Our first stop in Colombia was Cartagena, the beautiful caribbean city in the north of the country that looks more like a perfectly preserved colonial town than a major city. Cartagena is warm, busy, and has some of the best restaurants I’ve ever tried. I’d give anything to be back there right now.
Radisson, La Boquilla
We spent our first few nights in Cartagena at the Radisson, about 15 minutes out of town on the beach. The whole area seems to be under development -there were a lot of resort and apartment style accommodations under construction. The Radisson was perfect for our first few days – the beach is beautiful and it was so nice to be able to come back from town and relax on the beach. It was also really nice that the beach was public – there were tons of tents to rent and vendors selling tropical drinks and ceviche.
Hotel Casa La Fe, Old Town Cartagena
We spent our last night in Cartagena at Hotel Casa La Fe, a great little boutique hotel in the old town. The hotel is in an old 1800s house, and all the rooms surround a beautiful little courtyard in the middle. There is also a really great rooftop terrace with a little pool and a bar, as well as incredible views, pictured here. I wish I could have stayed longer – it was such a great location and the hotel was beautiful, clean, and felt really safe.
We had the best meals of the trip in Cartagena, and some of the best meals of my life. Seafood is everywhere, and you can’t walk five minutes without seeing a handful of restaurants selling ceviche. Here are a few of my favourites.
Restaurante Candé – We ate our first lunch in town at Candé and it was a great way to start out the trip! Candé serves Colombian cuisine and we shared a few different traditional platters and I had a delicious seared tuna salad. All of our favourite part was the complimentary deep fried yucca rings brought to our table – they were like tiny delicious doughnuts!
Restaurante Cuzco – Peruvian food is all over Cartagena, and Cuzco was the best of the best. The menu had two pages full of different types of ceviche and I wish I could have tried them all! We shared three different types – the traditional, house special, and the Japanese style. They were all delicious, I’ll be dreaming of them for years to come.
Restaurante Alma – This was maybe our favourite restaurant of the whole trip. Alma had some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. We shared grilled octopus to start and then I had the most delicious tuna steak of my life.
Restaurante Mistura – We hate here on our last night and it was a great goodbye to Cartagena. They serve Peruvian Japanese fusion, and their fish was incredible. We had this amazing octopus dish that we ended ordering two of because we could not get enough.
Things To Do
Cartagena is quite touristy compared to the rest of Colombia which is good and bad. It means things are priced up for tourists and sometimes a bit gimmicky, but it also means there’s lots to do.
Old Town Cartagena – By far the best thing about Cartagena is the old town. The old town is walled, which dates back to colonialism when Cartagena had to be protected from naval attacks. The old town is full of winding and colourful little streets and big impressive cathedrals. It’s surprisingly modern – probably a result of the booming tourist industry – with many expensive shops and boutiques. This is where all of the best restaurants and bars were located, too.
Convento De La Popa – The highest point in Cartagena is the Convento de la Popa, a beautiful convent overlooking the entire city. I’m pretty sure you can hike up – it would be quite a hike – but we got a ride which I would probably recommend. The views are pretty spectacular – Cartagena has an impressive natural harbour and you can see it outstretched in all directions. The convent itself is also beautiful – the building was built with these really amazing archways, and the inside has a gorgeous courtyard covered in ivy.
Castello San Felipe de Barajas – Cartagena’s castle is right in the middle of the city and is an enormous fortress. You’re able to climb up to the top and get some nice views of the city. The coolest part was probably the tunnels under the fortress – You can wander through the pitch black tunnels that wind around under the castle, I think probably it used to be prison cells. To be honest, if you have limited time in Cartagena I would skip the castle, but it was interesting to visit.
Playa De La Boquilla – La Boquilla is the beach strip in Cartagena that stretches out along the coast. We were staying here for a few nights, but it’s also possible to just visit for the day. It’s a beautiful beach, and local venders have done a great job setting up tents for rent, as well as little carts selling cocktails, ceviche, and souvenirs. The water was incredibly warm, even in February, and it’s a great way to relax.