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Published: November 19th 2018
It was pouring rain when we arrived in Cartagena, a port city on the northern coast of Colombia. My friend Martha told me that the country is spelled as Colombia, not Columbia. I have never noticed the different spellings before and I wonder how many of my friends who lives in Columbia, MO aware of this mistake. Amazing what one would learn when taking a trip!
Our hotel was not far away from the airport but between the flooding roads, motorcycle taxis, street hawkers and the afternoon traffic, it took us nearly 2 hours to get there. Luckily our guide Victoria, a bubbly and enthusiastic mother of 2 boys (3 if she counts her husband), kept us entertained with stories about her training as an English speaking tour guide (she didn't make the admission cut to the teacher's college).
Hotel Bantu is located in the heart of old Cartagena walled city. It was remodeled from two old colonel style homes and our room was next to a beautiful courtyard with tropical plants hanging down from the balcony. The room came with a tiled spa bath (and a rubber ducky) and a glass covered archeology floor showing the old foundation
underneath. This is definitely the most charming place we had stayed on this trip.
The Spanish militray built Cartagena as a key port for the transportation of Peruvian silver and African slaves. In the 1600’s, the city was under relentless attacks by Caribbean pirates (yes, they were real). To defend Cartagena, a stone fortresses and massive walls (up to 20 meters thick and 11 km wide) were built around the city. Present day Cartagena is the jewel of Colombia and top tourist destination in the country.
Old town Cartagena is very walkable with lots of boutique shops and restaurants lining the crowded streets. Alleyways flanked by colorful colonel house with green vines and flowers climbing up the walls. Lots of plazas to sit down to enjoy a nice cold drink and watch locals attending church or buying fruits from street vendors. The whole town came alive in the evening, street musicians (and rappers) entertaining the tourists, hawkers jostle positions to sell you a Panama hat or their hand made jewelry. Horse drawn buggies taking customers around the old town. Even though Cartagena attracts a lot of tourists, it retains its charm and is a very pleasant place to
Victoria took us to some great local restaurants and we enjoyed fantastic foods. I loved the whole fried red snapper (crispy bones and skin), a crepe and ice cream place, even tried the local beer mixed with orange soda. One myth busted was that Juan Valdez, the Colombia coffee grower, is really a fiction character. Nowadays Colombia sells more cocoa than coffee. We stopped by an emeralds museum (and shop), learned how they were mined and even tried our hand at making necklaces. Sad to say, neither Ray nor I have much talent as jewelers.
We took short excursions to San Felipe Castle, La Boguilla, a fishing village where a message at the beach costs only $10. My favorite place has to be the National Aviary of Colombia. At the park entrace, we were bombarded by squawking Macaws and parrots. It was a mad scramble of birds, in all their brilliant colors, swishing closely overhead. I couldn't click my iPhone fast enough to catch their actions. This park is 7 hectares of natural wonders with over 1800 birds. We are able to get up close to many different colors of toucans, group of elegant flamingos and the
magnificent Harpy Eagle - the biggest falcon in the world. In the tropical rainforest enclosure, one bird was attracted to Ray and tried to pick his pocket. This place has so many unique birds, such as the road runners, the scarlet colored ibis and the black wing stilt, I wish we could have stayed there longer. If you ever visit Cartagena, don't miss this fantastic park!
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