In the past year I have experienced a lengthy dry-spell of passport usage. Shockingly, New York isn’t the easiest place to save money! Last week, Ben and I went to visit Cartagena, Colombia. The city has a reputation for being the South American City of Love, and it lives up to it. Whether you’re visiting on a romantic excursion, or are looking to salsa dance with some of the absurdly hot locals, there is so much to love about this Caribbean city.
While our Instagram induced wanderlust tends to have us flock in the same direction, Cartagena was not a city that came recommended by friends. Our decision to visit was based on a visit to Skyscanner, that said we could visit Colombia for $400 round trip direct flight (Jetblue.) We did a google image search, perused Pinterest, and were instantly sold by the favorable exchange rate and colorful buildings.
Ben and I wanted to visit a country with vast culture, beautiful beaches, and safe streets. Although not every city in Colombia is equipped to handle gringos like ourselves, Cartagena was really easy to navigate. Our Spanish is limited, but we were assured ahead of time that it wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t advise abandoning your duolingo app, because you’ll want to negotiate with street vendors.
Where to sleep?
When staying in Cartagena, you basically have two options:
Bocagrande: This area is often compared to South Beach in Miami, but mostly because of the white skyscrapers and beachfront property. This is where we stayed our first 4 nights, and it was totally the right choice for us. We chose to visit Cartagena because we wanted a beach vacation. That being said, we knew that the beaches of Bocagrande were not white sand paradises, but instead just city beaches. We chose the Intercontinental Bocogrande for two reasons: they had one of the best infinity pools in the city that overlooked the ocean, and the staff was completely bilingual. Although I tend to opt for smaller, boutique hotels, if you don’t speak Spanish– you’re better off choosing a chain. We also scored a “superior” room with a kingsized bed and a full ocean view for just $160 a night.
The Walled City: All those instagrammable walls you saw overflowing my story? That’s what every corner of the historic walled city looks like. The upside to staying there is that you are surrounded by constant beauty. The downside, is that the heat is exhausting and it is drastically warmer there than Bocagrande. Many hotels have pools, but they tend to be rather small. If that isn’t a bother to you, than you should definitely stay in the walled city. We were happy with our decision to be near the beach– that breezeeeeee baby! However, our last night, which was spent in the walled city, was very special and photogenic. The intercontinental is everywhere, but Casa del Arzobispado, is only in Cartagena. I hear there are many nice hotels in the area, but there is no way they have nicer showers. For real, they had this rain shower that was by far the most luxurious experience of my life. The bathroom itself is a good enough reason to stay there (and the dope breakfast takes it to the next level.)
where/what to eat:
Fresh fruit for breakfast, and more fresh fish than I’ve eaten in the past year. While I don’t plan on eating shrimp for quite some time, I’m already dreaming about my next meeting with grilled octopus. The exchange rate from USD to Colombian pesos is very much in favor of the Americans. 1 USD = ~3,000 Pesos ($3 basically). This will give you the opportunity to BALL OUT on food. Which we did, visiting some of Cartagena’s top restaurants. Most of which, FYI, have live music!!
Best Dish: Restaurante Club de Pesca
This place came highly recommended by my friend Alexa (check out her dope Insta.) She’s been to Cartagena a number of times, so she wrote me a guide that saved my life. Ben and I ate at Club de Pesca our first night in Cartagena. It’s located on the water, so you get to enjoy a view of the harbor while under a white canopy. We had the best ceviche of our trip here, and spent the rest of the week unsuccessfully trying to find something to compare to it. We treated ourselves to bottles of wine and lobster, and were delighted when our bill arrived at less than $100 USD– despite being one of the most high-end restaurants we’ve visited in a long time.
Dress is by Elizabeth & James. I feel SO sexy in all of their dresses, but it’s pretty obnoxious that I have to go up 2 sizes.
Critically Acclaimed: La Vitrola
I write this while daydreaming of the Veal Milanese I ate a week ago. I was recommended to this place first by Melissa’s love Paul Karger, and I proceeded to order everything he suggested from the menu. A salad with quail eggs and capers? Legendary. If you want to visit La Vitrola, ask your concierge to make you a reservation on the first day of your trip. It is a TOP restaurant, so it isn’t always a guaranteed they can fit you in. I would say this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.
Ambience Award: Cuzco
I’ve never been a huge fan of Peruvian food. Granted, I’ve only had it a handful of times, and therefore probably am not the best judge. That said, the food at Cuzco is excellent. I had a lobster pasta in yellow pepper sauce, which was unexpectedly creamy. Normally, this would be disappointing (I have a weak stomach), but I was able to enjoy the whole dish without feeling sick. A total win! The restaurant itself was absolutely stunning. I had a view of Ben with a waterfall behind him. He could see the moon through the open roof. If I wasn’t already in love with him, this would have been the place to fall.
A Lunch to Remember: El Boliche Cebicheria
Ceviche is a Cartagena staple, and we made it our mission to eat as much of it as possible. Our octopus intake was through the roof during our trip. This place has some of the most photogenic dishes in the city, and much needed air conditioning in the Caribbean heat. They also serve you a sweet squash soup that will blow your mind.
where to relax:
When visiting Cartagena, don’t come expecting white sand beaches. If you do, you will be inevitably disappointed. It was strongly recommended to us prior to our trip that we needed to take a day trip to the Rosario Islands for their amazing beaches. The islands are well maintained by the Colombian government, and are absolutely stunning. Instead of just spending the day, we decided to stay overnight for 3 nights.
After years of working in hotels, I generally know better to choose anything less than 4 stars. However, that isn’t an option in the Rosario islands. All hotels advertise themselves as 3 star or less. We chose hotel San Pedro de Majagua because of their favorable Tripadvisor reviews, which led us to understand their 3 star rating is only due to lack of luxury amenities. Yes, they offer massages. No, there isn’t room service. The restaurant is only open until 9pn, but this place is so wonderful that even Condé Nast Traveler recommended them. The food at the (only) restaurant was delicious. The staff, though not exactly fluent in English, were patient and helpful. If you decide to visit Cartagena, a visit to Hotel San Pedro de Majagua is truly a must.
WHat (else) i wore:
Cartagena is hot and humid year-round, so keep that in mind when packing. Cotton dresses are clutch, but linen is a girl (and guy’s) best friend. The streets are cobblestone, and similar to Boston– either wedges, stacked heels, or flats. Don’t risk anything too high. The most important thing you can pack is a sh*t ton of bathing suits and cute coverups. This is what you’ll wear the most.
Anything else you’d like to know about visiting Cartagena?
Be sure to ask me in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer.