I love Latin America and I was craving some warmth, friendly people, and delicious food from South America, so I decided to go to Colombia during my Spring Break.
I flew from NYC to Cartagena where I stayed in a hostel called Friends to be. The hostel was full of plants and nice people which made the environment so welcoming. It was also really well located. After 2 days in Cartagena we went to Rosario Island and when we came back we stayed at Serena which was my favorite hostel during this trip. It also had great decor, but in addition to that they had a big rooftop and their breakfast was amazing!
Now let’s move on to my ten recommendations of what to do in Cartagena:
1. Hang out at the plazas
There are a few famous plazas around the city. My favorites were the Trinidad plaza where I ate arepas and drank pina colada from street vendors, and danced Zumba. The plaza of the watch tower is also super fun either at day or night. Great for photos and people watching during the day, and fun to hand out during the night. I was lucky to be there when they were having a arequipe (or doce de leite) fair.
2 Walk around and pay attention to details
One of my favorite things about Cartagena is that we were able to walk from place to place without feeling tired. One of the reasons why we didn’t feel tired was because the streets were so charming and every corner we turned we saw cute and colorful houses, flowers, stores, restaurants, and so on. Two interesting things about the houses is that some of them have a “knocker” on the door with an animal (lizard, lion) which represented a different family. The second interesting thing was this pointy corner on some roofs which were made to scare away witches. Small details like that make this place so magical.
3. Rent a bike
I know I just said to walk around, but another way to see the city is to rent a bike. Although the traffic seems a bit crazy it was not hard to get around with the bikes. We chose to ride it toward the beach and then follow the coast for a bit, which happens to be parallel to the old walls of Cartagena (the old town is surrounded by these walls). We biked all the way to Cevicheria (one of the most claimed Colombian places on tripadvisor) but as expected we would have to wait one hour for a table. At the end we were glad we didn’t get a table there because we found an amazing placing one block away which had Cuban and Spanish food. We sat outside and had croquetas, pan con tomate, and ceviche. A few street artist entertained us while we ate our food and sipped our mojitos.
4. Drink coffee
I don’t think I need to say this but take advantage of being in Colombia and drink delicious coffee. Besides the fact that they are one of the main coffee makers in the world, there are a few really cute spots that are great for relaxing a bit after walking and at the same time getting some energy from the caffeine. My recommendations are Café Del Mural and Café San Alberto , but there are many other options. And another tip is to avoid the Juan Valdez which is basically a Starbucks latino.
5. Watch the sunset from the top of the walls
The walls is the best place to catch the sun setting. There is a restaurant there called Café del Mar but space is very limited and you have to arrive early to get a table. Since we wanted to enjoy the city we just went there for the sunset which was gorgeous.
6. After watching the sunset we visited the NH gallery
The gallery is located right next to the stair to go up the walls. It’s a small gallery and it will take you less than 30 minutes to see it all, but I think it is worth stopping by and checking some art from South American artists like the Brazilian Vik Muniz.
7. Eat street food, fruits, and of course ice cream.
I know some people might prefer to not eat street food but I have nothing against and highly recommend it if you are looking to try Colombian traditions. You will see arepas, panacon, and empanadas being sold everywhere! And also fruits like watermelon, mango, papaya and coconut.
8 Try to have dinner at La Cocina de Pepita
I say try it because it is hard to get a table there. It is one of the most famous traditional restaurants in Cartagena and I was lucky to have a table available when I got there. I ate a roballo because I wanted to try a fish there and it was really good. But I was more excited about the coconut rice (yum!) .
9. Go to Isla del Rosario
There are a few islands which you can take a boat from Cartagena and arrive in about 1 hour and half. I did some researching before our trip and we decided to go to Rosario Islands (Isla del Rosario) and we pent a night there. We chose an area called Paraiso Secreto which I highly recommend. I wrote a separate post just about the Island, but it was definitely a unique experience and I would love to come back and spend more time there. The island basically had no electricity, but had incredible beaches with clear water and dreamy landscapes.
10. Have cocktails at Alquimico and go out to dance.
Alquimico is a three floor bar (with a rooftop) which has amazing decor and fun people/vibe. But the most special thing about this place is that they make infused cocktails. After Alquimico we went out to dance. I chose to go to a gay bar because hello I’m gay and also because they usually have great music. The bar we went was called and it was not full (maybe because it was Sunday) but we made some Colombian friends and danced until late.
Cartagena was another prove that South America is a great place to make friends, learn new traditions, and eat yummy food. After four days in Cartagena we headed to Bogota where the fun didn’t stop.