This past weekend was yet again another long weekend in Colombia. However we haven´t had a long weekend in a while, as there were no festivo days in September, which made for a VERY long month, as I had to work the entire month (hard life I live, I know). The long weekend in October was extra special because I travelled to the caribbean coast to a beautiful city called Cartagena.
Cartagena, also known as its full name, Cartagena de Indias, is located on the northern coast of the Caribbean region in Colombia and is the capital city of the Bolívar department (think province). Cartagena has a population of 892,545, which makes it Colombia's 5th largest city. Activity and development of the Cartagena region is dated back to 4000 B.C. around Cartagena Bay by varying cultures of indigenous peoples. The Spanish colonial city was founded on June 1, 1533 and named after Cartagena, Spain. Cartagena served a key role in the development of the region during the Spanish eras; it was a center of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys. In 1984, Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Needless to say, I was told by virtually every person who had ever been to Cartagena, what an incredible and beautiful city it is - and trust me, after spending 4 days in the city, it lives up to all the hype, if not surpasses it.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 14th 2011 - I travelled with Leo to Cartagena, and we had decided a long time ago that we were going to fly, to maximize our time/trip in Cartagena. However, our flight to Bogotá-Cartagena, ended up being SUPER early. Our flight left Medellín at 6am, and we had to be there the standard "1 hour" and a bit early, but the airport is an hour away, so we had to get a taxi at 330am, which meant we woke up at 2:50am/3am. So we were incredibly tired, but we were so excited to finally be going on our Cartagena trip (since we had booked it back in March, was originally going in June, but had to change it due to visa issues Leo was having). Once arriving in the Cartagena airport, we had to get off the plane on the tarmac, and for those of you who don't know, since Cartagena is on the caribbean coast, it's VERY hot, and VERY humid. So once the doors opened on the plane and we were disembarking, we instantly felt a wall of heat hit our bodies, and it was intense. You could almost feel the moisture in the air, it was that humid. But it was beautiful, sunny, and we couldnt wait to start exploring the city!
We took a cab to our hostel which was called "El Viajero", located on 7 Infantes (note: there are 2 places called "El Viajero" one is a hostel the other a hotel, we stayed at the hostel). Our hostel was great, we had such a good time there. We were actually recommended to stay there by a friend in Medellín, and we were glad for her recommendation. The hostel was very modern, clean, and had excellent staff. It also had breakfast included, and AC in all the rooms (the AC was key!). Once we got our room (which was shared with 10 other ppl), we changed into more appropriate Cartagena clothes (tank top, and shorts for me), lathered on the sunscreen (100 SPF) and headed out into the city. Our hostel was in a great location, because it was within the old city walls. Cartagena is sort of divided into 3 sections: 1. the Walled City (old Cartagena), 2. Suburban Cartagena (outside city walls), and 3. New Cartagena (Bocagrande barrio, where all the new condo buildings are, and the beach!). Since our hostel was conveniently located within the walled city, we just simply started to walk around and go exploring, to get to know it better. We walked along the walls, which took us completely around the city, and then walked through it as well. I couldnt stop taking photos, because literally everything in Cartagena is so beautiful. The city is filled with colonial style buildings which are kept in very good condition, and of course the city is located on the caribbean sea, so the water is right there, and it's beautiful. The sun was intense, and the weather was very hot, so Leo and I ended up stopping for many snowcones (called respados in Spanish) to cool off from the heat.
I think we had 3 on our first day there. During our walk we visited various plazas, parks, the gold museum and the emerald museum. We had quite the productive day. After a long day of walking around the city in the 40 degree weather, we headed back to our hostel, changed and then went to a bar called Café del Mar. Now for those of you who dont know I have an obsessed with Café del Mar, mainly the music that is played at the bar. The original bar is in Ibiza, Spain (an island), and I couldnt go last year because of the Iceland Volcano, BUT luckily there was one in Cartagena, so it was kind of like a dream come true that I was able to go. The bar is beautiful, located on the wall of the city overlooking the sea, and the skyline of Bocagrande (new Cartagena), and of course they had the typical Café del Mar music playing, which is sort of an ambient style of music. It was so relaxing to be there after a long day of walking in the heat. We got there just as the sun was setting and enjoyed some very tasty and strong drinks.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 15th 2011 - Leo and I were VERY excited for Saturday in Cartagena, as we had planned it would be the day we'd go to the islands which are about 1.5 hours away (by boat) from Cartagena. The group of islands are Islas del Rosario and Barú, which we had been told had beautiful transparent and turquoise waters, and beautiful beaches. Since I had never been to a place like that before I was so excited to go. To the left you can see a map showing where the islands are located and how we travelled there from Cartagena. So on Friday we bought our tickets for the boat tour, which was $45.000 pesos (about $22 CDN), which included our trip there and back, trip to Islas del Rosario, Playa Blanca (on the island of Barú), and lunch. The boat ride there was great, as they had this MC guy, to entertain the guests on the boat while we were travelling to the islands. He was really funny, got ppl to do dress up competitions to try and win icecream, and also did trivia as we travelled and past by various points on our route. Once we started to get closer, the water started to change colour, and my jaw just dropped. I had never seen water that colour before, let alone water where you could see the bottom. It was stunning, the islands were beautiful, the water was beautiful, everything in Cartagena is beautiful!
