To wander is good advice for those traveling for the first time to the former colonial port city, Cartagena. It's one of the most photogenic cities in the world. It's also a great spot to travel with your family, for a romantic vacation or a girl's trip!
Where We Stayed:
Inside the Walled City. When you roll out of bed, it's like you wake up in a Gabriel García Márquez novel.
Alfiz Hotel, Calle Cochera del Gobernador 33-28, Centro Historico, Cartagena 130001, Colombia
It's one of Trip Advisor's favorites and it's now ours too. Alfiz, an 18th century former Colonial home of a French merchant, is around the corner from almost every must-see site in the Walled City. We stayed in the Republic Room, a split-level room with two-bedrooms and two baths. Perfect for a family! The best part was the indoor hammock and the balcony overlooking the street. At night we could hear the horses returning home to their stables signaling the end of another day.
Where We Ate:
Coffee - Cafe San Alberto. This is the land of Colombian coffee and we found our favorite go-to coffee spot just across the street from the Cartagena Cathedral. There is also free wi-fi and a great spot to cool-off after a day of walking.
Lunch/Dinner - Cartagena is a foodie town and we had some fabulous meals here, including -- and I'm not exaggerating -- the best ceviche I have ever tasted.
Our first meal was lunch at Cvicheria Trattoria Donde Wippy. We came for the pasta, but fell in love with the ceviche and one of the best mojitos in town! We loved this meal so much, we came back from our last dinner here. You can't go wrong ordering any of the pasta dishes, but make sure you order the ceviche! There aren't too many tables, you may want to make reservations for dinner.
Also don't miss: Restaurante Donjuan Cartagena (be sure to order the grilled octopus) and the sister restaurant, Maria; Carmen, El Boliche Cebicheria, and Cuba 1940 for dinner and music! Tip: Make reservations ahead of time.
Dessert - There are plenty of ice cream and dessert spots in the Walled City, but my daughter, who has a sweet tooth, loved Crepes and Waffles, Edificio Piñeres Local 101 Entre carrera 2 y Carrera 3.
Where We Went:
There is so much to do -- you will wish you had more time. There is music, dancing, art and a lot of culture to immerse yourself in. Check out This is Cartagena for a list of things to do and see.
But you won't regret the following:
Walk on the Wall -- I mean that literally. Take a walk on the wall surrounding the city and you'll feel like you are on the look-out for invading pirates. The best time to go is during sunset. Then just wander around the Walled City and bask in the colorful architecture everywhere you turn. Then have a drink or two at one of the plazas.
Day Trip to the Beach - I would bypass the Playa de Bocagrande area for the beach (where we stayed during the later half of our trip). Instead, I recommend a day trip (or maybe even stay the night) to Playa Blanca. While the ride there was cramped and a bit harrowing as our driver sped through the industrial byways, the beach was worth it. The water here is Caribbean blue and the beach sand is soft as sugar. We went during the week when it isn't too crowded. We found a nice spot on the beach with little traffic, few hawkers and quiet. We also had a nice meal on the beach.
We booked this last minute through Viator and one reason I can't recommend our tour is because they crammed too many people into our van. (And one reason many reviewers gave it low marks.) But find a way to get here -- by boat, a cab or a Viator or This is Cartagena tour with better reviews!
Where We Shopped:
There is great shopping inside the Walled City!
Maaji Swimwear, is where we found cute, colorful swimsuits and cover-ups at about 25% less than what they would cost in a U.S. store. Also, the Colombian-based swimsuit company has planted more than 90,000 trees in rural Colombia as part of their Planting an Ocean of trees program. Azulu, a contemporary women's clothing store where you can find plenty of bell sleeves and ruffles, along with beautiful cover-ups, all at reasonable prices. Colombia is the land of emeralds and it's also my daughter's birthstone. We bought her emerald earrings at Lucy Jewelry in the Walled City.
And some final tips:
Tips: Cabs are cheap and the best way to get around if you are staying in Bocagrande. After leaving the Walled City, we came back most nights because the El Laguito area didn't have much action. The cab ride is about 7-8 US dollars where we stayed. There are a lot of hawkers/vendors in Colombia and they can be quite aggressive. More so in the beach areas, and not inside the Wall City. I have been told by friends that when you are on the cruise, the hawkers ambush you at the port. Do your best to ignore the hawkers and have a game plan before you travel!