For me, Cartagena, Colombia is one of those cities that is just fun to wander around in without any kind of said destination. We spent our days in the Old City which is great for wandering because the colonial buildings are each so unique and colourful and you can’t really get lost (well, maybe Skott could)because you’ll always end up somewhere along the fortress walls that enclose the Old City…then you just pick a new street to head down into and see what you find next.
I admit I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of traveling in Colombia when we first started looking at this as our next destination. The country doesn’t exactly have the best reputation…but it’s a super interesting history if you are like me and find violence, political strife and all that juicy stuff interesting. When we were coming here, I knew that the safety situation had improved but I wasn’t really sure why. My understanding now is that big changes happened beginning in 2002, when a new President, Álvaro Uribe, came into power and reigned for 8 years with a hardline against the narco groups. You still have to be fairly careful here, mostly because there are a lot of people that are very hard-up and probably wouldn’t harm you but would definitely take a run at getting you to fork over your camera and cash. But we had no problems and would completely recommend this city as a great start to your adventures in South America.
There were lots of cute little shops, cafes and bars to check out but sometimes the best eats were found right on the street. Vendors had all kinds of yummy tropical fruits cut up and ready for snacking…my favourites always being the juicy pineapple and the mangoes. Someone in BC really needs to figure out how we can grow these back home!! Other tasty finds were the super sweet mixtures of coconut or other dried sweet fruits dunked in sticky syrups. And one of the flavours that seems to be really popular here is dulce de leche-you can find all kinds of varieties in all kinds of colours to satisfy your sweet tooth. I tend to make it my mission to give all of these a try. We also found an excellent food stand right by the Juan Valdez Cafe, in front of the University, where all the students were lunching on super cheap sandwiches that were like pizza pockets made of plantains or corn dough with beans, pulled bbq beef, queso and a couple different sauces loaded on it.
When we were ready to get out of the heat we seemed to always stumble into the Juan Valdez Cafe (remember the commercials with the mustached Colombian coffee grower and his donkey..I get very excited about these things). At night we enjoyed the Donde Fidel Bar where you can choose from beer or a bottle of rum and people watch on the corner of the Bolivar square while they pipe out awesome Colombian salsa tunes. It’s strange that this little place is right under the Hard Rock Cafe because it has enough character to make it feel more like a little hole in the wall find..the walls are plastered with black and white photos of musicians and dancers and the place fills up with a really good mix of locals and tourists.
The thing that stands out most in our minds about Cartagena was all of the colours…from the buildings to the fruit ladies in their colourful African dresses, to the dancers in the main square and the colourful street foods…it had all the cha-cha-cha I had imagined!
By the way, we stayed at the Media Luna Hostel and it was great location with a good atmosphere. It had a main court area to hang out with a little pool to cool down and a kitchen. There was also a bar with salsa tunes right across the street…get their before 9pm for 2 for 1!!