Walk in Cartagena…Take an excellent guided free walking tour in the historic center, in English, with Edgar, the founder of the company (freetourcartagena.com.co)(and remember to tip him appropriately- he’s fantastic…). Discover, admire and appreciate this lovely city, country and people.
Eat and drink street food in Cartagena… Sample as many of the delicious and refreshing foods and drinks as you have an appetite for, from the ubiquitous street vendors. Our favorites? Limeade, (although they simply call it limonada), maracuya (passion fruit) creamsicles (sold by the ladies and gents in bright red uniforms and colorful minifreezers on wheels), fresh coconut to eat and drink on many street corners, and the hot off the griddle arepas with egg or cheese.
Savor the flavors of Cartagena…Enjoy a fresh, authentic, tasty (and affordable) meal followed (or preceded if you prefer) by an exquisitely satisfying Coconut Lemonade, at the deservedly popular restaurant San Valentin.
Find out about history in Cartagena …Visit the very interesting (and galling!) Museum of the Inquisition (you know that very ugly period in the history of the cruelest church on earth, which the current pope was bold and honest enough to apologize for as one of the biggest mistakes his forebearers made.)
Try different restaurants in Cartagena…Luxuriate your tastebuds with the mango tuna ceviche as a prelude to a simple, honest and scrumptious grilled filet of fish for your main course, at The Green House restaurant.
Shop for local artisinal goods in Cartagena…Buy a beautiful handwoven bag at one of the many handicraft vendors at the Bóvedas, (repurposed former weapons arsenals).
Learn about Tamo in Cartagena…Have you heard of it? I had not prior to visiting Cartagena. It’s a gorgeous form of art where the chaff fibers from the wheat plant are separated into thin strips, colored with mineral or vegetable dye, laminated, and then applied to wood. And the designs are strikingly modern and beautiful, and they remind me of the whimsical beauty in German expressionist art (think Klimt and Kandisky) with a bit of the Delaunay siblings throne in for even more color. Bowls, plates, trays, decorative masks, and incredibly beautiful vases… Wow! I fell in love, but, soooooooo expensive….I could only allow myself a very small purchase, and if I hadn’t, I would have pined for it forever. Still, Tamo-searching in Cartagena makes for some sublime window shopping, as do the sinewy fashion designs at the boutique Martha de Royet. Stunning…
What to do at night in Cartagena...besides al fresco dining, or strolling the old walls surrounding the historic city center, and feeling the ocean breezes caress you lightly? A must-do, if you have any appreciation for music and dance, is to go watch the extraordinarily talented young dancers displaying their skillful artistry during the outdoor performances at the Plaza de Bolivar, beginning before sunset, and continuing for a few hours after. And tip them well too, you can afford it, and they earn it.
Become one with the ocean in Cartagena…Saving the best for last, ah, the scuba diving. What surprisingly pretty reefs surround the Rosario Islands, with so many large schools of fish almost everywhere! And a diversity of pulchritude, too. All in all we did 8 dives over four days, couldn’t resist. The best (imho) were Alex’s place (for the varied and vivid colors of both corals and fishes, and it was a relatively shallow dive, too), Ministerio (for its undulating underwater meadows of corals both soft and hard), and Martincito (for its enormous bright orange sponges). Although we are certified divers, over the few days during the afternoon boat rides to the reefs, we met many people who were doing their first ever Discover Scuba dive (no worries, neophyte divers are separated from the experienced ones) and they were equally enchanted…. so one way or another, you should definitely go for it.
Free trip to Cartagena...And of course, if you want to stay for free like we did, use your IHG credit card, before, during and after your trip. We paid 20,000 points per night for each of several nights, and we also used our free night anniversary certificates, which we received when we renewed our card (once per year for only a $49 fee). We stayed at the Holiday Inn Bocagrande, and loved it- our upgrade as platinum members (a benefit that comes with the credit card), gave us a big and comfortable room, as well as access to a very nice buffet breakfast every morning. Location was perfect.
We flew for free as well, using points from our True Blue accounts, largely accumulated from the generous bonus points that came with our JetBlue MasterCards,
Happy Travels…Visiting Cartagena, Colombia, was definitely a fantastic way to usher in the new year. May 2018 be a better one for us all…