Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. I had the opportunity to visit during November, and although it was their rainy season, the city was smoldering hot. It rained at night (not complaining; makes for great sleep), but the sun was out during the day allowing me to enjoy all of my excursions. I stayed within the walled city with all of its stunning 18th-century architect and beautiful flower-filled balconies.
What I Did
Shout out to Alex Rocha, Mr. Cartagena himself, who was not only a terrific tour guide but a remarkable human being who went above and beyond to ensure that all of his guests had a fantastic time. I completed several tours with Alex and highly recommend him if you’re ever in Cartagena. This was a short trip, and I wanted to see and do as much as possible; Mr. Rocha ensured that.
The day of my arrival, I met up with some ladies, and we walked through the walled city, taking in the beautiful mansions, spectacular doors, and horse and carriages on cobbled streets. The city was lively and felt very romantic. We ended the night eating street food (arepas FTW) and grabbing drinks at Café Del Mar which is a must, to catch the sunset and stunning views of the city.
On my second day, I completed The Real Cartagena tour with Alex and met more amazing women along the way. The tour included a visit to Convento de la Popa, the highest point in Cartagena where you’re able to see an incredible view of the city and a lovely chapel at the top of the hill. We learned about the city’s history and African influences and visited unbeaten paths. The tour included lunch on the beach, and to this day I still think about the food; some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. We concluded with a walking tour of the walled city and a graffiti tour.
The tour that I was looking forward to the most was a day trip to the Afro Colombian town of San Basilio de Palenque. Palenque is a town in northern Colombia that was established by slaves, and till this day the inhabitants have maintained their African roots. We stopped in the main square and met the locals and then spent time with the music group, Kombilesa Mi. This was a rare treat as they are not always in town, but it was an experience that I will never forget. We engaged in conversation and learned a lot about the members. What stood out to me was the enormous responsibility and pride they took in representing the people of Palenque. If that was not enough, they blessed us with a beautiful performance.
The following day, I visited San Felipe de Barajas Castle which is the most popular tourist attraction in the city. Don’t be fooled by the name; it is a fort rather than a castle. Because of the heat, I highly recommend going early or later in the evening. I was lucky to catch the sunset there as well, and it is worth it. I opted out of a tour which is available for a fee but ended up running into a tour group, and I lagged behind as the guide told the history of the fort (*shrugs* I can’t be the only one). There are several tunnels and passages to make your way through; be sure to have a light to help guide you.
When I told people that I was going to Cartagena, I was met with many sordid stories of drug cartels and murder. No one can deny Colombia’s history; however, it has undoubtedly revamped itself. I felt very safe, and I even walked alone at night (something I don’t always do). I will never forget my very first introduction to the kindness of Colombian people. It was with my taxi driver who took me from the airport to my lodging. When we arrived at our destination, he told me it would be 16,000 pesos (approx. USD 5). Since my Spanish is muy mal, I thought I heard 60,000 pesos, so that is what I handed him. He could have taken it and driven away, but instead, he gestured that I gave him too much money and proceeded to explain the currency to me and how to count in Spanish. He barely spoke English, and clearly, I have a lot more work to do, but he did not take advantage of me or the situation. That interaction warmed my heart and set the stage for my entire trip. As a woman traveling alone, safety is my number one priority, and I felt just that.
The people were kind, the food was amazing, and the city was a beauty. I did not get a chance visit Volcan de Lodo El Totumo to bathe in the mud. So, you know what that means, right?
Until next time,