On the northern coast of Colombia lies an under-celebrated Caribbean destination. For many, the mention of “Caribbean” invokes visions of regal palm trees, crystal blue waters ebbing and flowing against white sand beaches, and steelpans singing in the breeze. While that may be over-marketed interpretation of that region, there is an overlooked oasis of a different kind waiting to be explored: Cartagena de Indias. Established in the early 1500s, Cartagena de Indias has a long and rich history that offers travelers more than just pretty beaches and coconut-based drinks.
Upon arrival in Cartagena de Indias, one is immediately awe-struck by the charming architecture of the Old City. A hodgepodge of construction throughout its many periods of rule has left a tapestry of colonial, republican, and Italian architecture, which whimsically blanket the streets with reflections of their brightly colored walls. One of my favorite things to do in Cartagena de Indias is to stroll the narrow streets in search of unique door knockers. Now, I know you are saying to yourself, “Door knockers? What’s special about door knockers?” Well, let me tell you, these are not your ordinary loop-and-ball knockers; these are little treasures fit for a museum. The thematic knockers are miniature metal castings of creatures such as iguanas, lions, and fish! The masterful detail put into each piece is breathtaking and inspiring. Along the way, be sure to stop by the dozens of local vendors who line the road selling hand-made souvenirs and snacks. The round-the-clock heat and humidity will ensure that the mango juice stands and fruit vendors have a constant stream of pesos flowing into their hands.
Touring the walled city of Cartagena de Indias is sure to work up an appetite, and the cuisine of the city does not disappoint! As a city with a rich history and economy based on fishing, it takes great pride in its assortment of fresh catch. From ceviche to calamari, the choices are endless. One of my favorite experiences was a sampling lunch that I had at a local Italian restaurant named VERA. Situated on an unassuming block lies the Tcherassi Hotel, and within it, a small dining area lining a beautiful pool and ivy-covered wall. VERA completely wow’d me with its ambiance, authenticity, presentation, and service. A few highlights from my meal were the Risotto Funghi and the Maiale. The creaminess and depth of flavor in the risotto, followed by the crisp and satiating skin of the piglet set me into euphoria. Combined with a never-ending stream of fine wine and a waitstaff that tended to me hand-and-foot, it was an experience I will have etched in my memory forever.
A great way to cap-off an amazing dinner experience is to venture to one of the many public squares, and hail a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. There is an unmistakable romantic quality about Cartagena de Indias at night. At the setting of the sun, all of the street vendors close-up shop, and the city quiets to a murmur. The once crowded sidewalks become navigable, saved for little eateries that have chairs set for outdoor dining. The streets, once full of micro-mini taxicabs, are now empty and silent, allowing for you to hear the click of your carriage wheels on the cobblestone. As the sun sets into the walls of the city, you are left excited for what the next day will hold in store for you…but also enchanted by what the romance night may bring.
Victor Amos | Senior Editor