Less travel diary and more list of recommendations for dining, drinking and sightseeing – Cartagena is a perfect escape and easily accessible via JetBlue with ample accommodation choices in charming small inns and Airbnbs.
We stayed at the Casablanca Belle & Boutique, a charming 12-room hotel with 2 pools – one on the ground floor and the other on the roof, designed more for cooling off than active swimming, which was a welcome feature at the end of a hot day.
Alquimico – beautiful old-school bar serving beautifully-crafted cocktails. Calle del Colegio #34-18.
Cafe Del Mar – a sprawling bar that’s uber-popular for sunsets and nightclubby scene. Set atop the wall surrounding the old town, Cafe Del Mar is situation in the Baluarte de Santo Domingo and opened its doors in 2002. It’s a must for any visit.
The Clock Pub – a British oasis serving all things British. Plaza de los coches.
Cuba 1940 – on Plaza San Diego is unique. Sit outside and drink in the passers-by, or later in the evening retire inside for the live music – cuban bands on a stage surrounded by an indoor pool for cooling off. Unique and worth a visit, if not several!
El Baluarte – a bit quieter than Cafe Del Mar, El Baluarte also sits on the old wall and is equally inviting!
Best eateries in Old Town:
Alma – relaxing and beautiful – also a must-book. Located within the Casa San Agustin you can eat inside or in the lovely courtyard (recommended). Calle #36.
El Boliche Cebicheria – a cozy but sophisticated restaurant specializing in cerviche and seafood. Cra. 8 #38-08 or more easily found at the corner of Calle 38 at Calle 8.
Cande – fun atmosphere with dramatic scenes being acted out by a pair of actors every 20 minutes or so, and an adventurous menu. (I had rabbit stew and Malcolm had venison.) Calle 30, Carrera 5 #35 – 30.
La Cervicheria – a bit of an institution of Cartagena and is always brimming with diners. No reservations are taken so there’s often a queue of folks waiting for tables outside or to be packed in the small restaurant space inside. The wait is worth it. Cl. 39 ###7 14 in the San Diego district.
Cuzco Cocina Peruana – quite simply, beautiful food from an amazing expansive menu. Calle Santo Domingo #33-48. Reservations recommended, but if you can’t get in, there’s the sister restaurant next door: Baruco by Cuzco Gastropub, which is a bit more casual but every bit as tasty! Cra. 3 #33-66.
Las Hijas de la Tostada – great for lunch, a colourful, fun place serving great tacos, among other tasty-looking treats. Calle del Curato #38-60.
La Vitrola – the very best dinner we had — and most expensive but amazing value. For $160 US we had G&Ts, starters, main courses, desserts, a bottle of wine and coffees. But beware, men must be in trousers (no shorts). Booking ahead is a must. Cra. 2 #33-66.
Best eateries in nearby Getsemani:
El Arsenal (The Rum Box) – a brilliant find, the waitress served us an 8-year-old rum & chocolate tasting on the house whilst we ordered up a yummy lunch. Calle 24 #88-19.
La Cocina de Pepina – we couldn’t bear the wait but this place was very highly recommended by many, so worth a visit. Get there early! Cl. 25 #10B-6.
Cool things to do:
Museo del Oro – in a temporary location when I visited, but worth a look wherever it is. Amazing history. Inspirational design.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – one of the largest Spanish fortresses ever and worth a visit. Best to go early before heat of the day.
La Catedral Basilica Santa Catalina de Alejandria – the Cathedral of Cartagena was finished in 1612 and is beautiful inside. Also worth a visit!
Emeralds are the thing in Columbia and I found two great shops. Elio Jewelry was a charming little place run by a father & son with some very unusual and affordable pieces. Calle del Santisimo #08-08. Lucy Jewelry was more chain-like, but still offered a wide variety of some beautiful pieces. Calle Santo Domingo, #3-19.
There’s no shortage of shops specializing in Columbian crafts ranging in quality. One of the best I saw was El Centro Artesano, Cra. 6 #36-121.