Cartagena VacationCartagena - Caliente Colombia
A muy caliente city with winding streets, colorful colonial homes and a high dose of Colombian culture, Cartagena is the winter escape for adventure seekers. Although Colombia’s improved political situation has opened the country to tourism, Cartagena has always been the destination for the international jet set. The Colombians are gorgeous people with a rich history, and Cartagena is a safe oasis to experience the best Colombia has to offer.
Cartagena is the place to tear it up with your crew of friends. Check into the Santa Clara, the luxury resort option, where the pool is a scene with club music cranking from morning until well into the night. Alternatively, you can take over the new Tcherassi Hotel, where you will feel like you are part of a private society and the guest of honor at a very wealthy friend’s home.
Your days will be spent exploring the city, shopping and café hopping. Begin your first day by breakfasting at Mila, a hidden gem of a café and bakery on the way to the Old Town. Mila is a chic oasis among non-descript restaurants, serving traditional Colombian breakfasts with a modern, clean spin. A Mila breakfast comes with the famed Colombian coffee, as well as a mimosa to start your day out right. We especially loved the Colombian presentation of the coffee, served alongside a palate cleansing beverage and a chocolate brownie. For later on in the day, Mila serves its signature Mila cake, a decadent chocolate creation topped with gold frosting. This places never gets old, and should be a staple for your weekend visit.
What is unique about Cartagena is how authentic the experience is. While this is a vacation destination, it does not feel touristy. The colorful Colonial buildings look very much like the did hundreds of years ago. A Caribbean city, Cartagena gives you more culture and more adventure than the typical tropical destination. A beach vacation this is not unless you go to a neighboring island, but you will get to explore the Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana and the churches – Catedral and Iglesia de Santo Domingo. If you never step foot though in any building, you will still soak in the culture getting lost in the streets of the Old Town and checking out the shops. Our favorite shop in the area is Sylvia Tcherassi for the most beautiful dresses and couture quality clothing. Its sister store, Vicky Tcherassi, has gentler priced shoes and accessories. Other items to buy are beautiful, handmade white dresses with the signature colorful embroidered flowers, straw hats, local artwork and if you are so bold, emeralds, but only from a shop, not off the street.
For lunch, you can stay in the area, and dine at Café San Juan. You’re not breaking any new ground here in food, but it is convenient and a better option in the area. Otherwise, head back towards your hotel and eat the single best meal you’ll have in Cartagena-where the competition is stiff – at La Cevicheria. Cevicheria will rock your world with its Latin-style lobster and shrimp ceviche, coconut rice, fried plantain chips and paella. While it’s been discovered by Anthony Bourdain himself, it’s still an in-the-know locale. This is guaranteed to be the place you’ll use any excuse to return to, and also open on Sundays when many restaurants are closed. After soaking in some time at the pool, you and your crew will spend almost every early evening watching the sunset at Café del Mar. Café del Mar has the best view of in the city, and in season, the chicest crowd. If you feel the need for an early evening snack before a late dinner, head over to Pizza in the Park, around the corner from both the Santa Clara and Tcherassi. Pizza in the Park is a hidden gem you won’t see in the guide books, where they sell perfect brick oven Italian pizzas out of a storefront which you eat while sitting in the park and soaking in the local culture.
For your first dinner in Cartagena, eat at La Vitrola, the local gourmet favorite, and by many, considered the best restaurant in town. As you arrive to the non-descript building, La Vitrola feels like you are entering a secret supper club. Once inside, you feel like you have stepped back in time with the band playing Caribbean music and the timeless beauty and character of those dining around you. This is a lively place, specializing in Italian and fresh fish. For post-dinner activities, walk or cab a few blocks over to Babar, where you can club Colombian style well into the night.
The next day in Cartagena can be spent doing more sites outside of the Old City, though you’ll want to head out after lunch to take advantage of the pool scene at the Santa Clara, or spa at the Tcherassi. For lunch, head over to El Santisimo, another gourmet favorite, where they specialize in beautifully presented Caribbean food with a modern twist. Before heading out of town, check out the market around the corner, which sells traditional handicrafts. The market is more for browsing than buying, as the Old City has higher quality items.
For the afternoon, hire a cab or if you want to go upper scale, make arrangements with your hotel for transportation. Where you go outside of town, is choose your own adventure. Convento de la Popa is what many consider a tourist trap, as there is not a lot to see up top except for the view. What is a cultural experience though is the drive to Convento, which will give you a glimpse of how many less fortunate outside of the ritzy fortress walls live. It’s a sobering experience, and one which in our opinion, is worthwhile. A less controversial site is the Castilo de San Felipe de Barajas, renowned as the strongest fortress built by the Spaniards. The combination of the two is a 2-3 hour excursion, which will have you back poolside or café hopping in the old city and back for another stunning sunset at Café del Mar early evening.
Cartagena changes completely from day to night. Juan del Mar is a non-descript building outside of the Santa Clara during the day, but turns into a lively, convivial restaurant with outdoor seating by evening. Juan del Mar serves simple but very good Caribbean Colombian food, with the signature coconut rice. For locals, it’s the easy-going favorite. For post-dinner drinks, you can check out the bar at the Tcherassi, before heading out on the town to Mr. Babilla. Mr. Babilla represents the chaos and raucous fun of a Colombian club, where people are dancing anywhere and everywhere while swilling whisky and loving life. On certain nights, everyone will don the signature white straw hats, making this quite the cultural experience.
If you have the fortune of a third day, take a side trip to Islas Del Rosario for some quality beach time. Make arrangements the day before with your hotel, but make sure to clarify what should be the obvious – that you want a high end, nice beach. The best way to make arrangements is to arrange a private driver for you and your crew, so you can come and go as you please. Otherwise, you’ll be on the tour bus and on someone else’s schedule. To continue with your water theme for dinner that night, head over to the Club de Pesca, located right on the water. With some of the best seafood in town, Club de Pesca and its chilled-out atmosphere will make you feel like you have escaped to another world. Because for a weekend GALAVANTE to Colombia, you have.