Where to Go in 2017: Cartagena, Colombia

 

There are plenty of fine places you could, and very well should, pack up your bag and go visit in 2017. The world’s gotten smaller. (It’s also gotten a bit wackier). The point is: there are a bevy of locations now on the cusp of becoming the next must-see-travel-spot.

Undoubtedly you may be thinking, “Man, I need a vacation.” Maybe you’ve been scouring the web to find the perfect place to visit? Or flipping through Instagram whenever you can and getting all jealous at friends’ photos of places you’ve never even heard of.

Well, here’s my pick for you. So listen up and if you have questions feel free to post as comments below.

My predication is that in 2017 or perhaps, 2018, all the travel guides will soon have Cartagena at the top of their lists.

Colombia as a whole is at a moment of pure awakening – having pushed off the Cocaine + Drug Dealer + Narcos + Deadliest place on earth stigma – the country can now showcase all of her glistening emeralds. You’ll find a delightful country with a warm and welcoming people: still on the uptick enough that the prices are fair and the hotels are not slammed, yet safe and “touristy” enough so that just about anyone can hop around, utter a few lines of Spanish, and have one hell of a time.

It’s also just about one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to terrain, climate, altitude, you name it. For example between Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena, you’ll experience the high elevation of the capital city, a lush “eternal spring” down in the valley, and a tropical port city on the Caribbean coast, respectively.

How do I get there?

More formally known as Cartagena de Las Indias, you can look for JetBlue flights that will arrive direct in Cartagena but another trick is to search on statravel.com or Kayak, to see which airlines fly from the US to Bogota to Cartagena. Perhaps try searching “multi-destination” if you plan on making a few stops in Colombia while on the Expedia page. You’d be looking for a flight from say, San Francisco to Dallas to Bogota, then an Avianca flight from Bogota to Medellin or Cartagena.

When you do arrive to the famous port city of Cartagena, you’ll be smacked by the beauty of the destination. Part New Orleans, part Caribbean. The Spanish influence and architecture are unmistakable and the tropical breeze will blow your hair (and troubles) back.  What’s more, the walled city and buildings are a worldly treasure and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.

So a couple of pro-tips:

1.) Stay inside the walled city (everything good happens inside the walls). Called the “Old City”, the “walled city”, or if you prefer in Spanish, “ciudad amurallada”.

2.) Take the little yellow taxis almost everywhere. ($6 USD from the airport to your hotel, $5 USD from your hotel to the castle up on the hill for sightseeing, you get the idea)

3.) Order seafood. (You’re on the Caribbean coast. Enough said.)

Where to Stay?

Depends on what type of trip you are going for…

If you have a group of 2-4 people and want a home-base, I used AirBnB and found a gem. We stayed in the tallest building in the old city and hidden up there you’ll find an apartment that is perfect: open and a bit rustic, there’s a balcony, a hammock, and killer 180 degree views of the whole city. Also you are walking distance to everything but can retire to your high, airy and bug-free, castle, each evening for pre-going-out drinks or a late night cigar on the terrace.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/300217

For a solo traveler or a couple looking for a comfortable and modern set up, I’ve found this AirBnB:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4427462

Dinner and Going Out?

Here are the best restaurants I can recommend:

El Boliche – Hidden on a quiet street – the glass door slides open and you enter a tiny dining room of maybe 6 tables, AC, pretty decor. You order a cocktail or a crisp white wine (order whatever the hostess suggests – they’ll have a bottle of something good). Then get the crab empanadas and a few various ceviches. Don’t skip a dessert or espresso after. Everything they do is with great care and purpose. You’ll want to go back twice.

La Cevecheria – Famous for the best ceviche, seafood dishes, and it’s famous because Anthony Bourdain stopped in a few years back. Go for lunch. Go before or after the rush. Typically you’ll wait an hour outside but they let you order a beer and hide in the shade. Do that. Order the shrimp ceviche.

Juan del Mar – Romantic, seafood, live music, classy. Right by the plaza de San Diego.

Sofitel Legend Bar el Coro – A fine spot to start or end your evening. It can be the place you sip on a Negroni before your dinner reservation. Or the place you order a Gin Tonic and wander the amazing hotel garden. Or order a Hechicera rum and puff a cigar in the their comfortable open air couches.

Maria – Fun, bright, colorful. That’s the inside and the food.

