The first time I learned about Cartagena, I was a curious, prepubescent youngster who had stumbled upon the 1984 classic film Romancing the Stone. If you haven’t seen it, let it to be known the movie has a stellar cast (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito) and a 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s about a lonely, New York City-based romance novelist, Joan Wilder, who travels to Colombia to save her sister who has been kidnapped by jewelry smugglers. Joan meets American exotic bird smuggler, Jack Colton, and commissions him to help her navigate through a jungle and to a pay phone. She can’t stand him initially but then they fall in love and her romantical fantasies (yes, I know “romantical” is not a real word) are at last realized.
Anyways, Joan must meet the jewelry-smuggling delinquents in Cartagena, which is how I first learned about this colorful, Colombian port city.
Cartagena is ultra touristy and not my favorite city in the country, but it’s a neat, little hotspot to visit for a couple of days. It’s commercial but colorful, crowded but lively. And it’s home to some BOMB ceviche.
My close friend, Amy, met me in Colombia in February and we explored Cartagena together. We stayed inside the walled city at El Viajero (a decent, not particularly great hostel) and embarked on an attraction-seeing, ceviche-eating, bikini-shopping, casual, unplanned adventure.
During the day, we walked through the streets and alleyways of Cartagena’s historic old town and marveled at all the colorful walls and facades.
We walked 15 minutes from the walled city to Castillo de San Felipe, the old fortress built by the Spanish in 1657 to protect the city against gold-smuggling pirates.
There was a festive trumpeter up on the fortress who was playing some lovely tunes for us.
I humored him (and possibly a few unfortunate passerbyers) with my awkward, graceless dance moves.
We had a little photoshoot.
…compliments of our photographer and new friend, Vince (an American from NYC).
We got lost while navigating through some confusing fortress passageways.
But we got out!
By the way, I bought my dress at Colombian swimsuit store, Maaji, which is located in Cartagena’s old city. I visited the store a few times and narrowly escaped with only one bikini, a cosmetic pouch, a tote and this floral maxi dress. It’s safe to say I wanted to buy everything in that store. I couldn’t do that, so I celebrated my approval of the Maaji brand by wearing the same dress for a straight 72 hours instead.
It was extremely hot during our visit so we drank plenty of cold, summery beverages and ate fresh ceviche and popsicles.
If you ever find yourself in Cartagena, it’s extremely important to eat ceviche at La Cevichería. You’re going to be dealing with inflated tourist prices, especially after Anthony Bourdain gave the restaurant a public thumbs up, but it’s soooo worth it. La Perla is good too.
For popsicles, go to La Paletteria.
For the best dulce de leche brownie and solid sandwiches, go Pastelería Mila.
For a refreshing negroni (or any cocktail) and sunset pairing, go to Cafe Del Mar. It’s on the wall and is a popular sunset spot, so it’s best to reserve a table. We did not reserve a table because advanced-planning is not how we roll. But who could deny us seating when we have such innocent and friendly faces?!?
That sunset, though.
Sunset at the wall is an optimal time to have a romantic, make-out sesh with your latin lover. Or creep on other couples going at it…
Speaking of people-watching, Cartagena is a prime spot. Just look at all of the colors! Halloween costume goals for next year…
The daily grind for locals…
And whether you’re stopping at port for just a few hours or spending a long weekend in Cartagena, the streets are filled with countless souvenir-shopping opportunities, each as colorful as the next.
So, yes, Cartagena is super touristy, and is a prime, coastal stop for incoming cruise ships. BUT it’s one of the most colorful cities I have ever been to and it offers some tasty eats. Combine that with some easy adventuring and gallivanting with a best friend and it’s bound to be a good time.