Our first stop was Islas del Rosario, where the majority of people went to visit the Aquarium, however Leo and I decided to go snorkelling! We found a guide to take us out for an hour, since we had limited time to get back to our boat. So there I was, in the Caribbean sea, about to go snorkelling for the first time in my life, it was so exciting and crazy fun. This was our snorkelling guide:
The first time I had the mask on my face, and put my head down in the water to see what was below, it was incredible. To see all the fish! And the coral, was stunning. I had never seen anything like it in my life. I couldnt believe I was snorkelling in the Caribbean sea of the coast of Colombia! A year ago, I would have never thought Id be doing this in Oct 2011 !! We snorkelled for about an hour, and when we finally headed back to the port, just as we were pulling in, our boat was leaving.... uh oh... Luckily, there are several tour companies that go to the islands from Cartagena, and there was a woman who went snorkelling with us, and she just told us to hop on her boat (which ended up being nicer than ours) and it would take us to Playa Blanca, where we could meet up with our original boat and get lunch. So that's exactly what we did, upon docking, we rushed to her boat, and just went with the flow while boarding. We acted casual, and just got on. They didnt even ask for our tickets... guess it was obvious that we were tourists, especially me, since Im SUPER white (finally my skin colour is paying off!!). From Islas del Rosario it took about 45 min to get to Playa Blanca, which was stunning. I couldnt believe it. The beach had pure white sand, with clear waters, palm trees, and the sun shining down on it. It looked as if we were in a postcard setting, I had never seen anything like it in my life. I couldnt stop smiling.
Once arriving on the island, we headed to the restaurant, which was outside, and had a traditional coastal dish, which consisted of fish, coconut rice, salad, patacones (plantains), and fresh limeade.
After lunch we rushed to the beach to enjoy the sea, sun, and sand. For about 2 hours we swam, hung out on the beach, and just took in the scenery. I never wanted to leave, this was paradise. But unfortunately the afternoon came to an end, and we got back on our boat (the right one this time), and travelled back to Cartagena. I passed out on the boatride back, and both Leo and I were exhausted from the whole day. As we had to get up at 7am, to be at the port for 730am, and we got back to Cartagena at 630pm. So it was a nice long day, and we felt we got our money's worth (especially when we got to go on the nicer boat from Islas del Rosario to Barú!). Once we got back to our hostel, we just hung out and called it an early night.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 16th 2011 - Sunday was spent exploring outside of the old city walls. So we once again spent the day walking around exploring other barrios (neighbourhoods) outside of the city walls, and visited a castle, called Castillo de San Felipe. What's special about the castle, is that it provides stunning views of the whole city of Cartagena, and has a huge... and i mean HUGEEE Colombian flag at the top, which was perfect for photos. On the way to the castle, it started to rain a tiny bit, the rain was weird, because it was like misty, anyways so just as we got to the castle, the flag had been taken down!!! We were so bummed, because we wanted to get photos with it. So before buying our tickets we asked if they were going to put the flag back up, and they had told us that when it stopped raining they would. So we waited a bit, got a nice cold drink outside the entrance to the castle, and waited until the rain stopped. It didnt take long only about 30 min. Then the sun came back out, and it turned into a beautiful day.
We walked all around the castle which was super old, and quite big. It had been used as a place to defend the city, and for various battles. After a while they had finally put the flag back up, and Leo and I rushed over to start taking pics before the other tourists came as well. Check some of them out!
Near the castle are a pair of these boot statues made of bronze. Leo wanted to get photos with them because 20 or 30 odd years ago his father had come to Cartagena and taken photos with them, so he wanted to recreate the photos to be able to show his dad when he gets back, which I thought was really cute. So we spent some time at the boots having a little photoshoot for Leo, to ensure he got the perfect pic to show his dad. After the boots, and the castle we headed back to the hostel to shower (as it was another hot and long day), and just relax for the rest of the day. For the sunset we decided to take a cab to Bocagrande, and watch the sunset on the beach. The beaches in Bocagrande arent nearly as beautiful as those in the islands, but the views were still beautiful.
MONDAY OCTOBER 17th 2011 - Monday was our last day in Cartagena, so we decided to rent bicycles and go around the city once again. It was another beautiful day, and we went through the old city, on the walls, through other barrios, as well as through Bocagrande. We actually biked on the beach in Bocagrande because the sand is quite hard. We biked all the way from the start of Bocagrande all the way to the bottom, which is quite far. It was yet another hot day, so once we had reached the bottom of Bocagrande we took a break, got yet another respado (snowcone), and sat in the shade, since we were sweating quite a bit. But hey, at least we were getting good exercise! Once biking back to our hostel, we checked out of our hostel, and headed to the airport. Both Leo and I didnt want to leave at all, we were having such a great time in the city of Cartagena. There's something so romantic, and magical about the city, it just felt so good to be there. I really want to go back someday soon, we had such a good trip there. I recommend the city to anyone!