Here are the best bars/going out spots I can recommend:

Cafe Havana – Old school cuban bar and live music spot. Really cracking on Saturday night. Show up at 11:30pm with your group, dress nice and where a white shirt, order a bottle of rum and they’ll give you glasses and a bucket of ice, sit back and wait for the music and dancing. Usually starts at about 1:30am. Late night. It’ll be a fun night.

Cafe del Mar – You’ll come here every night for sunset and a first drink. They’ve got a huge open deck on top of the city wall with a set of tables, couches, and lounges. They’ve got pretty waitresses. They’ve got the ocean winds and a killer sunset. And they’ve got a trance, lounge, ibiza thing going on with the music. Order a Mojito and watch the sunset / people watch. Then go out to dinner.

Malagana Café Bar – Set in an up and coming backpacker neighborhood. You’ll find a cute little bar with 2 x 1 drinks and dinner. There’s a small balcony / rooftop up the stairs.

Mirador Café Bar – Rooftop and open air bar with pop music. Good spot for a drink after dinner to plan out the evening. You’ll see the Clock Tower and the walls of the city.

Demente – Gastropub, fancy pizza, it’s great! You’ll want to check the Mexican restaurant next door and the bustling square of young backpackers and travelers all around. This is a great spot to take a taxi or you can even walk from the Clock Tower to this part of town. Note: this area is outside of the city walls. Lots of little bars and snack places all around.

Well there you go…some helpful pointers for visiting Cartagena, Colombia.

Have you been? Let’s hear your tips or favorite things to do.

#Keeptraveling and you can see more photos over on the TakeYaThere Instagram page!

 

 

 

Sayulita, Mexico: Just What You Need

Tucked up into the rustic Pacific coast in the Nayarit state, Sayulita is just what you need and nothing you don’t.

Surprisingly – at only 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta – the swarms of Tourists and all the trouble that comes with them are nowhere in sight. Instead, when you amble around in your flip flops, you’ll find: surfers, families, hippie Americans that moved down 10 years ago, tourists from Seattle and Vancouver, BC.,

So it’s not touristy? No no no. I didn’t say that. In fact, it’s very touristy. But the type of touristy that I think you may actually welcome.

Let’s say you arrive for a 5 day vacation and forgot to pack something. The main square and local streets will have everything you could need. There’s a few small grocery stores, corner stores, and even a convenience store built on the beach so you will never, ever, go without a cold beer.

Now that all your most basic needs are met, you can sit back and relax. Without a care in the world you can stroll the entirely walkable small town. Nobody drives a car, though some rent golf carts. Note to anyone reading: you do not want to be one of the people with the golf carts. Let the senior citizens use those. You can walk. It’s good for you.

So what should you do in Sayulita? For most, it’s as simple as lounging on the jaw dropping beach and then an unabashed procession of sipping beers and tequila, snacking on fish tacos and snacks, maybe admiring the sunset, then repeating.

Part of your trip should include a boat ride / snorkeling trip to the Marietta Islands, admiring the local arts and artesian gifts, and a bit of surfing. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a top 10 list.

WHERE TO STAY:

There’s a bevy of great Airbnb houses you can find and VRBO has many options. There are not hotels or skyscrapers, so you should look for a comfortable house or apartment and weigh the following: pool, distance to the beach, view of the ocean. (What else matters in life really?)

My recommendation is hands down the Casa Diem at the luxury beach condos, Pajaro de Fuego. Melanie is the owner and she replies promptly and will make sure you have no issue reserving your trip. When you arrive the condo staff are very kind. It’s the perfect mix of your own apartment and a hotel with staff, security, nice pool, etc.,

 

 

So while you are enjoying the amazing views of the blue Pacific, here’s a look at some of what you’ve gotta do in Sayulita.

1.) Explore the beach and head away from the surfers to the remote area of the beach for some rustic jungle trails.

2.) Eat as many fish tacos as you can handle.

3.) Make sure you slow down. Maybe turn off the phone. Sip a few Pacificos before you do anything else.

 

Been to Sayulita before? If you have any other recommendations let’s hear them below as comments.

I’ll be heading back at the end of the month to explore Sayulita in more detail.

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

 

The Best Things I Ate in Cartagena, Colombia!

