Exploring Cartagena in Three Days

Hey there! Hope all is well. Today, please come and hang out with me in the streets of Cartagena, Colombia. This spot is a beautiful place to take in the culture, as well as relax and chill. If you’re into history, there is plenty to see. However, if you’re interested in R & R, there is lots of space along the ocean line and more than enough balconies and infinity pools.

For our 18th Wedding Anniversary, Ejuan had planned us a getaway. As usual, I had no clue where this trip would take us. For packing clues, he told me to wear something colorful. If you’ve followed me long enough, you know that one of the top items on our bucket list is to visit all fifty states. Lately, we have been country-hopping more, and I reminded him that we need to get more states knocked off the list. Therefore, I became curious about the trip. Normally, I go with the flow and begin to pack to the best of my abilities with the hints I’ve received. However, I was so excited that the colorful place he mentioned could be Hawaii. It is one of the seventeen states we have left to see. I attempted to ask more specific questions regarding the location. He wouldn’t give any distinct info, and I’m okay with that, but his responses begin to make me feel like Hawaii would not be our destination.

With that, I was extremely excited and anxious at the same time. As I’ve spoken about in past travel posts, I try not to stand out completely and be any more foreign than my complexion and southern accent already declare. Other times, depending on the location, I sometimes want to dress like the culture and fit in more with the locals. Because I didn’t know where I was going, I became concerned with choosing the proper attire. In response to one of my questions, Ejuan told me we would be going somewhere we’d never been and that it would be out of the country. That didn’t help me decide on clothing, so I began searching the web for some colorful looks. I came across a cute, brightly colored jumpsuit that I felt would fit whatever occasion he had planned for us. I ordered it and then had to have it tailored because it was too long.

We arrived at the airport in the wee hours Sunday morning to catch (you guessed it!)our Spirit Airlines flight. At that moment, Ejuan sent my boarding pass, and our destination was revealed to me. That plane took us to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we hopped on the next flight to Cartagena. Within a few hours, we’d made it to Colombia. We grabbed a taxi and began to enjoy the next few days in paradise. During the ride, we passed many older buildings (which I later found out was Old Town). We drove to Boca Granda and came to Hyatt Regency, which would be our home away from home during our stay. Many of the workers spoke Spanish, but there was always someone available to assist that spoke English as well. Check-in was relatively seamless, and we went on our way to check out our new space.

The room was very tidy and spacious, with modern and simple decor. There were a few pieces that displayed the Colombian heritage. After dropping our bags, we quickly changed from our cold Dallas weather pants into our hot Cartagena weather shorts. It was warm and sunny there. We went to get a quick view of the pool and balcony area. Of course, we had to snap a few shots before we left. The view was absolutely amazing! From there, we were off to find something to eat. We talked to a young lady at the front desk to get suggestions on local dining.

We began walking near areas by the hotel when the heat and my aggravation and hunger were taking over. Based on the GPS walking directions, we had a while to go before we reached the restaurant. Therefore, we crossed the street not too far down from the hotel to check out the food at this outdoor covered eatery. As usual, I look for something on the menu that reminds me of home, and I’m game.

The moment we sat down, the local hagglers began popping up one after another, from selling beads to hats and some that wanted to give you an arm and shoulder massage. Once you’ve given them a few no’s, they will eventually back off.

We ordered filet chicken and regular white rice. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the menu, so you’ll have to show this post and hope for the best if you decide to go. Ejuan would not touch the lettuce, onion, and tomato that was tossed in this delicious sauce. On the other hand, I was enjoying all of the veggies and dressing along with the fried plantains and chicken. I was literally making a sandwich out of the meal. It wasn’t until I was overindulging in everything that he reminded me about the veggies most likely being washed in their water. Usually, we don’t drink water (unless it comes bottled) when we are out of the country, but I hadn’t thought twice about it. At that point, I couldn’t turn back because the combination was so good. I told him we’d prayed before we began to eat, and I’m going to trust in that prayer even more than ever this time. I devoured that plate! I also ordered a margarita and let me tell you, they did not hold back on the ‘rita! LOL. I was feeling pretty good when it was time for us to head out. We left there, walked the shoreline for a bit, and had a quick photo shoot.

