The charming colourful city of Cartagena lies of the Caribbean coast. Known for its laid back vibe, friendly locals, music scene and views over the ocean. Visitors can while away a week or two, but for those who only have a day, here’s the best way to spend it.
To make the most of the day, get an early start. The ocean breeze cools the morning’s pleasant spring-like temperature. Hungry? Swing by Elaine Gomez Lozano’s arepa stand on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 38 in the old city. Here, Elaine serves up hearty corn arepas filled with meat and cheese. There are plenty of street stands to grab a freshly squeezed juice or coffee.
The best way to see the beauty and history of Cartagena is to walk along the wall that surrounds the old town. It has been there for 400 years. Begin the walk on the western side and stroll for 2 miles taking with the ocean on one side and the old town on the other. Don’t feel you need to walk along the entire length in one go. There are lots of little scenic spots to take a rest.
Seafood features big on the city’s menus. For something light, try a ceviche, a zingy mix of seafood marinated in lime and citrus juices. Street vendors offer ceviche in the old town, but for the best, try La Cevicheria, a tiny eatery on Calle Stuart 714. Be sure to also try the shrimp and octopus salad which is excellent. If the weather’s good, perch on the seats outside.
Outside the old town lies San Felipe de Barajas fort built by the Spanish. This huge structure dates back to the 16th century to defend the city from sea attacks by pirates. It was later extended in the 17th and 18th centuries. It takes a little time to scramble to the top of the 130-foot fort, but the views are well worth the effort.
It may seem a bit twee, but a ride on one of the horse-drawn carriages is an excellent way to see the city in style. This is popular at sunset, when the city has an orange glow. Trot around for an hour, take in the delightful colonial architecture and watch the locals. A good time to start snapping on the camera.
Cartagena seems to have almost limitless restaurant options. It is hard to do better than Don Juan’s on Calle del Colegio. This casual eatery puts Colombian produce at the forefront. Think grilled octopus, bacon and candied potatoes to start, followed by roasted lamb, yucca fries and artichoke aioli. Bliss.
Cartagena nightlife is legendary and plays an important role in the city. La Vitrola on Calle Baloco feels like the bars out of Old Havana. Grab a stool and sip a cold beer or aguadiente while listening to the sounds of Samba and Cuban music.