The list is hard to remember. Harder even to compile now, as I did not have much of a lunch and seeing these photos is borderline torture.

Well here you are – the best things I ate on a recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

Whole fried fish, coconut rice, plantains, and lime. Best enjoyed while your feet are in the sand and you’ve got a cold Aguila beer with you.

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Whole charred octopus with potato salad and creamy mustard sauce. This was at the famous, Juan del Mar restaurant inside the city walls.

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Seafood and snails over coconut rice. Also served at Juan del Mar.

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French style Lobster with steamed vegetables for my dad and an amazing, I mean amazing, ox tail beef dish over sweet potato puree with crisped vegetable chips. This was from the restaurant 1621 at the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.

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Have you been to Cartagena and tried something else? Post below as a comment!

#Keeptraveling

5 Drink Spots You Can’t Miss in Madrid, Spain

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Perhaps the greatest dilemma facing a travel writer today is the question of whether or not to give up a truly well kept secret. It’s a tough one. Sure, while we want to share the love and rave about all kinds of great little places – hidden cafes, underground bars, and rooftop clubs that the ordinary Joe would never dream of finding – in doing so, we are essentially ruining what we love so much (it’s a secret!). We’re opening the door to a wave of invaders to come spoil all of the fun.

That being said, sometimes it just feels good to let others in on a few of the places that can make a city truly special.

Of all the cities, in all of the countries, Madrid has more than it’s fair share of incredible bars, restaurants, and cafe’s. Consider for a moment that Madrid is perhaps the most vivacious city in the world – a city where dinner starts late and is less of a sit-down-meal and more of a moveable feast of tapas with a procession of sips and drinks into the morning hours.

It should then come as no surprise when I lay out a list of great places to visit in Madrid and they all revolve around food and drink. While at first glance this list may look a bit basic: a mere dive bar, rooftop restaurant, and university library, when you look a bit closer you’ll notice each is located in a different suburb or barrio of the city. Each location takes you to a well known area of the city and showcases something important. (Perhaps even uncovering something you didn’t know existed)

The true test of any guide’s recommendation can be measured once you’ve finished. When it’s all said and done, what is your understanding of the city? Did you visit different segments of the city, see different types of people, living at varying socio-economic levels?

The point is this – any city will tend to look the same through a guise of dimly lit restaurants and resort hotel rooms. Istanbul, New York, and Buenos Aires are all big cities which feel the same inside a Ritz (one imagines because one has not stayed at Le Ritz) but take a stroll and follow a well designed guide, and you´re sure to come away experiencing a kaleidoscope of colors, sights, and cultures, through a unique lens which only that city can offer.

To experience a bit of everything in Madrid you should try and seek out these 5 spots:

1.) El Palentino

A true madrileño dive bar – on the weekend this bar is packed as the smoky smell of bacon and thin steaks on the grill fills the bar and mixes with the raucous laughter and clinking of glasses for a brindis or cheers. Here, elderly bar men quickly pour the incredibly cheap classics like gin & tonic and rum & coke for 3€ to the delight of all.

El Palentino. Calle Pez, 12, 28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Noviciado.

2.) Bar Pontepez

Pontepez is set just around the corner from the Palentino and is a warm and welcoming little hole-in-the-wall bar. There’s a loyal hoard of customers who pile in again and again for the small plates of spanish fare with a clever twist. The vibe here is one you won’t find anywhere else – it’s almost as if a gastro bar and a dive bar had a baby – with dishes like potatoes, mushrooms, and a fried egg with truffle oil or the crunchy chicken: a plate of chicken slices soaked in coconut milk, curry powder, and then covered in Corn Flakes and fried up. Come by on a weekend for a good time – the food is unique and whipped up by the grunting chef in the back while the bartender smiles and cranks up the eclectic music.

Bar Pontepez. Calle Pez, 8 28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Noviciado.

3.) Bar Pittu

Set in the upscale and shopper’s-dream suburb called Salamanca (not to be confused with the famous town two hours from Madrid), this bar has an elegant bar feel straight from the north of Spain. The speciality is their basque pintxos or small tapas of bread with brillant toppings like: smoked salmon, cream, and blackberries, or a skewer of grilled mushroom, caramalized onions, and cripsy jamón ibérico.

Bar Pittu. Calle de Claudio Coello, 30 28001 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Serrrano.

