Article first published as A Port Day in Cartagena on Technorati.
Seeing Hard Rock Cartagena told me that Cartagena, Colombia is now a Cruise Ship port town. After seven years working as assistant cruise director on-board cruise ships, I thought I had been to every port town in the Caribbean.
But now, new interesting cities are on the itineraries. If Cartagena is on your next sailing, you will love it! I know I did! This UNESCO world heritage site includes amazing locations and I hope you get to see them all.
My favorite is El Centro, the Old town with one lane roads full of horse drawn carriages and men with carts selling fruit. Don’t worry; they all wear plastic food service gloves to cut the fruit and sell it for less than $1 for a cup of refreshing juicy mango or watermelon. It is fantastic stroll the stone streets and listen to the sexy salsa music. There are open air cafes in many of the plazas.
I loved the gorgeous and brightly painted houses with balconies covered with Bougainvillea. Just wander and explore the streets. During New Year’s Eve Celebrations, the verandas and all the squares were filled with live bands, music and people.
We saw seven Royal Caribbean Cruise ship buses at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This fort, built by the Spanish in 1657, was to protect the gold and treasures after five sieges by pirates including one in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake.
The fort is a marvel of tunnels and engineering. You can visit the Palace of the Inquisition where people were tortured for being accused of crimes against their religion. I skipped it.
I did unfortunately take the tour to Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario which I do not recommend. I did not find it beautiful or relaxing; way too many hawkers and far too little beach. Sadly for friends of ours, they spent the night at Playa Blanca and were attacked by sand fleas. The only nice part of the day was seeing the Constellation leave port which made for great sunset photos!
I can highly recommend two restaurants in Getsemani. We ate twice at Cafe Lunatico whose menu states: “Todo hecho con amor y locura” or all is made with crazy love! The food is excellent and the staff are helpful. Across the street, but still on Calle de la Media Luna you can eat at Luna Nueva with a complete breakfast for only 7000 pesos (about $3.50) near the hip and happening hostel, Media Luna.
If you want to relax in Getsemani, check out the brand new Casa Canabal, a hotel boutique in Cartagena de Indias. The spa on the upper deck overlooks the city with a bar and bright yellow flowers, a wonderful spot to reflect on the city.
Our favorite lunch spot in the Old Town is La Mulata, with daily specials and grilled meats every day; it is always full but only open for lunch. Both times we were here, the food was great and the group very international.
I also recommend seeing the Cartagena de Indias Small Luxury Hotel. Our tour included the upstairs pool near sunset and the view is the first photo at the top! Enjoy the beauty of Cartagena!