Weekend escape in Cartagena: where to sleep, eat, drink and fall in love
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
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Cartagena, the perfect ending to my three weeks in Colombia. Like a long romantic weekend escape. A colonial gem where history and culture go hand in hand with hidden rooftop bars and perfectly styled toasts avocado. Where one street looks even more photogenic than the other. Because at the end of that meticulously planned travel route, there comes a time when you just have to let it go, just leave that (digital) map in your hotel room and enjoy the moment.
The historic center of Cartagena is divided into three neighborhoods that you can easily visit on foot; before you realize it, you are in a different neighborhood. You have El Centro where you can spot the majority of historic buildings, San Diego where you can feast your eyes on the most beautiful houses (and equally beautiful doors), and Getsemani, the most laidback of all three where colorful graffiti, hip salsa bars and hostels fill the streets.
I look back with some nostalgia on those fantastic few days in Cartagena as I share with you my personal tips for sleeping, eating, drinking and much more.
16:00 - Arriving in Cartagena - Where to sleep?
When you enter Hotel Mamma, it seems as if you are staying with a distant aunt or something. There is not even a name sign on the door, even the doorbell has no name. They do not want to radiate a hotel feeling, but show you a well-preserved colonial house. The rooms are nicely and stylishly decorated, the breakfast is à la carte and you can also relax in or at a modest outdoor swimming pool until 10 pm. What else do you want? Oh yes super friendly service!
Price: 35 € / 136.000 pesos / night (breakfast included)
Hotel Casa Macia
Another favorite that really tops the bill in terms of price / quality was without a doubt Hotel Casa Macia. Once again excellent service and helpful staff. A wide choice in the à la carte breakfast, a tastefully finished room with beautiful floor tiles and an outdoor swimming pool that you can use on your Instagram feed are the main reasons for staying here, in addition to the ideal location and more than pleasant price setting.
Hotel Casa Macia
Price: 28 € / 104652 pesos / night (breakfast included)
20:00 - First night in Cartagena - Where to eat?
Are you going to eat in a prison ?! That sounds a bit like the "old Colombia", but it is true that you literally step inside a jail house at restaurant Interno. Upon entering, you also disappear behind bars. Pink bars that is. Interno is a prison for women, albeit with a low level of security and with finger licking modern, Colombian cuisine. Prisoners receive training in servicing guests or becoming a cook through this project. This offers them a second chance at life and reintegration into society. Win win!
Cárcel de mujeres de San Diego, Calle 39
Opening hours: From 7pm to 11pm, closed on Monday
11:00 - Time to strike a pose - Favorite spot?
You don't actually need a map or a top 10 list at all to score the most beautiful places for a photo because you all too easily disappear into a stunning succession of glorious, colonial houses that seemingly try to outdo each other and want to attract your attention; one door even more luster than the other, one bougainvillea even more colorful than the other.
But, I did have a favorite spot. In the vibrant hostel neighborhood Getsemani, I stumbled upon a narrow street with a rainbow of colored umbrellas, cheerful curbs and a jumble of graffiti tags. Although this street really whispered 'post me on Instagram', it was not that busy there around 11 in the morning. Proof that Colombia is not yet suffering from mass tourism (see also my article on the matter)?!
Where can you find this umbrella mecca? All info below!
14:00 - I am hungry - Where to go for lunch?
I actually ate quite well in Colombia. From very nutritious rice dishes to chicken with fried bananas, from fancy fine dining to even a tasty homemade pizza. In Cartagena, after a few days at the beach eating fresh fish with rice every day, I craved a piece of toast.
Época is a coffee bar with a big C. You can taste the best coffee in Colombia here, but above all, see their passion for coffee processes and discover the traditions of the coffee regions.
The emphasis lies on collaborating with small coffee producing plantations and considering coffee as an experience, not something that you quickly throw down your throat.
As befits a good coffee bar, you can also indulge in the most delicate breakfast and lunch dishes. I had set my sights on eating a toast avocado. It felt like a culinary symbiosis between a famous local product, the avocado, and something I like to eat at home, a piece of toasted bread. Hashtag foodporn.
