Often when people imagine of the beautiful Caribbean Sea, those sun-drenched coasts and stunning shorelines, they seldom picture the gorgeous and historic city of Cartagena. Nowadays, some people are more likely to associate this area with a string of successful Disney pirate movies or even the eighties cinematic classic “Romancing The Stone” supposedly set in Colombia but filmed mostly in Mexico. Moving past some of these family-favorite flicks, there are plenty of reasons to visit the amazing town inside one of Colombia’s signature and most populous cities. Located on the shores of a bay bearing the same name, Cartagena is a spectacular destination that needs to be put on every traveler’s bucket list.
The Heroic Walled City
Way back in ancient history, Cartagena was a popular port for the actual pirates of the Caribbean looting this wealthy, emerging city while trekking their way through this tropical and profitable sea. Tired of being a constant target of medieval marauders, the existing government enlisted their growing military and townspeople to construct a multitude of towers, huge stone walls and well-armed fortifications to protect their precious town from robbers and continuous invasion attempts. Many of these long-lasting landmarks are still standing today, and this is how Cartagena garnered the nickname of the “walled city.”
Today’s natives of this historic region are extremely proud of their national heritage, and the bloody battles once raged to ultimately gain their independence from an overbearing Spanish rule. Currently, Cartagena remains the busiest port in this South American country, and with over a million residents, its shiny, modern skyscrapers are towering over cobblestone streets, shadowing ancient castles and bestow beautiful colonial architecture making it a truly unique destination for voyeuristic travelers.
The Best Bay View And More
If you’re looking for one of the absolute best views of the Bay of Cartagena, look closely at stopping for dinner (or drinks) at the Cafe del Mar. Located atop one of those remaining relic forts, this remarkable restaurant is home to a priceless view of the city’s skyline either by day or night. Most prefer viewing the sunset from this rooftop restaurant after seeing all the sites during the daylight hours. But if you plan on watching the sun dip down just before dark, be sure to arrive early to this popular destination for the best seat.
Aside from the unbelievable ambiance at this extraordinary eatery as seen both inside and out, it’s also highly acclaimed for their fantastic food, appetizers, full bar, dancing to a DJ spinning tunes seven nights a week. They also have a great calendar of events lasting throughout the year. From an annual New Year’s Eve party to Independence Day celebrations, they also host a variety of native talent shows and festive Full Moon Nights. You’ll find a delightful blend of both locals and tourists mingling at this Cartagena hot spot.
Cruising The Caribbean In Style
Along with the majority of peso-based purchases in Cartagena, almost everything in Colombia is surprisingly affordable especially renting a boat or even a yacht. That’s right chartering a private yacht is within many traveler’s budgets. While they are plenty of traditional tourist-trap options puttering around the bay, instead of being crammed into a smaller tour boat like a sardine, water wanderlusts can captain a vessel by renting their cruiser. For those unfamiliar with the bay, a better option is booking a yacht complete with a Captain and small staff including a knowledgeable, friendly First Mate available with many of these packages.
With plenty to see in The Bay of Cartagena including dozens of islands and archipelagos, local pilots of these smaller ships know these waters like the back of their hands. They’ll take you to remote locations where passengers will enjoy being pampered while viewing magnificent marine life, all the fantastic flora, fauna, exploring sensational scuba and lesser-known snorkeling sites without dealing with crowds.
A Floating Party On Cholon
If partying like a rock star floats your boat, then be sure to set a course for the island of Cholon where there’s a literal floating party happening practically every day. Not just on the weekends or other red-letter days, a mostly college-aged crowd sets sail to this isle located about 45-minutes off the shores of Cartagena where boaters gather to party hearty on board their watercraft.
Even if you’re not into hanging with a younger crowd, prepare for locals catering to your needs when mooring your vessel near the shores of this trendy location. Many natives will swim or row out to your to your boat to deliver the freshest seafood, sensational cocktails, favorite local cuisine and more. Food and beverage vendors on the shore also set up tables in the shallow, warm tropical waters for visitors to enjoy their dishes and beverages closer to the beach.
All Aboard Romantic Shores
One of the best ways to see the sites of this city is via a horse and carriage ride through the old town section of Cartagena especially if you’re vacationing with your significant other. Even if you’re touring with friends or family, riding in the back of one of these open-air carriages on the cobblestone streets of the historic district offers stunning views and a unique way to explore this stunning part of the city.
With miles of shoreline near the city along with and dozens of islands scattered throughout in the bay, strolling on sandy, white beaches in and around Cartagena is pastime enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. So opaque are some of these shores, there’s even a place called Playa Blanca which translates to “white beach.” Located on Isla Baru, about an hour’s scenic boat ride from the city and also accessible by land, this is also a popular location for snorkeling, fishing, and even skydiving. Often crowded with tourists during the populous afternoon hours, once the vast majority of foot traffic has returned to the shores of Cartagena, those spending the night or with their transportation often enjoy moonlit walks on the beach after dark underneath the star-studded stars.
Cultural Coastal Cuisine
Similar to most coastal cities, Cartagena is world renowned for its wide selection of some of the freshest seafood and ceviche is a popular choice. To experience the real crème de la crème of this sensational seafood classic, be sure to visit the namesake La Cevicheria restaurant since they snagged the bragging rights for this sensational seafood stew. You’ll also find ceviche being served all over the streets of this town including those prepared by local food vendors, served in sidewalk cafes and offered by street peddlers. A couple of other excellent eateries worthy of visiting to taste regional treats and experience the unique cultural, Caribbean cuisine of Cartagena include the upscale Marea Restaurante by Rausch with delectable downtown views and Restaurante Paco’s closer to the historic district.
In conclusion, when placing a Caribbean locale in your plans for a future getaway, be sure to put the quaint and charming Colombian city of Cartagena on your travel calendar for a truly magical and memorable adventure. Don’t worry about booking during a certain season since the temperatures are tropical year-round. While light rains typically fall mostly during the months of October and November, this is not a monsoon region, so chances are the weather will be gorgeous during your stay.