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September 16th 2013
Published: September 17th 2013
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After a tuk-tuk from our hotel in Iquitos to the port at 5am, a 10.5hour ‘mas rapido’ boat from Iquitos to Santa Rosa, a tuk-tuk to the police office, then the immigration office, then back to the police office, a boat to Leticia, a tuk-tuk to nearby the airport, a 5min walk, a plane from Leticia to Bogota, a plane from Bogota to Cartagena (zero wait time in between flights) and finally a taxi we arrived at our lovely hotel in Getsemani, Cartagena at 11:30pm…phew.

Cartagena was to be our holiday from our holiday – 5 days in one city with plenty of time for relaxing. We started our first morning very slowly with a sleep in and leisurely breakfast and then stroll around the area near our hotel, Getsemani. Getsemani is within the old city walls but was historically the slum area. There are lots of historical buildings painted in bright colours which certainly look a lot more attractive than some of the slum areas we’ve seen in Asia! We stopped off at a market to pick up some delicious empanadas and then headed back to our hotel (past the local (suspected)prostitutes) to cool off. That afternoon we walked towards El Centro and San Diego which were traditionally occupied by the upper and middle classes respectively. These two districts make up the inner walled town, both have gorgeous buildings, churches, plazas, palaces and mansions. As with Getsemani, most of the buildings are painted in bright colours which make the streetscape look really gorgeous. After strolling around for a while we headed back to our hotel for a swim before having pizza for dinner at a delicious restaurant near our hotel.

The following morning we went on a brief tour of the old town with one of the girls from our hotel. We actually covered most of the same ground we had walked the previous day but she was able to explain the history behind some of the buildings which was interesting. After the tour finished we stayed in El Centro for a little while longer and went to the supermarket (exciting!) before walking back to our hotel via our empanada lady. That night we went to San Pedro, a fancyish restaurant in El Centro for dinner and drinks. We sat outside which meant we could people watch as everyone walked past – some of the local women wear very very skimpy outfits and it doesn’t seem to matter what size/age they are... We had some delicious gelato on the way home, though I was worried I might had a repeat of the lassi after a big meal experience so didn’t finish mine.

The following day we went on a tour to Playa Blanca, which is apparently one of the best beaches near Cartagena. We had to be at the marina by 8.30, we turned up about 10 minutes early not wanting to miss our boat. Turns out we didn’t have to worry too much, in fact if we’d turned up 50minutes later we would have timed it perfectly. We hopped onto our boat along with a Colombian family, a few independent travellers and a group of about 15 on a tour. We took the ‘scenic’ route to Playa Blanca which included a stop off at Isla del Rosario with the option of visiting the expensive, and apparently average, aquarium or doing some expensive snorkelling or sitting on the average beach reading books and waiting for the hour to be up (we chose our books). When we finally arrived at Playa Blanca we were ascended on by a group of touts who were more aggressive than then others we’ve come across in South America but no where near as bad as in Asia. The whole beach is covered in tarps with seats under them which surprise surprise you need to pay to sit on. Unfortunately they have succeeded with occupying pretty much all of the sand so there isn’t really a place to lay out your towel so we hired some chairs and then headed into the water. The water was quite warm but not so warm that it wasn’t refreshing. Best of all it was out of reach of most of the touts (except the ones on jet skis which come up to people swimming trying to sell rides…very safe). After a swim we read our books on the beach for a while and then had another quick swim before heading to the meeting point for our group at 3pm. We hopped onto the boat with the Colombian family and the other independent travellers, but the group didn’t turn up. 50 minutes later we had finally located all members of the group (who must have had a lobotomy at the previous stop on their tour) and headed back to Cartagena.

The next morning we set off reasonably early towards the Spanish Fort Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. The fort was built on top of a small hill which overlooks the walled city. The Spanish were concerned that the enemy would be able to fire canons at the city walls from the hill breaking down their defences and leaving them vulnerable to invasion so they constructed the fort to prevent this from happening. It was incredibly hot when we were at the fort, probably about 36 degrees and sunny so we found ourselves huddling in any shade we could find while listening to the informative audio tour. From the top of the fort we noticed a mall within walking distance and Scott suggested we go there afterwards for the air conditioning (possibly the first time he’s willingly suggested going to a shopping centre?). So after we finished at the fort we walked to the mall, and spent the majority of the afternoon there enjoying the cool.

For dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant in El Centro. We thought this may turn out to be a risky decision, particularly following the experience in Peru. We had complementary garlic bread to start (Chinese??) followed by Kung Po chicken which was actually quite yummy.

The following day was our last day in Cartagena before our flight to Armenia (via Bogota) that evening. We spent the morning walking through the Old City taking photos before stopping off to see our empanada lady one last time to enjoy her super friendly service (note the sarcasm). After we checked out of the hotel we went back to El Centro to visit the Palacio de la Inquisición which was the site of the Punishment Tribunal of the Holy Office from 1610. The Inquisición lasted for over 200 years and torture was used to extract confessions from a lot of the accused. The museum has replicas of a lot of the torture devices which were all horribly gruesome. There are no English translations of the descriptions of the objects but I managed to understand the gist (I think) of most of them. On the upper levels of the house there are a number of rooms which are dedicated to different phases in Cartagenas history from the arrival of the Spanish and the slave trade through to Independence. There wasn’t a lot of English so Scott wasn’t particularly interested so we headed off for lunch (passionfruit meringue pie) at a fancy patisserie. After lunch we decided it was too warm to wander around aimlessly so we went back to our hotel and sat by the pool reading our books. We had a very early dinner at the mall followed by salted caramel ice-cream for dessert before grabbing a cab to the airport in time to catch our plane to Bogota, then Armenia for the next stop of our trip.

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