You might have noticed that these blog posts aren’t really happening in chronological order but the gorgeousness of Cartagena and the happiness that I felt there has pushed me to write about that city first. We booked an early morning flight from Medellin to Cartagena and had the beauty of stepping off of the plane into pure sunshine and heat. That feeling is one of my all time favourites and, to me, nothing screams a holiday like blazing sunshine.
Cartagena combined everything I love and, as such, is somewhere I’d consider moving to and setting up camp for a while. Aside the obvious sunshine, the roads were beautiful and filled with flowers and the sea was only a short walk away.
We stayed in two hostels in Cartagena because George wanted to be all ~fun~ and ~spontaneous~ and wanted to play it by ear. Before remembering that we were travelling for just over two weeks rather three months, and that a level of preparation was probably something that would benefit rather than hinder us.
So I booked our first hostel a few weeks in advantage, convincing George on the basis that it was Easter weekend and we didn’t want everywhere to be booked up. When I tried to book our next hostel, once we arrived in Colombia, obviously the first hostel was fully booked. It has to be said that we had low expectations for our accommodation when we arrived in Cartagena. Our hostel in Bogota was…okay, but barely had a roof. Medellin hostel had a roof but the room consisted of a double bed and about 30cm of space before we hit the internal wall with a very see-through pair of curtains. So arriving at our first place, One Day Hostel, prompted lots of joyous noises – a double bed with lots of space, a mirror, a proper ceiling and air conditioning! Safe to say we were over the moon.
Our first day in Cartagena was spent exploring. We stayed in Getsemani, the equivalent of Shoreditch in London. Filled with beautiful balconies, friendly locals and enough fresh fruit to get your five a day in one go (multiple times over) the place screamed cool, Cuban city on the coast. After wandering the streets and stopping to take multiple photos on every corner, we decided to hunt down a place for a drink and a snack. Eyes drawn to a sign saying “rooftop bar”, we ventured into Malagana Cafe & Bar and set up camp on the top floor. I’d genuinely consider the chicken wings that I had at Malagana for my last meal – if ever I get the opportunity to decide it, of course – because they were somehow sweet and salty and umami-ish all at the same time. Sprinkled with spring onions and accompanied with an ice cold Mojito, it was the perfect way to spend our first day in the city.
As the sun went down, we hurried over to Cafe Del Mar – arguably the most expensive spot in Cartagena but so filled to the brim with people and music that we decided to set up camp anyway. As the name would suggest, the cafe backs onto beautiful views of the Caribbean sea and it’s an amazing place to watch the sun go down. We came back here for the second night too and spent a fortune but it was worth it. For dinner, we found a Peruvian restaurant and went for ceviche (obs) and a glass of tiger’s milk, which was unusual but so delicious!
We planned a day trip to the beach the next day. Cartagena has plenty of city beaches, which contrasts to everything you know when you think of a typical beach setting. Because only a few metres back from where the sand stops, you’ll see high rise buildings and office blocks. Certainly a good view if you’re stuck inside at work all day! The beaches were pretty much what you’d expect – white sand and bright blue sea, but the main thing for me was that the sea was warm. Coming from England, where nothing is warm, I spent a good few hours lying back in the water, daydreaming of spending the rest of my days out there.
Predictably, despite slathering myself in factor 30, I burnt. So the rest of my time in Cartagena was spent a lovely reddish, pink hue. Delightful.
The next morning we upped sticks and walked a kilometre away to our next hostel – Makako Chill Out hostel. A KM might not seem like a long distance, but when you’re carrying huge, heavy bags and it’s 30c outside, it’s a bit more of a trek. By the time we got there, we were endlessly grateful for the air con at our new hostel.
Makako was lovely. Aside from more glorious sunset views, it was hidden away down a colourful street with restaurants, bars and shops. We spent evenings sitting out on the balcony, George smoking a Cuban cigar and me drinking 6000COP (v cheap) cocktails.
We did a day trip to Playa Blanca beach while staying at Makako, which had its ups and downs. Playa Blanca is reachable by boat or by coach and our “day” trip cost us around £14 each for a return coach journey, lunch and two hours of endless drinks. We were ready to leave by 7:30am on the dot, only to spend two hours waiting for a coach (Colombian time!) and another two hours actually getting to the beach. It was less than organised, and a slight communication error meant that we thought that we’d only have an hour left to relax. As it turned out, we spent a few hours relaxing and swimming before having a traditional Colombian lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and plantain, before doing the whole return journey once again!
Our last day in Cartagena was spent relaxing, so we did a two-hour walking tour, went down to one of the city beaches just as the sunset, and generally enjoyed the city before packing our bags and making our way to our next stop: San Andres island.
Generally? I adored Cartagena. Some people say it’s too hot or too touristy but I loved everything about it. From the warm water to the variety of food and the beautiful streets, it’s somewhere I can definitely see myself returning to.