Faceted at the northern peak of South America and surrounded by the Caribbean Sea is the Colombian gem Cartagena. This historic city is as far from danger as any of the hot spots of the international glitterati. It's beaches, architectural charms and gourmet dining make it a "must-see" on the bucket list for the traveler in the know, as well as a popular port city for the luxury cruise ship crowd.
It's history of over 50 years hosting an international film festival and its renowned Hay Festival, and classical music festival have attracted the culturally astute for years. The 400-year old walls enclose the secrets of the city's past and provide the backdrop for the lively street life and pulsating nightlife that beckons.
Consider a stay at Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa, centrally located within walking distance of all the sights and sounds in the old city. A former monastery, this edifice is impeccably restored to preserve the ambiance of the era while providing all the modern touches including a rooftop pool and lounge area overlooking the cathedral dome and the fortress walls.
Photo by Michael Reiss
Seeing the sites of this designated UNESCO world heritage city is convenient as the old town is compact and easy to navigate by foot or other modes of transportation. Consider the eco-friendly option of a bicycle tour. You will find just the right cycle from low to high tech to help you explore the quaint nooks and crannies filled with lore, so that by the end of your trip you will feel like a seasoned denizen.
If you are a film buff, book a Movie Bike Tour. Your guide, Gerardo Nieto, shares a personal and historical perspective on the films shot here that will render you star struck. Once around the city admiring the well-preserved colonial architecture, you are ready to visit the intriguing museums that reveal the history of this ancient port.
Photo by Michael Reiss
Marvel at the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) housed in a baroque mansion where stunning examples of gold objects missed by the Conquistadors are exquisitely displayed. Brace yourself as you explore the Palacio de la Inquisition where hands on exhibits of torture viscerally attest to the church's history of cleansing the infidels.
Perhaps there is no more authentic way to see the city by day or night than by horse drawn carriage. The clip-petty-clop along the cobblestone streets provides the perfect backdrop to view the colonial buildings at just the right speed with the gentle rocking motion lulling you into a blissful state of repose readying you for the night to come. If that sounds too sedate for your taste, there's always the bay tour in a luxurious, 64-foot Maxicat Catamaran. Viewing Cartagena at sunset as you sail the Caribbean coast is a glorious way to salute the city.
Cartagena offers many ethnically diverse dining options. From quaint spots like family owned La Cocina de Pepina where home style food is the specialty, to San Pedro Restaurante in the Plaza of San Pedro where pizza, pasta, fresh fish, sushi and a tepanyaki bar offer something for everyone.
For a true gourmet treat, don't miss Don Juan, where chef and owner Juan Esteban Camacho will impress you with his interpretations of world-class cuisine using the local ingredients and recipes for inspiration. His impressive wine selection, properly cellared and served, will enhance your culinary experience. (Photo courtesy of Don Juan)
As alluring as Cartagena is, try also planning a visit to Isla Mucara, an island that has been declared a National Park. It is on this paradise island where you will truly experience the relaxation and rejuvenation that comes from the tranquility of the warm, turquoise blue water and the gentle ocean breezes. The two-hour boat journey whisks you to the dock where you are greeted by the gracious host of Punto Faro Hotel, and reminded that paradise is straight ahead.
You are escorted to simple, well appointed rooms with outdoor, cool water showers while patio hammocks and rocking chairs are intended to lull you to the gentle breezes of the island. Every manner of water sport is awaiting your leisure. Happy hour and wholesome, satisfying meals (with a heavy emphasis on seafood) await. (Photo courtesy of Punto Faro Hotel)
One of the best activities is the soothing, seaside massage, performed to the rhythm of the lapping Caribbean. Float on the warm salt water of this soothing remote beach, and you will forever anchor memories of sheer relaxation. If Punta Faro Hotel is not part of your itinerary, book the Karmairi Hotel and Spa, which is closer to the city of Cartagena and specializes in a calming seaside and spa experience with an Eastern meditative theme. (Photo courtesy of Punto Faro Hotel)
Stop in Bogota, Colombia's Capital, on the way to Cartagena
Most air routes to Cartagena stop in the Capital, Bogota, which is worth a visit. Check out Hotel Avia 93, and enjoy the hip, cool vibe of the modern, minimalist décor with its emphasis on comfort. Amenities including the sleek, well appointed rooms, firm beds, breakfast and a quiet location near Parque 93 make this a real find.
If it's Japanese food you crave, the hotel houses one of the finest in the city, IWAO. The floor to ceiling glass enclosed wine cellar and the whimsical origami chandeliers, offset by ceiling starlight, offer an inviting respite at the end of a busy touring or business day. Besides the noteworthy sushi, the chef presents a variety of items from empanadas to hamburgers to wok and grilled selections. However, no visit to the city would be complete without a meal at Andres DC, one of the most popular spots for a lively dining experience. (Photo courtesy of Hotel Avia 93)
A tour of the lushly green city, surrounded by the Andes and long known as a mecca of higher education would not be complete without a visit to the Museum of Gold. The collection is startling in its breadth and depth and the audio/visual panorama at the culmination of the visit is a tour de force and memorable bookmark of Bogota's powerful past glory.
A Final Word About Colombia
Besides the dramatic topography from the remote tropical islands off the coast of Cartagena in the crystal clear blue Caribbean waters to the 7,000-foot-high urbane capital of Bogotá, it is the people that make the country of Colombia memorable and worth the visit. Colombian people possess spirit, character and pride in their craft and country. They exude a warmth, a friendliness, and a welcoming way that says, "Come visit my country. It is a rich, fascinating place."