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Three Days in Colorful Cartagena

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

As I sit in our rented apartment in Cartagena at 6:00 on a Saturday morning with the door to our little balcony open and drinking the jugo de naranja (orange juice) that we bought yesterday at the huge Exito grocery store around the corner, I’m struck by the fact that the walled city is quiet. Soon it will be a teeming mass of people, cars and men pushing carts going about their daily business. You'd think that in such heat (see below!), life would be slow, but it appears to be bustling. We’ve seen a few tourists, but my guess is that most of those who visit Cartagena stay at the beach and not within the historical walled city as we chose to do.

Early morning in the old walled city

I’m also hit (literally) once again by the humidity which you can see hanging heavily in the photo above. Not that it’s a surprise. Cartagena is only 10 degrees north of the equator and it’s hot and humid year-round. Right now at 6:00 it’s 81 degrees with 93% humidity making it feel like it’s 90 degrees. The heat index will hit a toasty and soggy 105 later today. I imagine if you grow up in a climate like this you get used to it, but as someone who doesn’t fare well in temperature extremes - especially in heat and humidity - it’s daunting. Even my iPhone camera lens fogs up when it first leaves the apartment. Our daughter Katie says I just need to embrace it; I'm trying, but I think it's embracing me instead! In the pressing heat of the day you move more slowly out of necessity. That’s fine for us. As “attack and burn”-type travelers, having three days to slow down and take it in is a luxury.

This fellow has embraced the heat!

Cartagena is a detour from our usual destinations, most of which are filled with historic sights, gothic churches, great artwork, etc. We remarked that it feels very much like a Caribbean island. For all intents and purposes it is, except that it's not completely surrounded by water. It's also a world apart from Bogota which we just left.

If you're of a certain age as we are, you probably watched Romancing the Stone, the great romantic comedy of the mid-'80's starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, shot in Cartagena.

Except it wasn't.

Much of the movie was filmed in Veracruz, Mexico and Zion National Park in Utah (if you can believe that). Sorry to burst your bubble. It always held a certain mysterious "I want to see that place" feeling for me. Well, I'm here and I don't have plans to venture to Veracruz in the near future. C'est la vie.

So why are we here? Romancing the Stone isn't the reason - or maybe it is. Originally Katie was to have joined us. She's on a work trip in Peru. We decided to meet in Colombia which is a relatively easy flight from Lima. She said she's wanted to see Cartagena for years. I haven't yet asked her why; maybe she also loved Romancing the Stone. We decided she'd fly directly to Cartagena, spend a few days with us, then fly home as we head to Medellin. Once all the reservations were set in stone, her work trip was extended and she's still in Peru. So we're here and she'll have to settle for our photos!

I'm not sure what it was these men were buying, but it looks interesting.

We toured the city on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. It was interesting to see what's outside of the city walls. Construction on the wall which spanned two centuries began in the late 16th century to protect the area from English invaders.

Most of the many white high rises are apartments and hotels near the sea.

Back in the walled city, the colors are so vibrant!

This is what my iPhone said today after lunch. Siesta time!

And then it was time to go to La Paletteria for a colorful and artistically created ice. I chose the coco (coconut) and Paul had a blueberry. So refreshing!

Ceviches, where have you been all my life? Dinner was at Cebiches y Ceviches, a Peruvian restaurant that claims to make the best ceviches in Cartagena. Mine was shrimp and squid (I declined the octopus). I have nothing to compare it to, but it was pretty darn good, washed down by a pisco sour which is a popular Peruvian drink. PS, it was so good the first night that we went there again - and it was even better!

This was the brief thunderstorm that moderated the heat for the evening.

Some more of the beautiful colors and foliage.

One thing that hits you aside from the heat are the hawkers who try to sell everything from jewelry to hats to water. We've experienced them in our travels, but never as many and as determined as they are here. They're trying to eke out a living which is certainly understandable, but you have to steel yourself on the street. This fellow was trying to sell hats when our Hop On bus made a stop.

Street vendors are everywhere. Here's Paul buying some freshly-made pineapple juice.

Some more Saturday wanderings.

The building immediately above is the cathedral.

This morning (Sunday) we slowly made our way to Getsemani, an area of Cartagena just outside the walls. Not too many years ago it was known for drugs and prostitution, but that's the past and it's now considered hip and lively, although on a Sunday morning it was pretty laid back.

We had breakfast at this cute café, Castellana Drink and Food which included some sage ceiling chalk wisdom!

This is Plaza de la Trinidad which is considered the heart of Getsemani.

There's quite a bit of street art which adds to the color and atmosphere of the neighborhood.

And as in the walled city, bright colors.

Our Apartment Is...

Balcones, managed by HomeAway and rented through Expedia. It's spotlessly clean with two modern bathrooms, a living room with a kitchenette and a very comfortable bed. Best of all, the air conditioning is powerful! It's on the third floor with no elevator, but I'm sure that most hotels or apartments within the walled city don't have an elevator. It is very comfortable for us and ideally located within easy walking distance of everything we've wanted to see within the walls.

Now on to balmy Medellin.

Adios Cartagena!

Top Tips
  • Cartagena is HOT. Wear cool, loose clothing and bring a hat.

  • Be prepared to be hustled whenever you're in tourist areas. A polite but firm "no thank you or "no gracias" will work by the second or third try.

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