So when we told people that we were going to Colombia the place “to go” always seemed to be Cartagena and so we were both quite excited about getting here. So even after 15 hours on the bus and with the scorching heat that met is on arrival we were keen to see the place.
We had pre booked accommodation and were a little surprised as to how expensive places were and so we stayed in Bocagrande rather than the old town. It looked in the map like a good plan but what met us on arrival was the Colombian equivalent of Gold Coast but still in construction stage and with dirty beaches. Umm.
But nevertheless we went for a walk and a swim where we were accosted by a whole load of hawkers. Most of which wanted us to pay to sit on a lounger, not quite sure what the money went to, certainly not a clean up. Still we walked all the way around and managed to go for a dip in the warm sea which considering how hot it was was very refreshing.
Anyway we weren’t to be deterred and just put it down to a bad choice of area to stay and cooled down and got ready to head out to the Old Town.
It wasn’t long before we were walking along some of the 9km of walls which still surround the old part of town. It was still hot but luckily there were loads more hawkers selling cold beers on the street so beers in hand we set about discovering the place.
It really is lovely in the Old Town, it’s all cobbled streets and old buildings, all very clean and really a very cool place to just wander around checking out all the old buildings and churches. There are of course loads of bars and restaurants spread out all over the place and we got the feeling that we should have done a bit of research on where to eat.
Most places were quite flash. Probably some Colombian influence but certainly wouldn’t be out of place in any major city around the world. The prices were a lot more than we were used to paying too. I guess it was good value for a fine dining experience but not quite what we were looking for.
Still we found a nice square and sat down and ate and enjoyed all the street performers doing their thing. We obviously were there too long as we ended up seeing a couple of groups twice but it was all good entertainment.
The next day we wanted to explore more of the city and decided to cheat a little and go on a tour and so went by “tram.” It was really quite fun, it was a converted bus with chairs and tables in aircon, and an outdoor area out the back with some bar stools. Our group was pretty diverse with folk from Argentina, Venezuela and Chile. Our guide, Mike, was a great local who spoke good enough English so that we got to understand a bit about the place too.
In a nutshell we drove all around town to some pretty good vantage points to take some photos. The best bit without a doubt is the old town, and the area where we are staying, Bocogrande, is the new part of town. Like I mentioned before its full of high rises and most of it has been built within the last few years and in a couple of years will look incredibly similar to the Gold Coast.
One of the extras we did was to go to the …. A huge fort which had an imposing look still to this day. We paid to get in and have a wander around and got to see some views and also had a wander through a labyrinth of tunnels within the deepest darkest depths of the fort.
We decided to do a little more preparation for our visit to the Old Town for our second evening and managed to find a great restaurant where we enjoyed some lovely food, followed by some great ice cream and then headed back towards home.
On our way we passed by a bar we had seen earlier. It was in one of the main squares and had Salsa music blaring out and tables and chairs perfectly positioned for watching everything that was going on. Well it would have been rude not to stop. The practice here is to buy your rum by the bottle or half bottle so we decided to split a half bottle of Ron Medellin with loads of limes, some ginger ale and shared a Cuban cigar. A great way to spend an evening listening to salsa and again watching the street performers. Sarah’s favourite was a mime who followed people who walked past mimicking them, all very funny!!
It was just a fantastic way to finish our Cartagena experience.
I will have to say though that Cartagena as a whole didn’t quite “do it” for us. It’s definitely a lot more touristy than everywhere else we have been to in Colombia and while everywhere else the friendliness of the locals has been noticeable it was not so apparent here. Whether it is a result of the number of tourists or not I don’t know.
The other most irritating occurrence was the adding on of service on bills. Just left a sour taste in the mouth and left us feeling like we were being conned. In fact the whole time it felt like people were just trying to get money out of us and therefore tarnished the experience slightly. Like I said the old town is definitely worth a walk around but the rest of the place is a dump. It is billed as the most beautiful city in Colombia yet we feel we have been to two which top it easily. In fact I would recommend everywhere else that we have been so far in Colombia over Cartagena and hope/expect the rest of the country to be better too! T
Bocagrande or the Gold Coast. Going to be huge in a couple of years.
The walls around the old city of Cartagena.
The colours that greet you as you enter the town are so vivid.
Sarah guarding the town.
The streets of the old town, so lovely just walking around all day and night!
It was so hot that anything with ice in it would have been good but this fresh lime juice with sugar was delicious.
Some sculptures in one of the squares.
The clock tower at one of the entrances to the old town.
Cartagena. Bocagrande in the back left and old town to the right of it, then your general sprawl.
The tunnels we explored.
Some more markets, these ones were a bit more touristy.
My new job, beer sales in Cartagena.
Some examples of the many street performers we got to watch.
Perfect rum and dry.