BACK TO SPAIN! POR FIN! I just returned from a week in Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands off the East coast of Spain. It was a week of being disconnected; of days filled with boat rides, snorkeling and late-afternoon gin & tonics; evenings of slow family dinners with chilled Albariño and icy cava; nights […]
Narcos, Pablo, Drugs, Bombs, Murder, Cocaine. Lots of Cocaine. Welcome to Medellín!
Ok hopefully you’re laughing. If that’s the image you have or if it’s anything close, you need to let that go.
Before you arrive, you need to think of all those images of drug dealers, the couple of seasons of Narcos you’ve binged on, and all of the old Scarface posters, and get that out of your head. It’s not like that at all.
In fact, in the past couple of years – peace, prosperity, city improvements, and the Metrocable, have all transformed this city in the valley. Sure it’s got the Pablo Escobar stories if you look back, but going forward, you’ll be hearing of this city in the same sentence as friendly Costa Rican towns where expats kick back. You’ll also hear that more and more friends you know are working remote, traveling, or maybe just heading to Medellín and then going to see what comes next.
The city is often called “the land of eternal spring”. Perhaps that’s fitting. The city, and the entire country, are blossoming and there’s a chance to start anew. The conditions in the city are just great for relaxing, meeting travelers and locals, or even starting up a business idea.
Now, since the New York Times has already carved out what they suggest you do in 36 Hours. I’ll just call out some tips I think can help.
WHERE TO STAY
I was a big fan of Poblado and the nearby areas. The first place you’ll check out for drinking in the square, and then for all the outdoor bars, restaurants, and clubs, will be Parque Lleras. It’s an upscale and trendy neighborhood where both locals and tourists hangout. You’ll read that it’s touristy. TripAdvisor will say it’s good and bad. And perhaps if I was going to live here for 6 months or a year, I’d want to be a bit farther off the beaten path – where the rents and restaurants would come in at cheaper prices. But if you’re in town for a few nights, you’ll enjoy your time knowing that your a stroll away from the nightlife or back to your home after a long nigh out.
I stayed at the Hostal Poblado Park and found it worked just fine – cheap cheap (around $10 a night) and it came with a small outside lounge area, a TV, and a kitchen.
WHERE TO GO OUT
Ambling through Poblado and Lleras, you’ll find all you ever wanted: every type of bar and restaurant, and people drinking outside in the streets and main square. Maybe you avoid the prostitutes that gather around the main square and the liquor store that’s the last open spot of the evening (maybe you don’t). I’ll leave that up to you.
If you’re completely overwhelmed and want a spot to grab a dinner and a few beers, or want to grab a seat and look out over the streets and get your center, I’d suggest Basilica Restaurant.
Another great spot for a lunch or dinner is La Matriaca (definitely order the chicken soup!)
For starting off a good party night, I’d tell you to walk up from Poblado to the Happy Budda Party Hostel – their big balcony will be packed with Aussies, Brits, Americans, and you can stir up a conversation or join a group of rowdy fun seekers.
WHAT TO DO
If I can only call out a couple, I’d point you to be sure and ascend the Metrocable to the top, explore the park, walk around, ride it back down. Great views and something you have to check off the list. Here’s a bit of info and check the view below!
For a bit of culture and a good plan to start your day, venture to the city center for the Botero museum. This main square is a large meeting area with the famous, chubby statues, a hallmark of Fernando Botero.
While you are down in the Botero plaza be sure and stop by the El Laboratorio de Cafe. It’s the perfect place if you are craving some San Francisco quality hipster coffee!
And if we are speaking of great coffee, then check out the Honesto Cafe in the Poblado area. (They got some love over on our Instagram page!)
So there you go, a few quick tips on Medellín but you’ll have to go and explore for yourself. Have you been before? Got any tips or recommendations that you can share?
Post as a comment below.
Reasons to smile this morning:
A different view of last night’s uninvited dinner guest:
Breakfast, as always.
Bernando rounding us up with the “let’s go!” we taught him last night, especially surprising given his quiet demeanor.
La Ciudad Perdida!
DAY THREE. 11.6 km/7.2 mi. If only our packs were this light all the time! Given our eventual return to the base camp for lunch, we take only what we need. The walk along the river turns upward as we approach the stairs leading to La Ciudad Perdida – all 1,200 of them. David and I are leading the group when we recognize the beginning structures of the Lost City. Per his suggestion, we wait for the others and continue as a group, silently following Bernando’s lead around a circle, coca leaves in hand, as we…
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While Santa Marta may not always be a final destination, it is certainly a starting point for and resting place after many a wonderful adventure – Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona included. Approximately 30 minutes from Santa Marta’s center and at the base of the
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So you’ve made it to Cartagena! Yes! You have done it and now you’re all set. Of course you are.
With a small bag (you have sunscreen and a book, don’t you?), an open white long sleeve shirt and your swim trunks, you make your way through the streets. You are admiring the locals, the fruit vendors, the sunny sky. You can feel the ocean’s breeze and a tingling sensation begins to let you know you’re just moments away from a nice beach.
