Colombia’s Caribbean coast is lined with beaches; Boca Grande
offers opportunities for sunbathing and nights on the beach dancing to the
rhythms of car stereos. The best beaches for snorkelling, scuba diving, sailing and diving are located on nearby islands. The 27 coral reef Islas Del Rosario, with white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters, are minutes away. Further
afield, the archipelago of San Bernardo, made up of 10 islands, includes Mucura
Island, a nature reserve with a private hotel.
I got a taste of Latin America with a little Caribbean spice – the melding of Spanish squares, Latin and Caribbean roof tiles and paint colours; a unique culture infused with
music, food and a Spanish influence in the architecture, nomenclature and language.
temperatures are largely based upon altitude, so Cartagena’s mild,tropical climate is relatively stable, with slight differences during dry or
rainy seasons. It might not be guaranteed sun all year round, however, if you
like it hot, you've come to the right place. Temperatures range from an average
annual low of 23°C (January) to highs of 32°C (July-August).
Humidity is high, but there are plazas shaded by trees, buildings with thick
stone walls, Caribbean breezes and air conditioning in many places.
cuisine combines Caribbean, Spanish, African and Arabic elements – a reflection
of the population over the past 400 years. There are choices to suit a
variety of tastes. Seafood is fresh and lovely, but you can also find excellent
steaks and salads. Entrées were generally served with coconut rice and
plantains, and menus offered an unmatchable amount of non-alcoholic options, including a variety of tropical juices. Be prepared to say cheese – cheese
seemed to come with every course, even dessert.
One of the safest spots in the country, Cartagena invests in a
sizeable police presence to protect visitors.
part of the world has been envied for centuries due to its calm safe surf; its
steady tropical climate; its privileged geographical location, ideal for
commerce between continents.
were approached periodically by children (their parents at a distance) wanting
to know where we were from. Eyes wide, they took in our pale English skin, strange accents and broken Spanish. They embodied an interest in us as visitors, and gave a welcome to their country. I suspect this will happen less once thecity receives direct flights from around the world.
to see and do
to the streets
simple way to absorb the unique culture is by strolling the streets. Wander along the tops of the ancient walls and below the ornate
balconies. Like the palette of a painter midway through a masterpiece, patches
of colour – from the ice cream coloured colonial casas, to street sellers with
their carts of pineapple, melon, strawberries and mamoncillos (small green fruit) –
the streets and squares are a vibrant visual treat.
can see the Caribbean influence in the colours in which the salt-corroded Spanish
colonial buildings are painted. The entire old city is a UNESCO heritage site, so
no major reconstruction can be done to the buildings, but they’re free to
express themselves with paint. As you walk through the narrow streets, be prepared
to photograph buildings of burnt orange, cornflower blue, gold and dusty rose.
streets are busy but unhurried. Strolling beneath the balconies festooned with
flowers, each day I was front and centre for the theatre of life played out on
Cartagena’s streets. Men dotted up and down the narrow lanes market their ‘los
limones’, ‘leche de coco’ and their voices mingle with the
beat of Cumbia music, drifting from outdoor tables shaded by mangroves.
nearly every avenue you can find a cart of cold coconuts cut open with a
machete; simply pop a straw into it – it’s refreshing in the heat. There are also baked goods, as well as traditional native handicrafts such as beaded jewellery and braided
sombreros. The sellers aren’t pushy; some in the squares may ask more
than once, but they don’t hassle you.
Musicians and dancers convene in the Parque Bolivar, Plaza
Santo Domingo or the Plaza de las Coche.
also visited Getsemani, where the city’s artisans and minority groups once lived. This
neighbourhood circles the Old Town. It’s known as the ‘popular quarter’ (poorer
area) of Cartagena, but it has lively low cost shops and bars. One evening, we
passed by a barefoot football game in Plaza de Trinidad. A crowd had gathered, some drinking, some chatting, and all were surrounded by carts selling fried
food, fruits and beverages. Just use your street smarts and don’t wander too
far on your own.