Calle de Arzopispado, Carrera 5 #34-52
Opening hours: from 7am until 9pm except on Sunday until 6pm.
18:00 - A romantic pit stop - Where to go for a beautiful sunset?
The city walls
The old city wall of Cartagena is a 4 km long memory of the colonial past of the city. The city walls were once built to keep enemies out. Now it's the ideal starting point for a romantic walk that, if you're lucky, will be accompanied by an equally romantic sunset. The sea breeze lets your dress flutter like in a Vogue fashion spread and the first tones of a classic salsa hit resound in the distance. You can't go wrong with an evening like this!
Tip: The nicest part is between Teatro Heredia and Café del Mar.
20:00 - Last supper - Where to eat?
In Cartagena the options for a delicious supper are endless. It is more a matter of figuring out what you want because even vegan sushi is on the menu. And eh, as much as I like sushi, I wanted to taste that Colombian cuisine for the very last time.
At Colombia's inland destinations, we had already tried many local specialties such as Bandeja Paisa, a rice dish with a mix of sausage, meat, beans, avocado, egg and fried banana and Ajiaco, chicken soup with corn. Almost always accompanied by an arepa, a kind of flat sandwich made from corn flour.
Restaurant Mardeleva almost feels like a holiday on vacation. Through a bright entrance hall decorated with a book wall full of books by Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia's most famous author known for his oeuvres Love in Times of Cholera and Hundred Years of Solitude) you walk towards a beautiful patio with an inviting bar surrounded by separate dining areas decorated with tempting tropical wallpaper and paintings.
On the menu: the best of what the Colombian coast has to offer. The spaghetti with crab is highly recommended!
Carrera 9 ## 37-16
Opening hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12pm until 6pm and from 7pm until 11pm and on other days from 12pm until 3pm and from 7pm until 11pm.
23:00 - Ending the vacay in style - Where to say cheers?
Alquímico is a cocktail bar with an alchemical twist. They apply a method where the transformation of natural processes to fully express ingredients is key. Or in other words; achieve perfect sensory harmony by continuously applying experimental methods to optimize all tastes, smells and colors that they add to their cocktails. Or to keep it simple: damn tasty cocktails.
These cocktails are made with love for the profession in a lush, mysterious building with exhilarating beats and a rooftop bar injected with bright hues. Yes, you will never want to go home...
Calle del Colegio No. 34-24
Opening hours: Monday, Tues, Wednesday and Sunday from 6pm until 2am. Friday and Saturday from 6pm until 3am.
11:00 - A souvenir for the family - Tea it is!
I'm going to Colombia and I'm taking home ... Coffee! That almost sounds like a no-brainer, but don't forget that your friends and family may not have the right devices to process coffee beans and don't feel like slow coffee or whatever. That's why I thought it would be nice to visit a tea shop in a country where coffee is King, for an easy to stock souvenir.
Evok seemed like a tea shop at first sight. As a real tea person I was immediately attracted by the colorful pots of tea and related products, but they also sell herbs, chocolate, honey and dried fruits. Or as they put it nicely: They believe in the power of nature, in the ancestral properties of herbs, fruit and spices, but above all they believe in its benefits. "We believe that nature is a source of well-being, vitality and tranquility, and we believe that in this way we can achieve the balance and harmony that our lives need."
When I make a nice cup of black tea with mango at home, I think back to those beautiful vacation moments in Colombia. My favorite moment of the day...
Calle Santo Domingo Carrera 3 No. 33-46
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, from 10 am until 9pm. Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 10 pm!
14:00 - Time to say goodbye - the last shots
As a lover of art, architecture and all the beauty that this world has to offer, can you have something like a favorite door? Well, yes! Especially if you walk the beautiful streets of Cartagena. I spotted the most graceful doors and houses in and around Carrera 9. Here, candy pink forms the perfect counterweight to sky blue, ornamental creepers and flowers adorn the colonial window frames and the often imposing doors make you want to knock. As they say, a new adventure hides behind every door. I can't wait to go back to Cartagena; my knuckles are already burning with impatience.