I had three days to explore this beautiful, colorful city. Flying in from my short stay in Bogota, the scenery from the airplane was breathtaking. I landed at the small airport in Cartagena and had to walk a block or two where the Uber drivers are allowed to pick you up. (As you walk out of the airport, take a left, past the rental car companies and across the street). As I came to realize, most people in Columbia do not speak English.(Hello, Google translate, she became my best friend during this trip, and the reason I have decided to take up learning a couple different languages! I digress.) As the Uber driver made his way inside the city walls, or old town Cartagena as it is called, I observed in awe at the old world charm that this city encompassed. I couldn’t wait to drop my bags off at the hotel and start exploring. The Uber driver informed me the best beach to go to in the Cartagena area was Playa Blanca at Isla Baru. He was kind enough to share pictures that he had taken a couple weeks previous, and wow, it was stunning. Reminded me of the turquoise Caribbean waters. That was definitely going to be on my “things to do” list during this stay.
As we arrived at Ananda Hotel Boutique, a small, luxury boutique hotel, the aroma coming from the lobby was unforgettable and what quickly became my favorite part about walking back up to the hotel everyday. It was a scent of calm, peace and tranquility. Ananda had beautiful, big wooden doors that invited you to come on in and stay awhile and a welcome staff that was equally warm and inviting. The staff at this quaint boutique were beyond helpful and friendly. The check in process was seamless, and quick and before I knew it, I was being escorted up to my suite.
As I entered the doorway to my suite, I continued to be amazed. The details that this gorgeous hotel thought of were nothing short of exquisite. My suite bolstered a king size bed, television that offered channels in Spanish and English, a stocked refrigerator, and let me not forget the unforgettable, romantic shower. It was a walk in shower with wooden floors and a small area that had foliage, as if to create the illusion you were showering outside. The water pressure was fantastic and it offered an endless supply of hot water. The bed was beyond comfortable and for the most part, the hotel’s atmosphere was quiet and private. The hotel does offer a couple bars, and a small restaurant. The pool and hot tub are on the roof overlooking old town Cartagena in one direction and the beach in the other direction.
As I got myself settled, I decided to take my camera and go explore. I wandered in and out of all the little streets, each one holding a new gem to place away in my memory bank forever. The people are kind and welcoming, and quite a few characters as well. I made my way to downtown old town and found a little pizza shop to have dinner at. It sat right on busy corner and was very new age in it’s aesthetics. They offered upstairs dining, but I am a people watcher and chose to stay downstairs so I could survey the endless amounts of delivery personnel coming in and out of the shop and how every single one of them seemed to be family. They offered a full menu in English and Spanish, also offering wine and beer. The pizza was very tasty and it was also a flat bread, so I didn’t feel guilty when I consumed the whole thing.
The next morning I decided I was going to make it out to Playa Blanca. I had overslept and therefore missed the boat ride, which is so much shorter than the Uber ride. I was informed that the boat ride takes roughly 45 minutes to arrive at Playa Blanca from the docks in Cartagena. If you opt to take an Uber, they said it will only take one hour, however, my Uber ride took almost two hours. It is a nice drive and allows you to see the non-tourist areas of Cartagena, which are very poor and run down. What I observed, however, was how happy everyone seemed to be, happy to just be alive. As I reflected on my love/need for travel and experiences in new and foreign places, I began to wonder if people in other countries have that same desire to get out and see the world or are they content with their lives in their own little corners. Again, I digress. As we continued our jaunt out to Playa Blanca, we began to get into very secluded areas, where cell phone service was spotty. When I sensed we would be nearly arriving to our destination, there were several men blocking the road and therefore forcing all vehicles/traffic down a side dirt road. I could tell the Uber driver did not feel comfortable with this scenario and as the gentlemen banged on the window to talk to him, he refused to roll down the window, instead continuing to drive down the side road, where we forced to turn. (All I kept thinking was, the whole time I have been here in Columbia, I have never felt unsafe or unsure, but this was a different feeling.) We continued for roughly five minutes down this dirt road where we met another group of men, again forcing all traffic to turn into a parking lot. To the left of the road and right outside the parking lot, stood a little fruit stand with several individuals sitting there conversing. I didn’t witness too many tourists or locals parking in the parking lot and making their way down to the beach on foot. The individuals who had stopped us in the middle of the street, were again banging on the windows and yelling at the Uber driver. I could not understand them, which added to my level of discomfort with the situation and made the decision to head on back to the hotel. For all intents and purposes, they could very well been simply saying “You can park here for a small amount of money”, but to air on the side of caution, I decided not to stay. When back in Columbia, I will be taking the boat to go to Playa Blanca and bypass the Uber drive, one – to save time and two – to prevent being in another situation as above.
After arriving back to the hotel, I decided to lay around the pool for awhile, grab a drink and then shower, change and head out into the city again. I was intent on finding a restaurant that offered the local cuisine. I am not a fish eater, but did want to try the local dish Posta Negra Cartagenera, which is a kind of pot roast of meat slowly cooked in panela (like brown sugar), sweet and savory, tender and delicious. I found a little restaurant a couple blocks from the hotel, sitting on a plaza in front of a beautiful church. I perused the menu, found what I was looking for, ordered and waited patiently as my food was being prepared. It was nothing short of amazing, tasty and delicious. Couple it with a beer and your stomach will thank you.
Sadly, the next day I would be departing and heading home. I got up that morning, made one last tour around the city, making it to the outer city wall and climbed on top to take a good look at the city and it’s happening from a different vantage point. It was raining that day, so it was not the best time to go “sight seeing” but what I found out is I decided to take my trip during their rainy season, but was told to come back in December for beautiful weather and their version of “Carnival”.
I will definitely be making my way back to Columbia at some point, with it’s stunning architecture, colorful buildings and churches, savory food and overall friendly people, you will need to add Cartagena to your list of “need to do” travels. I would encourage anyone who has been discouraged by the media or individuals who have never actually been, to come and see it, experience it for yourself. It is a little slice of heaven.