Postcards from Cartagena

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After a nudge from a dear friend, I decided to take a morning break from start-up life to return to this blog. Given the misty weather in New York, I thought I’d start with a nod to one of the warmer wanders. 

 

Cartagena, Colombia

For G’s  big 3-0, we decided to avoid crowded New York clubs in lieu of a more refined and sophisticated weekend get-away to Colombia. Okay, it was less to avoid New York crowds and more because we binge-watched Narcos on Netflix and were craving beach time.  Ce la vie. Cartagena is a magical place- multicolored buildings, eclectic  door-knockers and unbelievable food. You truly feel like you’ve stepped into a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel while aimlessly wandering around on the vibrant cobbled streets. It is definitely worth trying out. Since we just wandered and ate…EVERYTHING…I thought I’d put together a little travel guide. Otherwise, this would just be 15 hundred photos of food and cobblestone streets.

GETTING THERE & AROUND

Cartagena is a quick four and half hour direct flight from New York. Lately, Jet Blue has been running reasonable fares – $200-$400 from NYC. Once you arrive at the airport, it’s a quick thirty minute cab ride to the Old City. Cabs will accept Dollars so you don’t have to worry about converting to Colombian Pesos immediately. Once in Cartagena, it’s very easy to walk around.

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WHERE TO STAY

I’m a sucker for balconies and cobblestones so we opted for this Airbnb inside the walls of Old Cartagena. During the afternoons, we’d get some fresh chorizo and bread and look out on the boisterous streets.

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WHERE TO EAT:

Aka the most important part. 

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CARMEN

This is my favorite restaurant in Cartagena. The one piece of research I did before leaving was to find a nice restaurant for the birthday celebration. After pouring through all the trip advisor and Bon Appetit Travel reviews, I made a reservation for two. Everyone, and I mean everyone, suggested eating outdoors and boy were they right. The restaurant is tucked inside the Ananda Boutique Hotel. You walk through these huge wooden Moorish doors to a wooden patio elevated over water, in the middle of Hotel courtyard, surrounded by palm trees. There we enjoyed a seven- yes seven- course meal with wine pairing. I cannot begin the describe the magic of this meal. There was quail eggs with squid ink, shrimp and truffle oil. Ceviche where the cilantro sauce was poured at the table. There were duck sliders and delightful seabass fillets. The meal came with two bonus appetizers (for a total of 9 courses), and each course seemed to be better than the next. The USD to Peso exchange rate really worked in our favor as the total cost came out to $161. Expensive but absolutely worth it.

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Eat when: You’re celebrating something big- like you found a new wine you love, want to impress your parents …and of course, celebrate major milestone birthdays.  Leave the kids, puppies and Snapchats at home.

Don Juan

Suggested by a friend, this was a strong contender for my favorite restaurant in Cartagena. I strongly suggest making a reservation in advance. Te atmosphere is F-U-N. Pastel Greens and Pink adorn the walls, with whimsical pin strips popping up on the chairs, tables and even some waiter’s shirts.

Here I tried the new love of my wine life- Carmenére- similar to a Malbec or light Cabernet. I recommend a bottle with a side of Ceviche and raviolis de seats.  For entrees, I highly recommend the Pargo a la Sarten (red snapper with shrimp) or the Chuletón de cerdero (lamb).

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Eat when: You want a trendy casual date or friend night and you want to be seen AND have amazing food.  Yeah- it’s that versatile.

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Cocina de Pepina

This was one of our first finds in Cartagena, was this tiny eight seater restaurant.  We tried three dishes- ceviche, sopa caribe and the ajie. The wait staff were very helpful, especially because we didn’t speak a lot of spanish. The ceviche was one of the best from our whole trip.

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Eat when: You’ve wandered around for five hours and need to eat something before you pass out.

 

WHAT TO DO:

Given all my work travels are planned to the last nano-second, G and I opted for true wandering status. We literally wandered into all of these places and then cross-referenced guide books when we got back to NYC. I think we did pretty well considering.

Catch a Sunset at Cafe de Mar

This is very obviously a tourist trap – the drink prices are dollar priced- however, there is a certain magic to grabbing a mojito and watching the enormous Colombian flag wave while street performers serenade you. We opted to take a walk along the ancient wall to Cafe de Mar. IMG_4143.JPG

Best for: Cheesy tourist moments that are almost worth it. Selfie Sticks are definitely permitted.

Visit Playa Blanca on the Isla Bura.

This is a full day adventure. Wake up at 8:30PM and rush to past the Plaza Santo Domingo to catch the morning boats heading out. Boats leave at 9AM and depart at 3:30PM so you can spend a full morning, take a car ride or spend the night on the Isla.

Despite being right on the water, there are not a lot of Cartagena beaches. This gives a quick flavor of R&R time in between daily wanders. P1080637.JPG

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You don’t actually dock so people swim out to pull the boat back nearish the shore. For some reason they did not let me help. We hit a smallish storm and it was like my worst maritime carnival ride ever. I may have decided to that we were going to die for about 15 wave crashes. But we survived and it was beautiful. Note: G has regained feeling in his left arm.

Best for: You like the sun and the sand, but also wear SPF 175.

Wander

Honestly, this is the best thing that you can do in Cartagena.

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Streets

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Me: 50% of the time.

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Plaza Santo Domingo

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Door Knockers

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San Felipe de Barajas Castle

Best for: People who read this blog. Wander and eat, then repeat.

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