After being out in the heat for a couple of hours, we decided to go back to the hotel, relax a bit, and freshen up for the evening. About an hour or so later, we caught a cab and made our way to Old Town. We drove through the small tunnel entry, and after making a few turns, the cab driver stopped to let us out. We began walking the streets and checking out the culture. You already know what was on my mind…SHOPPING! I was looking for the cutest pieces that I could take back home with me. Every street vendor wants you to stop at their shop, but I kept walking by until something caught my eye. I fell in love with these fluffy floral earrings, and I wanted them in every color, but I settled for green.

Word of caution, don’t purchase the first cute thing you see because chances are the same product is in a different color on the next block. I made that mistake when buying something for my mom. The necklace was so cute, so I had to have it. Another vendor a few feet down the road had the same item, but it was black. That is my mom’s favorite color, so I knew she’d appreciate it more, and would probably get more wear out of it. Unfortunately, the second vendor would not swap colors with me. It was a stretch to ask, but hey, I tried.

Besides the street vendors trying to catch your attention, beware of what I call the ‘street hustlers.’ This is the group of people showcasing their talents on the street, and they will follow you to be noticed until you entertain them and give a tip or completely ignore them.

After walking around for a while, we had worked up an appetite. Since we’d walked to the opposite side, near Puerto del Reloj (Watch Tower), we decided to find a spot nearby. We walked that strip back and forth until we agreed to try Gran Inka Peruvian Cuisine. I found something that sounded appealing, and we selected another option to try. Sorry, I forgot to get a menu pic again. My first choice, which was like seafood gumbo, was amazing! The other meal was okay, but not something we would get if we went back. The atmosphere was quiet and laid back, and the soft lighting gave off a relaxed feeling too. After dinner, Ejuan wanted to try some cookies from one of the vendors outside of the restaurant. Let’s just say he took a bite and didn’t touch it again. My husband is very adventurous with food, but I dare not attempt to taste it if he couldn’t finish. We snapped a few pictures of and near the tower. It’s a colorful beauty at night. After that, we retired for the evening to get ready for the next day’s adventures.

The following morning I didn’t know what we were about to get into, but I was ready! I put on my face and my best swim cover. I was aware that water was involved, and I was excited. We took a cab to an area with a lot of small boats. It was then that Ejuan told me we were about to ride over to an island. We boarded after about a 15-20 minute wait. It was about a 45-minute ride to get there. Once we arrived and docked, the moment we stepped off the deck and walked up the stairs, workers waited with wet hand towels and a tasty smooth foam-topped rum drink. We were given the rules and expectations for the day and told what time we had to be back at the boat to leave. Afterward, we confirmed our lunch orders. Unfortunately, Ejuan didn’t give them our tickets when we arrived at the departing dock. However, they worked with us and were still able to take our preferences. Then we were released to enjoy the day at Isla Grande, the largest of the Rosario Islands.

The location is surrounded by beautiful turquoise blue water and private sandy beaches. There were also secluded areas to sit out near the water, and they had hammocks and other seating underneath the large, shaded trees. We began the day sitting under the umbrellas on the beach. Next, we enjoyed the sand and hopped in and out of the water for a bit. We took some photos and then moved around the island, taking in all we could before the day would come to an end.

We got a ball from one of the workers and played volleyball until it was time for lunch. We walked back near the entrance and found a table underneath the open, covered seating area. Ejuan’s name was written on a small chalkboard to hold our table. Everyone on the excursion had a reserved table. Ejuan had the whole fried fish, and I had the fish filet. Both meals came with coconut rice, fried plantains, and salad. The food was terrific, and they also know how to make an excellent long-island iced tea. We also tried a glass of their natural strawberry juice, and it was very refreshing.

After we relaxed some more and allowed our food to settle, we asked if someone could show us the rooms, in case we came back and decided to spend a night on the island. The room we saw was large enough for three people. It was set up with a queen bed and a small sofa-like bed off to the side. I can definitely see us going back and staying overnight there. After about six hours on the island, it was time to say our goodbyes. We boarded the speedboat and headed back to the city. When we left out to find the taxi, we noticed that the streets were full of water. Once the cab pulled up, he quoted us a few dollars higher than it cost us to get there that morning. We asked why, and he told us because of the street flooding and the traffic and time it would take to get back. We understood and accepted.

