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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
January 1st 2012
Published: September 30th 2017
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Geo: 10.4137, -75.5336

Cartagena evokes memories of so many incredible locales - being a walled city with a privileged location on the ocean, walking atop the ramparts is reminiscent of Dubrovnik or Kotor. How about the multi-million dollar yachts in the harbour, with uber-chic bars full of beautiful people grooving to the beats of techno or house? Think Budva. Everyone one of those places is amazing in their own right, but Cartagena offers something extra, something unique - and that's a little hint of Spain.

The colonial architecture, the churches, the tree-lined squares bordered by bustling cafes full of people enjoying a cafe con leche or a cerveza - it's said that Cartagena is one of the most well-preserved colonial city in the World and until I see a better example of it, I'd have to agree. The feel of the old walled city is a lot like any of dozens of wonderful Spanish cities, almost a miniature version of Spain, but with a Colombian twist.

There aren't any too many sights to speak of - it's more of a place to wander and enjoy getting lost, finding surprises around every corner. Spending time in Cartagena is about soaking in the beautiful atmosphere, sampling some of the tropical fruits sold by local ladies, having a refreshing fresh juice or cold beer on a plaza, and enjoying a meal of the freshest seafood, the finest cuisine we've had in Colombia thus far.

Cartagena has been a popular place with foreigners for a long time, as its prime location in the Caribbean makes it a perfect stop for many cruise lines. Appearing on a cruise ship's itinerary all but guarantees that it becomes overrun with tourists as the population swells during the day, and then shrinks back to more manageable levels once people return to their ships. But being New Year's Day, it was actually fairly quiet - most hadn't even risen yet, undoubtedly still sleeping off last night's revelry, and it didn't appear that any cruise ships were in town today.

Sure, most attractions were closed as were a number of cafes and restaurants, but that's a small price to pay to be able enjoy what's considered Colombia's finest city for tourists, in relative peace. Cartagena may be Colombia's most-touristed city, but it didn't feel that way today, and was absolutely glorious for that very reason. Though it would've still been enjoyable, I'm quite certain that it would not have been as pleasant had it been like any other day, packed with tour groups.

Just outside of Cartagena's perfectly-preserved walled town lies Getsemani, a far less pretty part of the old town that is downright derelict in certain areas. It's quite the contrast to Cartagena's relative perfection, and it's surprising how quickly the area takes a turn mere steps from the walls. Getsemani is where the backpackers stay, eat, and drink, so everything on offer is generally a fair bit cheaper than what is found in the walled city. Instead of boutique hotels you'll find hostels and backpacker hotels, and in place of gourmet restaurants you get working-class lunch counters.

Money has been pouring into Getsemani for a while now, so the ever-so-slow process of gentrification is now taking place along its streets. Our hotel is located only a few minutes walk from the walls along a street that is starting to see fancy restaurants and contemporary furniture shops and boutiques pop up. However, Getsemani is still a transitional neighbourhood, and for a long time has been a red light district, so seeing ladies of the night loitering in dark doorways isn't an unusual sight.

What was surprising,
Cartagena's Cathedral ...Cartagena's Cathedral ...Cartagena's Cathedral ...

... not so much in the day, but stunning at night when lit, its Baroque details glowing in the night sky.
however, was seeing a looker hanging out just a few steps from our hotel, especially given that most ladies in the area are not, shall we say, my type. Tall, slender, with curves in all the right places, and dressed in a slinky red dress that looked like it was painted on, she was definitely whiplash-inducing. Even though I was walking past the girl with B in tow, it was difficult not to sneak a peek, and the girl wasn't making it any easier by not-so-discreetly trying to draw our attention as we walked by.

I must admit - such a fine Colombian specimen is definitely tempting, especially as she gently brushed her hand across my back as we walked past, running the back of her fingers from my lower back and all the way up to the back of my shoulders. But that temptation quickly dissipated as she whispered "Hola" in my ear, in a voice that was slightly huskier than it should have been. Any final bit of temptation was completely obliterated when I caught a glimpse of an Adam's Apple ... welcome to Getsemani!


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Charming Cartagena ...Charming Cartagena ...
Charming Cartagena ...

...perfect for strolling.
Lunch at Don Armando ...Lunch at Don Armando ...
Lunch at Don Armando ...

... fatty broth, with big chunks of bones floating around. Decent flavour, but it's a bit hot here in Cartagena for soup.
Churrasco ...Churrasco ...
Churrasco ...

.... tough but flavourful steak served with some sort of gravy.
Salpicon, But Not the Fruit Variety ...Salpicon, But Not the Fruit Variety ...
Salpicon, But Not the Fruit Variety ...

... dry, minced fish mixed with spices - not the best choice, but I was expecting something more like a stew. Haven't seen beans for a while in Colombia - got tired of them in Zona Cafetera and Medellin, but it was a nice chance to have them again today.
Museo de Arte Moderno ...Museo de Arte Moderno ...
Museo de Arte Moderno ...

... a couple of OK pieces of art, but nothing special - only cost a few bucks each, but it wasn't even worth that.
La Cevicheria ...La Cevicheria ...
La Cevicheria ...

... famous because it was featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations"
Assorted Seafood in Coconut Curry Sauce ...Assorted Seafood in Coconut Curry Sauce ...
Assorted Seafood in Coconut Curry Sauce ...

... fresh as can be, with a delicious spiced sauce.
Great Ceviche Selection ...Great Ceviche Selection ...
Great Ceviche Selection ...

... shrimp with mango was only OK until the addition of some salt set it over the edge. The best of the lot was the fish in lime, simply delicious. There was also octopus in a sort of BBQ sauce - good, but the sauce was a bit rich and overwhelming. Thought it was interesting that the ceviches were served with saltines - given that it's a bit of an upscale place, I would've thought they'd do something fancier like crostinis.
Tropical Paella ...Tropical Paella ...
Tropical Paella ...

... great seafood, but the rice was cloyingly sweet - tasty for the first few bites, but it actually became a bit disgusting towards the end. The portion was also huge, good enough for two people.


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