I recently got back from a week in Cartagena, Colombia, which I realized was actually the first vacation I’d been on in over 4 years (visits to California to see my parents not included). So a week of no computer and virtually no phone was strange and amazing.
We chose Cartagena because we wanted to get out of the cold (obviously) and to explore a new city with fairly easy access to a beach, so the Caribbean port town checked all the boxes. Cartagena is really manageable and you can walk everywhere, so we just wandered around and stumbled upon some great places. Here were some of our favorites from the colonial city.
Calle Tripita y Media #31-55
This place has one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. The Passion Fruit Caipiroska (pictured left) is out of this world and the ceviche was some of the best we had on the trip. Plus the rooftop is beautiful with only about 6 small tables, hanging plants, and brightly colored floor tiles.
Plaza San Pedro Claver, Cra. 4 No. 31-7
I’ll admit it. We went here 4 times on our 6 day trip. Located beside the Church of St. Peter Claver, this unassuming bar has a menu of innovative cocktails, including one with caramelized onion syrup and cigar smoke.
ESQUINA, Cra. 10, Getsemaní
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to 1940s Cuba when you enter Cafe Havana, with live salsa music from a 12-piece band, strong mojitos, and fun, eclectic decor. We showed up around midnight on a Wednesday and it was packed with locals and ex-pats.
Calle de la Universidad No. 36-44
Get the lobster ceviche with tamarind. Just get it. And be sure to sit outside in the colonial courtyard of this restaurant located in the luxurious Casa San Agustin. The menu of coastal Colombia cuisine from Executive Chef Heberto Eljach focuses on fresh fish and every dish is beautifully plated. Visit on one of the nights that they have live music – Wednesdays (Jazz from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm), Thursday to Saturday (Tropical and merengue from 8:30 pm to 11:00 pm) and Sundays (Jazz from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm).
Calle Stuart 714
This place is on every list of restaurants to try in Cartagena and, as a result, you’ll see a lot of tourists there. But it’s still well worth a visit for the paella, cocktails, and, of course, the ceviche.
39-29 Calle Del Torno
Located in a 17th century convent (now the Hotel Sofitel Legend Santa Clara), 1621 is one of city’s most well-respected restaurants, and definitely the most romantic. Dine outside on the stunning patio and enjoy the French-Caribbean menu and extensive wine list. For dessert, the tangerine soup with carrot cake and coconut ice cream was a really unique option.
Calle del Colegio
#34-60 Local 2
So, it must be said, the service here was sub-par. But the food was great and the fun decor alone made it worth a visit. The menu changes every few months, but we loved the lobster ravioli and the pisco sours.
Corner of Calle Vargas and Calle Larga, Getsemaní
There weren’t a ton of breakfast places in Cartagena, so we were lucky to be staying in an Airbnb right above Oh La La Bistrot, a charming cafe owned by a Franco-Colombian couple looking to increase the city’s healthy eating options. This place was perfect for a delicious meal of Colombia staples with a French twist.
Shopping and Art
Calle Santo Domingo 33-70
This is one of the most beautifully curated stores I’ve ever been to. I could have
moved into browsed the concept store’s collection of art, clothing (for men and women), accessories, and home goods for hours.
Do I regret not getting these fry earrings? Oh, most definitely. But I got some earrings with emeralds in the rough that are ok.
Carrera 2 No. 33-36
We happened to pass this gallery (which also has a New York outpost) on our fist night in the city. Lucky for us, it was the final night of Cartegena-born artist Ruby Rumié’s Weaving Streets. The work includes striking portraits, video, and a miniature stamp series featuring the city’s palenqueras who “weave the streets” selling fruit and fish. Subjects were carefully chosen by Rumié “for their personal stories of endurance and dedication to Cartagena’s living patrimony.” Although you can’t see this in Cartagena anymore, we were told it would be coming to the New York gallery, so I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
#29- a, Cra. 9 #29100
Hidden on a colorful side street in Getsemaní, Cafe del Mural offers a large menu of coffee specialties, as well as a coffee tasting for caffeine addicts who want to experience a variety of preparation methods at this unique coffee laboratory. Afterwards, head across the street to the small outdoor seating area to enjoy a snack (or more coffee).
Corner of Calle de La Iglesia and Calle de La Mantilla
This bookstore and cafe located in the city’s Old Town is the perfect place to grab a coffee and/or passion fruit juice and to browse a selection of books on Colombia as well as classics by authors like Gabriel García Márquez, who lived in the city and once told an interviewer, “I would say that I completed my education as a writer in Cartegena.”
Playa Blanca on Isla Baru is one of the most well-known beaches near Cartagena. You’ll see plenty of vendors selling day trips to the island at little kiosks throughout the city for about $25/person for round trip transportation to the public beach (a 45 minute boat ride) and lunch. We did this for one of our two beach days. The beach itself was beautiful. Like, crazy beautiful. But since it was a public beach, people were coming up to us constantly trying to sell drinks, jewelry, massages, etc. If you can drown this out or really enjoy haggling, I say give this beach a try. (Note: you’ll have to pay for a beach chair and to use the bathroom at the public beach.) If you want to relax, I’d recommend going to the private beach, which costs about $10 more.
Isla Bora Bora is a much smaller beach located an hour from Cartagena by boat. They only allow about 30 people on the beach each day, so everyone has a nice large beach bed overlooking the water. Unlike Playa Blanca, where you could wander along the water, Isla Bora Bora only had a few hundred feet of beachfront. A few local fishermen pulled up to the beach selling freshly caught lobster that could be prepared for you by the staff at the beach, but it was infinitely calmer than Playa Blanca.
And here are some random pictures of pretty walls and sights around the city!