It might seem a pretty bold statement but Cartagena de Indias in Colombia’s Caribbean coast is without a doubt one of the most attractive and lively cities in South America certainly ranking among the top 5. Cartagena has managed to develop a modern residential and commercial area at a fair distance from the historical center and the “walled center” or centro amurallado, and it is here that most tourists and traverles spend their time.
There’s enough budget accommodation within walking distance of this area to cater your needs- I showed up without knowing where I was going to stay and it only took me 15 minutes to find the hostel I would spend my next 3 nights fater asking around and with the help of Rafael, a Spanish traveler who’d been there for a week.
The neighbourhoods around the centro amurallado seem sketchy at fist glance but are very safe (pick pocketing is common though) and have all the restaurants and shops you’ll need during your stay. I didn’t waste too much time dumping my backpack and getting some bearings of the area, and was soon after taking my first look of the illuminated wall right before having a tasty dinner in one of the few restautants that were still open at 11 pm. The meal felt delicious after the 4.5 hour bus ride from Santa Marta and I was ready to sleep like a baby after paying the bill.
I had breakfast with Rafael the following morning and was soon after on my own walking to the walled center under a clear blue sky and temperatures not ear close to what they would be a couple of hours later. The wall and buildings within it are voer 300 years old, yet are as vivid and colorful as the people who walk along the cobbled streets: blacks, caucasians, mulattos, mestizos, indians and all ethinicities in between make up the population of this caribbean city, mingling as if slavery had never really happenned here. It took me about seven hours to slowly walk around the wall and within the old quarter, visiting Santo Domingo’s church, the Palace of Justice, the Cathedral, the Public Clock, Saint Philip’s castle and many other attractions.
During the hottest moments of the day I drank Lulo juice, a fruit only found here and in Ecuador that is the ingredientof what has become my favourite juice in the world. it tastes like a combination of kiwi and maracuja: rich in flavour, more refreshing than a Coke and quenching thirst better than a Gatorade. Once the sun set again I joined Rafael for dinner and we later went on a night photography tour of our own and planned on visiting Playa Blanca (White Beach) the following day.
Playa Banca is the best beach you can conveniently reach from Cartagena, and one of the best in Colombia’s caribbean coast altogether: deffinetly better than that in Santa Marta and many agree that better than those in Tayrona National Park.
To reach Playa Blanca I recommend you skip the more expensive and much slower tourist boats and ride one of the publis speedboats that depart from the old harbour early in the morning. Sure, the harbour is quite disgusting but after 45 minutes of skipping over the ocean you’ll reach the turquoise waters of spectacular Playa Blanca. Best of all the tourist boats won’t appear in the next four hours. The beach is ideal to walk along and the water is perfect for snorkeling; foodwise fresh fish is cheap and tasty and overnight sleeping is possible in a tent at one of the camping grounds- I really recommend this option if you have the time. We got the 4:30 pm boat back to Cartagena de Indias that afternoon and took a few more pictures in the historical center while drinking lulo juice again (of course!).
Cartagena is my favourite big city in South America and will probably yours too: the very well preserved centro amurallado is excellent for people watching and jistorical learning, I love the budget friendly delicious and assorted cuisine and spectacular Playa Blanca is one of the best I have seen in the world_ and I’ve seen quite a few. All things considered Cartagena de Indias is one city you should visit at some point in your life, and is probably the best place where to finish a trip in Colombia because it has it all: food, history and natural attractions.
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