Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Relaxing Weekend in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Took advantage of Scott having Memorial Day weekend off and we headed out of Bogota to Cartagena (pronounced car-tah-hay-nah), a large Caribbean beach city on the northern coast of Colombia. Cartagena combines the history of the old city with colonial style buildings, churches and cobblestone streets to modern life with high rise hotels, boutique stores and gourmet restaurants.

As soon as we stepped off the plane we felt the tremendous heat and humidity along with the ability to breathe easier now that we were not 8,500 feet above sea level. Approaching the town, you have the walled city with mounted cannons on one side, the beautiful blue Caribbean sea on the other and straight ahead in the horizon a long row of high rise hotels that look similar to something you would see in Miami.

There are really two main areas, the colonial charm of the old “walled” city, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, in the historical center or in the more modern area Bocagrande, called the Miami of Colombia, with a stretch of high rise hotels on the beach. After talking with a few friends, who have visited previously, they suggested we stay in the walled city.

Our wonderful boutique hotel, called Casa Claver, only had five rooms. The room was more like an apartment with a foyer, living area, kitchen, bedroom and private dining area. It was the perfect place for our four day vacation.
Each morning you have a choice between a traditional Colombian or American breakfast which is then brought up to your room. A very nice touch!
We spent most days walking around the old city and then lounged at the pool late afternoon. A perfect combination. The Clock Gate, Puerta del Reloj, is the symbol of Cartagena and was originally the only entrance into the historical center.
The wall that goes around most of the historical center.
The Cathedral de San Pedro Claver dates back to 1575 but was rebuilt after Sir Francis Drake partially destroyed it in 1586. San Pedro Claver was a Spanish Jesuit who baptised hundreds of thousands of African slaves.
Next to the San Pedro Claver Cathedral is the Modern Art Museum with these unique sculptures scattered around the courtyard.
The Plaza Santo Domingo is a popular area to have drinks and people watch at night. It was once a place where slaves were auctioned off but now it is better known for the reclining woman or Botero’s gordita (fat lady statue).

Her name is Gertrude and is a sculpture by the famous Colombian Fernando Botero. Located at Santo Domingo Square, she is 1,433 pounds. There is a popular belief that if you touch her breasts, it will ensure long relationships. I am a bit skeptical and think the Colombian's just enjoy laughing at tourists while everyone touches her breasts and take pictures.

Loved walking through the narrow streets with all the beautiful wooden balconies, colonial style buildings and colorful flowers.
Charleston Santa Teresa is a beautiful hotel and the largest within the walled city. Across the street on top of the wall they have a restaurant / bar where you can enjoy the sunset or watch the entertainers down on the street.
Also located on the wall, facing the ocean, is Cafe Del Mar which is a very popular place to watch the sunset and listen to music.
The statue of Simon Bolivar at the Plaza Bolivar.
Cartagena Cathedral
Facing Plaza Bolivar is the Palacio de Inquisicion which houses the historical archives of Cartagena.
We took a break and went to the Agua Lounge located in the very luxurious Tcherassi Hotel for some ice cold beverages. It was Saturday and Scott and Armando, the bartender, were very excited to watch the Barcelona vs. Manchester game that was about to start.
In every article I read, La Vitrola Restaurant hands down was mentioned as the best restaurant in Cartagena. A cuban-themed restaurant with whirring ceiling fans, massive palm trees and a 6-piece jazz band. So being the foodie that I am, we went to see what all the hype was about.
The menu prices were not as big of a sticker shock as I expected. Entrees where in the $20 - $30 range but the portions where large. I had this wonderful grouper with mushrooms and it was outstanding.
Scott had prawns with noodles in a curry sauce.
Full and very happy!
Our last night in Cartagena we enjoyed the sunset on the roof of Hotel Cartagena de Indias. Another beautiful hotel with a great rooftop pool.
The San Pedro Restaurant conveniently located across from the San Pedro Claver Cathedral. Great restaurant and the best tuna steak entree with chanterelle mushroom risotto I ever had.

Scott took some great night shots around the walled city.
We never made it over to Bocagrande but I honestly don’t think we missed much. Cartagena is beautiful and I would highly recommend it. I think if we go back, we will take a boat trip to one of the beach islands for the day which are supposed to have beautiful white sandy beaches.
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