse!
Wake up early after a few beers last night meant big hungover. Tried to cure it with a nice ham and tomato sandwich and a good coffee but we were still feeling pretty foggy as we arrived in the Naval Museum Square where our free walking tour started. It lasted two hours and our guide called Edgar was quite a character. He memorised all our 15+ names within 2 hrs, and was very funny, giving us quizzes all the time and giving out postcards as rewards for the right answer. At the end I even won a Colombia bracelet for answering more questions than everyone, mainly the ones about Garcia Marquez. Brucey kept calling me SWOT! The walk within the walled city was very informative and interesting, even though baking hot. We learnt about the Libertador Simon Bolivar, who declared Cartagena free after the city resisted with closed walls for 101 days in which people were dying because of the lack of food. And how it was liberated on 11/11/1811 (which if summed makes 1+8+1+1=11) at 11am.
It finished at 12:15 and we went for lunch in a recommended spot called La Cevicheria which opened at 12:30. We had a lobster salad, and a polpo with avocado, tomatoes and peanut sauce – both amazingly good. A bit on the pricey side but well worth. After lunch we entered a small cafe to have a coffee called La Tumbamuertos where we met a lovely lady called Catalina who owns the bar. It was a bit of a moving moment, she was almost in tears of joy because in that moment the news came out that FARC has finally signed the start of a peace agreement which bans the use of weapons and guns. After 52 years of war, Colombians are starting to see the light. We started talking to Catalina and she told us more about the FARC and how people in the countryside were still in terror in the past years because the FARC was recruiting young kids and teenagers by kidnapping them in the jungle and growing them up to become one of them. That’s the reason why many people had to move from the countryside because it wasn’t safe.
After talking to Catalina for a while we said goodbye and tried to find a travel agent to plan our beach day tomorrow but didn’t succeed. We ended up just whatsapping one instead called Cartagena Connections which was very helpful and has a lot of good and useful links, we were torn between the posh and the cheap option and in the end went for mid-range, a trip to Isla Grande with a smaller but more private beach, lunch and option to snorkel and do other water sports like Stand Up Paddling (SUP). Playa Blanca is the most popular beach but we heard it’s very busy especially at weekends and also you get harassed by vendors and people wanting to give you a massage by starting to touch you and hoping to get paid if you don’t stop them straight away. It didn’t sound like a relaxing way to spend the day so we upgraded ourselves slightly. After making the final decision it took us a while but in the meanwhile we continued with our sightseeing day and went to La Popa Convent and viewpoint to see Cartagena from above. Very pretty, and good to give you a better idea of the size and the many faces of this old-new city.
The taxi waited for us ten minutes at the viewpoint, and we then made our way to the Castel San Felipe fortress. We wanted to walk down, but Catalina had discouraged us to do so since there are some dangerous neighbourhood near there and it’s not safe.
The castle visit was worth it even though tiring, the audio guide costs £2 and the entrance £5 and listening to everything (- the extra content) took 1:30hrs. It was interesting to see the tunnels and the cannons that are still there, and to imagine the history of this fascinating place by sitting on a piece of it.
We got home at 7pm, destroyed by the heat but satisfied of our touristic achievements for the day.
We were going to have dinner nearby but ended up staying in, and I made an Amatriciana with bacon, cheese and tomato sauce, a classic. After dinner we had a stressful and depressive night waiting for the Brexit results that came out at 11pm our time. Bruce stayed up in shock until 3am, I fell asleep but at 3am we had a quick chat and then he fell asleep and I stayed up until morning. What a disaster. Egoistically it’s going to make our situation harder, whether we decide to stay in Italy or to move back to London either of us is going to suffer the consequences of this close-minded decision, mainly made by the older generation but that the young will have to pay for.
Interestingly enough some of the the most educated places in the country, London, Oxford and Cambridge just to mention some, were all 60%+ for remain.
We had to be at the port called Meuille de Pegasos at 8:30am. It was a bit confusing to find the right gate, there are many boats all departing at the same time and lots of different companies. We found ours and got on the boat at 9:15 after waiting for 45 minutes. Neither of us had much sleep, and we both were still in shock, denial, anger and all the rest of it. Luckily after one hour of super fast stroppy sea on the boat we got to a splendid beach and got a free welcoming cocktail which immediately made things better. The water was a bit too hot and didn’t refresh you enough from the heat, but we still had a great day. We were planning to go snorkelling and also play a bit of beach volley but ended up being lazy, spent the day reading and falling asleep on the sun beds and finally getting a good tan.
We had to leave at 3pm which felt far too early but apparently that’s the only way to do it, since all the boats have to get back by 4:30pm because of the tide change. It’s frustrating because there still would have been 3 hours of light but nothing we could do to stay longer.
We got back, had a shower and chilled until it was time to leave for dinner. Our plan was to have a light dinner since we both had bad stomachs in the last 24hrs, and some cocktails in a popular bar called El Baron.
