I believe that starting the year with a vacation is the best. It’s a sign that the year ahead will be full of travel, exploring and adventures. Last year it was Mexico in January (read about the adventure here). This year we went farther south, to Colombia.
We flew United direct to Bogota for around $600. It was a good flight and my first experience in Business Class. What a treat! No plastic dishes or utensils, much better food and lots of refills. We spent the night at the Marriott Courtyard hotel ($80/night) 5 minutes away from the airport as we had a next day flight to Cartagena for which we used the national airline Avianca ($150/person for the round trip flight). Like typical tourits we arranged for hotel transportation as I love having someone wait for me at the airport with a sign that has my name: Luliana Lonescu :)). We paid 55,000 pesos ($22) however the actual taxi price when going back to the airport was only 12,000 ($4-5). The hotel we picked in Cartagena was Hotel Boutique Casa del Coliseo.
It’s located in a charming colonial building in the Old City part of Cartagena, within walking distance of all the attraction points, restaurants, bars, ocean and the sunset:). The service generally was amazing: while checking in we were served fresh juice cocktails, we received lots of advice on what to do and where to eat, we were served champagne as we were leaving for dinner, we received 2 nice thank you notes accompanied by local sweet treats, etc. The best part of the room was the shower. On top of that, the venue had 2 nice lounges and balconies from where you can watch the street night life, an amazing pool on the roof, refreshments and fruits during the day…you would almost want to spend the entire day in the hotel if it weren’t for all the wonders of the city itself.
Old City and Getsemani
After hanging out for a bit at the hotel pool we were starving so went for lunch at one of the recommended restaurants Maria. We had fresh seabass with different types of rice – one was red and the other had yucca. They were both really good. With our bellies full it was the right time to take some random strolls around the Old City and Getsemani the hip neighbourhood. Getsemani is the place for budget hostels and quirky little bars. It’s not as touristic as the Old City and you don’t seem to be followed by vendors everywhere. Locals are always outside their houses in their white plastic chairs enjoying the light breeze of the season.
For dinner we had reservations at Carmen considered one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. Considering Cartagena is the most expensive place in Colombia, we still paid much less than we would have paid for a similar meal in New York. We paid around $85 with tip included, two glasses of wine, water (it’s not free here), appetizers and main course. Yum!
Tierra Bomba Island
On our second day we had the amazing hotel breakfast which started with a mix of fruits: pineapple, papaya and watermelon, followed by “arepa con huevos” (arepa with eggs). We decided not to miss the beach opportunity so we went to the closer island of Tierra Bomba (15 minutes by boat from Boca Grande – the newest, rich neighbourhood). The other option is Rosario Islands – but the season was not the best and it also takes more than one hour to get there). We went to a private beach club called Bomba Beach (paid less than $40/person for transport, drinks and food a super nice lounge bed, hammock and a cute little table).
Cafe del Mar
We returned at 3PM as we wanted to catch the famous sunset at Cafe del Mar. We sipped our Cuba libres looking at the sky at a table with 4 strangers since we didn’t have a reservation. Took the insta photos below and headed for dinner.
On our third and last day we took a free walking tour and learned a lot about Cartagena de Indias, the history and some current local facts like how the mayor is an American who was actually born in Colombia who won elections by spending only $20k on social media.
The city was founded in 1533, by a Spanish Commander, who took over an abandoned village known as Calamarí and started building a settlement of his own. The first Spanish settlers were sailors who had arrived from Cartagena, Spain to start a new life; they established the town as Cartagena de Indias in reference to its Spanish counterpart.
After the tour we had lunch in Getsemani at Cafe Lunatico – good but not as amazing as our two dinner experiences. Later we had an afternoon coffee at Abaco Libros y Cafe which is an instagrammable library and coffee place. You can grab a book, sit at a table and read while drinking some of the best Colombian coffee.
This was just the beginning of the trip. Stay tuned for the Bogota and Mirador experience soon!