Back at the hotel, we rinsed off, freshened up, and immediately headed out for the balcony before we missed the sunset. We made it just in time to enjoy the infinity pool and watch the sun go down. Ejuan snapped some great shots of me while we were out. We hung around until there was no sight of the sun, and the wind blew like Jack Frost when we came out of the water. We went back to our room to get cleaned up and ready for dinner.

I tossed on this two-piece outfit I’d initially ordered when Ejuan told me to get something colorful. Although I felt black went against his suggestion to get something ‘colorful,’ I kept it because it was cute. It seemed like it may work for wherever we would go, so I packed it, and it worked out for the location. I paired it with one of the headpieces I’d purchased from a street vendor there, and it was perfect. We rode back to Old Town and picked Juan Del Mar for dining. Ejuan chose his old faithful, whole fried red snapper, and I ordered salmon and coconut rice. The bed of sauce for my food was not tasty, but Ejuan’s was delicious. Therefore, I requested a side of the same sauce, which they obliged, and I had no complaints from there. As we were finishing up dinner, a live band was setting up. Once we took care of the check, we stayed around just a few minutes longer to hear some of the music.

We left the restaurant and walked around the area. Once we turned a few corners, Ejuan found a vendor selling arepas. Although he’d just finished dinner, he made room for his newfound favorite Colombian staple. Before the trip, he’d done his research to find landmarks and food in the area, and arepas were high on the must-haves list. Earlier, he had found a spot near the hotel that sold arepas, so he was ecstatic to come across them again. We continued to stroll through the city, walking hand in hand, and snapping photos along the way.

The next morning, we started our day in the gym. It was a nice, clean, spacious area on the same level as the pool balcony. From one window, you could look out to the pool, and on the other side, you could see the ocean and a nearby military base. Once we finished there, we went back to get cleaned up and dressed for the day. The moment had finally arrived for me to wear my brightly colored jumpsuit. I was overjoyed because I knew whatever he had in mind when he advised me to get something colorful, I was going to enjoy.

We began our adventure for the day at Fort San Felipe de Barajas. Before we entered the fort, while Ejuan was purchasing our tickets, vendors sold water and hats. Typically, I ignore them, but it was so hot that I couldn’t resist the guy with the hats. I purchased one, and we began the steep climb uphill. I cannot imagine someone older or out of shape attempting that incline because I was just about breathless when we made it. Thank goodness the bathrooms were located over to the side once you reached the top. You have to go through a tunnel opening, which I was a little eerie about, but that’s just how I am.

We started walking the fortress’ grounds on our self-guided tour and taking in the history that you find displayed throughout. It was a hot and steamy day, but it was fun, and the walls and views of the city that you catch in the background made for some beautiful pictures. We toured the space for a while and got in as many photos as the heat would allow. Once we exited the area, nearby, we spotted the famous fruit ladies, called Palenqueras. Of course, we had to get this photo op. We only wanted one lady to take a pic, but she insisted her friend join us. We understood that means tipping both of them, but it was all about the experience, so we didn’t mind.

From there, we crossed the street and came upon a vendor making some savory smelling food. As we began to pass by, Ejuan started to talk about the food, so we turned back to check it out. There was no one else nearby besides locals, so I was a bit apprehensive about that. However, everyone looked like they were on break from the nearby businesses or had just stopped by to purchase meals. They all stayed to themselves and sat around the vendor while the food was being prepared. We went up closer to see what she was making, and we were sold. We purchased a plate, and I must say it was THE BEST FOOD I’d had since we were there! It reminded me of an American meal that I would eat at home. There was a dipping sauce that was similar to mayo, but it was so much more flavorful. We sat on the nearby benches to take a break and to enjoy our food.

Once we finished up, we set out on the next journey Ejuan had planned for us. We crossed over a bridge with a small sidewalk that led to a neighborhood. We had to cross a busy street, but we waited until it was absolutely clear. Not far from that street, we walked upon a breath-taking mural. It was one of the coolest things I had seen. Ejuan started snapping photos, and I was not complaining.

We kept walking down that street, and I started seeing all of the colorful buildings, and my eyes lit up. However, I noticed that we were entering deep into a neighborhood, and I didn’t see any other tourists around. As much as I love to venture out, I like to be cautious of our surroundings. Since we were not turning back anytime soon, I chilled out and focused on the fun we were having. I asked for the camera and got a couple of photos of Ejuan too. I didn’t want him feeling left out, although he volunteered himself as my photographer. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to use the professional camera the way he does. I do the best that I can, but when I can’t get the focus right, we pull out the old handy-dandy cell.

