We arrived in Cartagena, Colombia in the early evening and checked into our hotel, Las Carretas. We didn’t have a lot of time time to explore the small, boutique hotel before hitting the town since our flight had been delayed and the sun was setting. We quickly dropped off our luggage, changed into clean clothes and hit the narrow, colorful streets of Cartagena.
We were staying in the heart of the walled city, the old section of the city that was originally a Spanish settlement, and were greeted by beautiful colonial architecture the second we stepped out of our hotel. We wandered for a bit before deciding to take a ride on a carreta, or carriage. This turned out to be the perfect way to get our bearings around the walled city and decide what we wanted to check out next. Our driver, Archemedes, showed us many of the towns points of interest and narrated their history in Spanish. After the ride, we hit the town to hunt down some of the food that Cartagena is famous for. By the end of the evening we had tried our first arepa, enjoyed some refreshing paletas, and sampled many rich chocolate treats at the chocolate museum (which has free entry). Sufficiently tired after a long day of travel, and weary from the equatorial heat, we returned to Las Carretas to enjoy a relaxing dip in its rooftop pool before falling into bed.
We woke up early the next morning having slept comfortably in our air conditioned room, and made our way out to the continental breakfast. The buffet included fresh fruits and breads, cereal, our choice of made-to-order eggs, and a daily special. The staff at Las Carretas are amazing. They go above and beyond to make their guests’ stays enjoyable, not only do they do their best accommodate any requests, they go as far as to predict what you will need and bring it to you before you ask. For example, we went up to the pool deck for a morning swim, forgetting to grab towels before we jumped in. The employee at the front desk noticed us walk upstairs without towels, and went out of his way to bring us some before we even noticed that we had forgotten. He later took us into town to look for a camera shop when my Canon wouldn’t turn on (we didn’t have luck getting it fixed, but I still had my Nikon point-and-shoot with me for the rest of the trip). To get to the point, I can’t recommend Las Carretas highly enough. It is a luxury hotel at the price that you would pay for standard accommodations in the US.
After breakfast and a swim, we set out to see as much of the city as we possibly could, starting with Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a Spanish fort built in the 1500’s. We had a great time exploring the fort’s many tunnels (bring a flashlight or a headlamp to make this easier) before wandering through the Getsemani neighborhood on our way back to the walled city. Once there, we toured the emerald museum and La Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, one of the many beautiful churches in the city. We also sampled more food from street vendors, including some crisp star fruit from a Palenquera. These are fruit and sweets vendors who wear colorful dresses and come from the village of Palenque, one of the first free villages in the Americas. After an outdoor dinner, we strolled along the wall to the ocean to watch sunset. We ended the day with yet another swim in the hotel pool.
I have to give a big thank you to Jared and Rachel from Percussive Tours for planning this trip and inviting us along. Jared did an amazing job finding accommodations and activities, just as he does for his group tours, and Cartagena was a great location for traveling on a budget!