Hotly tipped as a new must-visit destination by travel insiders, check out the lesser known Colombian coastal city of Cartagena (before everyone else does)
When it comes to planning holiday destinations, Colombia holds a reputation for being somewhat risky. Though, the smartest travellers realise that to avoid visiting this beautiful country would be the biggest crime of all, and they’re probably planning a trip to the 16th century colonial town of Cartagena. Located on the Caribbean shore – it’s a rare and romantic treasure.
Cartagena was, in the past, a haven of riches and often fell prey to Caribbean pirates. These days you can forget scenes of walking the plank and bedraggled Johnny Depp types. Instead, the city offers a heady mix of culture, history and natural beauty. Enjoying a much calmer existence, unspoiled Cartagena now attracts a far more welcome audience who visit the city to experience the vibrance of the international film festivals, regattas, beauty pageants, bull-fighting seasons and the Hay Festival of Literature.
There’s a decent collection of chic hotels to match the city’s rep as a destination du jour. A couple that we love the look of include the The Tcherassi Hotel + Spa, a former colonial mansion that packs masses of charcter and luxury into its stylish guestrooms. Another great option is the charming and deliciously fancy Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, pictured below.
If you’re planning a trip to South America, then pip the flocks of savvy travellers to the post and explore Cartagena now, whilst it’s at its authentic and unspoilt best. Here are a few of our favourite things to do on a first visit, (just in case you needed a bit of extra inspiration…)
- Take a tour through the city in a traditional bus known as a chiva, or in a horse-drawn carriage and stroll through the central market, Mercado Bazurto, with its stalls of fresh food and exotic local delicacies including river turtle, cow’s tongue and shark!
- Walk through the battlements of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – an impressive fortress that was built in 1639.Take a trip to the beautiful Rosario Islands, swim in crystal clear water and relax in a hammock on Playa Blanca. If you’re feeling a tad more adventurous, 50km north-east of Cartagena, you can try mud dipping (which is swimming in the crater of a mud volcano) and then rinsing off in a lagoon.
- There’s certainly no shortage of night life in this city! infused with the sound of cafe culture and samba – head to Getsemani, where you can eat and drink with the locals in authentic, lively tavernas, discos and bars. For more ‘upscale’ venues – make your way towards Bocagrande and El Laguito.
- Cartagena is home to some incredible hotels such as Hotel Quadrifilio, Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique, Hotel Cartagena de Indias, Casa Boutique Veranera and Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa (which has an amazing view of the city and its cathedral). Although there are currently no direct flights from the UK, you can fly to Cartagena from London, changing in Madrid and Bogotá.
Words by Amanda Houchen