We stopped at a nearby building so that I could grab a drink, and then we continued up the street exploring the area. Once we made it down that strip and turned a corner, I began to see what Ejuan’s plan was for having me dress so bright. My jumpsuit was fitting right in with all of the colorful buildings because Cartagena is a picturesque location to visit. His idea was coming together. Street after street, there were so many vividly colored homes, stores and restaurants, and more artwork on several of the buildings we passed. It was so much to take in amid the heat, but I was enjoying myself. The art district of Getsemani (the area I learned we were in) is rich in history and culture, and I was beginning to feel right at home. The majority of our time spent there consisted of a non-stop photo shoot.

We continued on foot around the streets until we walked out of the area and crossed the road on a path back to the Walled City. The historic churches and colonial architecture provided a beautiful backdrop for more photos. We walked the cobblestoned streets and, at times, were aggressively approached by the young people using their talents in an attempt to get our attention. It was funny at one point when I watched a young guy follow Ejuan down the block. I could tell Ejuan was getting annoyed, so I snuck in a video. The guy walked alongside Ejuan, trying to spit bars to the beat on the radio that he cradled under his arm. Ejuan turned back as if he needed to speak to me, but I knew he was trying to use it as a tactic to free himself from the unwanted talent of the street performer.

We made it to another one of Ejuan’s checklist items, Plaza Santo Domingo, named for the church Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Right outside of the church sits a cultural landmark in the square, the statue of La Gorda Gertrudis. Supposedly, if you touch her breasts, you’ll be blessed with luck in love, especially new couples. Instead, Ejuan opted for snagging a picture with her backside on display and somehow managed to do this while I was not looking. It was a hysterical sight to see later as we went through the camera roll. Back inside the church, were old wooden benches and brightly colored walls. Ejuan went all out to capture the character of the baroque altar at the head of the aisle.

We continued our trek through the city as my feet were wearing out, we made a stop near the restrooms below Cafe Del Mar. It does cost to use the facility if you are not dining at the cafe, so make sure you have some change to pay for that. We then headed up the ramp to get a view from the top of the city wall. Later, in my research about Cartagena, I found out that this is a great spot to catch the sunset. Others have said the drinks there are a bit costly but worth sipping on while catching the incredible sight.

I could have enjoyed this time more, but my shoes were failing me. It was a cute pair I picked up at a local store the day before. Cute was the ONLY purpose they served. We walked down the stairs, located on the other end of the cafe. We had another photo shoot sitting in the openings in the walls. I forced myself to walk back and located another shop that sold shoes. I found a cute, inexpensive pair that yielded more support. Once I swapped my sandals, I had a little more go left in me.

By this time, the sun had gone down, and it was time to grab some grub to end the night. We selected Crepes & Waffles, which was next to Iglesia de San Pedro. We had stopped by earlier in the day to check out the crepes, and Ejuan purchased a cup of ice cream then. We decided to sit out on the roof to enjoy the view and night air. I selected a meal that we shared, as we often do. It was Crepe de Pollo (Mexican Chicken), and it was delicious. It’s chicken in Mexican salsa and chipotle, with queso grated, lettuce, sour cream, and aji. (Yay! I remembered to jot down the name and description of this meal.) I told our waitress, “No caliente, por favor.” That’s about as good as my Spanish gets, but she understood.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and planned to sit out on the balcony, only to realize they closed around 8 PM. So, we opted for counter height seats at an empty table in the hotel’s restaurant. I ordered a beautifully decorated dessert that I couldn’t help eyeing from another customer’s table. I sipped on a glass of white wine as Ejuan and I shared the delectable treat and discussed the adventures we’d experienced. The trip was coming to an end, so we paused to bask in this bittersweet moment. As much as I love touring new places, Colombia is definitely a place I’m trying to visit again, VERY SOON!

‘Til the next time, I’ll leave you with this. I urge you to get out and see more of the world. If my post wasn’t enough to convince you to visit Colombia (and I don’t know how that happened), go somewhere. Expose yourself to other areas, learn a little history, and appreciate different cultures. There is more to life than your same ol’ trip you take every year. You may say it’s all you need, but I promise it’s because you haven’t exposed yourself to anything different to notice what you’re missing. Discover what the world has to offer. Start today, and commit to experiencing something new!

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