Cartagena, COLOMBIA – this port city on the country’s northern coast differs vastly from Colombia’s interior cities as it served an important role in the expansion of the Spanish empire. This is where Spanish, Caribbean, and Colombian worlds meet. We finished our adventure here for a little R&R and unexpectedly found world class cuisine.
Our Stay: 4 days/ 4 nights
Do’s & Don’ts
Do stay in Bocagrande at a hotel or Airbnb with a rooftop pool, away from beach vendors. We chose a condo at Morros City equipped with 24 hour security and a pool with views of the Old City. The beachfront property feels like you’re floating on top of the water. Only 5-10 minutes to the Walled City.
If you are visiting Cartagena for more than 4 days, it’s worth staying in the Walled City for a few nights. Many old Spanish colonial mansions have been converted into luxury boutique hotels.
Don’t let the beach masseuse give you a “free demonstration” foot massage. After a few seconds, she starts charging and before you know it you owe $50,000 pesos ($15 USD). The fast growth in tourism in Cartagena has brought a huge influx of vendors, so be prepared to be hawked at constantly.
Do enjoy a nice cigar and rum at Puro Cuba in the old town. You can choose to stay there and take advantage of their 2×1 mojitos or you can take your cigar to the street and walk around the Walled City. You can also buy the local Aguila beer from the street vendors if you want to enjoy the views without paying for them at overpriced bars like Cafe del Mar.
Don’t buy discounted cigars off the street. You can tell they are fake by the way they are wrapped which causes them to burn improperly.
Do rent a boat and island hop. We chartered a private boat from Luxurious Boats Cartagena and visited the Rosario Islands, Isla Grande, Baru, and Playa Blanca ($500 for 8 hours). Also check out Boats4U for boat and yacht rentals. We had fresh seafood for lunch from local vendors off the coast of Cholon – pricey but delicious. Make sure to bring enough cash with you. I recommend between $100-$150 USD as there is a 20% credit card fee.
Don’t forget to over communicate with your captain regarding lunch options and where you’d like to explore. We prefer more remote islands and by the time we arrived, we only had 30 minutes left in our journey.
Pro tip: Skip the coco loco drinks in Cholon and bring your own beer and aguardiente on the boat.
Do find a local walking tour to learn about the city’s history. Cartagena de Indias was Spanish America’s largest slave port, bringing over 1.1 million slaves to it’s docks. Many tours leave from the Clock Tower or Plaza Santa Teresa. Don’t forget to do your research and read reviews.
EAT & DRINK
<<Inside the Walled City>>
El Burlador Gastrobar – Spanish tapas with live flamenco show. Looking for a cocktail with local flavors? Try the “Del Cielo” with lulo, maracuya (passion fruit) and rum.
Alquimico – multi-level cocktail bar and lounge. At the entrance, ask to be seated in the rooftop terrace, which features a different drink menu than inside.
Bar Tu Candela – recommended to us by locals for reggaeton music. There is a cover fee and the drinks are expensive, but totally worth it! Great spot to dance the night away!
Cande – Excellent for dinner. We recommend the “Cande Coquetona” tamarindo cocktail, arroz anfitrion special and coconut ceviche. Reservations required.
Porton San Sebastian – affordable, home cooking. Ask for menu of the day – fillete de robalo (bass fiilet) with patacones and vegetables and a watermelon juice for $10 USD.
Zaitun – Lebanese fusion cuisine with Caribbean flavors. Must try Dmitriy’s favorite”La Mafalda” lulu cocktail. Reservations recommended.
El Arsenal: The Rum Box – steps away from the Walled City in Getsemani, this bar is #1 on TripAdvisor so we had to check it out. You won’t find locals here, but it was entertaining to sit at the bar and interact with the bartenders. The Sweet Chili Julip and Mojito de Lulo cocktails did not disappoint.
Mangata – MUST VISIT! This was the best meal of the trip. We recommend the mar de mariscos and chicharrones del mar to share for two, however anything you order will be phenomenal. Pay attention to the opening hours as they close late afternoon to prepare for dinner.
Boka Grande – Popped in here for a quick bite to eat and were quickly impressed with the flavors and upscale atmosphere. Excellent fried fish and coconut rice (chicaron de pescado) and chorizo a la plancha appetizer. Paired with a fresh jugo de maracuyà en agua and we were in heaven. Nice dinner for only $28. We found via Google reviews. Address: Carrera 3 #7-133, Local 2, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
We were seriously impressed with the restaurant scene in Cartagena, so it’s no surprise that this travel guide transformed into a food blog. With full bellies, we make the short trip back to Houston.