There are places around the world where you want to hit the ground running, soaking up the culture and visiting all the must-see sights as quickly as you can. Cartagena, Colombia is not like that. This is the type of place where the most memorable sights are not the ones you read about in a guide book, but the ones you stumble across unknowingly. Take in Old Town’s vibrant buildings on an afternoon stroll, fall asleep on the warm Caribbean sand, or see what’s on the menu at a tiny mom-and-pop restaurant. Here are five things we love about Cartagena and why you should visit now:
Old-World-Meets-New -- The Colombian port of Cartagena de Indias dates back to 1533. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits largely-intact behind massive stone walls, making it one of the continent’s most well-preserved Colonial cities. That doesn’t mean it’s all museums and artifacts. This modern, livable city is also home to amazing cuisine, luxury hotels and hip nightclubs -- all you’ll need for an amazing vacation.
The Food -- Snug up against the ocean, Cartagena boasts plenty of fresh fish and seafood. Explore the daily catch at the simple Mercado de Bazurto or head into any seafood shack for Moorish-inspired dishes, paella and the best ceviche you’ve ever had. Wash it all down with a limonada de coco, a coconut lemonade drink perfect for beating the Colombian heat.
The Colors of Cartagena -- Vivid hues awaken the Spanish-Colonial architecture and the stalls of locally-made souvenirs dazzle in a slew of bright shades. Shop for a rainbow of handmade jewelry and papier-mâché masks, or hop on a Chiva Tour—these wooden-frame buses, covered in vibrantly-painted murals, are hard to miss and terrific fun.
The Beaches -- Facing the Caribbean, Bocagrande is the easiest palm-ringed beach to reach, especially for day-trippers. Grab a spot beneath the shade of the trees and stay for the sunset. Castillogrande is a bit more laid-back and upscale, with calmer seas. Finally, La Boquilla is our pick for an authentic local day on the sand. Experience real Colombian life with boisterous music, downhome restaurants, and kitesurfing locals.
The History -- Cartagena is all about the tug of war between the Spanish Colonialists and Caribbean pirates. This repository for gold, silver and emeralds was the hiding place for untold “reappropriated” Spanish treasure—which got the attention of Sir Francis Drake and other pirates. These marauders were the reason for the city’s massive walls that eventually resulted in the preservation of Cartagena’s Old Town. Travelers can now take a carriage ride or stroll the neighborhoods and town squares for an up-close look at this historical city.
You can visit Cartagena on a day trip with YMT Vacations’ Rose Parade & Panama Canal Cruise itinerary. This 21-day journey travels from the New Year’s parade up the California coast, then onto five Central and South American countries. The highlight of the trip is a transit through the Panama Canal. To join this land-sea tour, call your travel consultant or 1-888-756-9072.