I am super excited to share with you my experience in my recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia.
I always try to go on a small getaway for my birthday and this year I chose Cartagena. I didn't have much time to research about the history or culture before our trip but I did try to look for places to go eat and stay at before going; although, it became more spontaneous once we actually got there. I want this diary to be as real as my experience in Cartagena so I will be sharing the good as well as the few things I would have liked to have known before actually getting there.
Overall my experience was great! Old town Cartagena is lovely; full of color, Spanish/colonial architecture, nice people and absolutely delicious food. The food may have been one of my favorite things about this trip. I wished I had a bigger stomach/tummy so I could try more, eat more, and drink more. The drinks were also amazing.
Day 1: We arrived on Wednesday at around 1:00 pm and took a taxi to our hotel. This was the only part of our trip that I didn't like. The whole experience from beginning to end was just not good.
As soon as we good out of immigration to get our luggage there were men ready to assist you, they work for the airport, or taxis. We said no thank you and tried to proceed ourselves to get our luggage but they were very persistent, we should have been to. Just to take a minute to look for our hotel's address, exchange money and just get situated with our next step. Everything felt rushed. Tip #1: my advice is be ready for this or be clear with them that you don't need a taxi until you are actually ready for one.
Tip number two: stick to your plan and don't listen to the taxi driver when they try to convince you that the place where you are staying is not the best for you. If you did your research as to where you are staying stick to that. It's right! Some taxi drivers may get commission from bringing customers to apartments so they can stay there. The taxi drivers may even take you through places that look sketchy making you think it's not a safe place to stay. My advice ask them nicely to help you look for your hotel, and have your hotel's phone number right in front of you in case you need it. Our taxi driver was just going to leave us near our hotel he wasn't going to help us look for it. **Note: not all taxi drivers are like this. All the others were very pleasant. Although all taxi drivers do ask where you come from and offer you tours, they are normally not too pushy and for the most part are super nice and also helpful.
Long story short we stayed at 2 hotels. Yeap! That's right this taxi driver messed with our minds completely but we didn't stay at a place he recommended instead we asked him to drop us off at Holiday Inn in Boca Grande. This was a hotel we were familiar with from a chain here in the US. After getting settled in and freshening up we decided to go back and check out the hotel we had booked, Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique situated in Getsemani. It actually turned out to be a very good thing for us to stay in two hotels we felt like we actually enjoyed more of Cartagena this way, because we were able to stay in Boca Grande and enjoy the beach as well as enjoy old town. I'll review both hotels in a later post.
We finished day one with an incredible dinner next door to Casa Pizarro. We were super hungry and walked into Las Indias Boutique Gourmet restaurant which we had all to ourselves. We even met the chef/owner. This was pretty cool because aside from the food being delicious I had never had a chef come to my table to talk about the process our dishes went through before getting to us. He stayed to chat with us for a bit and even gave us really good advice for the days we had ahead in Cartagena. I really appreciate that he was honest and genuine. Sorry we were to hungry and excited to take pictures of the place or the food but our appetizer the arepas were my favorite, absolutely amazing!
Day 2: day 2 was all about walking! We decided to explore Boca Grande first, so we walked to the beach and along the sidewalk. There are many vendors trying to sell all kinds of things from sunglasses and hats, to tours, food, boat rides, massages and even cold beer. We bought the beer! By then we moved towards the shore walked for a bit more and began exploring the residential area as we headed back to our hotel. As we explored Boca grande we came across a small bakery. Our goal when going to a foreign place is to try real authentic food from there and this bakery seem to be just that. We hit the jackpot! I had a dulce de leche pastry which I loved and my boyfriend had one filled with cheese also really good. Nom nom
We took a small break at our hotel before heading to Old town for lunch and more walking and exploring. Lunch at La Mulata consisted of tamarind ribs (I love tamarind I had to try them!) and a delicious fresh salad. This restaurant was recommended by our taxi driver, his advice was something that stayed with us all throughout our trip. “A good restaurant usually has reasonable prices, is always packed and doesn't have employees at the door trying to show you the menu and trying hard to get you to come in.” So true! This restaurant did not disappoint.
After this big meal I needed to walk, we began our quest in Old Town. We walked with no direction in mind. We just walked, people watched and enjoyed all of the colorful and beautiful buildings, the boutiques, the hotels and restaurants. I love the way old town looks, it’s full of life and all of the doors are so pretty. A lot of them, are big wooden doors.
We came across a small Mercado, but instead of going in we walked up towards a ramp and found La Muralla. La Muralla is a stone wall that was constructed to protect Cartagena from attacks. I don't know it's entire history but I loved walking it. There is a nice restaurant there with night life, we wanted to come back to it on Saturday because that's the night they played Salsa music but unfortunately they were hosting a private event. We continued walking came across vendors setting up stands with lots of cute souvenir and beautiful hand made bucket bags.
After walking the entire day, we enjoyed some cocktails and at our hotel and called it a night.
Day 3: on Day three we enjoyed the pool at Casa Pizarro in the morning and headed to La Cevicheria for a late lunch. On our quest to La Cevicheria we got lost for a bit which was all fun until it started to rain. We finally found the restaurant everyone raved about. Cute restaurants that was full luckily we didn't have to wait for a table. The food was delicious! I ordered a Mulata Paella and it was so good. The rice was seasoned with coconut, something very traditional in Cartagena and one of my favorite things during my trip. My boyfriend ordered Tostones Fritos de La Madre Teresa and those were also so good. To me these were very similar to tostadas but with a very different flavor, not like the Mexican tostadas I'm used to eating. It was a good flavor, shrimp in curry sauce on top of the Tostones. I also really liked the limonades here. I tried the mint one which tasted very similar to a mojito but of course without alcohol. The coconut lemonade is pretty good also. I loved that the limonades in Cartagena are freshly made with a mix of another fruit and in the form of a slurpy, perfect drink for the weather.