You step across the street and your eyes meet the sand and the water but……
IT’S HORRIBLE! AAAAH IT’S ALL WRONG. Dark brown sand with little bugs nipping at your plump, pale, ankles…
Six or seven men dangling hats and jewelry come up to you, creepily shaking your hand and trying to offer you all sorts of whispered deals, special offers, and it is not, what you wish was occurring.
You can’t believe it. You spin and move to see if it’s just where you are standing. Nope. Everyone on the beach looks sad and somehow confused – they are splashing angrily at the waves, secretly holding back tears. You messed up. You thought Cartagena had a nice beach. It does not. You fool!
Ok ok , so you are reading this and thinking huh? Cartagena is on the coast (isn’t it?) – I always see tropical beaches and pictures when I Google “Cartagena”. Heck, even some fancy-pants travel writer said it was Where to Go in 2017.
That’s just the point. While easy to mess up, you must know one thing before visiting Cartagena, Colombia: all of the best beaches are a boat ride away.
You’ll want to arrange a boat ticket from the central boat dock – set just outside the city walls. Any taxi can take you, or you can walk. Ask your hotel or any front desk for the schedule. Typically you want to purchase a ticket through your hotel or show up at 7:30am and buy the ticket to your island of choice from the four companies that operate the ticket booths.
Isla Baru and Playa Blanca
The most popular day trip is to Isla Baru – actually a long stretch of sand and beach called Playa Blanca – that is connected as a peninsula to Cartagena. You could technically grab a taxi and drive for 45 minutes but that would be more expensive, and the taxis don’t really drive back to Cartagena (or at least there’s fewer taxis).
When you buy the ticket, there are typically 3 or 4 companies that offer the same general plan: you get on a speed boat, they zip you to the beach, drop you off at around 10am and then give you a ticket for a lunch – it’s a fish, rice, salad, and a soda, type of a lunch. Everyone gets the same lunch. It’s a good deal. The boat also offers a multi-stop option that includes something silly like an aquarium or a tour. If you go that route, you only get an hour or two at the beach. If you are inclined with that plan, just stop reading this and go back to perusing Pinterest, or whatever it is you do with your free time.
Note that as the day wears on at Playa Blanca you run the risk of missing your boat back. The boat pulls up close to shore at 3pm and will wave and you better be close to the drop off point, because they will waive once or twice and everyone gets on the boat and departs – with or without the same number of sun seekers that rode en route in the morning. You’re back in Cartagena by 4pm.
If what you want is a day on the beach – tropical sea, sand under your toes, and a cold beer. Then Baru will be great.
Just know this: it can be crowded, there will be hasslers, people that are nice and harmless but they’ll bug the shit out of you. There’s only one way to play it. “The old prison scenario”. When you get off that boat, act like you just got off the bus that is dropping you at prison – chained to another inmate and set to serve 25 to Life. You know what I mean. Better tough it up, otherwise those beach scammers will be bugging you all day long. Keep walking down the beach, avoid any chairs that they want you to pay for, anyone who comes up to you and is annoying gets a mean mug and a no thanks. Just keep walking until you find a nice spot in the sand, nearby to a little bar, and make your camp. As long as you are ready for that, Isla Baru will be a great day trip. I like this cheat sheet of good tips too.
(The day we went to Baru it was cloudy and stormy, but still fun to hang at the beach bar. When it’s sunny, the beach is white and the water bright blue green.)
Islas del Rosario: Isla Pirata aka “Pirate Island”
From the very same launching dock to Baru, you can see a sign for a hotel / island called, Isla del Pirata. If your high school Spanish language classes don’t kick in, this is of course, Pirate Island.
Fantastic for a solo traveler looking to vibe out in a hammock or float in a calm little patch of tropical green water. Also great for a romancing couple looking to slurp tropical drinks and instagram each other. Or even a family looking to all hang – without the chaos or hassle of Baru.
It costs a bit more – maybe $75 USD per person but includes a better lunch and you will have lounge chairs, hammocks, benches, docks, all the island is for you! It feels a bit like a deserted island with: broken tables and old signs and twists of sea rope.
Islas del Rosario: Gente del Mar
For those looking for a the same general idea as Pirate Island (more comfy, less hawkers, and your own private island) but with a slightly less pirate-y feel and an actual sand beach! Then I can’t suggest Gente del Mar anymore. It is the island just past Pirate Island and you will reserve the boat ticket from the same launching dock.
Actually the beach at Gente del Mar is so serene and relaxed, that you may find yourself unable to muster the strength to flip the page of your book. Instead, you’ll just lay full recline on your lounge chair and tilt your head to the side to stare at the calm blue green water – a slight smile forming on your face as dribble makes it way down you chin.
When I was just here in October, it was great. Like, wow I don’t want to ever leave great.
Well one hopes these tips will help make your stay in Cartagena, Colombia more enjoyable and ensures that you will not be deprived of your beach time.
Have you been to Cartagena, Colombia? If you have any other tips on where to find a beach, post as a comment below.
Until next time,
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.
For a solo traveler or a couple looking for a comfortable and modern set up, I’ve found this AirBnB:
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!