„CON MUCHO GUSTO“
That`s the Colombian way to say „de nada“ which means „you are welcome“ – or literally translated „with much pleasure“. In Colombia it is mostly said with a smile and a charm you can hardly resist. And even more though you cannot resist the charm of Cartagena, a colorful historic city in a bay in the Caribbean Sea – and a UNESCO World Heritage site! I have seen quite a few places on earth and this one made it to my top list of places to visit! Cartagena (or Cartagena de Indias to use the complete name) has the most extensive fortifications in South America. For several centuries this place was a point of battles between European powers which forced the Spanish to build defensive fortifications in 1586 which you can still admire today – pure history mixed with Caribbean flavour and „la vida loca“, the Latin way of enjoying life! – Yes, this place is pretty hot but there is always this pleasant breeze coming from the ocean. And once you have entered the historic area through the huge city walls
You will find a microcosm that fills your heart with joy. Colorful old houses are competing with the blue sky. Fancy boutiques, cafés, restaurants and a shady square to relax and watch people. Taste delicious exotic fruits sold by big ladies in colorful dresses. Admire the century-old palaces and churches with impressive wooden doors and balconies – a feast for all your senses!
Photo: Colorful fruit vendors
EAT. DRINK. ENJOY.
Let`s start with coffee, of course ;-). There are a few nice and popular coffeeshops, some of them pretty crowded (no surprise that Colombians LOVE coffee - they are fourth largest exporter in the world and keep some of the good stuff for themselves ;-) !). I sipped my double espresso in a café which is rather an art gallery – with a few chairs „al fresco“ and wonderful cakes – and a nice lady who is very keen on showing you all the fantastic paintings inside!
Photo: Dog and cat images at Café Oma, Bogotá
Another lovely option is the Café de las Novias in the popular neighborhood of Getsemani, just a stonethrow away from the historic centre. You cannot sit outside but after all the heat you may appreciate an air-conditioned place! Excellent cakes and snacks, great coffee (again, we are in Colombia...) and a ... hmmm ... different – interior design (it`s all about weddings) make this place a great option for a pit stop.
The dining options are numerous – my reco: have a drink (or two) at the Colombian version of Café del Mar. Located on top oft he historic wall, overlooking the ocean, live music and a chilly ambiance are great ingredients for enjoying your sundowner. Food is ok (they just had a choice between a fish and a meat plate) but don`t expect miracles. Just watch the stars, enjoy the breeze and be happy (hopefully with the right person at your side ;-))!
Photo: "Salud" (Cheers...) in the spectacular Café del Mar
WHERE TO STAY
The Morros area (a 15 min drive from the historic centre ... if traffic is normal...) is under development. There are already a few nice hotels, mostly of international chains such as Sonora and Holiday Inn. I stayed at the latter one – not the usual exchangeable Holiday Inn kind of thing but a nice design hotel with friendly staff and a great restaurant. I kindly remember the waiter Ramón who had figured out after two days that I always have two double espressos for breakfast – he brought me number two when I was finished with the first one, automatically and without any order. Wow, that`s what I call service! Needless to say that he received a nice tip.
You can also stay at one of the smaller hotels in or close to the historic centre such as the Allure Chocolat Hotel in Getsemani. The downside is that you are not right on the beach but close to the action oft he city.
VAMOS A LA PLAYA
With the heat it does not take long until you desperately feel like jumping into water. The hotel beaches in Morros are nice and clean but don`t expect Caribbean flair. The water does not have that turquoise color you may know from other destinations. But it is good enough for a refreshing swim. I was shocked though about the city beach at Boca Grande, the little Miami of Cartagena. OK, it was absolute high season early in the new year and the city was crowded with locals from Bogotá and Medellin but that`s no reason to consider your beach a big trash can! Ay, colombianos, que pasa? Keep your nice beach clean when you party there all day and night long!
Photo: Lovely sunset on the beach at Morros
A FEW WORDS ABOUT COLOMBIA ...
A few people raised concerns when I mentioned my next travel destination. Many people still link Colombia to drug traffic and a high crime rate. However, the destination has improved a lot over the past years since the country is also aiming so much at international tourism. Don`t be surprised if you walk thru the high-end shopping area in Bogotá and see guys with machine guns securing the shops. And I was told not to use the buses but cabs instead – which is fine since cabs are not expensive at all! I already talked about the smiles – and the many people who are ready for a flirt with a tourist (why not ;-))! You may see a few girls who could easily be candidates for the next Miss World competition – I remember one coming down for breakfast, she was wearing a little something – had she worn less, she would have come naked!
Photo: Discovered this nice car in La Candelaria, Bogotá
Entering Colombia you will most probably land in Bogotá. Take a few days to see the city. It`s definitely not Rio or Buenos Aires but worth to visit, in particular because it`s surrounded by impressive mountains and has a charming old city called La Candelaria. Don`t miss to take the cable car to the Monserrate mountain (3,152 m) – you will enjoy a gorgeous view over the city in the middle of abundant nature (and if you come in December or early January, you get to view very trashy Christmas deco on top and for free ;-)). I also loved the T Zone – high-end shopping and a great place for people watching while sipping a coffee at Café Oma (the Colombian version of Starbucks but much better!). They also have great snacks and all cat and dog lovers will admire the photos on the wall! For dinner grab a cab to Ustaquen, a former village which now belongs to Bogotá and offers a wide array of bars, cafés and restaurants in a lovely, walkable area.
Apart from the capital and Cartagena I have not seen a lot of this lovely and diverse country (rain forests, the hills with coffee plantations, cities like Medellin and Baranquilla) so I may be back some day – con mucho gusto!
Picture Slide-Show Colombia
Find some more interesting impressions from Colombia ...
Café de las Novias - you can see a few of the delicious cakes...
Gorgeous cathedral under a gorgeous sky
Colorful palace under a blue sky
Anyone needs a funky hat
Church in Bogotá´s historic centre
Cable car to Monserrate Mountain