4.) Gau & Cafe

Maybe Madrid’s best kept secret, this hip terrace bar and restaurant sits on top of the local university library and is plopped right in the middle of the lively, bohemian barrio of Lavapiés. Look for the ruins of the escuela pías and you’ll find it has been converted into a sophisticated library and bookstore (the restaurant is on the top floor).

Gau & Cafe. Calle Tributelete, 14  4ª planta  28012  Madrid, Spain. Near metro Lavapiés.

5.) Mercado San Antón

Ok this one’s no secret at all! Madrid boasts two world class markets, the Mercado de San Antón and the Mercado de San Miguel which showcase some of the cities incredible food, produce, desserts, olive oils, and wines. While you should peak into both, visiting the San Antón market will mean you’ve strolled the lively district of Chueca – the cities gay neighborhood and home to some of the best bars and restaurants. The market has three floors – the first is a standard market, the second a bevy of restaurants and wine bars, and on the top floor you’ll find the luxurious open air terrace, perfect for a drink in the sun.

Mercado de San Antón. Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24  28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Chueca.

Recipe: Mussels with fennel and wine

unwind cooking

Quick, easy, super delicious! Serves 3 to 4.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine (dry means not a sweet wine)
  • 1/2 pound raw shrimp, deveined, tails can stay on (thaw shrimp first if frozen)
  • 2 pounds mussels, washed and scrubbed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • Optional: Warmed french bread for serving
  1. Heat a large skillet to medium. Melt butter. Then add fennel, salt, pepper and saute 10 minutes until fennel softens and browns slightly. Then add shallots and saute additional 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high and add the broth and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce 8 minutes.
  3. Add shrimp, cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Then add mussels, sprinkle the parsley, cover and simmer 5 to 6 minutes until all mussels…

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Cooking is Cool: And You Should Too

In case you missed it, cooking is now cool. Mainstream, Beiber-fever, cool. It’s also now an iconic profession, a skill, and most importantly, something you should be doing, and know how to do.

Yes, with hit shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef America, and all things Food Network or Cooking Channel, it seems clear, cooking is the real deal. Heck, there’s even a show called Throwdown with Bobby Flay. So yea, cooking is here to stay.

Historically speaking, this is a skill we humans have cultivated for thousands of years, so it’s important for all those survival reasons. But the growing understanding is that somehow those who continue to turn a blind eye and fain ignorance in the kitchen seem to be missing something really f***in important and rudimentary. Tragically late to the party, they’re missing something basic. Something elemental. Something necessary. Something you’d think should be taught in school and revered in society. But the good news is that more and more of us are learning to cook, and perhaps more visibly, appreciate good cooking and good food.

It’s now quite common to hear someone you’d never suspect, say, “Did you try that restaurant around the corner? The food…amazing!” Or, “that bar over there has got great an incredible braised pork dish”. Even, “go here for the best moules frites“, from the guy with a trucker hat and a t-shirt that reads, “Freedom Ain’t Free”.

I happen to believe everyone should know a few basics in the kitchen. Cutting an onion seems as good a starting point as any. From there, I would assume a few basics like grilled vegetables – cooked to neither drab mush nor left raw and uncleaned – would be a fine next step for anyone learning the basics. Continuing on, learning to cook a nice protein and make it taste good (that is to say, usually just don’t f**k it up) is the next level and a place I think most household cooks reside.

The truth is for those of us who are not professional chefs (I’m definitely not) cooking in the kitchen is a process with a steep learning curve but tremendous upside. You’ll surely eat healthier, look better, feel better, and save money if you shun the fast-food-nation grub and start to cook and eat real food.

But if all that hippy, earthy, Whole Foods talk doesn’t convince you, I suppose there’s no easier way but to sum up a worldy truth that  Anthony Bourdain gets at when he claims: after a good shag, one should be able to perform the task of whipping up a nice omelet. Tell me you don’t agree.

But hey, don’t take this call to arms, errr knifes, from me.

Take it from an older, wiser, more snarktastic, and more credible source. Here’s a link to the No Reservation’s episode on basic cooking techniques, everyone should know. Required viewing for all those learning to cook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJv3owJu1R4 

(If the link does not work, try searching “No Reservations Techniques” on YouTube)

Got a comment post it below or tell us over on Twitter @TakeYaThere

#keeptraveling