Before getting there we had a bad moment, we got a yellow cab to the walled city – for the first time in a few days since we ALWAYS got ubers in the past days, but at this time there was none available so we ended up stopping a yellow cab in the street. As we arrived, he left us in the middle of the road in front of the entrance to the walled city as he couldn’t be bothered to get in. Bruce had our portable Wi-fi on him and as he exited the taxi a bit in a hurry it slipped out of his pocket and the car immediately left before he could double check if he got everything. We were both speechless and so angry about it at first, but in the end let it go since at least it wasn’t his wallet or phone! Also our wifi lasted us over 5 months and it was so useful, we were lucky in a way that we only lost it now and not at the beginning of our journey.
We cheered up a bit since the bar was very cool, New York style, great cocktails and amazing sandwiches. Bruce claims it’s the best toasted sandwich he’s ever had: warm medium rare roast beef + mozarella + saute onions + arugula + Cayenne mayo + dijon mustard on toasted ciabatta
After dinner Kelly and Cici met us there and we had a couple of drinks with them to say goodbye as they are leaving tomorrow to go back home. We had such a good time with them and were very happy to have met them and share some great memories. Safe journey home girls, keep in touch and remember you have a home in Milan if you come and visit!
We got a taxi back and fell asleep straight away, tired from the sun and the lack of sleep last night.
We had a fantabulous lie in, breakfast at 10am with cheese arepas and bacon again (so delicious) and opted for a lazy day since the sun wasn’t out and we didn’t have plans. Bruce watched two games of euros football at the bar (Wales vs NI and Portugal vs Croatia) , and I joined for a bit just to use the internet at the cafe since we are now without. I jumped lunch and had a cheeky brownie instead and Brucey had a couple of snacks but still bad stomach while I am now better. All in our favourite bar called Isabella’s just down the road 10 minutes walk. I went shopping for a bit, bought some pretty shorts that I couldn’t resist despite the drop of the sterling that yesterday would have cost me £20 but today they costed me £22 thanks to all the brexit nonsense, then spent some time writing, while Bruce went to get a sim card and watched more football. With the EU and the Copa America games that I am forced to watch I am becoming a bit better at understanding and watching football. Which is good since we just bought our season ticket for Inter next year!
As it was time to go home, at about 5pm the rain started to pour and we forgot our umbrellas as we never learn our lessons. Thunder and lighting also started, which we watched from the balcony and even managed to take a couple of pics of this fascinating tropic thunderstorm that happened almost every day at some point in the day or night since we’ve got here.
Despite our bad stomachs we decided to go out for dinner and checked out a tapas place called Caffe Lunatico which had a beautiful mural of a lady on the wall looking towards a lamp which was a globe lamp. The food was also great, my favourite was fried aubergines served with a sugar cane sauce, so good. We’ll soon share a blog only about the food within this trip, cause we had some pretty amazing food so far and some of which we want to try and replicate back home, who knows what will come out !
After dinner we went to a famous cuban cafe called Cafe Havana which is like stepping in to Cuba. Since it was early we didn’t have to pay for the entrance, which then became £5 to enter. We met two nice girls from NYC Erin and Emilianna that we had met in Isla Grande a couple of days ago, they are both nurses and having a 6 days girlie holiday here since there is now a quick direct flight to Catagena. Bruce wasn’t feeling well at first, but the mojito and beer seemed to sort him out and we ended up staying out until 3am! The live band came on at 23:30 and was amazing, everyone immediately started to dance, and some of the salsa moves from the locals were hypnotic, I could have watched them all night. A very fun night!
As we say in italian… di notte leoni di giorno coglioni, and we did indeed pay for our fun night with a horrible hungover the next morning. Bruce somehow managed to wake up at 8am to go and watch the France Ireland football game in the bar… It’s worrying how much he loves football sometimes.
Anyway he then came back and we had breakfast at 10am here with some plain bread to try and cure our still bad stomachs. After we went to the Bocagrande beach, which was super busy since it’s Sunday. People here bring massive speakers to play their music and we had three of them around us turning up the music to try and cover each other’s songs. Not the most relaxing beach experience especially when you are hungover and your head is about to explode. We lasted a couple of hours in the beach, the sea is very hot here and the sand very grey which makes the water grey too. I still managed to burn my legs on our last day at the beach! Both grumpy and tired we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in our lovely apartment that we have to leave tomorrow. We had lunch on the terrace with ham and cheese sandwiches and then a chilled afternoon with nap included. For dinner we went to a Spanish restaurant called El Burlador de Sevilla and has a mixed seafood grill, hopefully our stomachs should be on the mend. We then watched the second half of the Copa America final while sipping lemonade. The game went to penalties and Messi didn’t score, and Argentina lost making Chile the winners for the second year in a row. So much football lately!
Woke up after a long deep sleep in our hard rock bed, breakfast, then out to watch the Italy game (beat Spain 2 -0 ) and then the England Iceland game (Lets never discuss that again) before getting to the airport, next stop Medellin!