We then headed to Casa Pizarro to hangout in the terrace and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
Day 4: I love going to the beach, so spending one day in a Cartagena beach was mandatory for me specially since the water is warm unlike the ones in California. Day four was the day! We walked to Boca Grande and looked for an area that didn't have lots of people or vendors. We enjoyed ourselves so much, the water was amazing! I read reviews from people saying the beach is dirty, but it wasn't at all. The sand is gray but the water is pretty clear and the beach is not trashed at all, it was actually a pretty clean beach the water is perfect! Enjoying a day at the beach is definitely a must!
On our long walk back to our hotel, we were hungry and walked by a restaurant that had few people but smelled so good. We couldn't help ourselves but stop here for lunch. Not part of the plan but sometimes you gotta be spontaneous and just adventure. We didn't read reviews or asked anyone for a recommendation, we didn't even check the name of it. We just went in following the amazing smell. We ordered and the food was so good. At this time it was so hard for us to believe that we had not been disappointed by any of the food in Cartagena. Here I had Arroz con Mariscos, the house specialty. I liked it, it was very tasty. This was a paella but they called it arroz con mariscos. The rice was made with a curry base, I preferred the rice made with coconut flavor the previous day but this one was still very good. My boyfriend's dish was so good! He ordered …….The meat was incredibly soft and cooked to perfection, the sausage was also amazing. Here I drank a guanabana lemonade and it was one of my favorites. Guanabana is a fruit I really like but don't come across it much here in California, so I took advantage in Cartagena and ordered it wherever they offered it.
We freshened up and headed to Getsemani to rest for a bit before going out for the night. The plan was to go to Demente, a bar in Getsemani but we walked and couldn't find it so we continued exploring. The night was beautiful, it was warm and everyone was out walking. There were many cute restaurants opened in the area so we chose one and just walked in. Chachara was the one! I loved the decor. As we walked in we liked the vibe, they were playing music we liked and we were told there was going to be a live singing performance. We asked what kind of food they had and they said American! When we heard that we almost walked out because we just wanted to experience Cartagena as much as we could and we wanted to stay away from anything American because we can get that here any day we wish. We decided to stay, and it was such a great call the food was awesome. We ordered a fish dish and a chicken dish, both delicious and something we had not tried before. Plus, the live group was singing both English and Spanish songs we liked. We enjoyed this dinner so much we stayed until the live performance ended.
On our way back to Casa Pizarro it felt like the street was a party. The street was taken over by people instead of cars. A lot of the restaurants were packed and the plaza close by was filled with people hanging out, drinking and enjoying the night while watching performances. We couldn't pass on so much action going on so we joined the party had a popsicle and and a beer while we enjoyed a dance performance, as well as a Michael Jackson impersonation and a break dance team.
Day 5: our last day!!! Nooo! On our last day since we enjoyed the food so much and felt like there was so much more to try, we went to old town and walked into places that attracted us. Our mindset was to eat small portions so we would be able to try more. Our first stop was Folklore Colombian Cafe. This was one of my favorite experiences in the entire trip. I highly recommend stopping here. We walked in and they were super nice, but who really made a difference was Gabriel, the coffee expert/waiter I'm not sure what his official title was, but he was incredible. He came to our table, brought three different kinds of coffee beans and explained thoroughly the taste of each one. He came back made the coffee in front of us gave us a lesson where he explained the importance of the process in order to achieve its true taste and essence. I feel like making coffee here in the US is such a mundane task that when he came out to explain every detail with such passion it was so mind blowing. Such a nice learning experience. I feel that this was one of the most memorable parts of my trip because due to his attention to detail and attention towards us I will be taking a little of Colombia's culture with me.
The shake we had here was so good, we also got a prune bread that went perfectly with the shake and a cheese filled pastry.
Once we experienced the coffee in Cartagena we continued our walk and found this small place where they made empanadas. We had to stop! We tried a chicken and grapes empanada and a sausage empanada. There were both really good, but I think I liked my boyfriends more. If you go there don't forget to put sauce on your empanada it will make a difference. I loved my drink there, it was made with something called Lulo I had never heard of it before so we said yes we'll have one of those! Once we finished there I was pretty bummed because I was full, I couldn't try much more. :( after walking a bit more and buying a few more souvenirs we finally found the right color and size of the hand made bucket bag I wanted to buy since we got to Cartagena. Almost every girl was walking around with one of these except for me. I bought the small one because I felt l would use it more often but I was so close to buying the big one too. If we would have stayed a bit more I would have bought the big one as well, maybe next time. After finding my bag the day was a success we were ready to head back to Casa Pizarro to enjoy the pool for a bit before dinner.
Our trip came to an end with dinner close to Casa Pizarro because it was pouring, there was even thunder and lightning. La Basilica Pizzeria was a great idea! A pizza is the perfect size for two people but we liked it so much that we ordered another one to eat at the hotel. Yeah we were determined to gain weight on this trip, haha no but really it was so good. Thin, crispy and freshly made.now it was time to go back home. Review of hotel coming on next blog post.
Until next time Cartagena! You were amazing! Links to hotels and restaurants below.