CARTAGENA: Beats, Eats and Renaissance Streets

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Cartagena is truly one of the most beautiful cities in all of South America. It is said that one should visit there at least once in their lifetime. I'm glad that I did!

The city sits on the port side of Colombia's Caribbean coast and for Jamaicans there is no adjustment to the climate as it's just as tropical. This walled city with its cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings has a wealth of history: wars, invasions, treasure discovery and, like much of the world, power struggles. You may have seen a few episodes of Narcos or even the popular '80s film Romancing the Stone, which may have sparked some interest or curiosity in Colombia. Prior to my visit I had been so regaled with tales of travelling to Cartagena that made it appear novel and too exotic for a weekend trip. It could not be further from the truth! Indeed, airfare and hotel accommodations can be as low as US$1,000 and with no visa requirement it's hassle-free getting in or out. There is also no visa requirement and, contrary to its past, it's one of the safest cities in South America today. You can avoid flying into the capital, Bogotá, as there are direct flights into the city, which is teeming with tourists due to the popularity of cruise ship stopovers.

There is much to be done in this city. For music lovers, Café Havana or Bazerto Social Club are a must for Latin music and free salsa lessons. Be sure to pack water and sunblock when venturing out in the day. You should also pack a hat and wear breathable clothing as the afternoons are hot and humidity is very high. Cartagena can be a fairly inexpensive destination if done right, so organise your tours and arrange logistics for moving around as taxis can put a dent in your wallet. Warning!! Avoid taking the bus (it's hot, packed and moves at a snail's pace). When purchasing in the streets, remember to heed these two words: Buyer, beware! There are many cases in which silver jewellery has turned green after a few days. Cuban cigars are very popular; however, they are not always authentic.

Cartagena boasts some of Colombia's most alluring and diverse “street eats” like corn, sausage, pork, chicken, fried cheese in bread and potato sticks, to name a few. You will also find many “palenqueras” (fruit vendors) from whom you can get anything from mangoes, pineapples, papayas, guavas, and much more; mangoes seemingly being the most popular. If you want to try a good variety, head to one of the squares and buy a salad, which will cost very little. Cartagena features rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the new and old worlds. For a taste of local cuisine you can check out the La Mulata, Espirito Santo, Guia Restaurante and Porton de San Sebastián mixed menus. Fine dining options could be Moshi, Carmen Restaurant, Restaurant 1621 and Perú Fusion Sushi to name a few. At least 24 hours' reservation is suggested for the majority of these restaurants; Peru Fusión, although a bit on the pricey side, is a popular spot for casual dining.

Charleston Santa Teresa Plaza offers a panoramic view of the city and is a remarkable place to view the sunset. The restaurant itself is perfect for lunch, dinner or merely grabbing a pizza to go. Patrons enjoy live music in between mouthfuls of fresh seafood delicacies. A formidable dining experience invariably includes equally impressive retail therapy. The Plaza does not disappoint with its cluster of small boutiques.

Colombia accounts for 70-90% of the world's emerald market and the gem is said to be among the purest in the world. What to pick up, then, is a no-brainer!

Stroll around the walled Old Fort City with its amazing sculptures, like the famous La Gordita, sculpted in bronze by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero. Of this voluptuous reclining nude sculpture, it is said that if you rub her breasts, she will bring you luck in love. The beaches are great options, too. Add Cartagena — a romantic city with old world charm that remembers its past, is filled with fascinating stories, and is always reborn anew — to this year's travel itinerary.

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